“Bottled Up”: An Interview with Suzie Barston on Her Infant Feeding Experiences and Implications for Birth Professionals

As a women’s mental health advocate I frequently hear from women, researchers, providers and policy makers that for women with mood or anxiety disorders the choice to breastfeed is not easy. I began following Suzie Barston’s blog, Fearless Formula Feeder several months ago, and have been impressed with her ability to (a) unpack the science, and (b) impact sensibility and respect for women who choose to formula feed. After reading her book and then interviewing Suzie, I know that this community will appreciate her academic rigor, and social insights.  – Walker Karraa

 WKTell us how childbirth educators might approach reading your newly published book, Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood and Why It Shouldn’t? 

SB: I wrote the book with a few goals in mind – first and foremost, I wanted to offer some support and perspective for women dealing with conflicted feelings about infant feeding. But I also wanted to provide a resource for childbirth educators, medical practitioners, and breastfeeding advocates which would explain how it feels – viscerally – to “fail” at breastfeeding in today’s world. I believe that most people are trying to help mothers; the problem is that they often unintentionally do the opposite. There is a right way and a wrong way to educate parents about breastfeeding, and I hope that even if childbirth educators don’t agree with some of what I have to say, they can approach it as a Field Guide to the American Bottle Feeder.

I’m only half joking – there is so much misunderstanding and miscommunication between formula feeding mothers and breastfeeding advocates, and I think that if we could all just listen to each other without our defenses up, we could change the conversation for the better. There are certain books in the breastfeeding canon which were difficult for me to read when I was in the thick of my grief and anger over my breastfeeding experiences; I was researching Bottled Up at the time, and the notes I wrote in the margins of these texts are embarrassing proof of my evolving mindset. I was so angry. When I went back and read the same books again a year later, when it came time to actually write my manuscript, I had a markedly different take. There were arguments that I understood on an intellectual level, and portions that had previously infuriated me that now provoked me to nod in agreement. I think if you truly care about a cause, you should care about learning as much as you can about the different perspectives involved in that cause, even if you don’t agree with them.  That said, I hope that most childbirth educators will enjoy the book rather than feeling like it’s a homework assignment!

WK: How do you address the misperceptions regarding your work as anti-breast feeding?

SB: Unfortunately, there are those who assume that anyone who acknowledges formula feeding as a viable option is either a pawn of the formula companies, misinformed, anti-breastfeeding, or a combination of all three. I don’t think there is anything I can say to convince those individuals that I am 100% pro-breastfeeding. But it saddens me, because I never saw this fight as breast versus bottle. For me, it is about fighting the pressure to breastfeed and the concept that nursing your child is the be-all, end-all of motherhood. I am against misrepresented science, but I don’t want to prove that breastfeeding isn’t best, or that formula feeding is just as good – I want it not to matter. I want us to ensure that we provide healthy alternatives to breastfeeding for women who can’t or don’t want to nurse, and to simultaneously provide support and education for the women who do.  Being critical of how society portrays breastfeeding is not at all the same thing as being critical of breastfeeding as an act. I believe that by de-politicizing breastfeeding, and putting less pressure on women to do it, it will help women approach it as a natural and fulfilling part of motherhood. The way we present it now, it sounds like going to the dentist – something we need to do to keep healthy, but not something we look forward to or expect to enjoy. Also, I don’t think breastfeeding and bottle feeding need to be competitors. They are two separate ways of feeding an infant. There is no reason that they can’t both be acceptable options, at least in a moral, social sense.

WK: We spoke about your advocacy work for healthy feeding initiatives, how do you see childbirth education as part of that?

SB: I think the time to educate and empower women to breastfeed is prenatally – not 5 minutes after giving birth, when hormones are crazy and emotions are high. Most childbirth classes discuss breastfeeding, but informal polls I’ve done with women around the country found that the overwhelming majority was dissatisfied with how infant feeding was approached in their classes. Women are told about the importance of breastfeeding, and warned about all the ways people will try to sabotage their efforts, and yet there is little attention paid to common roadblocks that are far more detrimental to breastfeeding success than a bit of formula supplementation for jaundice, for example. Things like tongue ties; how to recognize insufficient milk; how long it can take for your milk to come in and what to do if it doesn’t; recognizes food intolerances and engaging in elimination diets; and even more importantly, a simple conversation about how hard and painful breastfeeding can be for some women in the beginning, with the reassurance that it will get better.

