August 07, 2011

Emergency WCC Blog Post!

Image from Luscious Lactivist
Hello WCC community!  I am not sure I ever wrote an "emergency" blog post, but I thought this was warranted.  The lovely Karen Kleinman over at The Post Partum Stress Center brought this blog post from the Psychology Today website to the Facebook community (thank you Karen, oh and here is her response to this post on the PT website). The post, "Did you get last week's message? Pushing Formula is Evil" written by Dr. Darcia Narvaez, has been one of the most outrageous and ethically irresponsible pieces of writing I have read in some time (ironic, since her professional work is centered in ethics - see her bio here).

Here was my response:

As the subject heading suggests, I am not even sure where to begin.  I thought this post was possibly intended for The Onion or an equally satiric online news magazine but alas, it is not.  To make matters worse, PT blogs are typically not a platform for propaganda, so this leaves me wondering, are you interested as a psychologist and one who seemingly specializes in ethics, to actually help women realize their full potential as mothers or perpetuate the multiple manifestations and experiences of shame and oppression already experienced by women and mothers on a daily basis?  In fact, as I am writing this comment, I think this post is antithetical to your so called professional efforts and engagement in ethics and quite unprofessional to boot.  In your numerous publications, is there anywhere that states as a therapist the ethical thing to do when you think your client may be headed down a path that you subjectively perceive as being “wrong” or disagree with is to tell them what they are doing is “evil”?  Is that what you were teach your university students? 

As a mother to a beautiful, healthy, happy and immensely smart formula-fed 5 year-old, therapist, feminist activist and researcher my work on a daily basis centers around advocating for the health and well-being of both women and children nationally and globally.  Among many of my professional and personal efforts is to offer education and advocacy around the benefits of breastfeeding, as well as the benefits of knowing your own personal physical and psychological boundaries and what works for you as a mother and woman in the environment that you live.  While I have no problem with bluntness, as you suggest you feel you need to be, I too believe in bluntness.  So, not to consider women in their social, political, physical and psychological environment and to flat out say with such seemingly lack of consciousness and naiveté “Moms, if you hate to touch and be touched, you can change. If you, like me, developed an avoidant attachment style, you learned to shun intimacy. With a loving partner, you can change.  You can learn to cuddle and enjoy it.”  Really?!  Do you have a magic silver bullet treatment to work quickly with adults who have an avoidant attachment style in time for women to feed their kids before they starve to death, because since formula is risky, evil, junk, they shouldn’t eat until their mom’s attachment and relational style is repaired, right?

If this is sounding like a personal response, that’s because it is.  I take very personally the messages that are sent specifically by women on behalf of other women that functions to take away any opportunities for choice and agency, let alone women who are in positions of power.  While there is definitely a time and a place to offer women, new moms and moms-to-be objective information, as well as supportive and encouraging words and resources to implement this important and life-giving information so that they can make the best decision for themselves and their families, this is not what you did.  You used terror tactics.  I didn’t know we as therapists were in the business of needing to cure individual’s misgivings with terror and hurt? What you did was more like providing an environment of shame, fear, hurt and indignation.  Was this really the only option of communicating the importance of breastfeeding? I really hope that you are able to reflect on your post and see if you can not reconsider your approach in working with women around breastfeeding and maternal mental health, we really need each other to support, nurture and care for one another’s overall well being without fear of attack, shame and guilt.

I really personally and professionally needed to share this with you loyal WCC community members and blog readers... hope you will feel free to comment, share your voice here an on the PT website! 


  1. You are my new favorite human. ;)

    I've been blogging/writing a book on/researching these very issues for the past 2.5 years, and so I was sadly not surprised by Narvaez's biased, misinformed, and ultimately counterproductive post. But I was surprised - pleasantly - by the amazing response from people like Karen and you, professionals who are finally willing to stand up and say ENOUGH to the bullying and coercion that runs rampant in this "debate" (which is no debate at all, when the other side is constantly silenced by unfounded cries of "antibreastfeeding!/ antiwomen!/ antibabies!"

    I've long been frustrated that more feminists have not come forward about what someone on Babycenter recently called "the dark side of lactivism". To me, it is clearly a feminist issue, just as much so as it is a feminist issue that women are not given proper education and support for breastfeeding. They are related, but separate, in my mind. You can support and empower women to breastfeed without making it a moral imperative, or telling women that they need to feel a certain way about feeding their babies....anyway. I won't clog up your astute blog post with my usual rant. Just wanted to say thank you, from the bottom of my pro-breastfeeding/pro-formula feeding/pro-mother/pro-women heart.

  2. Fearless Formula Feeder,

    Thank you SO much for your comment. First of all, it totally made me smile and made my morning ;) Also, I love your blog and work that you are doing. Feel free to contact me and post on the WCC site.


  3. I have mixed feelings about this. I think there is some (important: 'some') truth to what she is saying but that message is completely lost in the delivery. The condescending and raving way she has written makes her whole message unapproachable - there is no room for conversation. Granted - I am not a mother, and have not had to make the choice on whether or not to breastfeed, so I am by no means an expert - but in my experience as a human being, yelling and screaming at someone isn't the most effective way to share something you feel passionate about.

  4. I completely agree! There is some truth to what she was/is (the discussion is still ongoing over at the original post sight) saying, for sure. But it is true, her delivery felt more like a scare tactic then a conversation. I am all for strong opinions, but not of the attacking, humiliating and degrading nature!

  5. Fantastic response! I hope more women will stand up to these bully tactics.

  6. Thanks, Jenny! I really appreciate your support... wasn't sure if I was putting my self out there too much. Then again, how could I not! ;)Thanks for reading this post!

  7. You said it all very well. Imagine the guilt and depression of any mom struggling with breastfeeding after reading that article. The amount of pressure to breastfeed is just way too inappropriate, not to mention the preachy and bullying tone.

  8. malaizear,

    I am so glad that it resonated with you! Thanks for taking the time to read it... stay in touch!

  9. Amen sister! I had always dreamed that I would breastfeed my child, but do to lactation issues I was unable to produce the amount of milk required. My daughter’s weight dropped to 4.10 within the first 2-weeks of her life, and I had to supplement with formula. After, seeing a few lactation specialists, my problem did not improve. Therefore, I decided it was more important to have a well-nourished, healthy baby. I felt/feel like ostracized at times when I spend time with other mothers, who did not have my lactation difficulties. Thank you for sharing the other side of the issue.

    Sidenote - Funny you stated, "I won't CLOG up ..."


Share Your Voice