A World Breastfeeding Week Plea: Stop celebrating, start collaborating

Usually, I’m all over the place this week. Getting quoted in the requisite “it may be breastfeeding week but gosh darnit some women still find exclusive breastfeeding super hard” articles. Posting my own stuff here on the blog, or over on HuffPo. Talking about #ISupportYou and pissing off hundreds of people in the process, because they see it as a veiled attempt to “steal the thunder” from World Breastfeeding Week.

But this year, I’m all but invisible.

Part of this was unintentional. I’ve been going through some stressful career-change mishigas, dealing with the inevitable gaps in childcare that occur between camp and school, entertaining a ridiculous number of visiting extended family members. I’ve been too exhausted to blog, or talk to media sources, or self-promote (because let’s be honest – that’s a part of what all of us parenting bloggers do. Even the most altruistic of us. Even those of us who don’t depend on hits or advertising or who never make a cent off their blogs. We write because we want to be heard; we pray for bigger audiences, book deals, evidence that we’ve made some sort of impact. I happen to be rather shitty at this, which is why I don’t blog much anymore. I don’t have the stomach for that part of the job).

Another part of my conspicuous silence has been intentional, however. Probably more than I care to admit. See, I’ve been focusing my efforts on the supportive stuff. Reaching across the aisle, trying to understand all facets of this debate, and hoping that by creating better resources for all moms, I can help stop all the guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. I know that breastfeeding is important to many, many women. I want those women to succeed, and feel happy and proud and supported. So this year, I wanted to try and stay out of World Breastfeeding Week drama like I try and stay out of my kids’ sibling squabbles.

Yeah. Because that works so well with my kids.

The problem is, I also want formula feeding mothers to feel happy and proud and supported. And for some reason, it’s not okay to want both of these things. It’s ok to pay lip service to it, to claim #ISupportYou and tell formula feeding moms that celebrating breastfeeding isn’t about them. But if you actually do the work you need to do to ensure that non-breastfeeding parents are supported, you are violating WHO Code. You are taking attention away from the women who “need it”. You are stealing…. what? Resources? Sympathy? One-up(wo)manship?

I tried to stay out of it. I really did. I held my newly-minted CLC certification close to my non-lactating chest and bit my tongue.

And then the articles came, and came, and came. And so many this year were not about the benefits of breastfeeding, but rather how hard it was. Or how hard it was NOT to breastfeed. How this mom felt like she was poisoning her baby, or this one felt like she’d be booted from the “mom club” because she didn’t wear the EBF badge.

So much guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. None of it is stopping. There’s more this year than ever before.

Then this happened.



And I heard my community inwardly wince. Not for the reasons you might think. Not because they didn’t think it was a beautiful image, and not because it glamorized something that had been messy and painful for most of them, although those certainly were thoughts that some of us had to squash down into that endless pit of mother-guilt. No, it was because it was yet another image of a breastfeeding celebrity, with headlines and stories that spoke of her bravery for normalizing nursing, and comments all over the place about how breastfeeding was finally being celebrated.

I think, for many of us, it was the “finally” that did it. For many of us, it would seem far braver for a celebrity to do a shoot with her bottle-feeding her kid with a can of formula in the background. We have only seen breastfeeding being celebrated. There’s so much partying going on, and we feel like the crotchety old neighbors calling the cops with a noise complaint. But you know, it’s late, the music is loud, and we’re tired.

Now, just to be clear – I’m talking about breastfeeding being “celebrated” That celebration doesn’t do us much good. It does not mean that it is easy for moms to nurse in public. Obviously, it isn’t. Or that lactation services are plentiful and accessible to all. Obviously, they aren’t. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but that doesn’t stop it from being difficult for the new mom in the hospital, whose birth didn’t go as planned. Or the one who has to go back to work 2 weeks postpartum. Or the one with a job not conducive to pumping. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but not when you’re overweight. Or when you’re nursing a toddler.

Idealized images in the media of what breastfeeding looks like do not normalize nursing. In fact, I’d argue it fetishizes it – not for men, so much, but for women. Now, we don’t just have to feel inadequate for not fitting into size 2 jeans a month after giving birth, but we need to feel inadequate if we don’t meet the feeding norm and make it look gorgeous and natural and easy.

