Why Are We Still Fighting About Breastfeeding?

Relax. Let's allow mother's to decide for themselves.

Posted Aug 07, 2011

I try very hard to keep an open mind and not to judge when others have opinions that differ from mine. My effort to do so is in line with my professional pledge to support and guide without judgment and it is also in keeping with my strong personal belief that people are entitled to their own opinion.

That is, unless I think someone could get hurt.

I know that Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. did not mean to hurt anyone with this recent blog post on PT. And interestingly, she is the author of numerous books on moral development and ethical standards and character development. Her notable credentials make her an ideal advocate for speaking the truth, however difficult it may be to hear. (Full disclosure here: I consider myself to be a person of high moral standing. Just sayin'.)

But truth is not always black and white. It is not always right or wrong, as Dr. Narvaez would like us to believe. And when it comes to new mothers getting the "right" information..... let me tell you how strongly I feel about this. What is true and right for one woman may not be true and right for another. There are extenuating circumstances, unknown variables and numerous contributing factors that may or may not be any of our business. The right information is what is right for each particular mother. Not what is right according to world organizations, the American Association of anything, society's mandates or even rigorously researched and well-documented statistical analyses. I am unimpressed by statistics spewed out to "prove" that breastfeeding is the only feeding choice a new mother should have. Statistics hold little power when looking into the eyes of a suicidal woman who feels that killing herself would be a better choice for her baby than giving him a bottle of formula and yes, that is based on a true clinical case.

What's more troublesome, however, are her very dogmatic and rigid assertions (the bold below is her emphasis) that make it very difficult for mothers who are just trying to do the right thing. Women decide to breastfeed or not, based on a number of factors, some personal, some, social, some medical, some financial, etc. Women who are sick, or compromised in some way, do not need any more pressure or guilt than they already have, during this demanding time in their lives.

Her position is unyielding: 

"Formula is VERY RISKY! ... a starvation diet... fake food... the first junk food...is for cow babies or soy babies, not human babies...undermines health...is linked to lower intelligence and ill health...undermines wellbeing....It is ignorant doctors, nurses, family members .... Careful with your healthcare providers, hospitals and birthing units....These are ignorant mistruths."


How disheartening to learn that so many of us who dedicate our professional lives to the well-being of mothers and their babies are ignorant. Hmmmmm...

"It's time for moms and families to take back child nutritionBreastfeeding is normal, natural and necessary. Anything else is abnormal, unnatural and usually unnecessary."

This is painful to read.

Isn't it time we let mothers off the hook?

Why has breastfeeding become a moral issue?

"This is a moral issue because of how much damage is being done to children, society and our future by not breastfeeding."

Moral issue? Perhaps we should try harder to express our well-educated opinions (after all, isn't this really more about opinions than research?) in ways that are less hurtful and potenially harmful to women who are vulnerable and seeking our guidance.

Isn't kindness a moral virtue anymore? 

copyright 2011 Karen Kleiman, LCSW  postpartumstress.com

About the Author

Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, is the founder and Director of The Postpartum Stress Center, a treatment and training center for prenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

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