Prof. Amy Brown rails against the fading status of the breastfeeding profession

Photo of colorful drawing: Little girl screaming the word NO

Lactation professional Amy Brown has written a new book about breastfeeding grief and trauma. She has also inadvertently demonstrated a variant of it. Brown is not grieving the ability to breastfeed; she’s grieving the loss of status of the breastfeeding profession. Brown and her colleagues are steadily (and thankfully) losing ground to the Fed Is Best movement.

Her response is a combination of denial and anger. Not coincidentally, these are the first two stages of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief.

How does “fed is best” hurt women who want to breast any more than “breast is best” hurts them and everyone else?

Her new piece is a perfect illustration. Titled Don’t Tell me Fed is Best. My Body SHOULD be Able to Breastfeed!, it’s basically an extended temper tantrum. And it’s a temper tantrum that can only be thrown by the massively privileged. It’s like claiming you are entitled to have a child of a chosen gender. Sure it could happen and if you have enough children it is likely to happen. But you’re not entitled to it.

Brown starts with a bizarre claim:

Telling a woman that ‘the main thing is that your baby is fed’ can seem like their feelings and experiences, particularly their right for their body to work as expected, are being dismissed.

Actually, for loving mothers, the main thing IS that their baby is fed. Most loving mothers put their babies’ well being ahead of their feelings. After all, for years that’s what they have been counseled to do by lactation professionals. When Brown and colleagues declare “breast is best,” they assume that every mother wants to give her baby what is best. When they encourage (and often pressure) women to ignore their own pain, exhaustion and depression, they imply that the purported benefits to the baby eclipse any suffering for the mother. How ironic that lactation professionals can’t accept when women discover that fed is best for THEIR babies.

Brown continues:

What about the women who really wanted to breastfeed?

But challenging the use of the ‘fed is best’ message is not about implying that every woman can or should want to breastfeed. It’s about fighting for justice for those women who really wanted to breastfeed, but encountered difficulties, only to find that the thing they were told was so important during pregnancy, suddenly didn’t seem to be anymore. For them the message can hurt – and it’s important we listen to what they are saying.

Justice? Seriously? Are women who wanted to breastfeed but can’t more entitled to justice than women who didn’t want to breastfeed but feel pressured to do so?

“Fed is best” hurts women who wanted to breastfeed? How? Or — more to the point — how does “fed is best” hurt them any more than “breast is best” hurts them and everyone? Judging by the soaring popularity of the fed is best movement, “breast is best” is hurting hundreds of thousands of women and their babies. Where is the concern for their feelings and their physical and mental health?

Brown has closed her eyes and ears to the desperate entreaties of the women that the fed is best movement supports.

As usual, Brown plays fast and loose with the truth:

A further kick for these women, is that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be like this. If you look at breastfeeding rates in other countries they are much higher. Take Norway for example – whilst over three quarters of women there are breastfeeding at six months, just a third are in the UK.

But only 2.1% of Norwegian mothers are breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months. Only 2.1% in the country that Brown lauds for their breastfeeding support.

Perhaps the reason more women in the UK aren’t doing so is that British (and American) lactation professionals fetishize exclusivity and imply that supplementation of any kind “invalidates” breastfeeding. When you demonize supplementation, you imply (or even state) that “just one bottle” of formula means that there is no point in breastfeeding any longer.

But the bottom line for lactation professionals is always money for themselves and their services. Amy Brown is no exception:

…[I]f we are led to believe that breastfeeding doesn’t matter and we shouldn’t mind how our baby is fed, then this reduces pressure on governments and health services to make the investments needed to better support women.

That’s right! In industrialized countries breastfeeding DOESN’T matter for term babies and governments and health services have received NO return on the multi-million dollar investment in breastfeeding they’ve made so far. Brown is in the UK, where breastfeeding rates are literally the lowest in the world and the result has been … one of the best infant mortality rates in the world!

Unfortunately, breastfeeding support has become a gravy train for lactation professionals and they can never get enough money or employment opportunities. “Breast is best” is their marketing slogan and they are angry and in denial about the fact that their preeminence is coming to an end.