Please do not misread what I’m saying here – talking about breastfeeding, supporting breastfeeding, and implementing changes to make breastfeeding easier for those who want to do it are important, admirable, and necessary goals, as far as I’m concerned. But the comments I saw coming from my community after this photo hit the news were not about any of these things. They were from women feeling totally drained, frustrated, and alienated after a nearly a week of hearing how inferior their feeding method was, who were sick of being told they were defensive or that they feel guilty if they tried to stand up for themselves. This story was the last straw. It’s weird, when you think about it – it wasn’t the piece on the risks of formula, or the memes about the superiority of breastfed babies – what broke the camel’s back was a seemingly innocuous spread of a gorgeous, confident actress proudly nursing her baby.

This is what perpetuates the cycle of guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt: our lived experiences are so damn different, that it’s like we’re constantly talking at cross-purposes. The nursing mom who is the only one in her small town not using a bottle sees a photo spread like this as thrilling, victorious, self-affirming – as she should. The formula feeding mom living in Park Slope who carries her formula-filled diaper bag like a modern-day hairshirt sees the same spread as just another celebrity being held up as a pioneer, when she’s only doing what’s expected of a woman of her stature – as she should. Both are right. Because both are personal, emotionally-driven responses.

Earlier this week, I said that deciding how to feed your baby is just one of a myriad of important parenting decisions. But somehow, it’s become the most important one. We cannot expect formula feeding moms to support their breastfeeding sisters when they don’t receive the same support. We just can’t. It’s not fair, and it’s not realistic. I feel like that’s what I’ve been asking of all of you, and somehow I just woke up to that fact.

Why are there still articles talking about how shitty we feel for not breastfeeding, instead of articles talking about what’s being done to change this? Where is the news story about the doctors who are saying enough is enough (because I know they are out there – many of them contact me, and I appreciate these emails, but I wish they were able to say these things publicly without fear of career suicide)? Where’s the NPR program about ways we can improve breastmilk substitutes so those who cannot or choose not to nurse aren’t left hanging? Where’s the Today Show, The View, The Katie Show, doing segments on why women are REALLY not meeting breastfeeding recommendations, instead of segment after segment on how brave so-and-so is for posing nursing their newborn on Instagram, or talking to dumbasses on the street about the “appropriate” age for weaning?

When we stop “celebrating” and start normalizing and supporting and being realistic about how different life can be even just a street away, maybe World Breastfeeding Week can have it’s proper due. Maybe we can actually talk about ways to help women in the most dire straits feed their babies as safely as possible – clean water, free breast pumps, free refrigeration, access to donor milk.

I want to be able to be silent during World Breastfeeding Week. It shouldn’t have to be “overshadowed” by emotional, personal pieces about breastfeeding “failure”. It shouldn’t be a time for articles about not making formula feeding moms feel “guilty”. These words shouldn’t even be part of our infant feeding lexicon, for godsakes. Failure? Guilt? For what?

This year, I want us to stop celebrating, and start having some calm, productive conversations with people outside your social circle. For many of us, the celebration feels exactly like high school, when the popular kids had parties and we sat home watching Sixteen Candles for the thirty-fifth time. That’s not to say breastfeeding isn’t worth celebrating, but the end goal should not be one group feeling triumphant and the other feeling downtrodden. Formula feeding was celebrated for decades too – and that celebration made the current atmosphere of breastfeeding promotion necessary. Please, let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s move on. Rip down the streamers, put away the keg, and open the doors to the outsiders looking in. You never know – they could end up being the best friends you’ve ever had.


The ads on the bus go bad, bad, bad – a response to the Calgary Breastfeeding Matters Group campaign

“Children of parents who have diabetes have higher risk of diabetes themselves. Reproduce responsibly. Learn more.”

“Hispanic and Black children have higher risk of diabetes. Race matters. Learn more.”

“Children who are poor have higher risk of diabetes. Money matters. Learn more.”


If any of the above statements were posted on the walls of a bus, there would be an intense backlash, and rightfully so. Not only do these messages contribute to the shaming of people with diabetes – a condition that, according the American Diabetes Association, is primarily due to genetic predisposition – they are also offensive, misleading, and would fit quite well into a sci-fi thriller about eugenics. True, these factors are associated with higher rates of diabetes, but the story is far more complex than these slogans suggest, and to imply otherwise is nothing short of irresponsible.

Yet, a similar advertisement will be posted on public buses in Canada, suggesting that mothers of children who develop diabetes may be to blame for their children’s condition, due to their infant feeding choices (or lack thereof).

Ad from the Calgary Breastfeeding Matters Group (CBMG.ca)

Ad from the Calgary Breastfeeding Matters Group (CBMG.ca)

The slogan Babies who aren’t breastfed have higher risk of diabetes, is problematic. The omission of the word “may” (“Babies who aren’t breastfed may have higher risk…) implies that ALL babies whose mothers do not (or cannot) provide mother’s milk are doomed to a higher risk of diabetes.

