Breast. No Bottle.

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

Posts Tagged ‘biological nurturing

Attempts by lactation consultants to de-medicalize breastfeeding backfire

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in 1998 Suzanne Colson, a midwife and an IBCLC  in her article Breastfeeding Nemesis wrote :

“Nemesis was the Greek goddess of retribution—or just punishment. In Greek mythology, lesser gods were often the personification of an abstract concept or emotion. Nemesis represented the concept of revenge and divine response to Hubris, another minor deity, who personified arrogance resulting from excessive pride. Nemesis lurked in the lairs of Hubris, ready to work the wrath of the gods and punish any mortal who dared trespass the measure of man.

The concept of revenge applied to medical technology likely would have remained in oblivion had it not been for theologian/philosopher Ivan Illich, who wrote a fierce critique of the impact of technology on everyday life and the dangers of the medicalisation of the life span.”  (full text)

When breastfeeding comes under the evaluating eye of medicine, it  inevitably suffers from Breastfeeding Nemesis. Breastfeeding simply goes wrong when we start applying protocols and technology as the primary method to resolve relationship issues in breastfeeding.

Colson, with her background in La Leche League, knows that

“Breastfeeding is a relationship, and as in all relationships, there is no one way to do it… The constant warning that help is needed decreases a mother’s confidence in her capability to even hold her baby, let alone breastfeed it. This discourse also classifies breastfeeding as one of those activities that requires help from an expert. In that way it expropriates breastfeeding and causes Nemesis.”

Colson further elaborates how midwifery mental models and goals clash with letting a mother be and breastfeed.

“The thought patterns usually associated with midwifery resourcing evoke cost effectiveness on the one hand and emphasize the acquisition of midwifery knowledge, skills, values and techniques on the other. The central role of the midwife as knowledgeable and expert implies a knowledge base, consistent advice, and the use of technology to enhance performance. […] Concerning breastfeeding, these terms are “thinking blinders.” Let us put these usual thought patterns aside.”

The last paragraph applies to lactation consultancy as well. There is a strong emphasis on evidence-based practice, protocols, consistent guidelines, and the use of technology, like shields, breastpumps, scales, bottles and bottle teats.

Suzanne Colson attempts to shape her professional activity driven by these ideas that date back to 1998, long before medicalization of breastfeeding became a mainstream topic in breastfeeding advocacy. In 2001 she self-publishes a book Mother-Baby Experiences of Nurturing, in which she introduces the term
“Biological Nurturing” to describe “a natural, instinctual way of relating to your newborn through breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact, and constant cuddling.”  The concept of biological nurturing is based on the study of neonatal reflexes and how they relate to breastfeeding that Colson conducted for her PhD thesis.

After Suzanne Colson presented her research at one of the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) conferences in early 2010’s, biological nurturing and associated with it “laid-back” breastfeeding became the new fad among lactation consultants. The new “technique” in the “toolbag” of lactation consultants became a hammer for everything that looked like a nail and did not.

Suzanne Colson now offers a certification for Biological Nurturing practice for people with health professional or breastfeeding help experience. While there is a mention that there is no one correct way to breastfeed buried in the documents, the implicit message of branding a way to breastfeed that mothers have used for millenia (it has known in other countries independently from Colson’s research for years as breastfeeding like in a chaise-lounge/lounge chair ), using terminology for ordinary behaviors, and certification for application of this behavior  is to make the practice of breastfeeding help an exclusive activity of experts. This in turn sends an explicit and implicit messages that breastfeeding is an activity that must be managed by experts. Mothers’ confidence is undermined again. Breastfeeding Nemesis rejoices!

Medical professional mentality of branding an ordinary maternal behavior inevitably leads to confusion and unnecessarily complicates simple matters. Susan Burger explains why she does not like the term “biological nurturing” in a LACTNET post:

“There are many many ways to breastfeed comfortably and moms always seem to invent new and creative positions that work for them when faced with challenges. The reason why I’ve never liked biological nurturing as a term is that it doesn’t describe the posture and it implies that if you find a different position that is comfortable — somehow it isn’t biological.”

When a  professional interferes in a breastfeeding/nursing relationship between a mother and her baby, no matter how “biological” or well-intentional in its philosophical background the intervention is, he or she undermines mother’s ability and confidence to make her breastfeeding relationship work.


Written by Medical Nemesis

July 26, 2012 at 00:27


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!