The other day an experienced breastfeeding mother was harassed and excluded from Milk Cafe community run by lactation consultants. The reason was most prosaic, the one we have witnessed a million times in history – heresy. Something akin “The Earth is round”. In a way, this is the continuation of the previous post US vs. Them. Chasm between mothers and lactation consultants – concrete evidence of the shift that happens when mothers become lactation consultants.
An experienced breastfeeder stated that there is no need to express milk at night in the hospital if the baby is separated from a mother for just one night. Milk will still come regardless of stimulation. A mother whose colostrum will not be used for feeding and who has difficulty expressing colostrum should sleep the first night after birth and focus on nursing at the breast when she is reunited with her baby.
All hell broke loose. This simple truth sent scores of lactation consultants into convulsive spasms. The suppression of maternal experience and knowledge followed a predictable path that I have witnessed many times.
- Attack, diminish, and eradicate personal experiential knowledge “Oh, but we cannot rely on personal experience”, “the number of children you breastfed is irrelevant to evidence-based medicine”
- Elevate and appeal to “objective” knowledge “Do you have objective data to support your claims?” “Evidence-based medicine tells us otherwise”
- Censorship of women’s experiential knowledge as risky and wrong “personal experience can deviate from what evidence-based medicine tells us. We get our advice from evidence-based medicine, not personal experiences”.
- Instill fear of sharing experiential knowledge “Are you willing to accept the responsibility for potential risk of insufficient lactation?”
- Question maternal ability to evaluate advice and decide for herself “Are you sharing your advice to test mother’s ability to evaluate advice. This is not the best of times for that”
- Elimination of living women from breastfeeding and appeal to mythical “higher order laws” “Physiology based recommendations are fundamental. We simply don’t know everything about this physiology.”
- Denial of your own personal experiential knowledge and professional roots “We just have to follow the laws of lactation without leaning on our own, frequently horribly wrong experience.”
- Deny the experience and intelligence of women throughout history and time “The percentage of exclusive breastfeeding until six months in the world is very low. This comes from ignorance”
- Underscore forward vision and helpfulness of experts vs. short-term thinking of mothers and their lack of good intentions “It’s only logical our approaches are so different. We look two steps forward. It’s important for us to help mothers. You are just insisting upon your opinion for the sake of insistence”.
- Enforce abstract theoretical biomedical knowledge to any and every situation without regard for time, place, and personal circumstances of individual women.
The above methods and their underlying philosophies are not any different from the underpinnings of medicine that has held exactly identical views of women and women’s experiential knowledge. This is concrete proof how both perception of self as “us lactation consultants-not them mothers” and uptake of formal biomedical knowledge to replace collective experiential knowledge are damaging to women’s confidence in their abilities and agency (ability to act in any given environment).
Ultimately, the Wise Woman exited the oppressive, disrespectful, and suffocating community that promotes “tyranny and dictatorship suffocating dissent” (joking quote from the members that is true though the consultants are unaware of it) to preserve her dignity, sanity, and the highly nuanced skill of combining experience with formal knowledge and situating it here and now. As much as the wise woman builds her own house, a mother sifts through a lot of information to find what works for her and figures out how to breastfeed. Oppressive and enslaving system of biomedicine robs women of their shared experiential knowledge. It’s time we exited the system.
The most striking transformation takes place when middle and upper-middle class women professionalize. When successful breastfeeding mothers who share their experiences and support each other turn into professional lactation consultants, a visible and perceptible shift takes place in the perception of self. What used to be “us, breastfeeding mothers” splinters into “us, lactation consultants” and “them, breastfeeding mothers”. This shift is significant because it causes many implications for women who are mothers. Lactation consultants become yet another professional who claims authority and exerts pressure on mothers to conform to certain standards and behaviors.
Medicalization of breastfeeding first and foremost eradicates women and the relational aspects of a nursing relationship between a woman and her child. Medicalization of breastfeeding castrates a nursing relationship between two people to a food transaction between anybody and everybody and a child. This profound lack of understanding of the nature of a nursing relationship between two people leads to disastrous policy that backfires on women and children in a multitude of ways from lack of financial and work protection to blatant exploitation of women’s reproductive abilities (poaching) that results in effective killing of a nursing relationship.