Yet, the recent meta synthesis study by the World Health Organization (1) which examined 314 studies from 43 countries, reported that while breastfeeding may have protective effect for type -2 diabetes among adolescents, “Generalization from these findings is restricted by the small number of studies and the presence of significant heterogeneity among them” (p. 12). Moreover, there is no evidence to support that breastfeeding is protective against Type 1 diabetes, which is more common in the pediatric population (2).

To understand how this ad is misleading, it’s important to understand that diabetes is not one disease, but actually a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. Saying blanket statements about diabetes is like saying “Brittany S sucks”. Who? Brittany Spears? Brittany Snow? Brittany S. Pears from Glee? Brittany spaniels? Same name, but very different entities. The causes of the various types of diabetes also vary. Although there are 3 main types of diabetes (Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational), people can get diabetes as a result of other conditions, like cystic fibrosis, organ transplantation, or having HIV/AIDS.

Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as non-insulin dependent diabetes or adult onset diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes across the general population. It is most often associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, previous history of gestational diabetes, physical inactivity, and certain ethnicities, and can typically be managed via weight control, dietary changes, and exercise. It has come to be viewed in society as a disease of “fault”; another spoke in the wheel of the obesogenic machine that is currently speeding through our society like a shiny, red Corvette, crushing all nuance and holistic scope in its path.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, unrelated to weight or lifestyle factors. This is important to distinguish because children with Type 1 and their parents often get unjustly blamed for the condition (imagine how it must feel, on top of worrying about your chid’s blood sugar levels getting deathly high or low, to contend with people asking if you fed him or her nothing but junk food?) While there is some data suggesting the existence of environmental, viral, or physiological “triggers” for Type 1 diabetes, current research has not shown that it can be prevented (3) by any means, including maternal feeding.

Furthermore, to date, no studies have shown direct correlation between maternal feeding and the development of either form of diabetes, as this campaign would suggest. There is some evidence that children who were breastfed have a lower incidence of developing Type 1 diabetes [4] but the data are merely associative, as there are multiple confounding factors known to develop conditions for the disease. For example, the data coming from the burgeoning field of epigenetics have demonstrated a fairly robust association between allostatic load, or stress, in pregnancy, and higher risk for diabetes, coronary and ischemic disease. [5]

The Babies who aren’t breastfed have higher risk of diabetes advert, sponsored by the Calgary Breastfeeding Matters Group (CBMG), is the fifth in a series of pro-breastfeeding posters. The first four successfully inform and empower public awareness regarding breastfeeding; promoting the message that breastfeeding in public is normal with witty slogans and amusing imagery. This makes the current diabetes-themed poster all the more troubling–with its image of a bottle marked with the word “insulin” next to a foreboding hypodermic needle. To promote the scientifically inaccurate message with hyperbolic imagery misleads the general public, and burdens the parents and children affected by both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes with unnecessary doubt and concern.

The CBMG may have expected backlash as its website offers a “Resource Sheet” to accompany the advertisement. They link to three different sources of data to back up their claim, with the introductory proclamation that “Recent 2013 research states that breastfeeding as a preventative measure against Type I and Type II diabetes is Level III Evidence”. The first link, to a Nordic systematic literature review, does confirm that the evidence supporting longer-term breastfeeding as a preventative measure (as opposed to “any” breastfeeding) is “Level III evidence”, indeed. What the CBMG fails to mention is that “Level III evidence” is defined as “limited-suggestive”. [6] (To be fair, the study does qualify the evidence for “any” breastfeeding being potentially protective as Level 2 – “probable” – based on studies of varying quality and methodologies.)The other two citations – another review and a seminar about epigenetics [7] [8] – both contain numerous caveats about their findings; neither offers anything close to conclusive evidence that breastfeeding is protective against diabetes – evidence that is hardly worth screaming from the rooftops. Or posting on the wall of a bus.

Without going into a lengthy discussion on the limitations of using two reviews and a lecture as the basis of an emotive advertising campaign, It should suffice to say that infant feeding has not been adopted as a significant reductive factor worthy of promoting to the general public by the American Diabetes Association, nor the Canadian Diabetes Association, expert authorities on this condition (although both of these sources do discuss the research into the breastfeeding-diabetes connection on their websites). In fact, diabetes expert Dr. David Lau  has already spoken against about the campaign, telling the Calgary Herald that the studies used to support the campaign “were essentially surveys…(and) he called any ad based on current, formal research to be an ‘extrapolation’.”

