How the social construction of breastfeeding leads to recommendations that are often faulty and sometimes deadly

If you want to understand contemporary lactivism — and its tenets that exist independent of or even in direct opposition to — scientific evidence, you need to understand the social movements behind them. The phrase ”breast is best” is a social construct masquerading as a medical claim.

Contemporary lactivism owes its origins to two social movements, the effort to re-immure women back in the home and the desire to punish formula companies for unethical behavior in Africa that occurred 50 years ago. Simply put, nearly every claim advanced by lactivists is designed to make mothering incompatible with work outside the home and/or designed to punish formula companies.

Consider the The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. The very name is meant to set the terms at the outset: women who believe they have responsibilities, needs or desires beyond full-time breastfeeding are deviant; they are “unfriendly” to their babies. Forcing women to be counseled in breastfeeding by such an initiative is like forcing left handed children to be instructed in handwriting by the “Right-handed is Best Initiative” or forcing gay and transgender teens to be counseled by the “Heterosexuality is Best Initiative.” It’s both unscientific and cruel.

That’s why there are so many tenets of lactivism that have not been changed despite having been debunked by scientific evidence:

– Why do hospitals, states and even countries have breastfeeding targets though they have not been shown to have a meaningful impact on the health of term babies?

To force mothers to stay home to breastfeed and to punish formula companies.

– Why do lactivists tell women formula will sabotage breastfeeding even though literally millions of women successfully combo-feed their babies.

To force mothers to stay home to breastfeed and to punish formula companies.

– Why do lactivists tell women that breastfeeding promotes bonding when it doesn’t?

To force mothers to stay home to breastfeed and to punish formula companies.

– Why do lactivists lie about newborn stomach size?

To force mothers to stay home to breastfeed and to punish formula companies.

Some tenets of lactivism — like banning pacifiers, discouraging solid food until 6 months and promoting the deadly practicing of bedsharing — rest solely on the effort to keep women tied to their babies and restricted to their homes.

Why does the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics and just about every organization concerned with babies insist that breast is best when often it’s not? Their recommendations rest largely on the repugnance they feel toward formula companies. That’s why when supplementation is unavoidable many organizations insist on donor breastmilk — hideously expensive, in desperately short supply, and with no evidence of benefit for term babies. In their view (conscious or subconscious) it is better for a mother to spend $8/ounce to buy breastmilk that may be contaminated with pathogens or recreational drugs than to give formula companies pennies/ounce in income.

The bottom line is that when it comes to breastfeeding, you can’t trust lactivists and you can’t trust medical organizations. You can only trust the scientific evidence and the scientific evidence has already debunked many of the most beloved claims about breastfeeding.

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