Follow the money! Fed is best might hurt lactation professionals, but its soaring popularity is testament to the fact that it helps mothers and babies. Isn’t that what justice requires?

  • demodocus

    “My body should be able to make milk” is definitely the problem there. My husband’s eyes should work, and would except his mom caught rubella at the wrong time. My left ear should work, except I got sick when I was four and now it’s purely decorative. My brain should have been sending warm fuzzy hormones when I breastfed, but it never did. I’ve never gotten that feeling from exercise, either. Shoulds are pointless.

  • Sarah

    I can see that it is hard for women who very much want to breastfeed, have been led to believe that it’s easy and wonderful and then are hit with the brick wall of reality if it isn’t. We should do better for them. One of the main ways we could achieve this is by not bullshitting them beforehand. And by we I mean Brown and her ilk.

  • Desiree Scorcia

    New moms: “it was really upsetting to find out that all the commotion around breastfeeding was lies, especially when we were so stressed out about it not working.”

    Brown: “we need to maintain our lies to new moms, or else they’ll be upset when they learn the truth!”

    Fed is Best: “That’s just… No. That’s not the response”

  • sheistolerable

    “Their right for their body to work as expected?” How deeply ableist, not to mention laughably out of touch with reality. Brown is not a medical professional of any kind, right? Since we wouldn’t need the medical profession if we just realized everyone has a right for their body to work as expected!

    • Leading Zero

      How old does one usually have to be before discovering that your body can, and will, fail you for no obvious reason? Menstrual cramps. Back spasms. Eyeglasses. Leaky heart valves. T1 diabetes (I know a family where all 3 kids had T1 onset in young adulthood.) The list goes on. Of course it is upsetting, and it is okay to be upset and to mourn the loss of “normalcy”, but that is life.

      • Blake Lee

        I was going to say my eyes should be able to see without glasses, my heart should beat without palpitations…yet no one had ever shamed me for the fact they don’t work correctly. I’ve been shamed many times for giving my babies formula even if it was only to supplement for a short time.

    • Ozlsn

      I just read “my body SHOULD be able to breastfeed” and thought – thank God none of these women have gotten into IVF counselling. About the last thing I would have needed was someone sitting there asking if I was sure we had tried often/hard enough and telling me that well of course Icould do IVF but was I aware of how it would affect my baby’s gut and harm them for life?

  • Pevensie

    “It is never right to pressurise a woman to breastfeed or tell her that something terrible will happen to her baby if she can’t breastfeed or doesn’t want to.”

    The flickering gaslight is turning into a flickering gas inferno that can be seen from outer space. My God. If you agree it’s wrong to do that, stop doing it!

    As a first-time pregnant woman who has always intended to breastfeed, I can honestly say nothing has discouraged me more than the admonitions and machinations of BFI, BFI-affiliated LCs and lactivists. They are the ones who told me breastfeeding doesn’t count as breastfeeding unless it’s 100% exclusive and perfect from day one. They are the ones who decided nothing, not their duty to me as a patient, not even my baby’s brain, was more important than avoiding formula. They raised the stakes. They made this experience scary. And now Prof. Brown wants to wring her hands about my emotional health? As my very pro-breastfeeding evil combo-feeding mother would say, perch and twirl.

    “Many women are finding their health professional is so busy they cannot spend the time desperately needed. Or their local breastfeeding support group which provided both practical support and a shoulder to lean on (and decent cake) has closed down due to funding cuts.”

    Um, yes. The UK is going through a period of government austerity. Many things have been cut. Breastfeeding support is not being specifically targeted; the cuts are everywhere. Does this woman ever get her nose out of her own navel (or nipple) and read the headlines? I see them regularly and I’m not even in the UK.

    Or does she just not care about the rest of the NHS, disability benefits, etc. as long as her pet project is protected?

