Ignore lactivist Amy Brown when she tells you to ignore breastfeeding horror stories

Female Portrait

Tobacco executives tried to convince people to ignore horror stories about lung cancer.

Car company executives tried to convince people to ignore the horror stories about exploding Pintos.

Pharmaceutical executives tried to convince people to ignore the horror stories about Vioxx.

Now lactation professionals are trying to convince people to ignore breastfeeding horror stories.

Try not to pay too much attention to breastfeeding horror stories. People like to share stories – it makes them feel better – without thinking about the consequences for you…

What Brown really means is: ignore breastfeeding horror stories. People share them without thinking of the consequences for ME!

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]When Brown tells you to ignore breastfeeding horror stories, she’s really telling you to ignore breastfeeding brain injuries and deaths. Don’t![/pullquote]

The tobacco executives, car company executives and pharmaceutical executives feared they would lose money, market share and status if people learned about the risks of their product, so they hid them. What’s a few dead people compared to their profitability? Brown and other lactation professionals fear they will lose money, market share and status if people learn the risks about their product — breastfeeding — so they hide them. What’s a few dead and brain damaged babies compared to their profits and prestige?

Make no mistake, when Brown tells you to ignore breastfeeding horror stories, she’s really telling you to ignore breastfeeding deaths, brain injuries, neonatal and maternal suffering.

She wants you to ignore Christie del Castillo-Hegyi’s horror story of her son who sustained permanent brain injuries from dehydration due to insufficient breastmilk.

She wants you to ignore Monica Thompson’s horror story of suffocating her daughter to death in her hospital bed trying to breastfeed.

She wants you to ignore Jillian Johnson’s horror story of losing her son to profound dehydration 12 hours after leaving the hospital which had assured her that her baby was receiving enough breastmilk.

She wants you to ignore the fact that the scientific literature is burgeoning with papers* detailing the high rate of insufficient breastmilk especially in the early days after birth (up to 15% of first time mothers) and the brain-threatening, life-threatening consequences. We are experiencing a dramatic increase in neonatal hypernatremic dehydration, hypoglycemia and kernicterus (severe jaundice). Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with tens of thousands of newborn hospital readmissions per year at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Brown, like other breastfeeding professionals, fears that mothers will learn the single most important fact about breastfeeding: like pregnancy, it has risks as well as benefits.

She and they are terrified of the impact of the Fed Is Best Foundation:

The Fed Is Best Foundation is a non-profit, volunteer organization of health professionals and parents who study the scientific literature on infant feeding and real-life infant feeding experiences of mothers through clinical practice and social media connections. We work to identify dangerous gaps in current breastfeeding protocols, guidelines, and education programs, and provide families and health professionals the most up-to-date scientific research, education and resources to practice safe infant feeding with breast milk, formula, or a combination of both. We provide safe, brain-protective infant feeding education for breastfeeding, mixed-feeding, formula-feeding, pumped-milk-feeding and tube-feeding mothers and families to prevent feeding complications to babies that have become too common in today’s “Breast is Best” world.

Breastfeeding professionals treat Fed Is Best like Voldemort: it’s the organization that must not be named!

They strive to diminish it by labeling it a social media campaign, refusing to acknowledge its 501(c)3 charitable status, its physician advisers and its tremendous resonance with ordinary mothers (its Facebook membership exceeds La Leche League).

That lactivist terror is expressed in the most recent issue of Clinical Lactation devoted to breastfeeding’s “bad press”:

Over the past few years, we have seen a distinct risk in social media campaigns that have claimed that breastfeeding harms babies. The gist of these campaigns is that we should focus on the fact that babies are fed, not on how they are fed …

In this special issue, we want to equip you to address the challenges presented by these negative social media campaigns …

It is replete with articles like these:

Debunking the Misunderstandings of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and Designation Requirements

Sensational headlines and messages surrounding breastfeeding in the media are leaving the public confused. There are also myths being circulated about the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) that are causing some to question the value and safety of its practices.

The False and the Furious by Kimberly Seals-Allers

…Negative social media campaigns have highlighted the “dangers” of breastfeeding and used extremist language to brand breastfeeding supporters. This article suggests some specific strategies for addressing gaps in our current system and countering the negative information…

Is Exclusive Breastfeeding Dangerous? By Marsha Walker

Social media has been alight with descriptions of exclusive breastfeeding being dangerous, resulting in significant and severe negative outcomes in infants whose mothers wished to breastfeed. This backlash has been led by a campaign that uses inflammatory anecdotes and misleading and inaccurate interpretation of research to bolster its assault on breastfeeding…

What Do Women Lose if They Are Prevented From Meeting Their Breastfeeding Goals? by Amy Brown:

Many women stop breastfeeding before they are ready, often leading to feelings of anxiety, guilt, and anger. Critics of breastfeeding promotion blame breastfeeding advocates for this impact, claiming that if the focus were merely on feeding the baby, with all methods equally valued and supported, maternal mental health would be protected. Established health impacts of infant feeding aside, this argument fails to account for the importance of maternal breastfeeding goals, or the physical and emotional rewards breastfeeding can bring…

Amy Brown bemoaning breastfeeding disappointment is like the fashion industry bemoaning negative body image.

Pious concern for women’s feelings is difficult to take seriously when it comes from the very people who make women feel anxious, guilty and anguished for failure to breastfeed. In the case of the fashion industry, idealized representations of the female body lead to self hatred when women’s bodies don’t meet the fashion industry norm. In the case of the breastfeeding industry, idealized representations of breastfeeding lead to self hatred when women’s bodies don’t meet the breastfeeding norm.

Professional lactivists are right about one thing, though. The Fed Is Best campaign is making tremendous headway against the breastfeeding industry refusal to acknowledge the risks of breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, as the special issue of Clinical Lactation illustrates, lactivists are still missing the point. Instead of publishing a special issue about publicity around breastfeeding injuries and deaths, they could have published a special issue about preventing breastfeeding injuries and deaths. But that would involve caring about babies more than profits, something that appears beyond them.

Instead, like the tobacco executives, car company executives and pharmaceutical executives before them, they will just tell people to ignore the horror stories while they ignore them, too.


* Recent publications:

  • United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines
  • Interventions Intended to Support Breastfeeding: Updated Assessment of Benefits and Harms
  • Unintended Consequences of Current Breastfeeding Initiatives
  • The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and the ten steps for successful breastfeeding. a critical review of the literature
  • Health Care Utilization in the First Month After Birth and Its Relationship to Newborn Weight Loss and Method of Feeding
  • The Effect of Early Limited Formula on Breastfeeding, Readmission, and Intestinal Microbiota: A Randomized Clinical Trial