Scaring parents with out-of-context statistics and vague warnings about the inferiority of formula fed kids only puts them in a negative headspace. One of the things I loved about my Lamaze classes was how positive and honest the instructor was about childbirth – I came out of there thinking that yes, birth could be painful, but that I had ample tools to help me through it, and that it was possible to enter birth in a positive way, without fear. I wish we could approach breastfeeding the same way.

Additionally – education about formula feeding is imperative. The majority of the women in this country are using some formula by the time their babies are six months old. While breastfeeding advocates are trying to raise breastfeeding rates, they can’t stick their heads in the sand until those goals are reached. We need to ensure that when women are supplementing or full-on formula feeding, they are doing so in a safe, healthy way.  Formula preparation and bottle-feeding technique should be incorporated into prenatal education curriculum, and if this isn’t possible, classes need to be available post-natally to address parental concerns and questions.

WK: One of the interesting aspects you discuss in your chapter “Of Human Bonding” is the impact of sensory disorders on breastfeeding experience for women. Can you tell us about the sensory disorders piece? 

SB: Every Friday, I feature a guest post from a parent about his or her infant feeding experiences. In addition, I receive numerous emails a day from women who are struggling with a variety of issues that make breastfeeding an extreme challenge.  I started noticing that a lot of these women were mentioning sensory disorders, and others were using language that reflected some sort of sensory issue. Yet I haven’t come across any research which addresses how sensory disorders might affect breastfeeding. One woman explained how every time her baby would latch, she had to fight the urge to shove him off of her chest. Interestingly, she was fine holding him any other time – but something about the act of suckling at the breast was a tremendous trigger for her. Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) is just starting to be explored; it makes me wonder how many other physiological/psychological conditions might be affecting women in similar ways. And I think it just proves a point I try and make quite often about Baby Friendly initiatives: I want to ensure that when women request formula, they are not asked why. It is not a nurse or lactation consultant or pediatrician’s right to ask this question, because the answer might be highly personal, or something the mother herself can’t even articulate. A better way to handle it would be to a say, “I’m happy to honor that request – but I want to make sure there’s nothing I can do to help you breastfeed if that is something you want to do. Is there anything you need from me, or want to ask me?” And then leave it at that.

 WK: As a woman who experienced postpartum depression and breastfed and now examined the literature in this area, where do you see the gaps between research and practice? 

SB: I am well aware that the research suggests that breastfeeding has a protective effect against postpartum depression. But the majority of this research does not ask the right questions: Why did the women in the sample stop breastfeeding? Did they stop because they were experiencing feelings of depression? Did whatever caused them to stop trigger the depression? I hear from so many women who claim that their PPD was exacerbated by breastfeeding issues – feeling of failure, desperation, inadequacy… coupled with physical stress and a lack of sleep (as anyone who has struggled to breastfeed or has had low supply can attest, you need to wake up every 2 hours to nurse until your supply gets established, and when your baby takes an hour to latch each time– that can take a toll after awhile).  A study recently came out correlating breastfeeding problems with postpartum depression, and I think this is the first step in figuring out exactly how the two interrelate. But regardless of the research, we are talking about depressed women here, who are having trouble adjusting to motherhood. The last thing we should be doing is telling them that if they mother in a certain way, they won’t be depressed. That isn’t going to be true for every woman. I think PPD needs to be treated in a very individual way, and it always worries me when blanket statements are made about how “breastfeeding prevents PPD”. Touting an associative, incremental advantage is not worth the potentially detrimental affect that sort of meme can have on a woman. The physical act of breastfeeding may help trigger oxytocin, but who is to say that oxytocin is going to affect every woman’s brain the same way? Who knows if the PPD is complicated by something like an eating disorder or past sexual trauma, things which can make breastfeeding an emotional powder keg?