    • Anna

      Yes! Of course women like her don’t care about the NHS larger,
      disability benefits, unemployment, poverty etc – they live in a little bubble where breastfeeding is the be all and end all of life. They know as privileged white women they will always have access to good health care so if that care is lost to the poor and marginalised it won’t affect them. I honestly think the low breastfeeding rates in the UK have more to do with the sort of “keep calm and carry on” – attitude of the British. Maybe they aren’t as easily emotionally swayed by the breast is best carry on? They know they thrived on formula, they know everyone around them’s children are thriving on formula so they will give breastfeeding a go and not fuss too much over it if it doesn’t work out?
      And yes! the Lactation profession is just like anti-vaxxers, and hardly surprising theres a crossover, they shoot themselves in the foot, then cry when it hurts.

  • mysteriousgeek

    “But challenging the use of the ‘fed is best’ message is not about
    implying that every woman can or should want to breastfeed. It’s about
    fighting for justice for those women who really wanted to breastfeed,
    but encountered difficulties, only to find that the thing they were told
    was so important during pregnancy, suddenly didn’t seem to be anymore.”

    It’s unfortunate that some women are repeatedly told to prioritize the wrong thing (vaginal birth without using painkillers, breastfeeding over formula regardless of their financial or health situation, etc.)
    It would be more unfortunate to double down on the initial mistake when it’s obvious a mother and baby need a C-section or formula for their continued survival and well-being, and then not to be honest and say “Sorry, what you thought was super important is not the most important thing – the important thing is your health and your baby’s health.”

    • Leading Zero

      I’m of an age where a lot of people I know are having cataract surgery. In the run-up to surgery, the patients are taught post-cataract care: eye drops, warm compresses, so many times a day for X weeks, and then the frequency can be reduced.

      Let’s pretend that there was new scientific research that demonstrated that this onerous post-surgery routine could be safely skipped. Would the patients who had made extensive plans around this post-surgical care routine be upset to be suddenly told by their surgeon that they don’t have to do that after all? I’m sure some would use the recommended routine out of an abundance of caution (after all, it wasn’t found to be harmful) but most would be grateful that they could skip it.

      How does the “expectation” of the eye patient differ from that of the pregnant person who learns that breastfeeding is not as important as they thought?

      • fiftyfifty1

        “How does the “expectation” of the eye patient differ from that of the pregnant person who learns that breastfeeding is not as important as they thought?”

        The difference is the emotional stakes and the bullying:

        Cataract patients get told in neutral language that post-surgical outcomes are improved if they follow certain cares. No drama with that advice, so when they say it actually makes no difference no drama there either.

        In contrast mothers are told they are failing their babies, and clearly not good mothers, and morally worthless, and unnatural, and you don’t love your baby, and why have a child if you don’t plan to breastfeed, and poison, and artificial, and selfish, and diabetes and leukemia and SIDS. So yeah, Brown should expect some blowback when women learn the truth.

      • Who?

        Also, there’s another person involved in the breastfeeding scenario.

        In the eye surgery scenario, I’m the one affected if I choose, or not, to use the recommended treatment. If my surgeon tells me not to bother, because it makes no difference, then yay me.

        With breastfeeding, pregnant women and new mothers are told the baby needs to be breastfed to give it the best possible future. So they are led to believe that they are making a sub-optimal choice for their child if they don’t/can’t breastfeed.

        Totally different.

    • Anna

      Shes STILL gaslighting. I don’t know if its deliberate or shes just so wrapped up in herself she can’t see it. Women wouldn’t be tearing themselves up over breastfeeding if they weren’t told its the be all and end all of parenting and they have failed and harmed their baby if they aren’t AND a lot more women would be breastfeeding and longer if judicious supplementation was promoted. If only they would realise theres money in that for them too! It would take professional guidance to achieve. They’d lose the superiority of being “better” Mothers, which is an illusion anyway, but they could actually be a great help to women, and actually achieve some of their goals if it wasn’t all or nothing.

      • Pevensie

        She’s also lying about what FIB promotes. I’ve spent many hours on their website. They offer multiple breastfeeding success stories on their blog, suggested programs for early supplemented breastfeeding on the way to longer-term EBF or combo feeding, a Facebook support group where mothers routinely ask for and get breastfeeding tips, even the opportunity to pay their LC for one-on-one breastfeeding advice. Nowhere on that entire website have I seen it suggested that people who want to breastfeed should just give up.

