Breastfeeding Nazis

*I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days, because I don’t want to offend anyone. I’ve decided to post, because it’s stuff I believe, and I think it’s important. It is not about you – and if you think I am having a go, I’m not. I’m just very sad and frustrated, and this is what I was thinking as I tried to work through the issues in my head.

The continuing horror of the melamine laced milk in China has me in tears every time I think about it. Kidney stones are one of the most painful things that can happen to a grown up, so the thought of it happening to thousands and thousands of babies is beyond imagining.

And the more I think about it, the more concerned I am. Because this should never have happened. As I see it, three things contributed to the problem, and there is no easy fix. This could happen again and again (and probably will), unless these three things change.

1. Greed. Obvious, but it would be over simplifying things of we just left it at that.
2. Marketing. This is part of greed – but it’s a two way street. If we call Nestle and it’s ilk “The Bad Guys”, and the World Health Organisation “The Good Guys”, it’s important that the good guys get the same marketing budget as the bad guys.
3. Backlash. When I was a young ‘un, I believed that feminism was over. I thought that my mother and her generation had fought the good fight, and won. It was a rude shock, and it was about a decade later that the book Backlash came out, describing the new front on which feminism is being fought. It is because of this backlash that we saw the rise of raunch culture, and the popularity of the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…(insert feminist statement here)”.

I believe the same thing is happening in baby health. The 70’s saw the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Australia, and in the 80’s things turned around. More research was done in human lactation, and women were encouraged to go back to the boob. The artificial milk marketing machine began to work on developing nations, and there were appalling consequences for child health. Back then, I had only a peripheral knowledge of what was going on, but I stopped buying Nestle products because of their unethical business practices.

And now, In Australia, breastfeeding is strongly encouraged in hospital. The Australian Breastfeeding Association has chapters all over the country, and is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to breastfeed and is having hassles. There are accreditation programs for businesses that want to become breastfeeding friendly workplaces, and we have laws to protect a woman’s right to feed her child in public. We don’t have paid maternity leave, which would be a big help, but we’re working on it.

There is the expectation that most women will at least try to breastfeed. So of course there is a fine balance between behaviour that is supportive of the establishment of the breastfeeding relationship, and behaviour that is aggressive and judgemental.

I have heard the term “Breastfeeding Nazi” too many times now. I understand that many people feel judged because they don’t breastfeed, and I am sincerely sorry for that. I know that EVERY mother wants to do the best for her child. And for some babies, the best is artificial milk. I struggled for months to get it working for Inigo and I, so I feel that I am qualified to say that I understand the pain and suffering when it’s not working. And I was accused by a friend of just being “trendy” by insisting on breastfeeding. She honestly thought that Inigo’s weight problem was caused by breastfeeding, and that if I would just give him artificial milk, he would be fine.

There were many times when I thought that both of us would be better off if I just gave him artificial milk, so I have profound empathy for women who have made that choice. I don’t have an answer for how we can be supportive of breastfeeding and supportive of artificial feeding if breastfeeding doesn’t work out – but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Research shows that human milk is best for human babies (barring medical complications like rare allergies, etc.). That is a fact. Research also shows that babies are healthier when they are born full term. They are better off if their mothers don’t smoke, if their fathers don’t take cocaine, if they aren’t exposed to lead pollution. We all want to provide the very best for our children, and the best is human milk.

Ancient internet lore has it that the first person to mention Hitler or the Nazis automatically loses any flame war, and I think that principle should apply here.

I believe that good support is essential in establishing breastfeeding, I honestly don’t think I would have stuck to it if it hadn’t been for the education and support I received from the ABA. And I want to pay it forward and support others in a difficult, but worthwhile endeavour.

Does that make me a nazi?

8 thoughts on “Breastfeeding Nazis”

  1. Yup! you’ve put it very well.
    it is so hard in a world of slogans and 5-second attention spans to say “Breast is best, but formula is acceptable” in a way that makes all mothers feel their efforts are valuable and respected.


