Why do lactivists think it’s okay to let babies scream incessantly from hunger?


It’s ironic when you think about it. Many of the same people who refuse infant eye ointment because the baby might be distressed by blurry vision, who refuse neonatal vitamin K because the injection will hurt the baby for a brief moment, think nothing of letting a baby (yours or theirs) scream for hours in hunger in the face of inadequate breast milk supply.

The promotion of breastfeeding invariably involves discussion of the benefits to babies of breastmilk but no one seems to care about the babies who suffer in an attempt to force them to breastfeed even when the breastfeeding relationship is not working.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Babies experience hunger as suffering.[/pullquote]

Hunger is probably the most elemental of infant drives and, as anyone who has seen an infant scream from hunger would probably agree, is experienced by the baby as suffering. For most mothers, myself included, the sound of their own infant crying is piercing in its intensity and distress. I remember being surprised by this when my first child was born. I had spent my entire professional life surrounded by crying babies and it had never bothered me, yet I found my son’s crying unbearable and always rushed to determine what was wrong and fix it in any way possible. I cannot imagine letting any of my infants cry in hunger for any length of time without feeding them. Indeed I recoil when I read about the infant care manuals of the early 20th Century that advised mothers to feed the baby on a schedule designed for maternal convenience instead of infant needs.

So why do lactivists think it okay to let babies scream for hours at a time because of desperate, all consuming hunger? Why do they advise women whose babies aren’t getting enough milk in the first few days to ignore that crying in an effort to promote breastfeeding? Why do they view supplementation in the first view days as an evil so great that it is preferable to force babies to endure distress?

Why do lactivists think it is okay to ignore an infant who is not gaining weight because of a maternal milk supply that does not match that infants needs? Why do they denigrate women who find their baby soothed and content after a bottle of formula, and chastise them that they should have let the baby scream instead?

Why do lactivists who have children who try to wean before their mothers have planned to stop breastfeeding counsel each other to starve the baby into submission? Why do they tell each other to offer no other source of nourishment until the baby is forced to give up his or her drive for independence and bow to the mother’s will to continue breastfeeding in order to survive?

Why do people who promote attachment parenting, which is supposed to be about meeting infant needs, to ignore their most elemental need, the need for adequate nutrition?

What’s the difference between the pediatricians of the early 20th Century who promoted feeding on schedule because of its supposed long term benefits and contemporary lactivists who ignore infant hunger because of the very small long term benefits that may or may not really exist?

It seems to me that one of the biggest ironies of all is lactivists who promote forced breastfeeding as “baby-friendly.” We already know that “baby friendly” hospital policies are definitely not mother friendly, but I suspect that such policies aren’t even baby friendly.

How could anything that ignores infant suffering be considered baby friendly?