 WK: How could childbirth educators address this gap?

SB: I see breastfeeding advocates engaging in online debates with mothers who swear that breastfeeding launched them into PPD, telling them that their experiences either don’t matter or were just plain misinterpreted. This is not okay. When a woman has postpartum depression, the focus needs to be on getting her well. If breastfeeding is helping her, by all means we need to support it and not tell her to quit just because she needs Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). But on the flip side, we need to tell her that it’s okay to formula feed. Not “it’s okay if there is not other option”, but rather “it’s okay” full stop.  And it is. Even if breastfeeding does offer incomparable health benefits, the studies so far have shown those benefits to be relatively small on an individual level for those of us blessed to live with money, resources, and healthcare. The risk of having a mother who is incapacitated by a severe postpartum mood disorder is not so easy to counteract. Childbirth educators and doulas could do wonders in this area – they could make it understood to all women, both prenatally and postnatally, that whether or not you breastfeed has no bearing on your worth as a mother.

WK: One of the things you shared in our conversation was your desire to engage with WIC. What would that look like?

SB: I know that WIC has a vested interest in getting lower income women to breastfeed, but I think they are going about it the wrong way. They are using the same approach that most breastfeeding advocacy uses – telling women that breastfeeding will give them healthier kids; making a subliminal suggestion that a “good” mother will breastfeed. I don’t think this approach is good for anyone, but at least women with resources can hire lactation consultants, take maternity leave, and buy expensive pumps, herbs and off-label medications to make breastfeeding work when it doesn’t come easily. Many women who use WIC are single mothers, working mothers in low, hourly-wage jobs… if middle class women are finding it hard, women without ample resources and supportive partners are going to have it a lot worse. I think it’s great to support breastfeeding in WIC, but I think the campaigns should focus on the positives and offer as much free support as possible. Perhaps getting together a volunteer force of peer supporters who could make house calls in the early days and help new moms get the swing of things? Instead, I see WIC programs doing things like offering incentive packages for new mothers who are breastfeeding. What sort of message does that send? Sure, it might entice women to breastfeed, but at what cost to our sense of humanity?

WK: Tell us about your experience with the supportive Lactavist community? 

SB: I’ve met some truly amazing women who are able to support and promote breastfeeding in a positive way, while being sensitive to the experiences and opinions of others. And these women do so much good. What saddens me is that in the online world – which is the “real” world for many new mothers – the people who have the most power, the most followers, are the most intolerant, the most extreme. This just widens the divide between mothers, and divided we truly do fall. I don’t see how making formula feeding moms the enemy helps anyone’s cause. The women who are out there being kind and non-judgmental and simply want to help others enjoy something that they themselves enjoy… these are the women who are going to raise breastfeeding rates. The others are just causing a backlash.

The refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of personal reasons for not breastfeeding could be written off as a misunderstanding; the experience of motherhood is a tough thing to measure and varies depending on socioeconomic, ethnic, and geographical factors” (p. 89). 

WK: In our conversation, we discussed the need to understand and address these factors for all women. How do you see culture and class as important considerations for childbirth community at large with regards to breastfeeding? And how could childbirth educators integrate these considerations into curriculum?

SB: Breastfeeding advocacy tends to come from one specific socioeconomic subset – upper-middle class, highly educated women and men. They tend to base their ideas about other cultures and socioeconomic groups on self-reported data culled from problematic surveys – problematic, because the questions are phrased in ways that immediately set us up for classist mistakes. We cannot assume to know the intricate decision-making process that any particular woman goes through. I think the advantage that childbirth educators have, however, is that they are teaching within certain geographical areas. You can at least understand the basics of the group you’re talking to. If you are teaching a group in Santa Monica, CA, or Portland, OR, you can safely assume that these women are well-aware of the importance of breastfeeding. It is their cultural norm. If anything, these women probably need guidance in understanding that things can go wrong, and arming them with the information that might help them survive a challenging breastfeeding experience. On the other hand, a group in small-town Iowa might have a bias in favor of bottle-feeding, so normalizing breastfeeding might be a beneficial goal. But even this isn’t always going to work, because of the Internet. The rising popularity of sites like The Bump, Babycenter, and the proliferation of parenting blogs have made the global culture of motherhood more standardized. Many women form deep friendships on these message boards and trust certain bloggers more than their pediatricians. The online world is not a reflection of our nation’s breastfeeding rates – because online, exclusive breastfeeding and attachment parenting are the “norm”. So we can’t assume that just because someone lives in an area where bottle-feeding is prevalent that they won’t be feeling internal pressure to breastfeed- and when you mix that internal pressure with the external lack of support, you get a tough situation for a new mom.

