Good versus “Evil”: How ignorance can bring out the best in the breastfeeding/formula debate

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 intelligenceor 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.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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15 thoughts on “Good versus “Evil”: How ignorance can bring out the best in the breastfeeding/formula debate

  1. Well I did make the point in one of her comments that her attitude sounded a lot to the ignorant layperson like narcissim, but she didn't seem to appreciate that…

  2. I think its time to have Dr. Narvaez committed for a complete psyc evaluation. This chic is way to coco for cocoa puffs and a whole order of fries short of the happy meal.

  3. It's a very good point, and it points to how dehumanizing Dr. Narvaez's approach is. For a moralist, she's awfully comfortable dismissing the needs of the most vulnerable population on the planet. Just because children cannot speak that young, I think we sometimes forget that they are PEOPLE, first.

    Just as I find it disturbing to see the cavalier attitude among some lactivist circles toward taking prescription/herbal/over-the-counter/illegal drugs while breastfeeding, I also find it disturbing the cavalier attitude shown toward “fixing” what's “wrong” with a baby's mouth. Surgery can't fix everything, and even if it can, you're talking about surgery for a TINY INFANT. And yet if you deem the risks too high, you're supposedly denying the baby “liquid gold.”

    Again, it points to the fact that she's taking a medical decision and making it out to be some kind of moral imperative. IMO, promoting one-size-fits-all medicine is immoral for women, and it's immoral for their babies, too.

  4. It occurred to me while I was reading this post (why not before, I don't know), that even if it were true that X% of women could physically breastfeed (leaving out the emotional aspect for the moment), where is the evidence that all (“normal,” full-term) INFANTS can breastfeed? I may have been able to breastfeed if my son had not had a tongue tie (and, I suspect, an upper lip tie as well), but between the two of us, it just wasn't going to happen soon enough to maintain my sanity. Long story, as they all are. 🙂 But my point is that breastfeeding is so often approached as all on the mom, but it's really a partnership in which the infant is just as important.

  5. Um, what mom doesn't feel “vulnerable, guilty or overstressed”?! I guess that goes to show that NO ONE should read her ridiculous article….

    Good point about more women & medical professionals coming out and defending common sense in parenting after an over-the-top extremist post. I'd never thought about it that way. It sounds like Narvaez is part of the group who makes breastfeeding her religious-like crusade…

  6. Just wanted to say that Mainstream Parenting, along with FFF, will always be one of my favorite sites. Yours was the first voice of reason I stumbled across when I was 8 weeks post-partum and overwhelmed.

  7. Oh, I see you've touched upon the tip of the iceberg of crazy that is Darcia Narvaez. If I were still blogging, she's probably be a favorite topic of mine.

    Dear ol' Darcia has the “Noble Savage” bug REAL bad. She maintains (despite plenty of evidence to the contrary) that children raised in primitive societies are psychologically better adjusted and non-violent, and in general, have a better moral stature than us Westerners. In the comments to her post regarding her work on the subject – – she shows herself also partial to the anti-vaccine/OMG TOXINS!!!eleventy!11! people, as well as being buddies with James W. Prescott (also Piled Higher and Deeper)…who claims that societies where breastfeeding beyond 2.5 years are/were common were more peaceful and loving of their fellow people (ignoring thousands of years of bloody history, but who cares about the facts?). .

    As someone asks on the comments to the blogpost you're referring to, “Is Psych Today just letting any idiot post these days? “, Sure looks like it!

  8. You make a good point about extreme points of view- they do have a tendency to bring out the voices of the moderates and unite them against the extreme views. When we begin to realize that most of us arent that far apart in our views I feel this debate will calm down. And in some ways, this may help.

  9. I love these kinds of critics. All I hear is: “It's not YOUR fault you formula feed. You're just a sad, weak, confused puppet of big business, medical science, and media marketing. Too bad you're not more enlightened like me.” Um, thanks?

  10. I love the bit about the Starvation diet… My daughter wasn't gaining weight at all on breastmilk,.. She gained weight on vitamin fortified infant formula. Bread and water wouldn't contain the macronutrients required fir good nutrition, however formula mimics the macronutrients in breastmilk with vitamin and mineral supplementation.

    As for the junk food comment. I try to eat mostly unprocessed foods too but poop happens and the bf thing didn't work out. Again, formula contains approximately the same macronutrients as breastmilk which I can assure ms. Darcia are not like junk foods that generally don't regard such things when creating candy or chips. Here's a cute anecdote from Sunday. My daughter was at soccer and the snack parent of the week had Strawberries and chocolate chip cookies… Which one was my apparently predisposed to junk food daughter choose? The strawberries.

    I think Darcia should admit that those thoughts are just her own opinion..Her statements are unnecessarily inflammatory. While she's entitled to post that piece of drivel wherever she wants, I really don't think it belongs on a psychology today blog.

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