Lactivism is ego driven


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.