 WK: This is a heated, much debated topic. You clearly dove right in to both the science and the sensibility of the issue of breastfeeding choices. Your research has included interviews with some of the biggest names in science, pediatrics, social science and policy. What are some of the surprises you experienced?

SB: I was downright shocked at the lack of communication between all the people weighing in on infant feeding issues. Sociologists aren’t communicating with biologists; pediatricians aren’t communicating with obstetricians, and no one is communicating with the moms who are struggling to breastfeed. Yet, everybody is making  assumptions and proclamations about things out of their area of expertise. There is no reason that a biologist should be making sociologically-based claims about women who don’t breastfeed, without doing the field work necessary to form these opinions. Infant feeding science is the only field of study I’ve seen where it is perfectly acceptable to begin non-social-science study reports with sweeping generalizations about why women behave in certain ways. I see criticism of people like Joan Wolf or Jules Law (both critics of breastfeeding science who I interview in the book) saying that since they are not epidemiologists, they have no right weighing in on the validity of the scientific literature. But these folks are reading the literature like it should be – as a body of work – and realizing that there are giant gaps and misunderstandings and unwarranted leaps. Their separation from the science lets them escape the tunnel-vision so prevalent in the research and advocacy communities.

The most shocking thing I discovered, however, was the utter lack of long-term research that was informing recommendations concerning drugs and breastmilk. The danger in having this overzealous – and I believe unfounded – fear of formula is that the answer almost always is “breastfeeding on x drug is safer than formula feeding.” But these claims are never backed up by legitimate science. There are newborns who have died because their mothers were on prescribed doses of postpartum painkillers- and yet we are told taking these drugs is perfectly safe. The discrepancy between the way we speak about formula-related risks and breastfeeding-related risks is astounding.

That said, I think that the most important thing I learned while researching this book is that there are no easy answers. If we are looking at infant feeding as a cold, risk-benefit type of thing, than it has to come down to a very individualized decision based on a lot of factors. But the fact that we are approaching it this way – instead of an enjoyable, rewarding experience, where parents can bond and nourish their children – is just sad. I wish the conversation could move away from the science and move towards the sensibility- which is, of course, supporting women in their decisions and helping them ease into the often difficult transition to motherhood.

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Maternal Mental Health, Newborns, Parenting an Infant, Postpartum Depression, Uncategorized , , , , ,

  1. avatar
    | #1

    I liked this book because it made me think about situations yhat I had never thought about before, just like the Friday posts on her blog. I encourage you all to check these out and experience what life is like for women “behind the formula”.

  2. | #2

    Replying to Pat, comment 10:

    Actually, it doesn’t appear to be correct that short-term formula supplementation generally leads to long-term formula use. I’m sure you’re familiar with the studies on formula ‘gift packs’ given to new mothers on their discharge from hospital, consistently showing that these reduce rates of exclusive breastfeeding. However, many of those studies have also looked at whether the ‘gift packs’ affect overall breastfeeding duration, and have almost as consistently found that they don’t. So, an intervention that increases the likelihood of women feeding at least some formula in the early weeks does *not* increase the likelihood of women giving up breastfeeding. I think that ought to be cause to question the belief that short-term supplementation automatically (or even frequently) leads on to long-term formula use.

