What breastfeeding and sex have in common

Breastfeeding and sex share something in common and it isn’t just breasts. It’s the apparently irresistible urge of some people to force their personal beliefs on other people.

The stated desire of lactivists, like those promoting the Latch On NYC breastfeeding program, to “protect” breastfeeding bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the stated desire of religious fundamentalists to “protect” virginity from the “dangers” of premarital sex, or to “protect” marriage from the unspecified “dangers” posed by gay people who deeply believe in the institution of marriage and wish to participate in it.

All three efforts share many things in common:

1. All three, breastfeeding, virginity or marriage, are in not in need of protecting by anyone.

2. All three are the business of the participants and no one else.

3. “Protecting” in this context is merely a cover for the real issue, which is forcing the personal beliefs of one group on another group who believes differently.

4. All three grossly overstate the purported benefits of protection or fabricate new “benefits” from whole cloth.

5. All three grossly overstate the purported risks of not “protecting” these practices or fabricate new “risks” from whole cloth.

6. All involve efforts to “educate” anyone who disagrees.

7. All involve shaming anyone who disagrees, often under the guise of “educating” them.

8. The people doing the “protecting” consider themselves morally superior to anyone who disagrees.

9. All three utterly ignore the opinion of those whom they are supposedly protecting. It is curious fact that efforts to “protect” breastfeeding ignore the views of those who bottle feed; efforts to “protect” virginity ignore the views of those who engage in premarital sex, and efforts to “protect” marriage ignore the views of gay people.

10. Those who wish to do the protecting face absolutely no danger from the very people from whom they are protecting themselves. Lactivists face no danger from mothers who bottlefeed; people who believe that sex should be reserved for marriage face no danger from those who engage in premarital sex; and religious fundamentalists face no threat from married gay people to their own ability to get married, stay married or enjoy marriage.

The bottom line is that all three efforts, to “protect” breastfeeding, to “protect” virginity and to “protect” marriage, aren’t really about protection at all. They are nothing more than the efforts of one group to force its views on those who disagree. Oh, and there’s one more thing they share in common:

All three should be resisted by anyone who values personal freedom and the right to decide for yourself how to live your own life.

Amy Tuteur is an obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at The Skeptical OB.

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  • Dr. Sarah

    Latch On NYC is basically implementing the WHO/UNICEF founded Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. It does not shame women into breastfeeding, it provides a more successful environment for women who want to breastfeed. I disagree with your comment that breastfeeding does not need to be protected. Currently in the US, race, education status of the mother, and socioeconomic status determine whether a woman who wants to breastfeed, will be successful. These women need their breastfeeding wishes protected. A study from Boston, which you are probably familiar, showed that the Baby Friendly Initiative helped women regardless of race, or socioeconomic status be successful breastfeeders. Most new moms start out wanting to breastfeed but through lack of support and being handed a bottle do not end up being successful.
    You say, “All three grossly overstate the benefits of protection”. I’m curious, what benefits of breastfeeding are grossly overstated?
    The initiative is not about shaming women who want to bottle feed. Its about changing the culture of giving free endorsements from formula companies, which hinders a woman’s effort to breastfeed her child. Women who give birth in a Baby Friendly hospital and want to bottle feed, can bottle feed, but an endorsement will not be given by the hospital. Education is provided, which doesn’t shame a woman, but gives her knowledge she may not have been given about the benefits of breastfeeding.
    When a parent comes to me and says they don’t want to give their child vaccinations, i provide education on vaccinations and answer questions they may have. I don’t shame them into vaccinating their child. In your article you are equating education with shame. Educating someone isn’t shaming them for their decision.
    I’m curious if your office hands out gift bags, filled with formula for your newly pregnant patients.

  • JannyPi

    Thank you, Dr. Tuteur, for expressing exactly my thoughts. There’s a time and place for the medical profession to “recruit” women to breast feed, and that is BEFORE delivery. Lets let MOM make the decision after weighing the pros and cons. She is the only one that knows what her day to day (night to night!) life is like and can make an educated decision if given the facts.