The CBMG “Resource Sheet” also contains a “Q and A”:

So, I breastfed my baby but she still got diabetes!  Is that my fault?

  • There are many risk factors which influence chronic diseases, not breastfeeding is only one of these risk factors.
  • When you have not realized your breastfeeding goals, you may inappropriately blame yourself, when it is the lack of information and support which is the real culprit
  • Let go of guilt. Use that energy to enjoy and celebrate your child and the accomplishments you have made.

This ad is cruel! It makes women who did not breastfeed feel guilty.


  • This argument by the public and health professionals takes the responsibility away from those supporting mothers who have not provided the information and support to help her reach her breastfeeding goals. 

  • Information about the health risks of formula do not come from formula companies, but it is very important for moms-to-be to realize there are risks. This needs to be delivered along with breastfeeding support resources.

(Source: CBMG.ca)

In other words, if your baby was breastfed and still got diabetes, there’s a potential that other factors may be at play- but more likely, you didn’t meet your breastfeeding goals. Don’t feel guilty, though – you were probably booby trapped! It’s not your fault you gave your baby diabetes. Although it kind of is.

This ad, well intention as it may be, will quite possibly inflict unnecessary shame and guilt on the parents of children with diabetes; perpetuate the confusion between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes; and stigmatize women into breastfeeding rather than encouraging them to do so in a positive, constructive way. It would serve CBMG to remove this ad from their otherwise positive breastfeeding promotion campaign. Otherwise, they risk ruining an empowering, powerful campaign with the usual polarizing, negative, and historically ineffective tactics that have perpetuated the “bottle/breast” wars and kept parents from the important work of keeping themselves, and their babies, happy and healthy.

This post was a collaborative effort between Suzanne Barston (the FFF) and Walker Karraa, MFA, MA, with assistance from Polly Palumbo, PhD,  Sarah Lawrence, PharmD, MA,  Teri Noto, and Kristin Cornish, and several others who wish to remain anonymous for professional reasons. 


[1] Word Health Organization. 2013. Long-term effects of breastfeeding: A systematic review.

[2] University of Rochester Health Encyclopedia, date unknown. Type 1 Diabetes in Children.

[3] American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013.  Healthy Children.org – Diabetes Mellitus.

[4] American Diabetes Association, date unknown. Genetics of Diabetes.

[5] Barker DJ, Winter PD, Osmond C, Margetts B, Simmonds SJ (1989) Weight in infancy and death from ischaemic heart disease. Lancet 2:577-580.

Barker DJP, Bull AR, Osmond C, Simmonds SJ (1990) Fetal and placental size and risk of hypertension in adult life. BMJ 301:259-262

Barker DJP (1995) Fetal origins of coronary heart disease. BMJ 311:171-174.

Barker DJP, Osmond C, Forsén T, Kajantie E, Eriksson JG (2005) Trajectories of growth among children who later have coronary events. N Engl J Med 353:1802-1809.

[6] Hörnell A,et al. Breastfeeding, introduction of other foods and effects on health: a systematic literature review for the 5th Nordic Nutrition Recommendations. Food Nutr Res. 2013; 57: 10.3402

[7] Nolan CJ, Damm P, Prenkiki M.Type 2 diabetes across generations:from pathophysiology to prevention and management. Lancet. 2011 Jul 9;378(9786):169-81.

[8] Patelarou E, et al. Current evidence on the associations of breastfeeding, infant formula, and cow’s milk introduction with type 1 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review. Nutr Rev. 2012 Sep;70(9):509-19]




Celebrity culture and infant feeding: Does breastfeeding need a makeover, or a makeunder?

There’s a startling disconnect inherent in the way our society views infant feeding. On a daily basis, I see vomit-worthy comments posted on Twitter disparaging mothers who are committing the mortal sin of nursing in public – some recent gems included a tweet from a guy who got his jollies waiting for a nip slip from breastfeeding moms, and several women taking cheap shots at “exhibitionist” moms who were “grossing them out” by feeding their babies in plain sight. Seeing this, I can absolutely understand the need for breastfeeding to get an “extreme makeover” in our culture; I can start to see why online discussions about the need for bottle-feeding support devolve into defensive diatribes about how we (FFFs) are in the majority, and have no comparable need for sisterhood.

