Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

Medicalization of breastfeeding. What do lactation consultants say?

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Medicalization of breastfeeding is a hot new subject in sociological, anthropological, and nursing research. What do lactation consultants or professional literature  say on the subject?

Jan Riordan and Karen Wambach in their “Breastfeeding and Human Lactation”, 4th edition, one the main texts for lactation consultant training, are mum on the subject.  However, the previous edition of the book suggested:

“…lest we follow that conflicted path that led to the medicalization of childbirth, we must listen to voices that warn of the danger of lactation consultant medicalizing infant feeding…” (Preface, p.xxi)

Ruth Lawrence in her ” Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession”, 7th edition informs of research by Rima Apple:

“…commercialization and medicalization of infant care established an environment that made artificial feeding not only acceptable to many mothers but also natural and necessary” (p.10)

Judith Lauwers and Anna Swisher in “Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultant’s Guide”, 5th edition sum up analysis of health service support of breastfeeding and note that medicalization of breastfeeding is on the five emergent themes. Wide availability of breast pumps contribute to medicalization of breastfeeding. Authors suggest that:

“It is incumbent on all who work directly with families to be a part of a solution in protecting breastfeeding, not part of the problem” (p.248)

They also warn lactation consultants

“…to be careful not to promote pumping and other gadgets to the detriment of breastfeeding”. (p.508)

Lesser known works that you have to look for researching medicalization of breastfeeding specifically are the following.

Chris Mulford in her article “Is breastfeeding really invisible, or did the health care system just choose not to notice it?” succinctly stated:

“As we work to ensure that the health care system provides good breastfeeding care, we need to guard against letting the medicalization of infant feeding keep us from remembering that breastfeeding is something that mothers and children do, in all the aspects of their private and public lives.”

Marina Green in “The History of the Medicalization of Infant Feeding” writes:

“The biomedical model contributes to the medicalization of breastfeeding and limits understanding of breastfeeding and support of breastfeeding women. Important questions remain about the professionalization of breastfeeding support through the development of the ‘profession’ of lactation consulting and the role of nursing as a profession and nurses as individual practitioners in the medicalization of breastfeeding.”


The question of medicalization of breastfeeding by healthcare workers such as lactation consultants is out there. There are warnings against it. There is very little information about the exact features of medicalization in professional literature. There is a call to listen to those who warn against it. There is also extreme resistance from lactation consultants to listen about medicalization of breastfeeding as reported by people who research and present on this issue (including myself).


Written by Medical Nemesis

October 31, 2011 at 21:47

Posted in Medicalization of breastfeeding

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2 Responses

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  1. Natasha, this is a very valid point. Do you think the mother to mother approach can be adopted by Lactation Consultants at all times, as this is proven to be the most effective way of providing support with breastfeeding?

    Maria Yasnova

    November 1, 2011 at 01:26

  2. Hmmm… This is a very good question. Theoretically, this is possible if consultants are trained with the strong emphasis on being mothers as opposed to being experts. Practically, I think it is next to impossible to achieve. First of all, a certain number lactation consultants do not have personal breastfeeding experience therefore they are not true peers to mothers who are breastfeeding. Secondly, the interplay between healthcare provider who openly declared their expert status and a regular woman almost always follows a certain script. Hardly ever one would interact with an expert as a peer. You have to be a VERY skilled psychologist to mitigate the social engagement rules between experts and lay public.


    November 1, 2011 at 07:05

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To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

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