After we dispensed with some devil’s advocate apologist nonsense in the comments, the conversation devolved into familiar territory. People telling horror stories about the two extremes: the most judgmental breastfeeding supporters (you know, certain message boards *roll eyes* have people tell people formula is poison), and the other alternative, (women who don’t want to breastfeed shouldn’t have children), and that breastfeeding should never be discussed in public. See Mommy Wars Bingo if you want to fill in some squares.
Anyway, this is my reply turned post. If you want to read more than a hundred comments, you can get all the nuance of this particular comment thread, but this is my most recent reply:
Wow, none of my breastfeeding posts got this many replies!
Breastfeeding, like every other health issue, must be discussed with nuance. It does not have to be avoided in the public sphere, and treated like a secret between the mother and her pediatrician.
KC, I am sorry about your grief about not being able to breastfeed. My closest friend, whose birth I was a doula for, had a similar situation. There are options, like the SNS (supplemental nursing system), available to provide nourishment (either in the form of pumped breastmilk, the mother’s or donated, or formula) while still supporting the breastfeeding relationship. For my friend, this worked for a while, but she ended up giving formula from a bottle after trying for months. With a hospital grade pump, and several consultations with lactation consultants.
What I am trying to say is that there are interventions that will nourish the baby if the baby is losing weight inappropriately when the breastfeeding relationship is not working adequately, for whatever reason. Supporting breastfeeding and lactation consultation are definitely not at odds with making sure babies survive optimally. If a baby is not getting enough nutrition, then obviously the health outcome is not ideal, and there should be a different health option, which would be to use an intervention like formula.
No responsible breastfeeding advocate would tell a mother that she is feeding her baby poison if her baby is not getting adequate nutrition over a physiologically significant period of time. (Or if there are any other medical reasons why she cannot or should not breastfeed).
This is the equivalent, but opposite, of the breastfeeding nazi remark. It is ridiculously out of proportion and meant to be hurtful. Do both extremes happen? Yes. Do they need to dominate every breastfeeding conversation? No.
But, remember, I have heard nurses, family members, doctors, and women in my own family say a baby is “starving” after one failed latch or during a crying spell on the first day, even if there has been other successful feedings. I have heard people say a baby is “starving” because the mother’s milk isn’t in yet, just the colostrum.
There is no reason why this can’t be handled with accurate information and sensitivity.
As for the sexual abuse and breastfeeding argument, this article in the journal Lactation says that women with a sexual abuse history report wanting to breastfeed more than those without. This article stresses the wise tenet from the article linked to above: never underestimate or overestimate a woman’s desire to breastfeed. Again, each situation must be dealt with with sensitivity, appropriate health treatment and accurate information. We cannot speak for other’s sexual abuse experiences, just as we cannot speak for other’s lactation experiences.