Why have lactation professionals made breastfeeding so much harder than it ever was before?


I’ve been studying breastfeeding for more than 30 years. Yet it was only recently that I had something of an epiphany. I realized that lactation professionals have been making breastfeeding steadily harder, not easier, by hedging it around with unnecessary restrictions.

The Fed Is Best movement is about stripping away the unnecessary and harmful restrictions that lactation professionals have ADDED ON to breastfeeding.

It used to be that breastfeeding meant feeding a baby at your breast. Consider the ur-text of the lactation profession, Diane Weissinger’s Watch your language.

The paper is a remarkable paean to manipulating women through shame.

Artificial feeding, which is neither the same nor superior, is therefore deficient, incomplete, and inferior. Those are difficult words, but they have an appropriate place in our vocabulary…

Because breastfeeding is the biological norm, breastfed babies are not “healthier” artificially-fed babies are ill more often and more seriously. Breastfed babies do not “smell better”; artificial feeding results in an abnormal and unpleasant odor that reflects problems in the infant’s gut.

But the paper is also remarkable for what it doesn’t include:

There’s nothing about an enforced hour of skin-to-skin “care.”
There’s nothing about enforced rooming in.
There’s nothing about closing well baby nurseries.
There’s nothing about refusing to supplement babies who are hungry.
There’s nothing about banning formula gifts.
There’s nothing about refusing to give babies pacifiers.
There’s nothing about co-sleeping or bedsharing.
There’s very little about bonding.
There’s nothing about purchasing donor milk.

In short, there’s nothing about the myriad ways in which lactation professionals make breastfeeding harder for women than it otherwise would be … and it’s already hard enough. These restrictions, in addition to making breastfeeding more onerous, make it more dangerous.

Breastfeeding itself isn’t dangerous, but the restrictions can be deadly. Worse, most of the restrictions have no basis in scientific evidence.

The refusal to supplement leads to newborn dehydration, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and jaundice, all of which can cause permanent brain injury and death. Moreover, early judicious supplementation for hungry babies increases the odds of extended breastfeeding.

The enforced hour of skin-to-skin care has led to an increase of babies smothering to death in their mothers’ hospital beds. Yet there’s NO scientific evidence that shows that skin-to-skin care is beneficial for term babies in high resource settings (as opposed to premature babies in low resource settings).

The closing of well baby nurseries has deprived women of much needed rest after the exhausting ordeal of childbirth. It has also increased smothering deaths and deaths of babies fracturing their skulls by falling from their mothers’ hospital beds. There’s no evidence that closing nurseries improves breastfeeding rates, and there is no culture besides ours that forces mothers to exclusively care for their babies from the moment the placenta detaches.

The purchase of astronomically expensive donor milk is a tremendous financial hardship. There’s NO evidence that donor milk provides any benefits for term babies (as opposed to extremely premature babies).

Why have lactation professionals weighed breastfeeding down by encrusting it with so many additional onerous obligations? It doesn’t make sense if the goal is to get make it possible for more babies to receive more breastmilk, and that — supposedly — is the goal.

But it makes a lot of sense if we think back to how modern lactivism got its start and if we recognize it as but one component of the ideology of intensive mothering.

The creation of La Leche League ushered in modern lactivism. LLL was started by a group of traditionalist Catholic women who wanted to keep mothers of young children from going to work. The impetus was NOT the supposed benefits of breastmilk; those were unknown and never mentioned. The impetus was the belief that babies need mothers to stay home. If mothers could be convinced to breastfeed, they’d have to stay home.

In other words, modern lactivism was created to control women, NOT to nourish babies. To that end, anything that makes mothering easier — supplementing, pacifiers, babies sleeping in cribs — is rejected out of hand. No matter that many of these options are actually safer than what lactivists advocate. This has never been about what’s good for babies.

Lactivism is part of an ideology of motherhood known as intensive mothering for the obvious reason that it takes up nearly every moment of a mother’s time. The ostensible goal of intensive mothering is the maximization of children’s capacities and talents, preparing them to succeed in the modern capitalist world. The real goal is the re-domestication of women.

Lactation professionals have embraced the task with gusto, creating new “benefits” of breastfeeding as fast as the old “benefits” are debunked. They demonize formula, deliberately ignoring the fact that insufficient breastmilk is common as well as the reality that many women want to utilize their minds in fulfilling work instead of being tied to the home by the need to breastfeed. And, of course, lactation professionals claim — falsely and in the absence of any scientific evidence — that anything other than exclusive breastfeeding “interferes” with maternal-infant bonding.

The saddest thing about the lactation profession is not that they are harming babies and mothers, although the soaring success of the Fed Is Best movement is a testament to the fact that they are. The saddest thing is that they have enclosed themselves in social media echo chambers — deliberately banning both professionals who disagree and mothers who are being harmed. There they assure each other they are doing good while babies are starving and sustaining permanent injuries and mothers are being driven to postpartum anxiety and depression.

Lactation professionals are bewildered by the success of the Fed Is Best movement and invoke nefarious motives. They tell themselves and each other that the professionals who are sounding the alarm about the dangers of breastfeeding are trying to undermine it, and are on the payroll of formula companies. But that’s not what’s happening at all.

At its heart, the Fed Is Best movement is about stripping away the unnecessary and harmful restrictions that lactation professionals have ADDED ON to breastfeeding. There is absolutely no reason to ban formula supplementation for hungry babies, to ban pacifiers, to close well baby nurseries and any of the other myriad of restrictions that make breastfeeding harder — and more dangerous — than it needs to be.