Why don’t lactation consultants believe women?

Two pieces of white paper with the word inconvenient turned into convenient

Women tell inconvenient truths.

That leaves us with two choices: we could believe them and deal with the resulting cognitive dissonance or we could ease our discomfort by insisting, without evidence, that they are wrong.

Guess which is easier.

Women tell inconvenient truths about breastfeeding.

For years women have been telling inconvenient truths about sexual aggression, harassment and assault. I doubt there is a woman alive who has not been the recipient of unwanted attention, unwanted touching or unwanted attacks. The problem is not rare; it is commonplace and equally commonplace is the response: that didn’t happen; it wasn’t him; you misunderstood; you’re overreacting; boys will be boys.

The tendency to ignore women’s incovenient truths is not limited to accusations of sexual assault. For example, within medicine it is well known that women’s pain is often undertreated. When women complain of severe pain, they are often dismissed in ways that men never are: it’s not that painful; you can tolerate it; you’re overreacting; it’s all in your head.

Sadly, this tendency to dismiss women’s pain and perceptions about their own bodies is not restricted to paternalistic male doctors. It is widespread among female lactation consultants.

Women tell inconvenient truths about the difficulties of breastfeeding, the pain they experience and the fact that many produce insufficient breastmilk to fully nourish an infant. Lactation consultants, who only make money when they convince women to breastfeed, respond dismissively: you must be doing it wrong; you’re overreacting; it’s all in your head; you’re a victim of formula manufacturers; you just need more support.

Consider this meme from Lucy Ruddle, IBCLC:

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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.

Lucy seems like a decent person and I imagine this was supposed to be humorous. But it has serious — and ugly — implications. It suggests that when women report insufficient breastmilk they can be ignored since they are unwitting dupes of formula feeders.

It’s uncomfortably similar to suggesting that women who report sexual assault can be ignored since they are unwitting dupes of feminist extremists.

What do lactation consultants lose when they believe women who report insufficient breastmilk? They lose income and ideological satisfaction; that’s why they have no trouble dismissing women’s perceptions as flawed, invalid or manufactured by “Enids.” So what if it’s both disrespectful and untrue; the end — maintaining lactation consultants’ belief in the perfection of breastfeeding — purportedly justify the means.

But, as in the case of sexual assault, there are no ends that justify disrespecting and refusing to believe women. It’s just misogyny in the service of self-dealing.

 

P.S. for Lucy: Think about how my piece makes you feel — angry, misunderstood, bullied — and realize that this is how women who struggle with insufficient breastmilk feel as a result of your meme.

  • Griffin

    “within medicine it is well known that women’s pain is often undertreated. When women complain of severe pain, they are often dismissed in ways that men never are: it’s not that painful; you can tolerate it; you’re overreacting; it’s all in your head.”

    I believe I witnessed this (indirectly) just this week. The sister of my friend had Nutcracker Syndrome (compression of the left renal vein). It took 3 years and multiple visits to different gynecologists to diagnose it. I suspect that the fact that my friend’s sister had all of the following symptoms helped prolong the time to diagnosis: “The other common mode of presentation is a symptom complex called, ‘pelvic congestion syndrome’ characterized by symptoms of dysmenorrhea, dyspareunia, post-coital ache, lower abdominal pain, dysuria, and emotional disturbances”

    Once diagnosed, my friend’s sister (herself a nurse) was operated on. She spent a week vomiting and in agony after surgery, partly because the two epidurals they put in and the self-dose painkillers did not work effectively. At Day 5, when she was hysterical with pain and exhaustion, they decided the problem was ‘between her ears’ and sent her to a psychology team. After half an hour, she told the psychologists to eff off. They then literally suggested to her and her partner that she just wanted to get on morphine. So instead they put in a third epidural, which also didn’t work.

    Then her belly started swelling and they realized that something physical actually was wrong. It turned out that the surgery had caused a large section of bowel to adhere and start dying off and some nerves were being pinched, so she was immediately reoperated, a section of bowel removed, and she was put immediately on morphine. Now finally, after 10 days, she is on the right track.

    I just wonder: if she had been a man, would they have disbelieved her pain like that?

