The most recent campaigns from lactivists involved the confusing placement of infant formula advertisements on breastfeeding information pages. During the weekend of September 2nd, these women joined together to clear up a misleading advertisement on the mom-centered website Babble.com. Their main concern was a large banner at the top of the “Breastfeeding Problems” section that advertised a toll free help line for breastfeeding concerns – this banner was an advertisement for Similac and the help line is staffed by “lactation specialists” who are employed by Similac. The entire discussion was led by Annie of the outspoken blog PhD in Parenting.
As they read, commented, and e-mailed the CEO of Babble, the discussion flowed to twitter as well. Other concerned ladies with large numbers of followers that participated included Maya (@MarfMom) and Kate (@HygeiaKate).
What is a lactivist?
Maya from the blog Musings of a Marfan Mom considers herself a lactivist. She defines it this way:
“To me, a lactivist is 1) someone who supports a woman’s right to choose how to feed her infant and 2) wants to make sure a woman has the most accurate information to be able to make that choice. It’s NOT about forcing every woman to feed their infant a certain way or making mothers feel guilty who made a different choice. I see a lot of inaccurate information being presented to women from medical professionals and in the media and I want to work to change that.”
There are lactivists on every range of the pro-breastfeeding spectrum. The loudest and most militant ones are usually the ones that set people’s attitudes and encourage false generalizations. Devan from the blog Accustomed Chaos wrote a very straight forward post about Breastfeeding Advocacy vs. Formula Bashing in which she spoke out against pro-breastfeeding women that use incorrect and demeaning analogies to further their cause. Devan practices and stands up for attachment parenting but could not handle mothers bashing other mothers because of the choices they make in regards to feeding their babies.
Why are lactivists needed?
People like Annie, Maya and Kate, who discover false or misleading information and hold the advertiser accountable are invaluable at providing mothers with correct information. Mothers can give accurate information and compassionate support to every mom they talk to but if this mom also faces distorted information from a formula company whose sole desire is for everyone to purchase their products, the fight is even more difficult than it has to be. Maya agrees and thinks there needs to be more websites with unbiased, accurate breastfeeding and formula feeding advice, with both citing from dependable studies and respectable sources. The most helpful websites, she said, will have no formula advertisements and “they should have information on how to find a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) in your area. In addition, I’d love to see information on pumping. A lot of mothers pump their milk and I think it would really be useful to know the differences in types of pumps and the most efficient ways to pump. I think it would also be nice if new mother websites also had a section on how to formula feed. I was so confused about how to wean my son and how to feed him formula, & I know I’m not alone in that.”
The Misleading Information Being Presented in Our Culture
Mothers that must use formula can be reassured that it has improved over the years, but there is a fine line between accepting formula when breastfeeding cannot succeed and desiring it in addition to or as a more convenient option to breastfeeding. When moms are given formula samples from their OB/GYNs in their welcome bag, or being told by labor & delivery nurses 24 hours after delivery that breastfeeding pain is normal and she better just suck it up, they are less likely to continue breastfeeding. A prevailing opinion in this country is, “Breast is best, but it can be painful, difficult, embarrassing, and bottles with formula are just as good, easier and more accepted.” Maya breastfed and formula fed her son, and she thinks “it doesn’t matter what the prevailing opinion is if we can’t follow through with supporting the women who want to breastfeed.” Breastfeeding is difficult and misleading advertisements and breastfeeding advice from unlicensed “lactation specialists” that work for formula companies do not support a mother going through these hard times.
What Pro-Breastfeeding Mothers and Lactivists Need to Do:
We need to support one another. Put yourself in the other mother’s shoes. Was she given bad information in the hospital? Is she stressed and exhausted? Does she have anyone around her that is wiling to help her learn how to breastfeed comfortably? Be compassionate and empathetic. When you hear information from Annie of PhD in Parenting or other lactivists, take a deep breath before you write that email to the CEO or other responsible party. Do not write with emotion or else the cause will be hurt. It is definitely needed to spread the word about poorly trained lactation specialists paid by infant formula companies that are giving out inaccurate information, but only do so in a way that will not offend. In other words, state the facts and leave it at that.