I’ll cut straight to the chase: There is a huge difference between a “Breastfeeding Nazi”, and a “Lactavist”. As an IBCLC, I’m insulted by being called the former, and proud to be called the latter. I am NOT a Boob Nazi, or a member of the Mammary Mafia, or a member of the the breastfeeding police, and ‘Lactivist’ is NOT a nasty word. I don’t spread propaganda, I’m not a bully, and I don’t use shaming or guilt trips to promote breastfeeding. I don’t grab mom’s breasts and shove them into their baby’s mouths, and I don’t burn crosses in the yards of formula feeding moms or accuse them of poisoning their babies.
I’m sick and tired of being caught up in the political minefield of these ridiculous mommy wars. Blame whoever you want to: ignorant health care providers, sleazy profit driven formula companies, holier than thou crunchy granola moms, the smug judgmental bitch on a Facebook page who tried to make you feel like a bad mom because you formula fed your baby, or over zealous lactation consultants, but moms need to stop accusing all lactation consultants of being bullies just because they had a negative breastfeeding experience, and they need to stop bashing breastfeeding just because it didn’t work out for them.
Nearly 80% of mothers in the US want to breastfeed their babies, and they work hard to meet their breastfeeding goals in spite of a system that, for the most part, sets them up to fail. Health care providers have let them down, and formula companies aggressively market their artificial human milk substitute, periodically adding new ingredients that supposedly make it ‘almost as good’ as mother’s milk. The WHO (World Health Organization) and the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for at least a year, but due to the barriers they face, fewer than 20% of moms in the US are exclusively breastfeeding by the time their baby is six months old.
Something is wrong with this picture.
I’ve been beating my head against this brick wall for decades now. Unscrupulous formula companies will use any tactics to convince mothers and health care providers (HCPS) to use their products, and to undermine support for nursing moms. They have unlimited amounts of money to spend on product promotion, and they know how to use advertising to play on the insecurities and fears of new moms to convince them that the risks of formula feeding are exaggerated and benefits of breastfeeding are overrated, even when research has proved over and over that this isn’t the case.
What is so very sad about this situation is that women are lashing out at each other when we should be directing our anger at the medical system, the unscrupulous formula companies, and the HCPS who don’t provide us with the information and support we need in order to breastfeed our babies.
As an IBCLC, I am very proud of my professional credentials, my thirty-five plus years of experiences in breastfeeding advocacy and education, and the fact that I breastfed all six babies of my babies, starting back in the ’70s when breastfeeding rates were at an all time low (around 20%) and there was much less information and support available for nursing moms than there is today.
The most important part of my job involves giving mothers the information and support they need to set individual breastfeeding goals and help them take realistic steps to make that a reality for them. For some moms, this means combining formula and breastfeeding from day one. For others, it means nursing for few weeks, then weaning when returning to work. It may be pumping and tube feeding a sick baby in the NICU, or it may mean extended breastfeeding and natural weaning.
I’ve always been extremely sensitive to how fragile a new mother after her baby’s birth, maybe because I’ve had six kids and I’ve been there myself so many times. Let me clue you in on a very important little secret: It doesn’t matter how many books you read or classes you take or groups you join, there’s no way to really prepare for the reality of giving birth and nursing a baby. New moms are hormonal, sleep deprived, overwhelmed with the 24/7 responsibility for producing enough milk to feed this tiny new person, and they often don’t feel good physically. Even if everything goes smoothly, it still takes time to physically recover from childbirth.
The last thing any mother needs is to be guilt tripped and bullied by the people who are supposed to be helping her nurse her baby. Any lactation consultant who makes new moms feel worse instead of better after working with her needs to find a new profession. Period.
Most of us are in the lactation field because we have a genuine desire to help moms and babies. We sure as hell didn’t do it for the money. I cant’t remember the last time I saw a lactation consultant buy a Beamer or take a cruise. There are always going to be some bad apples in the bunch, just as there are some doctors and nurses who are more competent, and caring, and compassionate than others.
Just don’t paint all of us with the same brush. The IBCLCs goal is to empower, educate, and encourage nursing moms, but don’t assume that an LC visit in the hospital will give you all the information and support you need. Most hospital lactation consultants are under pressure to see more moms than they really have enough time to spend with. Answering all the new mom questions and showing them the basics of positioning and all the other information they need before leaving the hospital takes time, and there isn’t much of that when many moms are leaving the hospital 24 hours after birth. Many lactation consultants have nursed their own babies, and if you’re lucky enough to get someone who can relate on that personal level, it often makes a difference.
Make sure you develop a support system during your pregnancy so that when/if questions or concerns crop up after your baby is born, you’ll know who to call for help. Look into local La Leche League or other mother to mother support groups. Find out what resources are available in your community for lactation support. There may be peer counselling programs through WIC, or they may be IBCLCs in private practice in your area. Some hospitals offer prenatal or postnatal classes.
If you’re looking for online support, be aware that there are a zillion websites and groups and mommy bloggers that mean well, but give out often questionable, and sometimes really bad advice. There are also many, many sites that are more interested in selling you products that they are at providing solid evidence based information.
When it comes to breastfeeding information, look for articles written by IBCLCs. We’re all highly trained in the lactation field, we’re held to high professional standards, and are required to present evidence based research. Obviously some IBCLCs come on way too strong in person and need to develop their social skills, (the horror stories from new moms about their encounters always make me picture Nurse Ratchet), but they rarely give out bad breastfeeding information. And be leery of any site that posts formula ads next to their breastfeeding articles. You don’t go to a tobacco company for advice on how to stop smoking, and the same thing applies to the formula companies. It’s not in their best interest to promote or support breastfeeding, because that means less profit for them. They’re willing to spend an obscene amount of money on marketing, and it’s scary how good they are at promoting their product.
I know the information I present here is solid because I wrote every word of every article on Breastfeeding Basics myself. Since I get millions of visitors each year, I’m regretfully not able to answer individual questions, but if you look around the site a bit, you’ll find just about anything you’re looking for.
(Remind me to tell you my birth stories sometime. Baby number one was a preemie (the only baby born in a hospital); baby number two was born in an elevator; baby number three was born at home; baby number four was born in a car (and I delivered her myself – details to follow); and babies five and six were born at home. Baby number six didn’t wait for the midwife, and my girlfriend had to ‘catch him’. Right before she fainted.)
There’s one thing for sure: none of my births were boring. And neither are my six amazing kids, now all grown up, a couple of them with kids of their own.
Anne Smith, IBCLC