The Anatomy of an Anti-Breastfeeding Article

The moment I see the article pop up on my newsfeed, my heart stops a little. My blood pressure rises. My heartbeat quickens. The anti-breastfeeding article. You’ve seen them. Some of you have shared them. There may be one flaming up the feeds this week.

Whether they’re written by journalists or moms or so-called “experts,” they can be really confusing. They try to turn everything we believe about breastfeeding (being good for moms and babies, for instance) on its head, making us all feel like we’ve been duped.

If you take a closer look, though, what you’ll find most of the time is they are not nearly as convincing as their flashy headlines.

Breastfeed Chicago is all about arming mamas with the weapons for survival in this big, bad world, so here’s a little anatomy lesson for you that reveals the naked truth of these little beasts.  

Anti-Breastfeeding Articles… make it personal.

They all find a way to touch on the exquisitely painful personal experiences some mothers have with breastfeeding, instead of focusing on the CONTEXT in which mothers are trying to breastfeed. What’s the context of breastfeeding for many American mothers?  It’s booby trapped. We don’t fail at breastfeeding. We. Are. Failed.

Our systems are broken, and we come to breastfeeding out of those broken systems.

Our health care professionals lack the education to support us. Our medical insurance fights us on our legally-entitled reimbursements. Inequities abound in our healthcare institutions. Our families and sometimes spouses may not support our decisions. We have been fed mixed messages our whole lives about what our breasts are really for. Human milk and breastfeeding support can be hard to access for sick babies. Some of us have never seen another breastfeeding baby before we have our own. We may struggle with a history of sexual abuse that impacts what’s comfortable for our bodies. We lack access to paid leave after the birth of our babies, and we may have to fight our employers for break time to express our milk. I could go on… CONTEXT.  Is it any wonder that we struggle to meet our own breastfeeding goals?  

Anti-Breastfeeding Articles… imply inadequacy where none exists.

Anti-breastfeeding articles make their case so very personal, they take away from the bigger picture: the population. At the level of population, breastfeeding is not about personal choice.  Breastfeeding is about health for babies and moms, saving lives and dollars.

Not the Mommy Wars; health. Not control freaks; health. Public health. Plain and simple.

Breastfeeding recommendations like those from the AAP and the WHO are not, as the articles would have you believe, a tool used to measure one’s personal worth. Recommendations do not in any way imply that moms who do not or cannot breastfeed are not good, amazing, thoughtful, kind, and loving mothers, nor are they intended to make anyone feel bad or feel less than because they don’t or can’t breastfeed.  An anti-breastfeeding article usually finds a way to go for the emotional quick and subtly – falsely – connect the notions that if one does not achieve the recommendations, that one is somehow “not enough.” Couldn’t be further from the truth.

What your breastfeeding journey may actually look like.  Your outcome may be different than recommendations or expectations that that’s OK!
What your breastfeeding journey may actually look like. Your outcome may be different than recommendations or expectations and that’s OK!

Life sometimes does not pan out as expected. Breastfeeding journeys may occasionally involve some formula, donor milk, tools like supplemental nursing systems, or even weaning after giving it your all and then coming to terms with the journey itself. It’s sometimes messy. It’s OK. YOU ARE ENOUGH!  

Anti-Breastfeeding Articles… often have questionable timing, authors or motives.

Is it any coincidence that anti-breastfeeding articles tend to be published in the weeks leading up to August and often even DURING World Breastfeeding Week? No. Why criticize a public health initiative during the month that celebrates it? Who has an interest in contradicting breastfeeding love? Think about it.

Who is the author? Is it a person of integrity or someone who has a history of internet sensationalism? Does the author have training in science writing and public health? Training in lactation? Is the author someone who is experiencing feelings of guilt or inadequacy (likely due to a confluence of circumstances brought up in the points above)?

And last, but not least, in this day and age of sponsored news content, was someone PAID to bash breastfeeding? I’m actually not naturally paranoid, but the fact is that news coverage in the age of social media is big business, and sponsored news stories are a real thing. There’s lots of money to be made off of moms who don’t breastfeed and almost nothing to be made off moms who do.  

Anti-breastfeeding articles… cherry-pick evidence.

Cherry-picking evidence is a method often employed by authors who lack training in public health or have had traumatic breastfeeding experiences.