  2. Oh Lara,
    you make me support to write some words to my hometown newspaper!!!
    This China thing makes me angry, angry, angry.
    It makes me speechless.
    But i am not.
    Thank you for writing this down !
    Best wishes as always from Germany (and I KNOW what Nazis are, harhar!!!)


  3. No, you’re not a nazi. People who can’t make a decision (whether it’s to breastfeed or not to breastfeed) and stand by it are making themselves into victims. Being a victim and blaming others for the way that you feel is the easy way out. Listening to your heart and not letting fashion or ill-informed opinion sway you is harder but much more satisfying.

    As for the China thing, it passeth understanding. You’re right – it is about greed and stupidity and fear and ignorance. And now, pain and sorrow.


  4. No. You’re SO not a breastfeeding Nazi. That term (imho) is reserved for people who have no empathy for those who cannot/will not breastfeed their babies.

    In other words, judgemental people of all ilk. Of which you most certainly are not, my friend.

    Having struggled through breastfeeding my first (cracked nipples, mastitis, a child who would not suck) and persevered, and then having had to wean my second at 8 weeks because of the anti-depressants that I had to take (I was in a psych-hospital), I have great empathy for both sides of this debate. And I was also on the receiving end of many nasty comments from “breast-feeding nazi’s” when I whipped a bottle out in public.

    We do the best that we can at the time.

    And, although I believe that education is needed to encourage many more to choose breast-feeding, I also believe that education is also needed to encourage empathy for those who can’t.

    This is such a historical debate. Remember wet-nurses?

    In the meantime, let’s hope and pray that no more babies suffer in this way ever again (the melamine laced milk).


  5. The thing that makes me just as angry about the fact that it happened is that the Chinese Govt tried to cover it up because of the Olympics. I am so glad I boycotted the Olympics this year!!


  6. hear hear!

    I kinda take the view that formula should be a supplement – used if nothing else works.

    My mum tells stories of her sister-in-laws asking her advice on how to sterilise bottle and make up formula – to which my mum laughed and said it seemed like an awful look of work for a baby – forget heating bottles in the middle of the night – mum used to snooze in bed while we suckled…

    Of course – I tend not to make any opinionated comments to mums. I figure that until I become a breeder it isn’t really any of my business 🙂


  7. This is the reason I don’t enter into discussion at mothers group about
    a) breastfeeding or
    b) car seats
    unless the person specifically asks me about something.
    I struggled with breastfeeding both my boys.
    Mr D was fine once we sorted out his dairy allergies and I went dairy/soy free. After that I BF until he was 2.5 year.
    Mr C has been harder. My supply never got sorted, tried every trick in the ABA book. At 7 months we supplement but I will continue to breasfeed until he gives up or we need to so we can start fertility treatments.
    I am thankful that there is a low allergy formula we can use to supplement Cadel but given a choice I would use a milk bank.

    I am sure that mr D didn’t develop asthma or other normal allergy issues as was predicted, at least partially, because I continued to breastfeed for a long period, delayed introduction to food and kept him away from the proccessed crap full of chemicals.

    Don’t even get me started on the car seat issues.


  8. Oh Ginger-Nut…. I so felt the same way until I had babes of my own. And, trust me, it was SO much easier to roll over in bed and BF my firstborn than it was to wake up properly, get to the kitchen, make up the formula, boil the water, heat the bottle (all while listening to hungry baby wail), but I had no choice. I had tried to kill myself with PND and was put on anti-depressants which might have gone through the breastmilk into the babe.

    And I think that most non-breastfeeding mothers have similar tales. Which is why I think that we need to have more empathy for those that DON’T breastfeed.

    Although I know where you’re coming from and I totally shared your attitude.

    But because I did, I was really tough on myself when I couldn’t BF. Please be kind to yourself if (touch wood you never do) you find yourself unable to BF.


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