Becoming a pariah: Breastfeeding’s underclass

I was a member, as previously mentioned, of a large parenting forum. I had a journal there which I started shortly after my baby was born. In that journal I documented our ups and downs with our breastfeeding issues. I’m considering how best to showcase those posts, often very raw and unhappy, on this blog. Anyhow, I titled my journal our journey with low supply as I thought that was our issue for 8-9 months. I keep digressing, but the main topic was about our struggle with low supply.

First off it made me hugely unpopular because the noisy breastfeeding advocates exclaimed that low supply was so rare and here someone was living with it, struggling with it, being public about those struggles and emotions, and apparently most aggravating, finding a way to keep breastfeeding despite it. Somehow being a successful combination feeder was a huge insult. I guess it’s easier if people fall into the breast feeder or formula feeder camps. It seems that once someone has fully gone over to not breastfeeding and they say that they did because of low supply it’s easier for those vocal people to tut and say that that wasn’t the issue. Far more difficult for them to do so to someone who has kept breastfeeding and has not managed to increase supply. Anyhow, as long as I didn’t argue the party line (all women can breastfeed; try harder!) too much I mostly got left alone; ignored even. But until I changed the title of my journal to something more general, at least three separate people came into my journal for the purpose of arguing with me about how I was wrong. I was told that if I’d been better educated, if I hadn’t doubted my abilities I would have seen that I was wrong about having low supply and I would have been a successful breast feeder. Now, at the time I tried to be nice and civil. After all they weren’t quite that blunt (ok, one person did tell me that if I’d believed I could breastfeed I would have been able to do it). People hardly talked to me in there as it was. I was trying to be sociable. But it got to me. I spent so much of that time plagued with extra doubt because of the things people were saying to me. By openly labeling myself a low supply mom, I publicly invited scorn from those breastfeeding advocates indoctrinated in the belief that 99% of women can breastfeed. One of the most hostile to me now has a blog herself (possibly one of the more hostile pro-breastfeeding blogs I’ve ever seen, not that I go looking) and is very much a ‘I did it why can’t you’ type.  I gave her latching advice and other support and she threw it in my face because after she ‘educated’ herself she decided my low supply wasn’t ‘real’.

I continued to offer advice and support to women who were also experiencing similar issues. During this time I noticed an upsetting trend. I am a member of other open breastfeeding support and information sites and networks and I saw it there as well. It was acceptable to treat women with breastfeeding issues as second class breast feeders. Talking about what problems looked like was ‘not ok’, ‘scaring women’ and the like. Those who had issues were dismissed as uneducated and failed by the system, those who succeeded were hailed with a ‘job well done’. This further glossed over what symptoms of breastfeeding issues look like. Who needs breastfeeding information and advice most? Those with issues, yet these areas are frequently dominated by passionate women with breastfeeding as their cause. Those who had issues, with pertinent advice to give, are most often relegated to the back seat while those who have overcome, or did it without too much fuss, become the first line of offense for those looking for help. The feelgood message is all very well and good, but it’s not appropriate for anyone with an issue beyond ignorance. So yes, know what a normal newborn feeding pattern is like, but also know when things are verging on abnormal and do not apply the protocols for ‘normal’ to that.

I know this is overflow from the dispelling breastfeeding myths movement. Dispelling myths is all well and good since our cultures need to relearn what normal breastfeeding looks like, but preventing knowledge of what problems look like to keep from ‘scaring’ someone hurts us all. No wonder when breastfeeding fails women feel so lost. They don’t know why or how things went wrong. There’s rarely any closure. On top of  not being able to access adequate help that is able to competently discuss the issues and come to a satisfactory resolution, you have these freaking mommy wars pushing that it was all about toughing it out. Advocates pushing that it’s all about the mother’s ability to stick with it and it becomes a spiral of what-if and if-only long after the fact.

I spent a long time feeling really bitter about how I couldn’t get any meaningful advice. Then I realized, those who had it to give had long since distanced themselves from those who only had platitudes because the self proclaimed bearers of breastfeeding wisdom feel continually justified and vindicated in what they are telling people (most of which is more or less true and nonetheless helpful and reassuring to those who are simply ignorant of what normal newborn behavior looks like), while those who have advice to give on problematic matters get shot down, belittled, accused of scaring or misleading women and other negative things. So they, though they may crave the providing of proper information and support, slowly withdraw because frankly it’s a demoralizing atmosphere. Like me. So now I’m part of the problem. At least I’m preserving my sanity.

Regret for information not had, and tears shed for the wrong reasons, are most bitter indeed.

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  1. I love how your posts are just so appropriate for me lately. I think I made the huge mistake of speaking up on a breastfeeding subforum on Reddit about a woman experiencing supply issues she basically had since her baby was born. Some other woman swoops in and just bombards the poor girl with all this crap after I had given her some simple sure fire first steps to follow. And there was some real garbage in there too, shit like a baby should never take 4 oz of milk from a bottle after being on the breast, only 3 should be allowed otherwise it will expand the stomach? What??? The militancy was just dripping off this woman and I felt so sorry for the original poster being shot at like that.

    The one piece of advice I can’t stand to see given on these places is to go see an IBCLC, “they are the only ones qualified to do x, y, z.” It’s like the first thing anyone ever recommends. And it’s bullshit, there are tons of really terrible LCs, I experienced from 3 different ones and I’ve heard many, many stories about bad LCs. I can’t believe how many women do that and end up with worse problems. That recommendation should always come with a disclaimer.

  2. I’ve felt a bit better since detoxifying, e.g. distancing myself from that particular type of advice giver. Just realizing that though I may be right, more people are going to be parroting what (semi) popular resources have told them. I’m sure at some point I won’t be able to bite my tongue.

    I wish I had enough experience to write a guide on how to know if your IBCLC/CLC is worth her salt. I did a 11 things your LC should know how to do, and I’ve touched on other things that IMO they ought to know, but I don’t know if I could write an interview guide (because they should be interviewed), like you might find for midwife interview questions. Maybe I should try anyhow. I’ve never seen one anywhere. It can be frustratingly hard to see an IBCLC/CLC, you are often desperate when you need one, and then you have the whole pot luck as to whether they have some kind of agenda, or if their experience is relevant and a whole host of other things. I don’t think I’d have that worry with other medical specialists. It’s additionally frustrating because part of the IBCLC code of conduct is that they are supposed to work with the woman and what her goals are. There’s almost no good thing to say to someone needing help unless you have some person specific to recommend. I mean LLL groups can be pretty pot luck as well as to whether they are supportive of issues being real or just kind of a club.

  3. You should totally do an interview sheet. I’d link the crap out of that.


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