How about a MOTHER friendly breastfeeding initiative?

Woman Screaming at Anoher Female on White Background

If there’s a bigger oxymoron than the “Baby Friendly” Hospital Initiative, I’m not aware of it. There is nothing baby friendly about efforts to promote breastfeeding to the exclusion of a mother and baby’s actual needs. There is not, and there can never be, anything “baby friendly” about destroying the confidence of new mothers and making them feel guilty about a decision with trivial consequences.

It’s time (actually long past time) for a MOTHER friendly breastfeeding initiative.

What would a mother friendly breastfeeding initiative entail? It would start with some basic truths about breastfeeding and mothering:

1. While breastfeeding has real benefits, those benefits are so small as to be trivial in all cases except premature babies. Understanding and acknowledging this scientific reality is the first step to a safe, sane, respectful breastfeeding policy.

2. The obvious corollary to #1 is this: once a woman has been given accurate information about the benefits of breastfeeding, it DOES NOT MATTER what choice she makes, and therefore hospitals should NOT be devoting copious resources to it. Those resources would be much better spent teaching basic parenting to low income, young women or on programs to prevent prematurity.

3. Formula is an EXCELLENT source of nutrition for babies. There is absolutely positively nothing wrong with it, and no mother should be made to feel guilty for feeding to her child, regardless of the reason for choosing it.

4. Breasts are part of a woman’s body. NO ONE has the right to tell women how they must or should use their breasts. PERIOD.

5. I don’t know of a single endeavor where humiliation produces results. It’s time for lactivists and lactation consultants to acknowledge that and stop the hectoring treatment being offered in hospitals.

6. In my judgment, boosting fragile maternal confidence is an important task of anyone who cares for women and babies. Setting arbitrary standards, ignoring women’s own needs, pretending that every woman can breastfeed successfully are sure-fire ways to undermine self-confidence, not build it.

7. Stop treating new mothers like morons. EVERY women knows that “breast is best.” If a woman decides to formula feed, it does NOT mean that she doesn’t understand the benefits of breastfeeding.

8. Breastmilk does not have magical properties. Its ability to prevent vaccine preventable illnesses is small and easily outstripped by vaccination itself. It does not increase intelligence; it does not prevent obesity; and it does not confer health on its recipients.

9. No one has ever demonstrate ANY benefit to donor breastmilk for term babies.

10. The risks of potentially contaminated donor breastmilk from unregulated arrangements far outstrips any putative benefits.

Why is it critically important to make our breastfeeding initiatives MOTHER friendly?

We have made great strides in understanding the devastating impact of postpartum depression, yet we seem to ignore those insights when trying to promote breastfeeding. Adequate sleep, lots of help and feelings of competence can help prevent and treat postpartum depression. Why then do we pretend that breastfeeding is more important than these factors so critical for women’s mental health?

Contemporary efforts at breastfeeding promotion remind me of the efforts to encourage right handedness among the left handed in generations past. The humiliation and physical abuse associated with forcing right handedness were justified by claims that being right handed is “better” and “easier.” The humiliation and guilt inducing behavior of lactivists and their breastfeeding initiatives are justified by claims that breastfeeding is “better” and “easier.” Humiliation and physical abuse were believed to be “effective” in forcing right handedness when the reality was that it was effective only in inducing despair. Lactivists apparently believe that humiliation and guilt are effective in increasing breastfeeding rates when the reality is that they are effective only in getting women to lie about their intentions or to despair when they can’t realize those intentions.

There is NOTHING wrong with formula feeding, the benefits of breastfeeding are trivial and the harms to women and babies of venerating breastmilk as magical far outstrip any of those putative benefits. It’s time to get real about breastfeeding and to stop the nonsense of “baby friendly” hospital initiatives. Such initiatives are friendly to only one group: lactivists, who are building their own self-esteem by tearing other women down. If we actually care about mothers and babies, we would remove “baby friendly” programs and replace them with accurate scientific information, respect for women’s intelligence and efforts to support mothers regardless of feeding choice.

It’s time for safe, sane and respectful breastfeeding policies. It is time for MOTHER friendly breastfeeding initiatives.