The last bastion of acceptable bullying? New motherhood.


We are all anti-bullying now.

We recognize that bullying based on race is wrong; bullying based on religion is wrong; bullying based on gender is wrong; bullying based on sexual orientation is wrong. In fact, there’s only one group that it is still acceptable to bully: new mothers.

And who are the bullies? Lactivists, natural childbirth activists, and the natural parenting industry.

How do these activists and industries bully new mothers? Let me count the ways.

1. Through the perversion of science

From individual lactivists to the so-called Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, from individual birth bloggers to large organizations like Lamaze International and the Childbirth Connection, natural parenting advocates pervert the scientific evidence on breastfeeding and childbirth.

Yes, breastfeeding has real benefits, but those benefits are trivial in industrialized countries. That’s not surprising when you consider that the benefits of breastfeeding evolved in nature, where unsafe water supplies, scarce sources of food, and a myriad of untreatable pathogens pose a constant and massive threat to babies’ lives. In that setting, a safe source of water and nutrients, always available, generally present in adequate amounts, usually pathogen free and tailored to the specific needs of infants is the difference between life and death.

In first world countries, however, where we have safe water supplies, adequate sources of food and treatments for most pathogens, those threats to babies have largely disappeared. Infant formula is an excellent source of infant nutrition, safe, plentiful and convenient. Lactivists have chosen to ignore those changes and instead grossly exaggerate the benefits of breastfeeding, grossly exaggerate the “risks” of formula feeding, and use weak, poorly controlled and conflicting studies to do so. When all else fails, lying about breastfeeding and bonding is employed.

The perversion of science is, if anything, even worse in natural childbirth advocacy. Childbirth with modern obstetrics is actually dramatically safer than natural childbirth. That hasn’t stopped activists from lying about it. There is no lie that is too ridiculous for natural childbirth advocates to swallow: Michel Odent says pain is necessary for bonding; midwives promote “normal” birth as if the process is more important than the outcome; and there is no limit to the nonsense that issues forth from the mouths and pens of natural childbirth advocates (C-sections change DNA??!! C-sections destroy the infant microbiome??!!)

Lactivists and natural childbirth advocates repeatedly pervert science in order to use it as a cudgel with which to beat women who don’t conform to their values.

2. Emotional abuse

Among middle school girls there is probably no insult more devastating than “no one likes you.” That’s why it is wielded so promiscuously among middle school bullies. Among new mothers there is probably no insult more devastating than “your baby hasn’t bonded to you.” That’s why lactivist and natural childbirth bullies wield it so promiscuously among new mothers. There is NO EVIDENCE that bottle fed babies are less bonded to their mothers than breastfed babies; there is NO EVIDENCE that C-section babies are less bonded to their mothers than babies born by vaginal delivery. That hasn’t stopped activists from repeately invoking bonding to force new mothers into compliance with the ethos of the group.

3. Petty humiliations

“You only think you didn’t produce enough milk for your baby.”

“Your C-section was unnecessary.”

“Bottle feeding is so much easier; not suprising that you gave up breastfeeding and used formula instead.”

Or the humble brag version: “I breastfeed because I’m lazy. Who wants to sterilize all those bottles?”

“What a shame that your baby was born drugged because you gave in and got an epidural.”

4. Veneration of the biggest bullies

Many breastfeeding and birth bloggers are queen bees. They have arranged their little kingdoms to seek adulation from the minions. They practice shunning and silencing of those who disagree (through deleting and banning). They constantly emphasize their specialness and the specialness of their followers. They routinely shame those who will not go along.

Don’t believe me? I have two words for you: Alpha Parent.

5. Institutional humiliations

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative has to be the biggest oxymoron in contemporary maternity care. This credentialing initiative isn’t baby friendly and it certainly isn’t mother friendly. It’s bully friendly. It is based on the premise that any woman who doesn’t wholeheartedly embrace breastfeeding must be forced to do so by constant hectoring, shaming, inconvenience (locking up formula), sleep deprivation (mandatory rooming in) and punishment (banning formula gifts).

To my knowledge, neither the component “steps” nor the program itself have ever been shown to increase long term breastfeeding rates. Their only “success” is increasing the number of women who claim they will be breastfeeding when they leave the hospital, not the number who actually do.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Most of what passes for lactivism and natural childbirth advocacy is poorly disguised bullying.

Although we have gone a long way toward reducing bullying based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, we have a long, long way to go. The tendency to bully appears to be innate to human beings; therefore, we must always be on guard against it.

Unfortunately, new motherhood appears to be the last bastion of acceptable bullying, where shaming, blaming and humiliating new mothers has been sugar coated as “science” and “education” when it is neither. It’s just old fashioned bullying, and the sooner we acknowledge that, the better.