5 lies my lactation consultant told me


Another day, another “study” of breastfeeding based on ignorance and ideology.

When I first saw the article from Manchester University, Research reveals why obese mothers less likely to breastfeed, I thought it would be about insulin resistance. After all, insulin resistance, a common complication of obesity, has been found to affect production of breastmilk.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]These 5 lies interlock to create the impenetrable wall of denial faced by new mothers who have breastfeeding complications. [/pullquote]

[P]revious research had shown that for mothers with markers of sub-optimal glucose metabolism, such as being overweight, being at an advanced maternal age, or having a large birth-weight baby, it takes longer for their milk to come in, suggesting a role for insulin in the mammary gland…

“This new study shows a dramatic switching on of the insulin receptor and its downstream signals during the breast’s transition to a biofactory that manufactures massive amounts of proteins, fats and carbohydrates for nourishing the newborn baby,” says Dr. Nommsen-Rivers.

“Considering that 20 percent of women between 20 and 44 are prediabetic, it’s conceivable that up to 20 percent of new mothers in the United States are at risk for low milk supply due to insulin dysregulation.”

But shockingly the paper didn’t mention insulin resistance at all. Instead it advanced the all purpose lactivist lie that the only limitation to breastfeeding is lack of maternal support.

Factors holding obese women back from breastfeeding included: lack of breastfeed planning, low belief in breastmilk’s nutritional adequacy and sufficiency, poor body image and lack of social knowledge.

That’s like looking at someone with glasses and blaming lack of support — instead of nearsightedness — for difficulty seeing. In an additional irony, the paper appears on the website Obesity Reviews beneath a paper exploring the role of insulin resistance and obesity in prostate cancer. Apparently no one insists that prostate cancer is due to a lack of support.

This is just the latest example of the sad fact that lactivism is based on a system of lies. Babies are suffering and dying as a result and their mothers are suffering, too.

Each individual lie is harmful of course, as any lie about healthcare will inevitably be, but the true danger comes from the system of lies and the clever way they interlock to prevent women and babies from receiving appropriate medical care.

What are these lies?

1. Breastfeeding is perfect? No, that’s a lie.

This is the foundational lie of breastfeeding advocacy — the belief that breastfeeding is perfect — and the lie from which all the other lies spring. Breastfeeding is a biological function just like any biological function; that means it will inevitably have a failure rate. And like most aspects of reproduction (human or animal), its failure rate is HIGH. Up to 20% of couples will suffer from infertility. Up to 20% of established pregnancies will end in miscarriage. It is hardly surprising then that up to 15% of first time mothers will be unable to produce enough breastmilk to fully nourish an infant especially in the first few days after birth.

2. All but the rare woman will make enough breastmilk? No, that’s a lie.

Insufficient breastmilk isn’t rare; it’s common and the consequences are widespread. Breastfeeding doubles the rate of newborn hospital readmission leading to literally tens of thousands of hospital readmissions per year for dehydration and jaundice. The leading cause of kernicterus (jaundice induced brain damage) is breastfeeding, accounting for 90% of cases.

The cost of hospital readmissions is massive, literally hundreds of millions of dollars each year. And that doesn’t even count the downstream costs of caring for children who suffer injuries and learning disabilities as a result of breastfeeding induced dehydration, hypoglycemia and hyperbilirubinemia.

3. The benefits of breastfeeding are massive? No, that’s a lie.

The benefits of breastfeeding in industrialized countries are trivial. Most of the myriad benefits claimed are based on studies that are weak, conficting and riddled with confounding variables. When breastfeeding studies are controlled for maternal income and education (both independently associated with improved health of offspring), nearly all of the purported benefits disappear. To the extent that breastfeeding has greater benefits in the developing world it’s because the unclean WATER used to make the formula is harmful NOT the formula itself.

4. Formula supplementation or pacifiers interfere with breastfeeding? No, that’s a lie.

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, designed to promote breastfeeding, specifically discourages both formula supplementation and pacifiers as harmful to the breastfeeding relationship. But research shows that early judicious formula supplementation increases breastfeeding rates and pacifiers save lives by preventing SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Moreover, many women successfully combo feed using both breastmilk and formula for months or years.

5. All breastfeeding problems can be solved with more support? No, that’s a lie and a particularly self-serving one.

A new paper about publicly funded lactivism, State power and breastfeeding promotion: A critique, makes the point eloquently.

The problem – whether it be postnatal depression, multiple births, or severely cracked nipples – can almost always be surmounted with appropriate counselling, management and determination. This is the case even when the problem is one of insufficient milk and the infant itself is not thriving as well as their peers. Hausman, for example, writes that ‘no one disputes that cases of true (or primary) insufficient milk syndrome exist – breastfeeding advocates simply tend to question the idea that there are large numbers of women who physically cannot make enough milk’…

Perseverance, counselling and management, and not choice, context and individual circumstances, seem to be an all too common response from many public and/or publicly funded health professionals and institutions to those struggling.

In other words, whatever the problem, more lactation consultants making more money by providing more government (or privately) funded support is  always the solution.

These 5 lies interlock to create the nearly impenetrable wall of denial that greets most new mothers when they experience entirely predictable difficulties and complications with breastfeeding. That’s how you end up with the travesty of a paper blaming obese women’s difficulty breastfeeding on “lack of support” when the cause is almost certainly biological at least in part if not entirely.