    • MaineJen

      Jaysus. She should definitely lodge a complaint, that’s terrible.

    • PeggySue

      This is a living nightmare. Definitely awful, just awful.

    • rational thinker

      That is just beyond fucked up.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      Nope, probably not. Such is our medical system. A friend recently gave birth, and was bitingly comparing the way she was treated on requesting so much as a motrin afterwards (vaginal birth, fair bit of tearing) to how fast her husband was put on narcotics (quite reasonably) when he had a kidney stone or a necrotic gall bladder. Snort.

  • rational thinker

    One difference is Enid isn’t getting paid for her advice.

  • alongpursuit

    I had very insufficient supply and my baby had no wet diapers from day 3-5 of her life. I decided to give her formula on day 5 because she was starving and I continued to try to breastfeed for 5 months (including gruelling triple-feeding, domperidone, herbal supplements, etc.) but it was obvious I made very little breastmilk and nothing would increase it.

    After several appointments with the lactation consultant in my family medicine clinic, very obvious insufficient supply, and very obvious PPD/PPA, I said “Thank God for formula, I don’t know what I would have done without it.” Lactation consultant replied: “Well, duh! You would have breastfed!” I was so beaten down at that point that I said nothing, but her comment still stings 2 years later.

    A more humane reply would have been “Yes, thank goodness for formula. You tried very hard and should be proud of your efforts, but at the end of the day all that matters is that your baby is fed.”

    • PeggySue

      Almost anything would have been more humane than what she said to you. Lactation consultant was way, way out of line there. And I’m so sorry for all you went through to feed your baby, and so glad you made the decision to use formula.

    • rational thinker

      What an asshole. She knew you were trying to breastfeed and still made a comment like that to a stressed hormonal new mom. It sounds like she had no common sense whatsoever. It is painfully obvious what would have happened without formula, you would have empty arms.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      What IS it with the snide comments to vulnerable populations from (supposed) professionals?! When I went to see a counselor after Baby Books 3 was born, I explained that I had obsessive, intrusive thoughts as part of my PPD, and that what I wanted from these sessions was tools to use when I started having those thoughts and anxiety-spiraling as a result. One frequent, obsessive thought, I explained to her, was “you’re a terrible mom because you had a C-section, and you deserve to suffer for it.” I also clarified that I did need to have C-sections or my kids and I would have died, and briefly explained why. (Needless to say, I don’t actually *believe* all that, but when you’re exhausted, hormonal, and sleep-deprived, and your brain won’t shut up, it does a number on ya.)
      Her response? “Well, natural birth is best.” I shit you not.

      • alongpursuit

        That’s awful! What a bully! I’m so sorry you had to go through all that.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          And I, you. If I ever become queen of the universe, people like your LC and my counselor won’t be allowed to work with patients.

      • Shawna Mathieu

        I have bipolar disorder. Because I drank the Kool-Aid, I refused to take meds through pregnancy and nursing. In days, I was spiraling into a suicidal depression unlike anything I’d ever known, with similar obsessive thoughts.

        One of my main ones was “I’m such a bad mom because I’m mentally ill and they’ll take the baby away and I’ll never see him again.”

        I couldn’t get in to see my regular psychiatrist, so the treatment center had me talk to a PA who didn’t know me or my history. I told her I needed help, I told her everything that was going on in my head, just like all those brochures you get about PPD say you’re supposed to do.

        “Well, if you’re so selfish as to think about killing yourself, you SHOULD have your baby taken away, that would totally ruin his entire life!”

        There was more of that, but I don’t remember it – I was sobbing too hard. I cannot think of anything worse that she could have said to me. Now I thought I was an even WORSE mother for thinking about suicide, and that spiraled everything worse.

        Either she or another person did report me, and I was absolutely scared to death. DHS figured out pretty quickly I wasn’t any danger to my son and closed the case.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          What an appalling human being she must be. I am so very sorry. No one should go through what you did.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Enid might not know anything about breastfeeding, but she can recognize a hungry baby.

    • Russell Jones

      Yes indeed, and Enid also knows grandstanding, money-grubbing claptrap when she sees it.