Narrow medical understanding of a nursing relationship as food leads to a reduction of breastfeeding to breastmilk as we see in the name of the World Health Organization resolution of 1981 – International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk substitutes (emphasis mine). This further leads to the goals of the document to be focused around milk and the appropriate swapping of milks while negating the process of breastfeeding as vitally important and not replaceable by bottles.
Medicine as a science is permeated with fear of women and nature. Science has set in to harness nature. Medicine has been waging a war on just about everything under the sun. Indeed a scary and militant attitude. When a woman embarks on the road to get a medicalized certification to help other women breastfeed, she unknowingly subjects herself to subtle and legitimatized brainwashing that will impart women-fearing or women-hating ideas to her.
When I went through nursing and later IBCLC training, I could not help but notice that what I knew as a woman from experience can be hijacked by fear mongering “science”. Science is very number oriented and every human experience is bound to be shoved into a plot, a chart, a number. Except human experiences are so varied that they are best explored through qualitative data that is extremely complex and requires knowledge AND experience well beyond book cramming required to pass multiple choice exams that will grant you a piece of paper certifying you as the expert in this and that.
After I completed IBCLC training I made a decision to distance myself from counseling women as I deemed myself of more danger to women as somebody with a medicalized view of breastfeeding than ordinary women without any training. I knew I was infected with a virus that I could not see, but I knew I had it. You see, I knew women were brave and courageous. Many breastfeeding hurdles are overcome with hope, determination, perseverance, encouragement, and rapid turnover of troubleshooting ideas. Women gain ground in breastfeeding in uncertain situations due to confidence and knowledge that most women can and will breastfeed successfully. Medical knowledge takes this away.
The medicalized IBCLC approach draws upon the standard practice of relying on numbers to reveal “the truth”. Not unlike the labor partographers that maimed many women whose labors did not progress neatly by the graph, IBCLCs are trained to plot women’s breastfeeding progress through number oriented measures and “intervene” when women fail to fit the charts. Interventions that interfere and hijack breastfeeding usually start in the first two days postpartum because women and their newborns fails to meet quotas of feeds, poops, or weight gain. As a result of these aggressive women-fearing and doomsday-expecting actions of medical providers many women never breastfeed. A lot of women today are destined to nurse a breastpump never experiencing the pleasure of their babies nuzzling at mothers breasts. And their babies never know the warmth of mother’s breast in their mouth, just the artificial silicone taste of a bottle nipple.
While medicine is hailed as god sent to people, women should not forget and study the history of medicine’s treatment of women as well as misogynistic philosophy that underpins medical thinking and reasoning. Only then women would be able to safely use some medical knowledge to their advantage in the few situations that do require it.
Robert S.Mendelsohn. Male Practice. How doctors manipulate women
Medicalization of breastfeeding does not have any noble reasons behind it. The plan to launch a new medical professional, an IBCLC, was driven by a desire to make money, not to help women. It is not very different from establishing a monopoly of obstetricians in the birth scene in the early 20th century. The matters get further complicated when support and well-being of women take second place to THE IDEA. No matter how beautiful and wonderful, abstract ideas are harmful to women. “I had one breastfeeding advocate (well known) tell me that she was willing to lie, steal and cheat to get to a breastfeeding society.” (from personal correspondence)”.
Fast forward to 21st century. The idea of breastfeeding crushes the psyche and lives of hundreds of thousands of women, but the machine is turning its gears. Breastfeeding machine has no consideration for women, just for the cause, the idea, “the greater good”. Last night I came across a disturbing discussion dissecting a new mother.
A bored doctor prowls the Internet looking for tongue-tie when asked or not asked to. This is the same MD who tore Nancy Mohrbacher apart for questioning the science of tongue-tie diagnostics. Doctors have a long history of looking down upon women, so the attitude and approach of the doctor is not surprising. What is of interest here – the overwhelming response from women, some of whom are IBCLCs, indoctrinated in the medical attitudes towards women during the course of their training, – the disapproval, the questioning of the woman’s mental faculties, the undermining of a new mother’s judgement, when she openly stated that she had not been looking for any advice and that unsolicited advice was not welcome. One respondent dreamily wished that this mother becomes a “platform for oral restriction awareness”. My estimate is that less than 3% of replies were, in fact, supportive of the mother to draw the line whom she listens to and whom she doesn’t and accepting the fact that women can post online for reasons other than looking for unsolicited advice.