And yet, my Twitter feed serves as a stark contrast to my other guilty pleasure – celebrity culture. We may live in a “bottle feeding society”, but breastfeeding has become a rite of passage among the pop-cultural elite. Just for fun, I spent a few days googling every single famous mom who had given birth in the past year or two, and almost every single one had a photo, interview, or online mention about how they were breastfeeding, or at least planning on it. The few who didn’t either adopted, or made it a point to explain why they weren’t (Tina Fey, Bryce Dallas-Howard). From hard-living rockstars like Pink, to pin-ups like Alyssa Milano, January Jones, and Beyonce, to girls-next-door like Sarah Drew, Alyson Hannigan, and Jenna Fischer, to the French first lady Carla Bruni... it seems as if everyone on the A, B, and C-lists were using their A, B and C cups (even the enhanced ones, a la Tori Spelling) for their evolutionary/biological purpose.

I’ve talked before about how important perspective and environment are in this discourse: two women in the same city could have markedly different experiences with infant feeding support, depending on their socioeconomic and cultural surroundings, as well as their individual peer groups. I live in Los Angeles, a stone’s throw away from Hollywood, so looking at this list of happily-lactating celebutantes clarifies why I felt so alone in my bottle-feeding days. But I realize my breastfeeding-friendly area is nothing like where so many women live, places where they feel ostracized every time they lift a shirt to feed a crying baby. I know this alienation is real; one look at Twitter proves that, and then some. I’m not sure what’s worse – enduring the threat of borderline sexual harassment each time you breastfeed, or having famous physicians tell you that you are harming your baby by not trying hard enough to give them their birthright of mother’s milk. I think it’s probably a toss-up, or at least depends on your psychological makeup and personal triggers.

However, I think lactivism needs to take a serious look at US Weekly before focusing more attention on “glamorizing” breastfeeding. It’s been glamorized. And yet, women are still experiencing ignorance and intolerance about nursing their babies (or toddlers). Celebrity culture has tremendous influence – the advertising industry capitalizes on this; think about how many famous folks endorse the products you purchase, directly or indirectly. Numerous articles have been written about how celebrity post-baby weight loss has a negative impact on our collective psyche; we supposedly watch them shrink in a matter of weeks and believe that’s how postpartum bodies should act (incidentally, most of them attribute their miraculous weight loss to breastfeeding).  If we see a Kardashian pushing a certain type of stroller on their insipid reality show, it becomes a hot seller the very next day. Depressing as it is, our society looks to the bobbleheads on the television for guidance on style and substance. So why isn’t it working with breastfeeding?

Seeing Victoria Beckham or Miranda Kerr or Hilary Duff breastfeed doesn’t make an impact, because of course these women are breastfeeding. They have the resources to do so – flexible and accommodating work environments, nannies, housekeepers, access to superior healthcare providers, support, and most importantly, they live in breastfeeding-friendly environments. How is this making breastfeeding look any more do-able to the average woman? It might make it look more attractive, but not more attainable.

So, maybe the focus should be less on giving breastfeeding a makeover, but rather a makeunder. Focus on making it more accessible and attainable to those who are struggling to make ends meet, to those who not only are lacking a nanny and personal trainer, but also a supportive partner; the ability to switch to a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician; money to see a private lactation consultant, or a car to drive to see that consultant.

And from a formula feeder’s point of view, I want to make one last point: breastfeeding moms have their choice of role models. Maggie Gyllenhal, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Gardner… Women who are opting not to breastfeed have Snooki, who recently was accused of saying breastfeeding is “kind of like you’re a cow” (although for the record, she was just talking about pumping, which she intends to do – she was scared of breastfeeding because her friends had experienced trouble…but I digress):

Source: http://www.hollywoodlife.com/2012/06/11/snooki-breastfeeding-cow-interview/

Speaking of makeovers….

FFF Friday: “I support parents to make decisions for their children…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

I stumbled across this brilliant post from Brian Smith on his own blog, and promptly begged him to let me reprint it here. If you dig it as much as I do, make sure to to stop by his own corner of the internet or follow him on Twitter (@briansmith31681) and tell him so. 

Happy Friday, and a very happy Mother’s Day to all the fearless ones out there….

