Breast. No Bottle.

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

Emperor’s New Clothes. Pluralistic Ignorance in Breastfeeding Support

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The top used tags in the Russian online breastfeeding support community Lyalechka in LiveJournal are related to medical issues such  as medication use and illness of a mother or a child. In the vast majority of cases this maternal support group fixes problems initiated or exacerbated by doctors. From routine headaches, dental procedures, and mastitis to viral stomach infections and complex medical conditions like heart defects and multiple sclerosis, women in the support group locate information and research to share with breastfeeding women who found themselves devoured by the medical system. 

Paradoxically, the breastfeeding support community internationally almost unanimously includes the infamous “Consult your doctor” when breastfeeding issue borders onto or crosses into the medical domain. We all know what kind of “support” breastfeeding women get in the medical system – harmful and non-existent. Sending a breastfeeding to a doctor to solve medical issues that involve or are directly related to breastfeeding is like sending Little Red Riding Hood to the woods knowing the Wolf is going to eat her.

BF consult doc

Many of us know that breastfeeding will be jeopardized when a mother comes in touch with a healthcare provider. Few of us might have seen consistent research from all over the world  that entry into the medical system is often followed by the funeral to breastfeeding. Yet we keep saying over and over again “consult your doctor”.

Why do we do this? Is this a peculiar case of pluralistic ignorance when “no one believes, yet we think all the others believe” doctors know something about breastfeeding? Do we clothe our own fears that we may not be able to help into the magic mantra “consult the doctor”? Or do we hide our own feelings of unjustified inadequacy to help in complex cases imparted on women by patriarchal medical system? Do we continue to maintain the illusion of the medical omnipotence because we are afraid that the world of experts as we know will come to the end?

Breastfeeding Doctor Emperor New Clothes

Is it high time to say “the emperor has no clothes” “doctors don’t know anything about breastfeeding” and let ourselves be free from the oppressive harm caused onto breastfeeding women? Breastfeeding advocates should start openly warning women that healthcare system poses a unique threat to breastfeeding despite verbal assurances that medicine thinks “Breast is Best”. It is time we expose this issue and draw attention to the illusion that healthcare providers are trained to assist breastfeeding families. It is time every doctor questions him or herself if they believe that two hour overview courses or even 40-hour WHO courses adequately equip them to assist breastfeeding families in routine or complex medical issues. 

Revered institutions of medical breastfeeding support are not immune to the pervasive misunderstanding of breastfeeding. Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine released a blog statement that breastfed children may wean starting at six months (quickly corrected by some exception to the rule doctor who happened to know children do not wean at six months). Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative inevitably reverts to unjustified formula supplementation of breastfed babies.

In the meantime, women should be referred to breastfeeding safe havens – mother-to-mother support groups that have built effective networks over the course of several decades to provide information on breastfeeding in routine and medical issues. This information can be shared with healthcare providers who can learn from the women about the complexities and intricacies of breastfeeding during minor and major illnesses. Doctors can further assist maternal groups gather the information such groups may lack in solving difficult breastfeeding issues.

Doctors dont know breastfeeding


PS. The reaction to this poster from few mothers was fear that doctors may get offended. More experienced breastfeeding mothers wholeheartedly supported the cautionary warning, pointing out that misleading the public about lack of knowledge and training in breastfeeding support is, in  fact, offensive to the women.


Written by Medical Nemesis

September 10, 2014 at 14:43

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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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