Natural mothering seeks to shame women for daring to consider their own needs


I’ve often noted with surprise that no sooner do I write about a topic than natural mothering advocates rush to illustrate my claims. This time though, I’ve been preempted. I had already planned this post when New Zealand lactivists serendipitously came to my aid with the perfect quote to lead it.

Access to infant milk formula should be restricted “more like prescription drugs”, a maternity group says.

Hospitals were right to require new mums to sign a consent form if they want their babies fed formula, said Brenda Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Maternity Services Consumer Council…

“I do think as a society it would be a good idea if formula was treated more like a prescription drug, something that you use if you are unable to breastfeed.”

It’s the perfect quote to illustrate the central premise of this post: Natural mothering doesn’t just ignore women’s needs and desires apart from mothering. It seeks to shame women for even considering them.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The only thing natural about natural mothering is the sexism.[/pullquote]

Why? Because natural mothering is not about parenting in nature; it bears little resemblance to that. Natural mothering is about recapitulating the rigid gender stereotyping in nature.

It’s hardly a secret. Natural parenting — natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting — were all created by religious fundamentalists who believed that women belong in the home and must be pressured to return to it.

Grantly Dick-Read, the father of natural childbirth, famously said: “Woman fails when she ceases to desire the children for which she was primarily made. Her true emancipation lies in freedom to fulfil her biological purposes …”

The founders of La Leche League wished to convince mothers of small children that they should not work. Promoting breastfeeding seemed the ideal way to pressure them to stay home.

And Bill and Martha Sears wrote: “We have a deep personal conviction that this is the way God wants His children parented.” And just in case you didn’t get the point: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything …”

The only thing natural about natural parenting is the sexism: the deep, abiding belief that women exist only for the benefit of children and men. They shouldn’t merely ignore their own needs — for intellectual engagement, political and economic power and personal fulfillment — they should be shamed for even considering those needs.

Make no mistake, requiring a prescription for infant formula is a form of shaming. How dare a woman imagine that she is entitled to determine how her own breasts are used? She should be required to justify herself to her doctor or midwife and receive the appropriate scolding for failing to adhere to her appropriate gender role.

Natural childbirth is also about shaming. How dare a woman imagine that she is entitled to relieve agonizing labor pain simple to ease her own suffering? She should be required to justify herself to midwives, doulas and peers and receive the appropriate scolding for failing to accept her womanly suffering.

And attachment parenting is about shaming mothers out of the workforce. How dare a woman imagine that she is entitled to a job and the intellectual fulfillment and economic power that come with it? No one cares about her needs. She should be shamed for even considering them.

Don’t tell me that natural parenting is about what’s good for babies. Infant mortality rates in nature are astronomical. There is no historical or anthropological evidence that natural parenting is safer, healthier or better in any way than parenting with technology.

Don’t tell me that breastfeeding is what’s good for babies. There’s simply no evidence that breastfeeding has any impact on the mortality rates of term infants in industrialized countries. Professional breastfeeding advocates can’t point to any real world evidence that a change in breastfeeding rates has any change in the health of any but the most premature babies.

Don’t tell me that unmedicated vaginal birth is what’s good for babies. Childbirth interventions rates have never been higher and perinatal mortality rates have never been lower. What about maternal mortality? It’s a cruel joke to blame maternal mortality on too much technology. It disproportionately affects women who LACK access to high tech obstetrics.

Don’t tell me that attachment parenting is about what is good for babies. AP has become ever more popular but the rates for teen suicide and self harm have never been higher.

Who benefits from requiring prescriptions for infant formula?

Lactivists benefit:

First, lactation consultants benefits by increased employment and income. If every women is shamed into attempting breastfeeding, and shamed if she attempts to stop, and shamed if she combo-feeds with formula, and shamed when she is seen bottle feeding, there will be greater need for lactation consultants.

Second, lactivists benefit in the same way that those inflicting shame on others always benefit, by enhanced self-esteem through feeling superior to the shamed.

Finally, lactivists benefit by enjoying ugly behavior that is usually forbidden but is actually encouraged in the case of formula feeding. There is simply no limit to the cruelty of lactivists toward women who don’t or don’t want to breastfeed, and no limit to the delight that lactivists experience in sanctioned cruelty to other mothers.

Natural mothering seeks to recapitulate the rigid gender stereotyping in nature. It seeks shame women for daring to consider their own needs. There is no better illustration of this than the ugly desire of lactivists to require a prescription for infant formula.

Sadly the only thing natural about natural mothering is the sexism.