Lactivism is ego driven

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Breastfeeding is a good thing. Lactivism? Not so much.

Breastfeeding is the act of feeding a baby at a mother’s breast. Lactivism, while claiming that feeding a baby at a mother’s breast is critical to the health and wellbeing of the baby, is really about the mother’s ego. Hence the slogan “breast is best” a slogan that lactivists are willing to defend to the death … of underfed babies.

If breastfeeding isn’t best, then lactivists aren’t best.

Don’t believe me? Exclusive breastfeeding is now the leading cause of newborn re-hospitalization. Approximately 40,000 babies are readmitted to the hospital each year at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. I have yet to find a lactation organization — not La Leche League, not the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, not Baby Friendly USA — that dares deny these facts.

Why the willingness to sacrifice the health and well being of babies and mothers to promote breastfeeding? There are two reasons:

1. Breastfeeding is a multi-billion dollar business that represents 100% of the income of breastfeeding professionals. The moralization of breastfeeding has closely paralleled the monetization of breastfeeding.

Is the breastfeeding industry as large as the formula industry with which it competes? No, but formula manufacturers have multiple products while the breastfeeding industry has only one. The income of breastfeeding professionals is arguably far more important to them than the income of formula is to multi-national conglomerates.

You don’t have to be an economist to understand that if women realized just how trivial the benefits of breastfeeding are in industrialized countries, they’d be spending far less money on lactation consultants.

2. The second reason for the willingness to sacrifice the physical health of babies and the mental health of mothers on the altar of breastfeeding promotion is even more powerful. Lactivism is ego driven. Breastfeeding has been weaponized in the mommy wars. If breastfeeding isn’t best, then lactivists aren’t best.

This was the original goal (and some might argue the continuing goal) of La Leche League. It was formed in the late 1950’s by women who were religious traditionalists and sought to keep mothers of young children from working. They reasoned that if women could be convinced that breastfeeding was important, fewer women would go to work.

The founders of LLL did not invoke medical benefits of breastfeeding since no one was aware of any medical benefits of breastfeeding. They simply decreed that women who stayed home with their young children were better mothers than those who did not stay home. As late as the 1970’s LLL’s national leadership argued about whether a working mother — even one who fed her child only breastmilk — could be a good mother.

The medical benefits of breastfeeding were not “discovered” until the advent of lactation consultants. Nearly all of these benefits were asserted in the absence of any scientific evidence. It was almost a decade before the first research studies were produced that seemed to support these “benefits” and another decade before nearly all them were debunked by studies that finally corrected for confounding variables like maternal education and socio-economic status. That second wave of studies demonstrated that most of the benefits ascribed to breastfeeding were benefits of relative wealth. Indeed, recent studies have shown that “intention to breastfeed” provides the SAME benefits as breastfeeding itself.

But over the years, many women imbibed the subliminal message conveyed by “breast is best”: that breastfeeding mothers are better mothers than women who formula feed. And they are not about to give up the ego gratification that veneration of breastfeeding provides. That’s why there has been such a visceral reaction among lactivists to the soaring popularity of the “fed is best” movement. If breast isn’t best for every baby (and it isn’t), then they are not the best among mothers.

Watching them fight back is alternately painful and hilarious. It’s painful since their sense of self-worth is so closely tied to their ability to lactate. As we approach 2020, it is disappointing to realize that so many women still believe that their only value lies in the function of their reproductive organs.

It is hilarious because …. well, I’ll let you judge for yourself. Head over the the FABIE Facebook group. The name is an acronym for “Fed Ain’t Best, It’s Expected.” It is run in large part by Lisa Bridger an Australian lactivist who achieved her 15 minutes of fame by declaring that she breastfed her school age sons.

Every post is about boosting their egos as the “best” mothers and denigrating anyone and anything that interferes with their ego gratification. Most posts are taken directly from the Fed Is Best facebook pages and the Skeptical OB facebook page. (Ironically, they drive a significant proportion of my Facebook traffic.) Anyone who doesn’t agree that they are the best mothers is vilified and labeled a “potato.” The internalized misogyny is on full display with frequent comments about the appearance of those with whom they disagree.

Their viciousness is on full display when they attempt to debunk or simply refuse to believe stories of babies and mothers harmed by aggressive breastfeeding promotion. They are so psychologically needy that they have no compassion left over for babies and women who have suffered as a result of lactivism.

Fortunately, the tide is turning.

