Lactation professionals treat mothers like cows


My email inbox is filled with messages from women who hate themselves, blame themselves and are nearly incapacitated by guilt at being unable to breastfeed exclusively.


It’s certainly not because breastfeeding in industrialized countries is so beneficial for babies that it has a measurable impact on mortality rates, life expectancy or IQ. Walk into any kindergarten classroom and it is impossible to tell which children were breastfed and which were not.

It’s because in the past 30 years we have seen the rise and professionalization of a movement, lactivism, thats benefit from viewing new mothers the same way farmers view cows: as milk suppliers.

[pullquote align=”right”]Regardless of the difficulty, the lactivist prescription is always the same: “Breastfeed harder.”[/pullquote]


The concept of choice doesn’t exist among lactation consultants. There is only one acceptable choice and that is to breastfeed. They will go to great lengths to help women who make that choice, but they will do nothing for women who bottlefeed.

A mother’s pain is irrelevant. For the breastfeeding industry, just because a mother has cracked and bleeding nipples is no excuse for her to avoid being a milked like a cow. It’s just another opportunity to sell her products that purportedly reduce the pain.

A baby’s hunger is irrelevant. For lactation professionals, just because a baby is screaming in hunger is no excuse for his mother to provide milk from any other source than herself or another mother breastmilk dispenser.

Breastfeeding difficulties are irrelevant. Regardless of the difficulty (poor latch, flat nipples, poor suck, insufficient breastmilk) and regardless of the severity of the difficulty the lactivist prescription is always the same: “Breastfeed harder.”

A mother’s need for sleep is irrelevant. She is supposed to dispense breastmilk 24/7/365. What else could be more important than being a breastmilk dispenser?

A mother’s need to control her own body is irrelevant. If breastfeeding makes her psychologically uncomfortable, she’s supposed to get over it. Her mental health receives as much attention from them as cows’ mental health receives from farmers.

A mother’s mental health is irrelevant. Lactation professionals are much more concerned with whether treatments for postpartum depression are compatible with breastfeeding than with whether they are the best possible treatment for the mother’s condition. The mother must continue dispensing breastmilk as she approaches and even endures psychological collapse.

The connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression has been noted, but lactation professionals have chosen to spin it as evidence that successful breastfeeding prevents postpartum depression; the reality is that pressuring women to breastfeed when they can’t or don’t want to do so increases the risk of postpartum depression. That’s certainly what suffering women tell us, but lactation consultants don’t bother listening to them.

Treating women like cows has a corollary in pregnancy and childbirth and that corollary has been emphatically rejected by most women. The corollary is treating women as breeding stock, evaluating every decision they make by asking whether it is good for the baby. Ironically, many of the same people who would be horrified by reducing pregnant women to baby incubators, have no problem reducing new mothers to breastmilk dispensers.

In response to the never ending lobbying of lactation organizations, we have moralized breastfeeding far, far beyond any actual benefits. It has become a signifier of social status and an emblem of maternal superiority; indeed, it has become a requirement for being a “good” mother.

As a result we treat new mothers as if they were cows and there only reason for existence is to dispense breastmilk. Even if breastmilk were “the elixir of life” as some lactivists pretend, that would not justify this cavalier treatment of women. Since the benefits of breastmilk are in reality trivial, treating women like cows isn’t merely unjustified, it is gratuitously cruel.

Every women is capable of looking at the scientific evidence about breastfeeding term babies in industrialized countries (the real evidence, not the wildly exaggerated claims) and making her own considered decision how to feed her infant. Insisting that it is the lactation industry’s business deprives a woman of autonomy … and treats her as no better than a cow.