    As for the rest of your post, Suzanne wasn’t saying that breastfeeding needs to prove itself against formula feeding. She was saying that the effects of various drugs in breastmilk need to be weighed against the effects of formula feeding, and that we should have more evidence on long-term effects of these drugs than we currently have. I’m not clear why you find this statement so radical or objectionable.

  3. avatar
    | #3

    Thank you for posting this interview. I enjoyed reading and have enjoyed even more mulling over my complex reactions to it. I agree completely that we need to be able to have open and non-defensive conversations about infant feeding, and a general attitude of openness and compassion towards each other and our various experiences of pregnancy, birth, and parenting. I also agree that the place we all need to start our conversation is one of respect – a profound respect, not just a surface respect. I advocate the position that I think was first circulated by Planned Parenthood – I Trust Women. That means, I don’t think I have some magical window into other women’s lives that somehow makes me a better judge their lives and experiences than they do. Trusting women means that I have a profound respect for women’s ability and right to make informed decisions for herself and her family that may not be my decisions. We need to start by listening to each other, really listening to each other’s stress, heartache, fears, joys, and pride. As part of that, I agree 100% that women should never be asked why they formula feed, that it’s nobody’s business, and I really liked Ms. Barston’s replacement response, which should instantly be adopted by every LC and hospital. We (the lactivist community) are not always as sensitive as we need to be to the complex emotional and psychological reasons that lead women to not want to bf, in addition to the ones that make them medically unable to (and I’m specifically thinking of the sensory issues SB mentioned as well as sexual abuse). Moreover, I think she is completely right about the issue of low supply and the stats that are often attributed to it (1-5%). Once I realized that there was a correlation between low supply and PCOS, a lightbulb went off in my head, because an alarming number of women I know have been diagnosed with PCOS. I don’t know if the numbers are rising or diagnosis is getting better, but in any event, it suggests that the often-touted 1-5% is NOT reflecting women’s experiences.

    In spite of all these areas of agreement and “right on”-ness I felt, the interview still got my hackles up. So I decided to just sit with that feeling for a while and try and figure out where it came from. I think I figured it out – the interview provides some spot-on critiques of the problems besetting bf advocacy (and particularly I think almost all of us are aware of the “breast is best” problematic, particularly when coupled with a lack of support) but it does so from the perspective only of critique. That is, it sets up a rhetoric in which bf advocacy is a problem that needs to be critiqued, but without contextualizing it within the larger culture, which is a formula feeding culture (we know that fewer than 20% of women are exclusively bf at 6 months, and maybe closer to 15%) and without a parallel critique of formula culture and the formula industry. It’s odd to have one without the other, as though bf advocacy is the factor creating all the stress for women and the bad blood, and without acknowledging in any way the booby traps and barriers faced by breastfeeding women, from hospital to pediatrician’s office to workplace to local café. There are large swaths of the country incredibly hostile to or ignorant about bf, and women are frequently mislead/misinformed/pressured to supplement with formula. (As a side note, on the question of medication, if there is occasionally a problem with codeine-based painkillers and bf, even if it is, as it must be, incredibly rare, it might make sense to switch to a non codeine based one, rather than encouraging all women to supplement, since we know supplementing immediately post partum has very deleterious effects on milk supply.) So that’s the problem for me, in a nutshell. I’m happy to engage in all the problem in bf advocacy and to call out for more compassion and less extremism. OTOH, I’d also like to have my struggles acknowledged and legitimized, particularly as a member of a minority. I think one of the reason why lactivists are so defensive is because of how hard they’ve had to fight, and I frequently feel like this is something that formula feeders (esp those who feel judged) forget or don’t realize. And, yes, I do think we need to be less defensive and more open, but it’s hard to do that within a siege mentality.

  4. | #4

    Fantastic response, Erin. Thank you. Really elevated and expanded the conversation. On a meta level, your comments resonate with much of what I do in my own advocacy work and studies. I particularly appreciate your contextualizing the interview and noting that perhaps it was itself absent of full range of questions.

    I too hold the Planned Parenthood lens, I trust women. But it is my direct experience and years of study that women don’t trust other women. We have never been taught how to express trust for one another.

