Why brutally unpleasant lactivism is everyone’s business

I have just read Why the way you feed your baby is MY business, by The Alpha Parent, who describes her blog, with unusual but impressive honesty, as 'The snobby side of parenting'.  The post is very long and very unpleasant reading.  It consists of luridly emotive descriptions of every possible real or imagined consequence to others of formula feeding, including a long list of every proved or claimed risk to babies associated with it, some of them repeated several times as different synonyms (I'm not sure whether that's a deliberate attempt to ensure the list is padded out still further, or whether she's just sloppy with her cut-and-pasting).  I think the best way to summarise her reasons in one sentence would probably be 'Because I don't want to be saddled with the environmental damage, increased medical costs to me as a taxpayer, and other dire consequences to me/to others that will result from your decision to feed your child formula, bitch'.

I was going to start out by correcting/questioning some of her claims, but not only is life too short, I think it would actually be exacerbating one of the underlying issues here – that people who take this sort of line on formula feeding (or any other behaviour of which they disapprove) generally see the only issue with this sort of unpleasantly critical post as being whether or not what they say is Right.  ('Right', here, usually means 'can come up with some kind of argument, no matter how weak or flawed, in favour of these statements being correct.').  And one thing life's taught me about trying to persuade other people is that it's not actually enough to stop at considering whether or not what you say can be justified on purely factual grounds.  It's also crucial to think "Is this helpful?  Is it constructive?  Is it going to achieve the end I want?"

The end the Alpha Parent wants, it seems fair to assume, is for more women to breastfeed.  Is her post going to achieve that?  Because I have yet to hear of a case where a woman who would otherwise have chosen formula feeding has decided to breastfeed because someone lectured her on her duty to society, the taxpayer, the cause of feminism, or the environment.  Women want to breastfeed because it has health benefits for their children and because it's usually vastly more convenient.  Women don't breastfeed, despite these advantages, for a variety of reasons – lack of good information, lack of support, medical issues, genuine milk insufficiency, flashbacks to an abuse history.  How is the Alpha Parent's post going to help with any of those?

How are women going to react to this article?  I know how I reacted to it – anger, upset, a churning in my stomach at the hectoring, judgemental tone.  I read a bit more of her blog as well, and rapidly concluded I just didn't want to read any more of what she had to say, because the combination of dubious and distorted facts and the tone she uses is so unpleasant to have to deal with.  And I'm a woman who breastfed both of her children in the face of considerable problems; I can look back and say with absolute confidence that I did everything feasible in order to provide them with breastmilk.  The only guilt issue I feel the need to deal with about my breastfeeding history is guilt that I was so stubborn-headed about not giving my son formula supplements a darned sight sooner.  So, if I react to this article this way, how is someone else going to react to it?  A woman who formula-fed a previous baby, perhaps, and who might have been persuaded to try breastfeeding her next baby?  What about the woman who has no previous feeding experience but is still put off by the tone in this article?  How is this furthering the cause of breastfeeding? 

The facts in her post could have been presented in a warm, positive, encouraging way.  Instead, she presented them as an incredibly off-putting lecture.  If her goal is to persuade more women to breastfeed, I'm guessing she's failed to do so.  And I fear her post may even have backfired, by putting more women off seeking help from the pro-breastfeeding movement for fear of the reception they'll find there.

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5 Comments

Filed under Grr, argh, Milky milky

5 responses to “Why brutally unpleasant lactivism is everyone’s business

  1. wow. thank heavens you wrote this, or i would have been tempted to feed that fool’s ego by posting on her blog. life is, as you say, too short.
    i also fought very hard to be able to exclusively bf for 6 months (less a few ounces in the beginning that i still feel compelled to mention, like an asterisk on the record book), and just love hearing that the formula the bean gets now (approx. 1/7 of his milk consumption — maybe a bit more, but less than 2/7) is somehow an affront to all that is good in the world. clearly would have been more feminist of me to either refuse to return to work or to pump despite the agony of vasospasms. what’s more feminist than putting infinitesimal (at best) health benefits to my very healthy baby above my own health and well being?
    gah. galling, some people.

  2. Damn right! And I’d challenge the most militant of lactivists to come up with a study showing that formula in a breastfed 8-month-old baby is harmful.

  3. Wow. What a disgusting, dishonest, judgmental piece of work. Although it’s nice to see that the vast majority of comments she’s getting on that post are negative.

  4. Granny C

    Go, Dr. Sarah, Go!

  5. Thank you for this. Really, thank you.

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