Being a Breastfeeding Advocate Doesn't Make Me a 'Lactivist'

I’m a rebel. Relegated to backrooms and toilet stalls, I nursed nine babies for over a year. Although that was in the 70s, 80s, and yeah, well into the 90s. Now I’m considered a “lactivist.”

I’m not swallowing it. Desexualizing breastfeeding, distilling the myth of formula superiority, and keeping hospitals from sabotaging mothers from the moment of birth are still issues nursing moms face decades later.

One study surveyed women prenatally about their plans for feeding their newborns. Eighty-five percent expressed their desire to nurse their babies exclusively for the first three months. The researchers’ dismal findings revealed only 32.4 percent achieved their hopes of breastfeeding.

So where are these so-called lactivists? In Courtney Jung’s imagination.

Dr. Melissa Bartick, writes,

“Judging from the hype around Courtney Jung’s new book “Lactivism,” breastfeeding backlash is alive…In her world, breastfeeding advocates are nearly always “lactivists,” self-righteous extremists preying on innocent mothers in the name of science and good parenting.

Jung, a professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Toronto, conjures a villain (or villains) everyone can rally against, as evidenced in the book’s subtitle: “How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy.”

When only two-thirds of mothers who want to nurse their babies can’t achieve that end, it’s not the time to create a new battlefront in the mommy wars. It’s time to insist that hospitals conform to current standards of best practices. Moms need to demand, as consumers, the services they need.

See the next page for some things hospitals should be encouraging.

Keys to a successful start.

  • Breastfeeding within the first hour of after birth. Newborns want to nurse. The entire process of skin to skin contact and first attempts to nurse, and nuzzle, are vital to breastfeeding success. Weight, measurements, and routine documentation are easily waived until after the first hour of bonding in a baby-friendly hospital or birthing center.
  • Breast milk only. Newborns do not need water, sugar water, or supplemental formula the first 48 hours after birth. They need colostrum.
  •  Rooming in. A bassinet next to your bed is the hospital’s sterilized version of co-sleeping. A newborn sleeping in the arms of a breastfeeding mother is the best practice I know of for successful nursing.
  • Breastfeeding on demand. It’s really very simple. Babies want to nurse—a lot. Let them. Yes, it’s demanding. The first six weeks after your baby is born, there is nothing more important than establishing his basic needs to survive and thrive, not the least of which is your milk supply.
  • No pacifiers. Just because a baby is nursing to “pacify” doesn’t mean it has no value in establishing your milk supply or his emotional stability. Trust me, the trade-off isn’t worth it. Remember, you’ve just replaced an umbilical cord with a breast and your womb with your arms.

Just because you can’t breastfeed, or choose not to, doesn’t make you a bad mom anymore than advocating for it makes you a lactivist. Let’s end this new class warfare at the breast.