    Defensiveness from an “activist” is internalized oppression, wounds usually gained at the hand of a system, paradigm, institution, intervention, history, etc. that is rooted in patriarchy.Righteous indignation, yet expressed in ways that suit patriarchy. If we tear each other down, we minimize, marginalize, bifurcate one another we help a society based on the mechanism of power over. We don’t know we are doing it, in fact we think we are doing the opposite! Empowerment models are inherently patriarchal–

    And I know too well the slice felt by myself judging other women’s ultimate vulnerability, her body and her mothering. When I was new to the feminism game in my 20’s, it was easy to use the tools of patriarchy to empower myself with the same old same old tactics to tear other women down. Judging, learning, writing dualistic rhetoric measuring bad vs. good–I learned the hard way, and have great remorse for those early days of fist in the air feminism on the backs of women never given half a second to explain their reality. I have often thought that I would like to apologize to the families I counseled in my early MFT practice before I had children. I didn’t know what in the hell I was saying, and had NO IDEA how to wrap my head around the complexities of caregiving.

    Then, children. Motherhood. The great void where many feminists left us high and dry in the halls of academia and women’s studies…I felt a collective, “Good luck with that!” as I donned the mask of motherhood and met the faces of countless middle class social systems armed and ready to tell me I was wrong for having glimpse of the woman I once was while twirling every single “happiest baby on the bowlby- securely attach or create a socio-path”. And when patriarchy is really pushed to the wall–out come the biggest guns: Nature. Being classified, categorized next to the archetypal Nature is a sure-fire way to cut our sisters off at the qwick. Read Mary Douglas “Purity and Danger” if you haven’t already.

    This isn’t about formula. This isn’t about breast milk. This is an emblem of how we have learned to quantify and qualify each other in order to catch a break, to meet our need for service with our deepest knowledge of shadow that never gets to be accessed. How our mothers and grandmothers, sisters and ancestors were stifled, stuffed into molds that didn’t fit. And when they spoke up or sought new definitions of being a woman–they were burned at the stake. Literally and figuratively.

    So I see this as an opportunity. Through love, compassion that extends to all women, we can advance our ability to learn how to be true advocates and leave the witch hunts to the men.

  5. avatar
    | #5

    I wonder what people like some of the previous commentators who have gone on the attack would think if the children of those they attack read what they wrote?

    Because I am one of those children. My mother was a Lamaze mom. After more than a full day of labor, her blood pressure dropped severely and my heart stopped; we have never known why. She had no epidural of course, and the anesthesiologist figured it would kill her to put her under. My mom begged for them to do anything to save me, including surgery with no pain relief at all and sacrificing her life if it meant I could live. They put her under but we both very, very nearly died. Meanwhile, my dad was left completely in the dust, for an agonizing time not even knowing if he was going to lose his family forever.

    I tell you this not because those events really reflect on Lamaze, but rather to put the rest of the story in context. Whenever they recount the story of my birth, my parents never fail to describe how their Lamaze instructor told everyone in the class that if she heard of them having an epidural or c-section, she would visit them in the hospital to torment them for failing. She also threatened to torment anyone who didn’t breastfeed–again, for failing. They describe how they were on edge the whole time in the hospital, waiting to see if she would evade the edict made by the director of the hospital (who happened to be in the ward when things went to hell) that they not be disturbed. Think about that for a second. The attitude of this Lamaze instructor was so bad, my parents recall her threats alongside the horror of near death. My mother had to stop breastfeeding me at 3 months for medical reasons, but the scaremongering of her Lamaze instructor about formula made it a hellish experience. And her words echo, even now.

    Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate very much some of the positive changes that have been made for moms thanks in part to the push for more natural, respectful, holistic birth methods. And I know that many involved with Lamaze today are very respectful, knowledgeable, good people who are in this solely to help moms, babies, and their families have the best birth experience possible. Maybe my folks ran into the one militant out of the whole organization, someone who slipped through the cracks. But when the time came to decide how my kids would be born, I didn’t even consider Lamaze–because of the concern there were more out there like her. Given the disturbing militancy I saw online among some factions of the natural childbirth movement, this didn’t seem like an unreasonable concern.

