This is What Lactivism Does to Parents and I Was Lucky to Hear the Words “Fed Is Best”

I am sharing my story because I know new parents are struggling with lactivism right now; they need to hear my story to protect themselves. It was lactivism that compromised my mental health, and it was lactivism that caused my child to suffer.

I thought lactivist rhetoric existed only on social media, but I was wrong. It’s also part of our medical institutions and is harming moms and babies. 

When I was pregnant, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to feed my baby, so I planned to try breastfeeding and switch to formula if it didn’t work. After her birth, my daughter had a difficult time breastfeeding. My nurse told me that babies are born to breastfeed, so I should keep trying until she does. I stayed up all night with her trying to breastfeed, but she just wouldn’t for more than a few minutes and would fall back asleep.   

I was concerned my baby was not getting enough colostrum. Every medical professional assured me that her wet and dirty diaper count was normal and meant she was getting enough. I trusted they knew more than I did as a first-time parent, but my baby was now crying and still was not breastfeeding well. When I attended breastfeeding classes at my hospital, the instructor told us crying is the last sign of hunger. 

When the lactation consultant came, she saw my baby screaming, not nursing. I practically begged her for baby formula, but she firmly said everything was normal and insisted babies don’t need much milk in the first days of life. She told me formula would mess up my milk supply, cause obesity and nipple confusion, and provide “instant gratification.”  

The lactation consultant provided misinformation and was overtly wrong.

After she left, I broke down and cried uncontrollably; I knew she wasn’t getting enough milk out of my breasts, but no one cared. Every health professional watched my baby scream in hunger, but supplementing her was not supported or offered.  I was told repeatedly that her crying was normal and that my milk would soon come in if I continued breastfeeding her. 

That’s when I realized how damaging lactivism was. They didn’t care about my baby being hungry. They only cared about breastfeeding. There’s no denying that this was *ucked up!

According to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine: An infant who is fussy at night or constantly feeding for several hours does not meet supplementing guidelines, and expressed drops of colostrum are enough.

Nurses are given text scrips to respond to parents asking for formula supplementation.


Maybe this is why 1 in 71 exclusively breastfed babies are rehospitalized for complications of insufficient colostrum intake. Babies are forced to endure hunger and thirst until they meet thresholds to warrant “medical necessity.”

Due to our desperate situation, my husband suggested that I use the pump I had brought, so I began pumping milk. I fed her all the milk I pumped, and she gulped it down. She stopped crying and slept for hours.


I continued to pump, hoping she would nurse, but she didn’t. I dreaded telling her doctor I was pumping and bottle feeding my baby. The guilt consumed me during my most vulnerable time as a new mother.

Why would I feel guilty for providing my child pumped milk?

It was clear to me, looking back, that I had been brainwashed into thinking I needed to breastfeed my child to be a good mother. The effects of lactivism are devastating emotionally; they are insidious, unrelenting, and harmful. I shudder to think about what would have happened to my baby if I hadn’t pumped in the hospital.

I was lucky to find parenting communities where I learned that any valid feeding method (including pumping) is healthy for my baby. I was fortunate to hear the words “fed is best.” And I was lucky that someone told me to value my mental health over breastmilk. 

-Marta O’Neil

Was your baby denied supplementation in the hospital? Please get in touch with us to share your story. Every story saves another child from experiencing the same and teaches another mom how to feed her baby safely. Every voice contributes to change.

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How To Prepare For Supplementing When Breastfeeding Your Baby In The Hospital – Fed Is Best

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Hospital Drops Baby-Friendly Program After Doctor’s Baby Was Harmed

Baby-Friendly: Failure and the Art of Misdirection

Information for Hospitals: Ensuring Safety for Breastfed Newborns

Letter to Doctors and Parents About the Dangers of Insufficient Exclusive Breastfeeding

I Contacted Every Patient Safety Organization After My IBCLC Withheld Clinical Information From Me Causing My Newborn To Starve.

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How Do Misogyny and Feminism Impact the Breast is Best Narrative?

Is Modern Day Breastfeeding Advocacy really feminist?

