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At a recent concert, Adele expressed her deep frustration with efforts to pressure new mothers into breastfeeding. The singer was a bit more colorful than most, but she speaks for many women.
Apparently responding to chef Jamie Oliver's characterization of breastfeeding as "easy and "convenient," the singer did not mince words:
It’s f---ing ridiculous, and all those people who put pressure on us, you can go f--- yourselves, alright? Because it’s hard. Some of us can’t do it! I managed about nine weeks ... Some of my mates got post-natal depression from the way those midwives were talking. Idiots.
Breastfeed if you can but don’t worry, [formula is] just as good. I mean, I loved it, all I wanted to do was breastfeed and then I couldn’t and then I felt like, ‘if I was in the jungle now back in the day, my kid would be dead because my milk’s gone.’
Adele is right.
Lactivists insist that they are providing 'support,' but a close look indicates that it is more like bullying.
While breastfeeding has real benefits, in countries with clean water, the benefits for term babies are small — limited to a few fewer colds and episodes of diarrheal illness across the entire population of infants. Nearly all the other purported benefits touted by the breastfeeding industry are based on scientific evidence that is weak, conflicting and riddled with confounding variables.
Why is the pressure on new mothers to breastfeed “f---ing ridiculous”? It’s because the infant feeding industry has moralized breastfeeding, and the moralization has paralleled its monetization.
La Leche League was founded as a volunteer organization providing peer to peer breastfeeding counseling. In the 1980s the folks at LLL began to wonder why they were giving away information for free when they could make money. They spun off an organization that created the lactation consultant credential; women who previously earned nothing for giving breastfeeding advice at LLL meetings, now were earning $100 an hour or more giving the same advice for profit.
LLL and lactation consultants themselves began aggressively promoting and lobbying at all levels of government for lactation consultants in hospitals and doctors’ offices. In the intervening years, they’ve grossly exaggerated the benefits of breastfeeding and minimized the difficulties for women.
Breastfeeding in 2016 has no greater or lesser benefits than breastfeeding in 1976, but the urgency around breastfeeding has grown phenomenally. That has harmed mothers and it hasn’t helped babies. The fact is that approximately 5 percent of women can’t make enough breast milk to fully support a growing infant. Those babies are going hungry and their frantic mothers are admonished to “breastfeed harder,” get more help from lactation consultants, buy pumps and otherwise enrich the breastfeeding industry.
Lactivists insist that they are providing “support,” but a close look indicates that it is more like bullying.
Look at what breastfeeding support programs like the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) are supporting. Among the 10 steps of the initiative are these:
-- Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
-- Give infants no food or drink other than breast-milk, unless medically indicated.
-- Practice rooming in — allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
-- Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
Let's leave aside for a moment the fact that recent evidence indicates that BFHI does not improve breastfeeding rates, and look at whether these measures support women who wish to breastfeed.
I implore the breastfeeding industry to stop pretending that coercion is support.
Every woman, unless she’s been living under a rock, is aware that breastfeeding has benefits; there’s no reason to inform her again. There's nothing supportive about banning pacifiers, banning supplementation for infants losing weight, or mandating rooming in, which makes it much harder for women to rest and heal from their deliveries. Even more remarkable is the fact that the measures apply indiscriminately to all women, whether they wish to be supported in breastfeeding or not.
That's not support; that's an attempt to intimidate and domineer. And that’s how it feels to many women.
If Adele, an accomplished, confident woman felt bullied by breastfeeding advocates, how much harder is it for women who may not be as assertive?
I implore the breastfeeding industry to stop pretending that coercion is support. As Adele beautifully explained, many women don't need it; they don't want it, and most importantly, it's hurting them.
Dr. Amy Tuteur's new book is "Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting."
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