    My parents are not failures, and I am not a failure. We are people, not statistics. We deserve respect. Respect for our intelligence, respect for our life situations, respect for our individuality. Respect for our health and our bodies–respect for the miracle of humanity, that even though we’re all called homo sapiens, we can be so diverse.

    I do not deserve to be insulted the way that many lactivists of today describe what they believe are the products of formula feeding. And neither do my children. Suzanne’s book is so validating–regardless of how you feed your child–because what she’s really arguing for is not formula, or bottles, or breastfeeding, or any particular method. She’s arguing for respect. Real respect, not just the lip service paid by the most vocal factions of the lactivist world. The book can make you angry at times–not just because of the way formula-feeding parents are treated, but because she identifies (with evidence; about a fifth of the book is citations) the REAL booby traps of our world, and why they’re so often ignored by lactivists who seem content to proclaim simplistic, unrealistic, militant, and outright false beliefs about breastfeeding, motherhood, and femininity from their ivory towers and lofty pedestals.

    The militancy of today will echo into the future, just as my parents’ Lamaze instructor’s words were heard by me, someone she never even spoke to, 30 years later. My beautiful daughter will know the story of her own birth and her first pediatrician, who was the equivalent of my parents’ Lamaze instructor. He bullied vulnerable new moms like me into the ground if they discovered they couldn’t–in my case, shouldn’t–breastfeed. Not even giving expressed breastmilk was good enough for this guy; he made it clear he thought my daughter would turn out to be a waste of humanity and that I was a complete failure of a mother, woman, and human being because I couldn’t keep breastfeeding her.

    My daughter will hear the echoes of the words spoken to me, to other moms like me, by militant lactivists, and how lactivism as it’s unfortunately often practiced had such a powerful negative impact on the first precious months of her life. She will hear echoes of lactivists who become hostile at the mere thought of formula being a good choice for some moms, lactivists who have confused the sisterhood with the kind of high school clique that punishes anyone different from themselves, lactivists for whom health is a zero-sum, one-size-fits-all, prescriptive and politicized agenda.

    My daughter will someday read Suzanne’s book. It’s the kind of book I will be proud for her to read because its author is the most purehearted advocate for respecting women as thinking, feeling PEOPLE that I have ever known. I hope that my daughter will possess the kind of critical thinking skills Suzanne employed in writing it. But I hope that she will read it as a study of the past, a study of history we should not repeat, a study of attitudes toward women long dead. Attitudes that make us shift uncomfortably in our seats as we acknowledge how ignorant and dehumanizing we, as a society, were in the old days.

    I hope that her world will reflect the sentiments Suzanne espouses–that it shouldn’t matter whether we breastfeed or not in terms of the respect we receive as people and as mothers. But just in case, she will know how things worked out for me, and hopefully learn from my experience ways to stand up to any militants in her life. Whether she breastfeeds or not is her choice. What matters to me is that she is worthy of respect, and I’ll be damned if her choice isn’t respected.

  6. avatar
    | #6

    An excellent response. I have also struggled with The FFF’s critique of breastfeeding advocacy when I observe every day the pressure on new mothers to use formula from health professionals,family and friends. This is in Australia where our culture is considered more breastfeeding friendly then the US.

  7. avatar
    | #7

    Kay, your commentary on FFF’s facebook page make it clear that the issue is not with her, it is with you. Since you clearly cannot countenance treating women as individuals, you will never see eye-to-eye with someone who vehemently believes this is the only ethical approach to health care.

  8. avatar
    | #8

    I am concerned about this article. Why is a website affiliated with Lamaze sharing an interview with a popular author about mental health and breastfeeding advocacy? Ms. Barston is not a scientist, a breastfeeding advocate, or a mental health provider. I do not find the information she shares to be either fully accurate or unbiased. I expect more objectivity about the book Bottled Up from a pro-woman, pro-childbirth website. I will be careful in the future to vet Lamaze articles.

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  1. | #1

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