-The FFF


My support of breastfeeding and of breastfeeding moms–including the right to breastfeed in public–is well known. My post back in January and numerous tweets affirm this. One friend of mine (@fakegimel, I’m looking at you) even once described me as a militant supporter of breastfeeding.
While I have been quite vocal in my support of breastfeeding, it isn’t because I believe “breast is best”. While research has indicated that there are benefits to breastfeeding for both mom and baby, my defense of breastfeeding is rooted in my support of moms (and dads, too) to do what they feel is best for their baby. I support breastfeeding–and, by extension breastfeeding in public–because I support parents to make decisions for their children, largely free from interference from others. My wife used a cover when our kids nursed because that’s what made her comfortable. And I supported her decision. But, I would have been equally supportive if she didn’t think a cover was necessary. My wife used a cover not because she was trying to avoid offending anyone but because she didn’t want to be gawked at.
My wife tried to pump once she returned to work after our first child. However, she never could extract more than a few ounces. Her disappointment was evident every night when she came home and put the extracted milk in the freezer. At 3 months, we could no longer exclusively feed our son breast milk and had to supplement with formula. At 4 months, my wife was  barely able to extract more than a couple of ounces a day and we had to begin formula feeding the Bug entirely.
With our daughter, my wife’s supply simply could not keep up with Em’s demand and we started supplementing with formula after 6 weeks. By 3 months, she was being fed entirely formula and again, my wife felt a tremendous sense of disappointment.
The point I am trying to make is that for some mothers, breastfeeding isn’t an option, even if she wants it to be. It is, then, disheartening to read the vitriol found on many breastfeeding websites and forums directed at parents who formula feed instead of breastfeed. And, while I am willing to concede that you likely won’t find many people using social media to complain about a mom formula feeding her infant in public, you will find breastfeeding advocates attacking parents who formula feed.
What these “militant” breastfeeding supporters don’t seem to understand is that the very thing they want from others–support for feeding their child–they often times fail to give to other parents. Read an article about breastfeeding and you’re likely to see the words “dangers of formula” or “evils of formula” somewhere in the text. Now, imagine that you’re a new mom trying to breastfeed, going back to work soon, unable to pump, and upset at the prospect of having to supplement with formula. Is the language affirming? Does this language support moms (and dads)? Of course not!
Further, when breastfeeding advocates attack the companies that make formula–calling them evil and questioning the safety of their products–they damage their own cause. Yes, more needs to be done to provide support to mothers wanting to breastfeed and to remove the stigma of nursing in public. But, the pursuit of these goals does not have to come at the expense of formula feeders. It is not a zero sum game.
I have been known to engage in online arguments with those who would seek to shame, embarrass, or otherwise harass mothers choosing to breastfeed in public. My position has always been that breastfeeding in public–whether covered or uncovered–is no big deal. It’s a boob. Who cares?!? But my support for breastfeeding is based on my belief that moms deserve to feed their children as they see fit without interference from others. This belief extends to mothers–like my wife–who have chosen, for whatever reason, to formula feed. Just as breastfeeding moms don’t need to be shamed because they’re nursing in public, formula feeding moms don’t need to be shamed. At the end of the day, it comes down to are you being supportive of moms and the choices they are making or are you seeking to create division?
Like what you read? Hate it? Let me know in the comments. Follow me on twitter: @briansmith31681
My blog is at http://briansmith31681.blogspot.com

Are you fearless? Working on it? Send in your story – it’s a step in the right direction… formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Why we shouldn’t use the term “Breastfeeding Nazis” (except when we should)

Nazi [ˈnɑːtsɪ]
n pl Nazis1. (Historical Terms) a member of the fascist National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which was founded in 1919 and seized political control in Germany in 1933 under the Austrian-born German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
2. Derogatory anyone who thinks or acts like a Nazi, esp showing racism, brutality, etc.
- The Free Dictionary

Today is officially Holocaust Remembrance Day. But growing up in a Jewish household, pretty much every day was Holocaust Remembrance Day.  My parents were part of a generation charged with the tremendous responsibility of the slogan “never forget”. They made sure we didn’t. Anne Frank was my childhood hero. We never bought German cars or listened to Wagner. And when I fell in love for the first time, and the boy happened to be born and bred in Frankfurt.. well, let’s just say Romeo and Juliet had nothing on us.

In college, I took a class on German Nationalism and Character. I wanted to learn about what could turn the majority of a nation’s population into something so ugly, something that would happily slay 6 million of my people as well as far too many homosexuals, Gypsies, and people who just didn’t fit in. I’d heard loved ones make angry, anti-German comments, and it rubbed me the wrong way. Not all Germans had been Nazis. And even if they had been (as was the case with my young beloved’s grandparents) that didn’t mean we should blame the sins of the (grand)father on a younger, innocent generation.

The class was phenomenal. Taught by a visiting professor from West Germany, we learned about the historical events that led up to World War II. There were certainly aspects of the German national character that could have contributed to the ease with which Hitler took power, but it wasn’t something in their genetic code. Rather, it was a history of feeling less-than, misunderstood, unappreciated; it was the timing of a charismatic leader who banked on the fact that his countrymen would lap up promises of supremacy and pride like hungry cats given a bowl of cream. 

