Question: If a misguided, extremist tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?
Answer: Yes, if the tree is talking about the breastfeeding and/or formula feeding debate.
For those of you who don’t live in the forest, the tree in question – a sprawling, giant redwood of ignorance – was planted by one Darcia Narvaez, PhD. Narvaez wrote a series of articles for her blog on Psychology Today, so aptly titled “Moral Landscapes”, on the importance of breastfeeding; each one was more offensive and misleading than the last, culminating in her piece de resistance, “Is Pushing Formula Evil?” (Spoiler alert: she thinks it is.)
This most recent article included such oldies but goodies as:
“Formula is a starvation diet. It gives kids the equivalent of bread and water right when they are growing the most…”
“Formula is the first junk food. Do we want our kids to be healthy? Then we know they should not have foods that are out of balance with nature. So we don’t want to give them formula. We don’t want them to get used to the same flavor day after day (unlike breastmilk). We would be setting them up for eating disorders…”
Plus, if you order now, you’ll receive hits like:
“99% of moms with full-term infants can breastfeed successfully. It is ignorant doctors, nurses, family members and the push of pharmaceutical companies that make it seem untrue…”
“This is a moral issue because of how much damage is being done to children, society and our future by not breastfeeding…”
And those greatest hits were from the edited version of the article, altered after Narvaez received numerous comments from therapists, lactation consultants, and mothers, some harmed, and all offended, by her words.
I could go through every one of Narvaez’s bullet points and explain why they are 95% horse poop, but I’m not sure that would get me anywhere; we’ve pretty much covered all of them in past posts (just check out the tags at the bottom if you want to hear what I have to say about her claim that “formula is linked to lower intelligence” or that “99% of moms with full-term infants can breastfeed successfully. It is ignorant doctors, nurses, family members and the push of pharmaceutical companies that make it seem untrue” – ironic, as the stress this writer is causing with her foreboding article could harm supply) Plus, it would legitimize her in a way that I’m not interested in being responsible for. She is so far from rational in her facts and presentation that I wasn’t even offended by her post.
In fact, I kind of liked it.
Here’s why: within hours of this drivel being posted, women were coming out of the woodwork to school Narvaez on the realities of infant feeding. Therapists finally spoke up about the link between postpartum depression and the pressure to breastfeed (Narvaez tried to pacify these folks by adding a warning at the beginning of her post: “NOTE TO MOMS: Don’t read this if you are feeling vulnerable, guilty or overstressed”. Yep. Really. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or demand a retraction from Psychology Today); lactation consultants, even if they were nowhere close to my end of the breast-bottle-right-to-choose spectrum, told her that her approach was wrong and damaging. Sure, there was the requisite “formula feeders are sociopaths” type of fare in the comments section (mostly from Narvaez herself, who- I kid you not – blamed the selfishness of the Baby Boomer generation on formula), but overall, the sisterhood was stronger than I’ve seen in a long time.
Over on the FFF Facebook page, there was discussion about how for any “hot” topic, the extremists get all the attention, and moderate voices are seldom heard. There’s a silver lining to this unfortunate truth: Sometimes, it takes deafening zealotry to provoke the quiet, moderate voices to speak up a little louder.
I truly believe that it will be these voices who can put an end to this ridiculous “battle” and start making some real strides in improving the lives and health of women and babies. Voices like the postpartum therapist who worries that the obsession with perfection will exacerbate women already rendered vulnerable by the monster of PPD, or the PPD survivor who urges that breastfeeding is a matter of personal preference. Or the feminist activist who manages to promote breastfeeding and choice simultaneously. Or the breastfeeding mom who understands the concept of correlation versus causation, and can cherish both her belief in/love for breastfeeding and her belief in/love for using evidence-based science for prescriptive claims. Or the mother who was once riddled with guilt, caught up in the whirlwind of caring for a micropreemie, and who now has the strength and confidence to stand up for her choices and show the world how breast is best is not so black and white.
So, I applaud you, Darcia Narvaez. You’ve managed to bring lactivist and formula feeding advocate together in mutual disgust for your approach to breastfeeding promotion. You’ve made us take a step back, and reaffirmed the need for a dose of common sense, for a middle ground, for sensitivity and reason.
I applaud you. But that doesn’t mean I don’t hope someone cuts your aforementioned poorly-written tree down to make toilet paper.