Lactivism represents a profound lack of empathy

26235543 - woman consoling her friend

One of the most amazing traits of human beings is the ability to empathize with others.

We don’t have to lose a parent to imagine how devastating the loss of a parent could be and therefore we offer our support.

We don’t have to experience a divorce to imagine how devastating the end of a marriage might be and therefore we offer our support.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Why don’t lactivists, who undoubtedly could feel empathy for another’s loss, have no empathy for women who can’t breastfeed?[/pullquote]

We don’t have to become paralyzed to imagine how shocking and life altering that would and therefore we offer our support.

We don’t have to have inadvertently starved our infant trying to breastfeed to imagine how horrible we might feel and therefore we offer … blistering condemnation accusing such women of being lazy, selfish and unable to bond with their own children.

Wait, what?

Why don’t lactivists, who undoubtedly could feel empathy for another’s loss of a parent, a marriage or the ability to walk have no empathy for women who can’t breastfeed?

I suspect that there are three reasons for this.

The first is that it’s easiest to imagine the suffering of others when we know the same thing might happen to us. There is no one who can pretend that they will never lose a parent, never have a spouse cheat on them, never become paralyzed in an accident. It really could happen to them and they express the same empathy that they would hope for and rely upon in such a situation. In contrast, many lactivists already know that they can successfully breastfeed; they don’t bother to imagine what it would be like to be unsuccessful precisely because (so they believe) it couldn’t happen to them.

The second reason is that lactivists have constructed infant feeding as a source of self-esteem. In truth, they have no more control over their breastmilk supply than they have over an impending miscarriage, yet they pretend that they do. In truth, deliberately choosing not to breastfeed is no more or less selfish than deliberately choosing to have a another child to give your existing child a sibling. Sure, many people consider their siblings to be among the joys of their life but we recognize that the detrimental impact of an additional child on the parents may outweigh the benefits to the child.

The third reason is that lactivists have constructed infant feeding as a zero sum game. Breastfeeding mothers imagine that they can only be considered “good” mothers if formula feeding mothers are labeled “bad.” They seem to be incapable of recognizing that infant feeding really has no bearing at all on whether a woman is a good mother. That’s why they abhor the rather basic and obvious concept that “fed is best.” If fed is best, they’re not best and that is simply unacceptable. It seems never to have occurred to them that there is more than one way to produce healthy, happy children.

The inability of lactivists to empathize with women who make (or are forced to make) different feeding choices is quite ugly.

Here’s a Facebook post from Kristy of Breastfeeding Mama Talk. She leads with the acknowledgement that this is going to make other women feel terrible but she doesn’t care:

I know I’m opening a can of worms with this , but I just cannot remain silent. I know this will rile up many and while that isn’t my intent, it needs to be stated. If I shy away from speaking out in fear of backlash and being bullied then I wouldn’t be true to all of you. Just like they are getting the floor to refute , we get the floor too. So here goes nothing…

Kristy is upset that the Fed Is Best Foundation has called out the World Health Organization for admitting that babies who are injured or die because of insufficient breastmilk are “not a priority.”

She continues:

They are pushing really hard to fear monger moms into supplementing, especially in the first few weeks when developing the breastfeeding relationship is the most crucial. Moms already have the doubt, fear, and concern , that they aren’t making enough milk. The answer is not to rush to supplementation (unless that is what the mom wants to do of course) but if her goal is to exclusively breastfeed she should seek assistance from a reputable IBCLC who can then assess what the issue is and may come to find there is no issue at all. Rather than just handing over those premade formula bottles. Often times , moms will assume they aren’t making enough when in actuality they are making just enough. There are ways to figure out if baby is getting enough without the need to supplement right off the bat.

In just a few short sentences I see constructing breastfeeding as a zero sum game: preventing infant injuries and deaths is transformed into pushing supplementation. There’s refusal to acknowledge both that breastfeeding has a significant failure rate and that not every woman can exclusively breastfeed. There’s gaslighting of women who are concerned that their babies are starving. But most of all, there’s an incredible lack of empathy.

What if the WHO had claimed that providing access for the disabled was “not a priority”? Would Kristy have claimed that those who are arguing for improved access are pushing paralysis? Would she have gaslighted them by implying that those who think they are paralyzed aren’t really paralyzed? Would she have declared that they just needed more “support” to walk, not ramps and elevators? Would she have insisted that those in wheelchairs figure out how to use the stairs and wait to see if ramps were really medically necessary?

I doubt it, and if she did behave that way to people who are paralyzed, most of us would be repulsed by her utter lack of empathy.

I’m going to guess that if a woman showed up in a wheelchair and told Kristy that she was paralyzed from the waist down, Kristy would believe her and certainly wouldn’t demand medical proof. But when a woman shows up with an infant who is failing to thrive and says she isn’t producing enough breastmilk to fully nourish her baby, Kristy feels no compunction about gaslighting her and demanding “proof.”

Why the difference? Because while Kristy and other lactivists can empathize with people who are paralyzed, they can’t or they won’t empathize with women who suffer from insufficient lactation. I suspect that Kristy would willingly acknowledge that it is simply a matter of luck that she is not paralyzed and others are. It’s easy to do that because she hasn’t contructed being able to walk as a source of her self esteem. She hasn’t created a Walking Mama Talk Facebook page to celebrate women who can walk and denigrate those who can’t. In contrast, she has constructed being able to breastfeed as a source of self-esteem and a zero sum game.

If Kristy were to acknowledge the truth, that breastfeeding is a matter of luck not will or skill, she wouldn’t be able to feel superior to others. For lactivists, that desperation to feel superior to other mothers is so powerful that they’d let babies die rather than admit that the ability to breastfeed is no different from the ability to walk.