I’m not excusing what occurred in Nazi Germany, by any means. It was, in my opinion, the most horrific display of the dark side of human nature that the world has ever seen. But I think it is important for people to understand that this could have happened in any country. The group dynamic is powerful. Scapegoating is tempting. The union of anger and insecurity can lead to the birth to pure  evil.  

Group dynamic. Scapegoating. Anger. Insecurity.

I don’t take the term “Nazi” lightly. I don’t like name calling, and I don’t like hyperbole. But I also think most of us don’t fully understand what the tenets of Nazism were. Calling someone a Nazi is not only accusing them of acting like someone who committed genocide. It is also inferring that they possess certain traits. As the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies explains:

Nazism or National Socialism (German: Nationalsozialismus) is an ideology that received its practical political form in the regime that governed Germany from 1933-1945. Nazism is a variety of another totalitarian ideology, fascism. The political goal of both ideologies is to establish a totalitarian state, that is to say a modern, bureaucratic state, where the government is completely dominant in relation to the individual. It is thus a purpose of the regime to monopolise all human activities, both private and public. 

Nazism was specifically characterised by:
Building on a charismatic leader figure (Adolf Hitler) and on the support of the military,

Inventing common enemies (Jews, communists, liberals, pacifists, free masons, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, etc.),

Trying to re-model the working class by making the workers focus on ‘higher ideals’ than the traditional class struggle; such ‘higher ideals’ included extreme nationalism, racism, and especially war.

I have cringed every time I’ve see the term “breastfeeding nazi”, or even worse, “boob nazi”. I’ve seen responses about how insulting it is to those affected by the Holocaust to sling this term around willy nilly, and I agree with this, for the most part. I also think using the word “nazi” as an insult takes away the power of the term itself. The end of the German Nazi party was not the end of nazism. There is a strong neo-Nazi contingent in the USA and UK, among other countries. We shouldn’t call someone a Nazi unless we mean it.

However, I also think that certain facets of lactivism do veer into fascist territory (Nazism is a form of fascism, but other fascist regimes have thrived in Italy, Latin America, Indonesia, and Spain. In breastfeeding supremacy (thank you to the ever-brilliant Jessica Valenti for that far better and more PC term), the common enemy is the formula companies/breastfeeding-unfriendly physicians/formula feeders. The charismatic leaders are the “famous” and most intolerant breastfeeding advocates, people like Jack Newman, William Sears, Darcia Navarez, Gabrielle Palmer, and so forth. The military support comes from grassroots organizations and mommy blogs, who wield the power to call widespread boycotts of commercial products over WHO Code infractions. And the “higher ideals” are extreme, religious beliefs in the power of breastmilk and a conviction that breastfed babies will be stronger, healthier, smarter, and more beautiful human specimens. 

This essay outlines the “14 common characteristics” of fascist regimes.  Some of these characteristics include:

“Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.”

There are patriotic mottos in breastfeeding supremacy, too. Mottos like “Breast is best”. “Breast is normal”. “Babies are born to be breastfed”. “Breastmilk is a baby’s birthright.” 

“Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of ‘need.’”

Obviously, compassion isn’t a human right (although it should be, if you ask me). But I have seen Newman, Frank Oski, and other respected breastfeeding advocates state that making women feel guilty is a good thing, because it might help them see the error of their ways, serving the “need” of higher breastfeeding rates.

“Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe…”

Comparing formula to cigarettes. Boycotting Babble.com for running formula ads. Hurling insults at blogs like this one or sites like Bottle Babies simply for the fact that we exist to support ALL parents, male or female, regardless of how they feed their babies. Sending hate mail to doctors who dare to suggest that breastfeeding might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Raging about the social “booby traps” that ruin breastfeeding rates. Fighting Facebook over their refusal to allow breastfeeding photos (which I agree is insanely stupid, and I think Facebook is being a major douchebag, but is this really where we want to be putting our energy and activism?). There is clearly a perceived common threat or foe, and one that can obviously spark a unifying frenzy. Or a Twitstorm, which is the unifying frenzy of the new millennium.

“Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected.”

Replace the word “military” with “breastfeeding initiatives” and “domestic agenda” with “the real issues plaguing the emotional and physical health of women and children” and you’ll see where I’m going with this. When breastfeeding becomes one of the major tenets of the anti-childhood obesity campaign, rather than addressing the need for cheap, healthy food or fighting for better recess and PE programs in our inner city schools, something is off.  

“Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid…the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.”

