Maternal suffering has always been central to lactivism, but why do babies have to suffer too?


I understand why maternal suffering is central to lactivism. It, like other aspects of natural mothering (natural childbirth, attachment parenting) is meant to control women. It was literally designed to subordinate women’s intelligence, talents, needs and desires to the purported “imperatives” of full time mothering.

Women’s needs and desires are therefore rendered invisible and treated as irrelevant. It’s not surprising then that maternal exhaustion is normalized, that maternal pain is ignored, and maternal needs beyond mothering are discounted. Although breastfeeding is typically portrayed with images of blissful mothers nursing milk-drunk babies, the reality is often quite different. No matter. There is literally no amount of maternal suffering — pain, exhaustion, mental anguish — that is not normalized in contemporary breastfeeding discourse.

Does supporting breastfeeding require ridiculing those who worry infants are suffering?

I understand that. What I don’t understand is why babies’ suffering is considered acceptable.

Lucy Ruddle, IBCLC has created the character Enid, an old busybody, to make fun of anyone who dares question aggressive breastfeeding promotion. Enid — Ruddle has acknowledged — is supposed to be me.

Enid incorporates anti-feminist, ageist tropes about older women: dry, desiccated women whose appearance is distasteful, whose experience is dismissed, who should no longer be seen or heard. I expected that. What I did not expect is how Enid is mobilized to normalize infant suffering.

This was the first Enid cartoon:


This is Enid. Enid formula fed her babies, has no training in supporting breastfeeding, and wouldn’t know a letdown from her elbow. But Enid feels qualified to say you aren’t making enough milk for your baby.

Ruddle fails to explain why you need to understand letdown in order to recognize a starving baby; you don’t. Ruddle also fails to acknowledge that I breastfed four children over many years and am professionally trained both in the physiology of breastfeeding and the physiology of newborns. But what struck me most forcefully about this cartoon is that Enid’s concern that a baby might be suffering is mocked.

Babies ARE suffering as a result of aggressive breastfeeding promotion. In the US, tens of thousands are being re-hospitalized each year for complications of insufficient breastmilk. In the UK, the re-hospitalization rate for complications of breastfeeding is so high that it has significantly raised the overall preventable re-hospitalization rate for all babies.

It’s not a figment of my imagination. And therefore, it is not a figment of Enid’s imagination that a woman intent on exclusively breastfeeding her baby might be inadvertently starving that child. After all, as Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Board Member Alison Stuebe, MD acknowledges:

… 15% of infants — about 1 in 7 breastfed babies — will have an indication for supplementation.

In other words, there’s a 15% chance that Enid is right, the baby is starving and he or she may end up re-hospitalized if no supplementation is forthcoming. Curiously, Ruddle doesn’t merely discount that possibility, she ignores the very real suffering of babies who are being inadvertently starved. Why? Is infant suffering funny? Is infant suffering unworthy of her concern?

Today’s Enid cartoon continues in the same vein:


Enid took a casserole to her neighbor who recently had a baby … She also took a dummy [pacifier] because she heard the baby cry during Coronation St.

Imagine that. Dry, desiccated old Enid provided food for the parents because she wanted to be helpful and provided a pacifier for the exact same reason: she thought it might be helpful. Enid knows from experience that it is very hard to hear your own baby cry and new mothers are desperate to soothe their babies. Enid knows, probably from experience, that babies can be soothed with pacifiers, reducing the suffering of both babies and mothers. Enid probably doesn’t know — though I do — that pacifiers reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the dreaded scourge of contemporary infancy.

There’s no evidence that pacifiers interfere with breastfeeding. Nipple confusion exists almost exclusively in the minds of lactation professionals and nowhere else. Babies have a natural need to suck and are soothed by sucking. Yet Lucy seems to think that babies should be deprived of pacifiers and suffer as a result. Why?

I have lots of other questions for Ruddle about the normalization of infant suffering but I’ll confine myself to this:

Does supporting breastfeeding really require ridiculing those who worry infants are suffering as a result?