Breastfeeding advocacy is often characterized as feminist, and many people in the current breastfeeding advocacy community would describe themselves as feminists. Feminism, after all, is not just about demanding equality to men; it is about valuing women—our brains, bodies, and work—as much as we do men’s.[1] Breastfeeding and the provision of human milk is work, and many feminists—rightfully—expect that work to be valued.[2]

Modern breastfeeding advocacy started in the 1950s; La Leche League International (LLLI) began as a grassroots organization of women who wanted to breastfeed their babies and assist other interested mothers in doing so. Founders Marian Tompson and Mary White had experienced breastfeeding problems with their first children, leading to unwanted weaning; after successfully breastfeeding subsequent children and learning that many other mothers had been in the same position (bottle-feeding formula out of necessity rather than choice), they organized a group dedicated to helping others who wanted to breastfeed successfully. 

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Gender Equity, Co-Parenting and Infant Feeding Choices

Jessica Pratezina, MA, is a Ph.D. student in Interdisciplinary Studies (Child and Youth Care; Sociology) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Her doctoral research studies gender equality, father involvement, and early family formation.

Research shows that a father’s positive involvement significantly impacts every domain of their child’s development. Less attention has been paid to how a father’s involvement can improve a mother’s health, well-being, and especially relationship satisfaction. Not every happy, healthy family wants or needs a dad (like lesbian couples or single mums). But when a father is an expected part of family life, they can make a world of difference not only to his children but to his partner. In particular, when couples share childcare and household responsibilities equitably, the benefits to a mum can be significant.

Yet, gender equality isn’t one of the topics parents are encouraged to discuss during their parenting transition. In between learning how to clip those impossibly tiny newborn fingernails and piecing together cribs that seem to require an engineering degree to assemble, talking about how to keep childcare and housework tasks fair and equal isn’t something most couples are supported to do.   

 Gender equality is also not usually discussed as a factor influencing parents’ feeding choices. When I worked as an infant development specialist, I was taught to ask all sorts of questions about a mother’s feeding plans. The intention was to guide (or possibly guilt) the mum into choosing exclusive breastfeeding. 

I was never taught to ask a mum how she wanted to involve the baby’s dad in feeding and how the different feeding options might support or hinder an equal sharing of the baby’s care.

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The Ten Steps to Ethical, Successful, And Inclusive Infant Feeding

In most hospitals and prenatal educational materials, exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) is the recommendation for infant feeding. EBF is promoted as the only healthy way to feed a baby, with partial breastfeeding, temporary supplementation, and formula feeding falsely characterized as “suboptimal.” Other infant feeding options, such as exclusive pumping or formula supplementation, are discouraged, even when requested by parents. But does this narrow definition of healthy infant feeding support patient rights and ethical infant feeding principles? No, it does not

 Infant feeding support in postpartum units should consider ethical principles of autonomy, beneficence, justice, and non-maleficence when considering the extent to which lactation should be promoted. 

What Are The Principles of Ethical Infant Feeding?

Autonomy: The parents choose how they intend to feed their baby at each feeding, and maternal bodily autonomy is affirmed and respected.

Beneficence: The benefits of infant feeding types are provided to the parent to help them make an informed decision. Healthcare providers must not decide what is best for the parent.

Justice: Do not assume a feeding method. Ask the parent how they want to feed their baby. Affirmative consent must be obtained before touching a patient’s body. 

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A Nurse Speaks Out About The Emotional Distress Parents Endure From Mandated Exclusive Breastfeeding Policies

“The sight and sound of babies crying out for food and fluids are why I decided to speak out. Babies are denied food and fluids to promote exclusive breastfeeding.”

As a mother-baby nurse, I’ve seen many preventable episodes of emotional distress for families in my thirty-year career. Unfortunately, The emotional distress increased significantly when the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was implemented at my hospital. Some episodes of emotional distress are unforgettable, so I felt compelled to speak out about them, hoping to bring about the much-needed change to protect newborns from hunger and maternal mental health.

Mothers are incredibly vulnerable after giving birth, as their bodies transition physically and hormonally. They have a new life to take care of while recovering from birth and require compassionate, respectful, and individualized care. However, the Baby-Friendly breastfeeding protocol is one-size-fits-all and does not allow individualized care. Mothers must follow the BFHI protocol regardless of how they feed their baby or how complicated their birth was. We know as health care professionals that no protocol can be safe and effective without individualized care.

 Evidence based medicine cannot replace clinical judgment or account sufficiently for the complexity of individual cases. The limitations of EBM must be acknowledged and addressed so that it can be used effectively and without compromising patient care. -Mark R. Tonelli, MD, MA

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