Okay, so obviously the grassroots breastfeeding organizations are female-dominated (although I would argue that those who have made the biggest impact in mainstream breastfeeding research and discourse have been men – paging Dr. Sears…). But traditional gender roles are an inherent part of a pro-breastfeeding discourse. Women are encouraged to stay home as long as possible in order to preserve the exclusive breastfeeding relationship. Mothers are credited (or blamed, depending on how they feed their children) for the intelligence, emotional development, health and weight of their offspring. Men are not part of the equation; genetics be damned. The State has become the guardian of this one aspect of child rearing, as governments coerce encourage women to nurse for the good of the nation.

“Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.”

Hence, the reason why every article has to start off with “breastfeeding has been proven without a doubt to be the healthiest and best way to feed an infant” even if the article is talking about a downside to breastfeeding. Articles or quotes which may be construed as “pro-formula” are immediately attacked; the media outlet is accused of being in the pockets of the formula industry, or the writer/person quoted has “industry ties”. It doesn’t matter if there is no concrete proof. 

I’m also concerned with how the conversation is turning away from mom-blaming and into baby-shaming. I saw a tweet the other day about how baby powder was created to cover up the stench of formula-fed babies. And then there was the Facebook thread where a woman blithely commented that all the obese babies she’d seen were formula fed, and she “much preferred petite breastfed babies”. The Alpha Parent recently posted this mock-up ad she created, in reference to a conversation about the power of presenting “facts” versus avoiding guilt:

Source: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Alpha-Parent/168640486536470
Text reads: “Babies are born to be breastfed”; “Formula fed babies are 600 times more likely to have a life of obesity”

This is uncomfortable territory, in my opinion. It reminds me of the Nazi propaganda posters about how to spot a Jew, with exaggerated comic-strip versions of every Jewish stereotype around. When we talk about the superiority of breastfed babies over formula-fed babies, we are creating an atmosphere of supremacy, of “pure” versus “unpure”. 

Speaking of darkly evocative breastfeeding promtion, this charming essay was written for  Feed The Babies Funda non-profit, charitable organization in South Africa (a country which has been earning praise for its new focus on breastfeeding):

It is beyond doubt that the good health status of any nation’s citizens makes an important contribution towards economic progress. ..One of the best ways to ensuring a healthy life for somebody in his/her life span is having a firm health foundation at infancy; a role mainly played by breastfeeding mothers…mothers have the responsibility of investing in the health of their children and the nation by choosing to breastfeed as this choice will impact positively on the stock of health for the kids as they grow. A healthy workforce means a sound human capital base for any nation which ensures a high level of productivity at the workplace. In other words, the type of feeding chosen by mothers for their infants can to some extent determine the level of income that a family and ultimately a nation will earn. If high infant mortality rates are a function of a lack of proper breastfeeding as reported in various media, then one can conclude that families who choose not to breastfeed choose to reduce the stock of health, the time that their children are to survive, ultimately the income that they earn, the income that the nation will earn as well as the socio-economic welfare and progress of the nation.

Parents therefore need to take cognisance of the fact that behind every healthy-child and ultimately every healthy nation is a woman who reasonably and responsibly decides to participate in critical health-enhancing behaviours such as breastfeeding children against all odds… Clearly, one of the reasons why many countries in Africa are burdened by diseases is partially because of inadequate breastfeeding of infants… There is… no justifiable excuse for any mother not to breastfeed considering the vast advantages of breastfeeding discussed in this article.

All Germans were not Nazis, and obviously, all lactivists are not engaging in fascist or supremacist behavior. It sucks that some bad eggs are ruining what should be a really healthy, wholesome omelette. But we also cannot sit idly by and watch a subtle form of fascism grow. So while I am ardently against indiscriminate hurling of the “boob nazi” label, I wish breastfeeding advocates would please consider why this term has gained popularity. Reading the excerpt above, I think it’s pretty damn clear.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Lately, though, I’ve become more and more distressed with the state of breastfeeding advocacy. Articles on Mothering.com and Psychology Today, as well as this hot mess of misleading propaganda from Infact Canada (notice the cute but foreboding cartoon imagery surrounding the text) have made me nervous; it seems that the more a backlash grows against the pressure to breastfeed, the more people want to apply stronger pressure. 

The thing is, we can talk all we want about informed choice. But informed choice cannot mean manipulation. If the facts are that formula fed babies have a higher risk for asthma, this should be explained to parents in a calm and clear way, with meaningful statistics and explanations that illustrate relative risk. But if you take that same fact and turn it into a public service announcement like this-

- you are manipulating your audience. You aren’t allowing them to make an “informed choice”, because that choice is now colored with fear. And that, my friends, is something that all fascist regimes have in common: they control by fear.

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