Breastfeeding and The Church of the Immaculate Colostrum

Traditional American White Church and Blue Sky

They give their members a meaningful account of why the world is the way it is. They provide them with a sense of purpose and the possibility of sainthood. They offer a sense of community. And they establish clear roles and rituals that allow adherents to feel and act as part of a whole. These aren’t just subcultures; they are churches.

These words were not written about lactivist beliefs, but they apply to them.

The author was writing about the quasi-religious hunger of white supremacists:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We were expelled from the Breastfeeding Garden of Eden because we ate from the Tree of Formula Knowledge.[/pullquote]

…[T]hese groups promise their members a sense of purpose within [a] chaotic world: a chance to participate in a cleansing fire. They are called to take up the mantle of warriors for the cause …  as someone with a vital role to play in a cosmic war.

But the social and communal appeal of these groups is nearly as important to understand as their ideological, world-shaping ones. Like nearly all religious groups, they use shared languages and shared rituals…

Perhaps most important, these groups give their adherents, many of whom perceive themselves as socially isolated, a sense of community…

Lactivists also have a quasi-religious hunger for meaning, purpose and shared struggle. They’ve created a metaphorical “Church of the Immaculate Colostrum” and a theology to justify it.

1. The Garden of Eden

Every religion has a creation myth and lactivism is no different. Nature supposedly designed breastfeeding to be innately perfect and we used to live in a breastfeeding Garden of Eden where mothers always breastfed exclusively and for many years.

So what happened?

2. The Fall

Women fell from the grace of exclusive, extended breastfeeding. The serpent in the Garden was — I bet you guessed it – formula. Evilly seductive formula lured women farther and farther from the perfection of breastfeeding. As a result, people developed diseases like autism, cancer and obesity.

We got sick because we ate from the Tree of Formula Knowledge.

3. Demons

We are now plagued by demons. Of course we don’t call them demons. We call them chemicals. Formula is filled with them; they are insidious; and they exist for the sole purpose of harming babies.

4. Predestination

Just like the Calvinist belief in predestination allowed the spiritual elect to be identified by their wealth and success, lactivism has its own version of predestination. The spiritual elect can be identified by their exclusive, extended breastfeeding, by breastfeeding in public and by their condemnation of formula feeders.

It goes without saying that women who can’t breastfeed (or “claim” they can’t) have done something wrong, have not demonstrated the appropriate faith or have been led astray by the Devil.

5. The Devil

Formula companies are the devil. They are the original evil and the source of all subsequent evil. To hear lactivists tell it, no one used breastmilk substitutes until formula companies were created, and no one wanted to use breastmilk substitutes until formula companies hoodwinked them into doing so.

6. Sin

Sin is formula use. It doesn’t matter whether the formula is used to supplement a baby who is starving, used to allow a depressed mother to get healing sleep, or used because some fathers want to feed their babies, too. Formula use is always sinful.

6. Faith

Like all religions, lactivism requires faith.

Baby screaming for hours in hunger, losing weight and pediatrician recommending formula supplementation? Have faith in breastfeeding, Mama! No circumstances can you justify the sinful use of formula.

The most fervent lactivists are often women who struggled desperately to breastfeed while letting their babies starve. But an emaciated baby is a small price to pay in exchange for being lauded by the members of your Facebook breastfeeding group for your undiminished faith in breastfeeding.

7. Priests

Like any religion, lactivism has its own priests and priestesses: lactation professionals. Their existence is based on the premise that breastfeeding “died out” because of the Formula Company Devil; lactation professionals are merely bringing women back to “true religion.” Promoting breastfeeding instead of promoting infant health, lactation consultants offer support: tremendous pressure, exaggerated benefits, and scary “risks” of formula.

8. Salvation

The goal of lactivism, like the goal of many religions, is to be saved and welcomed into paradise. In lactivism, paradise is the imagined state of perfect health and bliss provided by exclusive, extended breastfeeding. In the meantime, Facebook breastfeeding groups provide fellowship, shared language and rituals, and the delicious sense of superiority that is such an ugly part of lactivism.

There’s just one problem, the foundational stories that lactivists tell themselves and each other are lies:

There was NEVER a Breastfeeding Garden of Eden. Breastfeeding — like all bodily processes — has a significant failure rate. Back when every woman breastfed every child exclusively and for extended periods (if they live that long), the infant and child mortality rate was astronomical. By some estimates, as many as 50% of children died before age 5.

Breastmilk substitutes existed for literally thousands of years before the advent of formula companies. The need and desire for formula was MET by formula companies, NOT created by it. Formula, in fact, was designed to save infant lives that were being lost because women were feeding their babies animal milk contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Autism, cancer and obesity are not punishments for the sin of using formula. They are diseases that are caused by or can only be recognized in affluence. The alternative is dead babies and a natural life expectancy of 35, not perfect health.

No matter. Lactivism provides its adherents a meaningful (though false) account of why the world is the way it is. It provides them with a sense of purpose and the possibility of motherly sainthood. It offers a sense of community. And it establishes clear roles and rituals that allow adherents to feel and act as part of a whole.

That’s not science; it’s religion.

  • Russell Jones

    There was NEVER a Breastfeeding Garden of Eden.

    Yeah, sure. Next thing you’ll try to tell us is Milk Meg and Bauhauswife are not actual, literal prophets (profits?).

    Autism, cancer and obesity are not punishments for the sin of using formula.

    Wait – aren’t autism, cancer and obesity punishment for the sin of using vaccines? A lactivist v. anti-vaxxer kerfuffle over the One True Cause might be entertaining.

  • rational thinker

    This is all too true. Many lactivists also use the same tactics that religious cults use.