Breast. No Bottle.

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

Usurpation of breastfeeding knowledge by medical professionals

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Antiwomen context of breastmilk researchThis is post five in the series of Antiwomen Context of Breastmilk Research.

In order for breastfeeding to be successful there should be a certain number of successfully breastfeeding women around you during your lifetime, from the time you are little through the time you nurse your last child. Nursing mothers create  and environment that makes breastfeeding acceptable and possible; and collectively they hold enough breastfeeding knowledge that you can easily access when you need it any time of the day and night for free. This phenomenon can be readily observed in any mother-to-mother support group or online community where women help each other with any issues that arise during breastfeed period.

What happens when professionals take over the traditional knowledge of breastfeeding? Breastfeeding women fail. Medical profession started claiming expertise over infant feeding and breastfeeding in particular in late 19th century. Yet their knowledge of breastfeeding was limited and inaccurate. To this day lectures on breastfeeding last only 1.5-2 hours  during the whole course of medical or nursing training. There is no practical training on how-to’s of helping nursing mothers. Medical professionals give bad breastfeeding advice that is not grounded in lived experience, are too quick to offer formula as an acceptable substitute, equate a woman nursing her child at the breast to breastmilk bottle feeding by anybody, devalue the relationship between a woman and her child, routinely separate women and children, routinely suggest women may be harmful for their children, and place medical treatment of a child above maternal care.  To this day entry into healthcare system is associated with high breastfeeding failure rate. Medicine as a science historically has a very bad track record in its attitude towards women, women’s bodies, and women’s biological functions. Prejudice against women as unruly, illogical, dangerous creatures, who must be controlled and tamed just like mother nature, is well and alive in Western medicine to this day. The best example of this is extensive study of medical treatment of birth, which is most closely related to breastfeeding.

Yet the idea that only medically trained professionals are qualified to help with breastfeeding  intensified in the latter part of the twentieth century. La Leche League International gave rise to a medically charged profession of a lactation consultant, which is a milk production and delivery management specialist. Lactation is not breastfeeding. Usurpation of breastfeeding knowledge collectively owned by mothers in La Leche League got expropriated by lactation consultants. The first step in limiting women’s access to the breastfeeding knowledge was moving away from colloquial ways of talking about breastfeeding to encoding breastfeeding talk in medical terminology.  Medical terminology serves two obvious purposes – making knowledge less accessible to an average woman and castrating breastfeeding lore of all the feelings that are associated with a very intimate relationship of breastfeeding.

Over the course of the last fifteen years the educational opportunities for lay volunteer women in La Leche League dwindled tremendously as they exponentially increased for lactation consultants. The impending licensure of IBCLCs will further limit not only the knowledge available to women but also severely limit the kind of help lay volunteers or ordinary women will be able to offer to each other. Just like licensing birth assistance eroded traditional midwifery, licensure of IBCLCs will erode traditional breastfeeding support networks. IBCLCs who are firmly entrenched in every lay breastfeeding support organization already encourage seeking professional lactation consultant help and suppress many discussions of cases that used to be handled by lay volunteers. IBCLCs routinely convey the idea that they possess knowledge that is unique to only them and that ordinary lay volunteers or women collectively do not possess thus demoralizing women who successfully helped other breastfeeding women for more than half a century.

Moving away from traditional women networks to help with breastfeeding to medical framework allows to conceal social ills that make breastfeeding impossible; supports traditional attitudes towards women as insignificant contributors to the well-being of children; unsupported and unjustifiable exaggeration of the importance of abstract breastmilk, which in  turn fosters and supports the idea that any woman can be replaced by any milk in a bottle, including the ever-improving breastmilk substitutes. All medical solutions to breastfeeding problems always revolve around milk mining not the well-being of women.  The spread of medical ways to support breastfeeding undermines and undervalues traditional womanly ways of sharing knowledge. Ultimately, imposing limits on who can help with breastfeeding, disables women from helping each other.

Marina Kopylova contributed to the discussion by adding the following testimony

Hierarchical support top-down by the people who never breastfed but learned about breastfeeding from medical texts customarily do not factor in comfort, convenience, and well-being of women.  Their goal is to force you to breastfeed or give milk for the benefit of society and beautiful statistics. They are not bothered by your personal opinions and feelings. One example of the harmful medical support of breastfeeding is the idea that it is important to give information about breastfeeding to a woman while ignoring the realities of the woman’s life where breastfeeding is impossible even when all the technical information is at her disposal. Medical approach to breastfeeding allows not to pay attention to women’s feelings when they are not able to breastfeed in the environment of total breastfeeding obstruction. 

When I gave birth to my fourth child I was unfortunate to be counseled without invitation by a now famous IBCLC. When I complained of backache during breastfeeding she gave me unsolicited advice to breastfeed in a laid-back position. I countered that my back hurt precisely in this position from prolonged nursing sessions.  She did not hear a word I said. All she knew that her new promotional materials said that this was the holy grail of most comfortable positions. IBCLC had no personal breastfeeding experience, just an alphabet soup behind her name but she felt justified telling me, a very experienced mother, what I should and should not be feeling. Never did it occur to her that her theoretical knowledge may not be universally applicable nor was necessarily true. 

  • Do you know of any other examples when professionalization of everyday matter resulted in incompetence of ordinary people to deal with life? Disabling Professions by Ivan Illich highlights the issues of professional control and its disabling effect on people
  • What happened in the United States when professionals took over preparation of food and guidelines on eating? As a result how many Americans know food, how to prepare it, and how it affects them? How many Americans can confidently say they know how to eat?
  • Have you heard of corporations and dominant professional groups patenting traditional knowledge? Who Owns the Patent on Nutmeg? by Nicola Twilley, The New Yorker, October 26, 2015  Do you know of examples in breastfeeding of such instances? Does restricting use by means of patenting serve women or dominant powers?
  • People’s Knowledge for Survival by Anil Gupta highlights the issue of knowledge and accomplishment expropriation by dominant groups-  “when people solved their problems through their own ingenuity, there was seldom an institutional window available to recognize, respect and reward the creativity and innovation underlying the solution by the people”. 
  • What effect does constant repetition that you are incapable of finding means of coping with life matters on your own have on you? How likely are you to find your own way? How likely you are to be under impression that only a paid professional is able to help you? What does it do to your  trust of people around you who may have dealt with similar issues?
  • Have you personally experienced pressure to refer women to IBCLCs when you used to handle them yourself?
  • A detail of a cartoon by Tanya Russita “I have a certificate”.

– I have a certificate. – And I have a nursing child with Down Syndrome.



I have a certificate cartoon Tanya Russita

I have a certificate! And  I am nursing a Down syndrome baby.


Written by Medical Nemesis

February 29, 2016 at 09:23

Posted in Other

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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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