Lactation consultants may be clinging desperately to the purported “benefits” of breastfeeding even though they can’t seem to show that they occur anywhere but in mathematical models. And lactivists are still desperately clinging to their cherished belief that the use of their breasts — not their actual parenting — marks them as superior mothers. But a large and fast growing number of mothers and health professionals are realizing that “fed is best.”

Lisa Bridger and the FABIEs will just have to find another source of ego gratification.

  • demodocus

    Of course fed is expected, but like a lot of white people’s take on black lives matter, they aren’t hearing what they think they’re hearing. The silent part of the sentence is they matter “just as much as white people’s lives” not “more than other people”. Fed is best is also the bumper sticker version. Fed is best because although mom’s milk is ideal when available in sufficient quantities and quality, and nursing doesn’t make her suicidal, then it’s got a small additional benefit. But damn, I _still_ can’t stand to have my boobs touched by anyone and he’s been weaned for half a decade. my girl is doing just fine on the formula that was ideal in my circumstances at the time. Girlbard is growing like a sunflower and is bright, kind-hearted, and generally sunny. Boybard is doing well too, though he does appear to have ADHD and a little difficulty academically. He’s ahead in reading, though. 🙂

  • rational thinker

    I have been mothering for 17 years now. My nearly adult oldest child has told me many times I am a great mother. That is all the validation I need.

    If you think the key to being a great mother is in your milk glands then you have some serious issues.

  • KQ Not Signed In

    Anyone who doesn’t agree that they are the best mothers is vilified and labeled a “potato.”

    I’ve clearly missed something. A potato? Why? What? Why??

  • lesne-licho

    “formula manufacturers have multiple products while the breastfeeding industry has only one” is definitely false looking at all those pillows, holders, teas, dietary supplements, foods, bras, clothings, pads, shields, creams, bags, scarfs, pumps, books, courses, events and so on…

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      They all depend on breastfeeding. Formula manufacturers have many other products that do not require formula feeding.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Whenever I hear Nestle, I think Quick, not formula

        • Christine O’Hare

          I think crunch bars 🙂

          • I think Cheerios

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Cheerios is General Mills. Whether that is a subsidiary of Nestle I don’t know, but I certainly wouldn’t make that connection off the top.

        • rational thinker

          Yeah, I was just about to comment that most people have a bottle of chocolate syrup in the house not formula. When parents do buy formula its only for a year. After that its the syrup for many more years.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            The most familiar syrup is Hershey, not Nestle.

          • Marie

            I think Heshey’s is American. In Canada I think Nesquick chocolate syrup when I think of Nestle. Not sure about the UK and Europe.

          • AnnaPDE

            Nothing a bit of clever marketing couldn’t fix! Seen today in my pharmacy: Pregnancy formula (I do hope people don’t worry about how to give a bottle in utero), and the newest idea, student formula. Move over Instant Ramen, there’s a new low-prep student food in town! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/64f41b69f62e4f12eb46795f6af9fa16acd779c3f037a8648e5bc74fe6a180ea.jpg

          • rational thinker

            omg…….wtf

          • Blake Lee

            That’s actually really clever marketing for protein shakes.

          • AnnaPDE

            Oh yes, good marketing.

            It’s $27 for a 900g can – that’s 18 serves because they say 50g per 250ml serve.

            By comparison, the retail price of a 1000g bag of full milk powder is $5-$10 depending on brand; same for the equivalent amount of fresh full cream milk. Plus 18 days’ worth of kids’ multivitamin, which is $3-$5 depending on the brand.

            I know which one I’d sell as a manufacturer. 🙂

          • StephanieJR

            I want a milkshake now.

        • AnnaPDE

          Nescafé and Nesquick.

        • Box of Salt

          It’s Quik. No C.
          I also think chocolate chips, as in the bag with the Toll House Cookie recipe.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Yeah, Toll House cookies is a good one. I should have thought about that one.

            As Phoebe says in French,
            “Nestle’ Tolhause”

      • Amazed

        I will always remember a certain kind of Nestle chocolate with great fondness. It’s been 25 years already but I won’t forget how I discovered that white chocolate existed. For this teen who grew up in a Communist world with 2 kinds of chocolate readily available, Nestle white chocolate was a miracle. I didn’t even KNOW they sold formula as well.

    • Jet Kin

      Nestle is everything from formula to condiments to chocolate bars to pet food (purina, friskies, fancy feast). According to google, they are the largest food company in the world.