I find it odd that so many anti-breastfeeding articles claim to be shedding light on a giant lie, but then completely ignore the ENORMOUS body of scientific knowledge supporting breastfeeding. It’s important to note that usually the studies these authors cite to make their points are flawed studies to begin with. Flawed studies = flawed outcome.  Breastfeeding wouldn’t be considered “a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice” (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2012), promoted by organizations ranging from the World Health Organization to the March of Dimes, if the larger body of scientific literature didn’t point to hugely positive outcomes.  

Anti-breastfeeding articles should be seen for what they are.

Let’s be clear: everyone has a right to their own opinion. If you really hate breastfeeding, I can’t stop you from shouting it from the rooftops. And if you chose not to or couldn’t breastfeed, know that great parents come in many forms, and the way you feed your baby has nothing to do with how much you love your baby.

BUT… let’s also be clear that these articles are not written with the interest of mothers and babies in mind. They are written for the express purpose of inflaming a fight. Let’s give the bad behavior as little attention as possible, to snuff that fire right out. Instead, focus on what’s important: Loving our babies with all we’ve got and following that little voice inside our heads that says, “nurse on, mama.”

Written by Breastfeed Chicago board members Elise Fulara and Katrina Pavlik. Special thanks to Beth Bejnarowicz.

4 thoughts on “The Anatomy of an Anti-Breastfeeding Article

  1. So simple…breast feeding was the norm. Plain and simple! It “was” long before formula. We had many brilliant physicians that were in favor of ” breast is best “. It wasn’t until “big business” that our thought s turned to forumla.. So money for the formula makers, money for the providers of the formulas means more than what is best for the child? And who makes the desicions on how long a mother decides to breast feed? And where a mother breast feeds …not the publics decision…breast feeding was the norm until the big bisiness decided “they” knew better. I would much rather see a Mother Breast feed her child than the majority of women that decide that exposing their breast and asses as important to catch attention!

    1. Many things that were the “norm” were not necessarily ideal. Maternal death in childbirth used to be common. Death of at least one child from infectious disease was once the norm. The norms have changed, but health and longevity are better than ever in societies that blog.

      There have always been families who needed alternatives to breast milk – that’s where the word “formula” came from – it was a home-made recipe for feeding a baby. ALternatives were wet nurses, other mammals’ milk, or starvation.

      We now have manufactured milk that is very close nutritionally to breast milk, and which is effective in nourishing babies to excellent health.

      We also have research that shows that the additional benefit of breast milk – in wealthy societies – is relatively small and short-lived. We know this intuitively, as many of us has formula ourselves.

      I;ve not seen any articles that are actually anti-breastfeeding. Almost everyone agrees that breastfeeding is great if it suits the family, all other things being equal. What isn’;t great is the elevation of lactation to some sort of magical status, and demonisation of other sorts of healthy infant nutrition.

      I;ve never heard anyone say that a family that wants to breastfeed and is able to do so happily and without causing harm should not do so. But I’ve read and heard many episodes of “formula-shaming”.

      1. Sue – You’re right that formula has been around for a while and that the formula made today is far superior to what families used to feed their babies (contributing to an astronomical infant mortality rate by today’s standards). However, your claim that today’s formula is close to breastmilk is simply not true. This helps to magnify the differences: Nothing that can be made by a scientist will ever come close to the ingredients of breastmilk. Nothing. It’s simply not possible to turn something like cow’s milk (meant for a baby cow) into something that is ideal for human babies.

        Again, as and organization (and as plain old moms), we realize that families use formula for many reasons – out of necessity, out of personal choice, out of medical needs… AND that choice does not make them worse parents by any stretch of the imagination.

        The point of the article is that anti-breastfeeding articles are serving the public falsehoods. You’re lucky you haven’t seen them – take a look through any major online or print news site and you will find them. They often start complaining about how breastfeeding is hard (which it is for some moms) and how formula feeders get bashed all the time (which is unfortunate and unfair) and how breastmilk isn’t really that important anyway (which is untrue). Please read the links we added that show that at the level of population (that means everyone), breastfeeding is a public health issue, and the more people who do it, the better off we will be as a society.

        I have a feeling that you’ve had a bad time with breastfeeding – maybe you wanted to do it and couldn’t or were told you couldn’t. For that, I’m truly sorry and I personally know how hard it is not to reach your own goals. Believe me. Know that what you feed your baby is not nearly as important as how much love you show your baby. Rock on, mama.

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