Can we confidently say that the golden age of mother-to-mother support is over and the age of breastfeeding dictatorship has set in? Is this the age when women are all but forgotten and the only thing we remember is THE IDEA of breastfeeding? Do the new professionals who do lip service to their origin by uttering “mother is the expert” continue the undermining of women just like so many professionals have done before them? Just how far do the new breastfeeding professionals are willing to go in their scheme of “lie, steal, and cheat” to get to a breastfeeding society? Most importantly, would you want to live in a society like this? I know I don’t.
Substitution of breastmilk for breastfeeding is the first step in formula marketing. Swap breastfeeding as a complex relationship for a (breast)milk feeding, then swap (breast)milk for (artificial) milk aka formula. Voila! Patent breastmilk components, improve formula composition to mimic breastmilk, open commercial and non-profit milk banks… all to the detriment of women and children who miss out on the nursing relationship. Reducing breastfeeding as a complex relationship between two people to milk feeding then opens a door for the rhetoric of choice when a consumer can choose between two products, two milks. One milk is ever improving to mimic the other.
This is a Nestle ad poster in a Ukrainian clinic where breastfeeding and breastmilk feeding are equated and terms are blurred to make formula marketing easy. Since medicine does not differentiate between nursing at the breast and breastmilk feeding from a bottle, nobody notices the gross deceit of the women and the public.
What are available to people in private spaces – the dinner table, the birth room, the deathbed
– are all being controlled more and more under industrial rubrics, with profit a core value.
A Bun in the Oven: How the Food and Birth Movements Resist Industrialization by Barbara Katz Rothman
This is a quote from a book of one of the greatest scientists of our times – Barbara Katz Rothman. I am tempted to add that the same sentiment applies to what is available at the breast or rather in a bottle. When I watched my co-worker struggle with “breastfeeding” which was nothing but a feeble attempt to extract milk from the tortured breasts of an exhausted woman, I realized that what women pass as the stories of breastfeeding had nothing to do with nursing at the breast the way I knew it.
Medical and current social context dictate that breastfeeding is first and foremost food. Milk. Nothing more, nothing less. Medicine has a peculiar way of stripping any human experience of its meaning be it birth, suffering, pain, eating, sickness, breastfeeding, or death. In the eyes of medicine all of the above are nothing but a chain of biochemically driven events that are to be controlled for best outcomes. Birth becomes fetus extraction, death – brain wave disappearance, food – a combo of carbs, fats, and proteins, and breastfeeding becomes milk in a bottle. At times, medical interpretation of health or disease gets infused into an already castrated meaning of any human experience. You will never hear an OB-Gyn exalt the beauty of birth or a dietitian rave about the taste of biscuits and gravy.
The stories of breastfeeding that I hear passed on around me are of pain, struggle for milk, self-doubt, and failure. If I heard all that I’d never breastfeed. Yet none of the women around me actually had a chance to nurse without interruptions by bottles, pump, shields, work, and other disruptions created by modern society. None of them experienced the joy, the elation, the pride of seeing a whole human grow big and strong sustained by your own body for years at a time! None of them witnessed healing of an illness at the breast. None of them felt despair, loneliness, pain, or frustration disappear when a child tormented by feelings finds zen at her mother’s breast. For them the magic of nursing at the breast was hidden by a culture that tells a story of “breastfeeding is milk” that eventually morphs into the story of some milk swapped for artificial milk. And artificial milk is less trouble.
Even when I talk to the few women who did breastfeed, for an understandable reason they repeat the one and only story they hear over and over again in the media, read in parenting books, or hear from their friends who all hear the same one story that reinforces itself. I even talked to a woman who kept repeating newborns nurse every 2-3 hours. When I asked her how often her home born baby nursed, she recollected that it was much more frequently than every 2-3 hours, more like every half an hour. Why did she repeat the story that was very different from what she experienced?
When I read an article Everything You’ve Heard About Uncle Remus is Wrong I really enjoyed a TED talk by a Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “The Danger of a Single Story”. What we see happening with breastfeeding right in front of our eyes is castrating many stories of breastfeeding, of nursing at the breast into one story of milk in a bottle.