        Brown manipulates language — sometimes she uses the word “breastfeeding” to mean breastfeeding, and sometimes she uses it to mean exclusive breastfeeding. She does not inform the reader which definition she is using at any given time. It’s incredibly dishonest.

  • MaineJen

    “…their right for their body to work as expected…”

    I’m sorry, WHAT? If she thinks that anyone has any “right” for their body to work any given way, she’s crazy. We do not have conscious control over much of what our body does, including breastfeeding! I did not “will” my boobs to produce milk, they just did. FFS. That’s some serious magical thinking right there.

    • JDM

      Yes, plus this one: “My Body SHOULD be Able to Breastfeed!”

      Sure, your body should work well in all ways at all times, as should everyone’s. Your children should all be born easily, healthy, and remain so all their lives, as should all children. And you shouldn’t want for anything ever, nor should anyone. But that’s not the way reality works.

      • Griffin

        Yeah really effing perverse. This person, like so many of breastfeeding ideologues, obviously has an empathy bypass and no sense of irony.

      • KQ Not Signed In

        Right? Whatever, lady. My body SHOULD be able to do A LOT OF THINGS IT JUST DOESN’T.

        It SHOULD be able to gestate a healthy, genetic defect free baby. It SHOULD go through pregnancy without me vomiting for 8 months straight, developing high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. It SHOULD be able to see clearly and digest lactose properly and it DEFINITELY SHOULD be able to KEEP BREATHING ALL NIGHT LONG.

        I have every RIGHT for my body to work as expected. I have EVERY RIGHT for my ankles to never roll, my pores to never clog and my brain not to have a deficit of attention and be chemically prone to anxiety and depression.

        I HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO EXPECT MY BODY SHOULD BE PERFECT IN EVERY WAY BECAUSE THAT’S HOW IT WORKS OBVIOUSLY

        /rant

        • Leading Zero

          You took the words right out of my mouth! Brown is a True Believer in the naturalistic fallacy: nature is perfect, except when humans delibereately act to mess up its perfection.

          I guess that tells us something about Brown herself: she’s probably in pretty good health, and any ache, pain, or illness she has is likely blamed on something to causing an imbalance in her vital force.

          • Cristina B

            “any ache, pain, or illness she has is likely blamed on something to cause an imbalance in her vital force.”

            That sounds exhausting. I wish I had so much free time I could rail against biology and get myself in a tizzy over what other people do with their bodies.

        • Pevensie

          My body is supposed to be six feet tall. Body positivity organizations are undermining me by suggesting it’s OK to be shorter than that and I should give up on my height goals, but I ignore them because they’re in the pocket of the petite clothing industry and the high-heeled shoe lobby. I know all women could reach our height goals naturally if we just had a little more support.

          • AnnaPDE

            Don’t forget Big Ladder and Big Step-Stool — they’re behind all this unhealthy normalisation of tallness insufficiency!

      • Anna

        The reeking privilege of someone who has had live handed to her on a silver platter.

        • JDM

          More than that. It’s someone who has managed to disconnect herself from the world of reality enough that she doesn’t realize that expecting the world to be the way it “SHOULD be Able” is not sensible. Wish for it and work for it, absolutely, but don’t expect it.

    • Anna

      Thats such ableist garbage. Its almost like shes intentionally trying to upset women who werent able to breastfeed and all women with various health challenges and disability.

  • Angharad

    I find this line really telling: “only to find that the thing they were told was so important during pregnancy, suddenly didn’t seem to be anymore.” Because who told them breastfeeding was so important while they were pregnant? She’s using the fact that lactivists prey on vulnerable pregnant women as a justification for then preying on vulnerable new mothers.

    • Casual Verbosity

      Exactly! They wouldn’t be feeling so invalidated if lactivists didn’t cultivate the belief that breastfeeding is the be-all-and-end-all to begin with!