    Making bottle feeding the exception in the hospitals is nonsense! Mom shouldn’t have to be defending herself if that’s the route she wants to choose. Taking the freebie formula samples out of the patient kit is silly also, for the decision has been made long before the mom gets the goody bag.

    Education is the key to change.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cari.lambrecht Cari Lambrecht

    This is beyond silly. As an organizer of the Big Latch On here in my hometown, I can say that it is not at all about shaming women who choose to bottle feed, but rather educating the community about the numerous benefits of the breast. Each woman can make the personal decision — as goes the same with pre-marital sex — but she should at least have the opportunity to gather all the facts. For so long, our culture has sexualized breasts, and formula companies, in the interest of making money, have been in bed with our hospital systems to provide free formula, because they know that if a mom and baby get hooked on the stuff, they will likely remain loyal customers. There are so many misconceptions about breastfeeding and the prevailing thought in American is that it is difficult, painful and is reserved for stay at home mothers, a relic of the past. This is not the case! All we are saying is let’s educate health educators, nurses, women and society in general about the benefits of breastfeeding so they can make the right decision for their family. We CARE about the future of our children, and would love to see a reduction in childhood obesity, food allergies, diabetes, and the myriad of other health issues that breastfeeding can help correct.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Irene-Gibson/1081147295 Irene Gibson

    Educating women about their choices ahead of time, ie, during pregnancy, is the way to informed decision making for her. The problem arises when she is unprepared when the baby arrives and she is confronted with formula products and encouraged to use them by hospital staff

  • eus2ks

    Speaking of morals, could not help but notice this list’s numerical similarity, or deterministic tone, akin to a certain popular one compiled some millenia ago. Anyway, in disagreement, the state DOES have a compelling interest on how its society procreates and raises its citizens (Search long list of pronouncements on the subject by Courts, governments and just plain joe’s both here and abroad, both in recent history and back millenia). Society’s very existance and/or survival are at issue. The notion that “its only our business” is a beaten path walked a thousand times by those who don’t have to deal with the fallout of their opinions, or have interests contrary to the subject at hand. Ask me how many non-breastfeed babies I see day in and out with multiple ear infections, flattened heads and playing formula switcharoo due to intolerance, allergic reactions and just plain old “colics”. Tell that to a certain formula company whose marketing strategies led to push formula over breastmilk knowing it could lead to the deaths of many(which it did). If the issue is “how” to discuss this issues that’s one thing but the fact is that society’s institutions at large must be involved in how these are handled. We don’t let “expert” individuals, on either side of the aisle, dictate what’s best for our care, they can only “recommend”. We, society, chose.

  • Molly_Rn

    It is sad that the super righteous about breast feeding turn off women from breast feeding. Two of my daughters needed my help (nursed my 5 kids and am nurse as in RN) to successfully breastfeed their first baby. The hospitals didn’t show them how to get the aerola into the baby’s mouth not just the nipple so they had sore breasts. Education and patience is the key. Also true with sex.

  • http://twitter.com/nikkileehealth Nikki Lee

    Dear Dr. Tuteur: I wish you understood the Latch-On NYC program. Mothers are free to bottle-feed formula in NYC hospitals. No one is being forced to breastfeed. And breastfeeding does need protection. Corporate interests want to maximize profit by competing against health; hence the suppression of the evidence about the risks of not breastfeeding. As a lactation consultant in several hospitals, I spoke with mothers choosing not to breastfeed. Half of them were making that decision based on myths. My responsibility as a health care professional is to give accurate information to the mothers I serve. Marriage and virginity are choices; one does not have an increased risk of SIDS or diabetes if one does not marry or have sex. Babies who are formula fed have a greater risk of SIDS and diabetes…and many other diseases. The public deserves all the information. Search for “HHS Toned Down Breastfeeding Ads’ for more details.
    #nikkileehealth