Hazards of breastfeeding? Or hazards of ignorance?



When an article in the Ottawa Citizen entitled, “The Hazards of

Breastfeeding,”  hit the newsstands in Ottawa this past January, women,

especially those working as health care providers with mothers and

infants hit the keyboards! Just the title alone was considered an insult!

The heated reactions from readers both in Canada and internationally

kept our inbox hopping for several days.


From Maureen Kennedy RN, IBCLC and Susan Moxley RN, IBCLC, both of Ottawa:


“In his article, The Hazards of Breastfeeding, Dr. Barry Dworkin says that ‘many mothers equate breastfeeding to good mothering’ – and for good reason. Breastfeeding is a natural outcome of pregnancy… Because we live in a bottle-feeding culture, however, mothers do not often know how to cope with the problems that can arise when breastfeeding is being established. In other cultures, where breastfeeding is the norm and babies are breastfed for one to two years, girls grow up seeing babies breastfeed on a daily basis and learn how to solve breastfeeding problems… Because we do not live in a breastfeeding culture in Ottawa (and haven’t since our grandmothers’ or great-grandmothers’ time) mothers need a lot of support and information to achieve the breast-feeding experience they want…

“There are many solutions to breastfeeding problems other than using breast pumps or supplementing with formula.”

Maureen and Susan went on to outline the many breast-feeding resources available to Ottawa-area families looking for information or support.


From Katherine Dettwyler PhD, anthropologist:

“First, Dr. Dworkin writes, ‘The American and Canadian pediatric societies advocate breastfeeding for the first 12 months of life.’

“In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be breastfed for a minimum of 12 months, and thereafter for as long as both mother and child wish. The World Health Organization recommendation, since 1979, has been that all children everywhere be breastfed for a minimum of two years.

“Dr. Dworkin writes, ‘There can be tremendous guilt if breastfeeding does not go well, their baby is not gaining weight, not latching properly, or their technique is poor. The stress from these problems can in themselves make matters worse.’

“I agree that mothers often feel guilty when they are not able to accomplish their mothering goals. Therefore, health care professionals should be helping mothers to breastfeed successfully. The solution to the guilt problem is not to lie to mothers about the importance of breastfeeding or the damage caused by formula. The solution is to fix the latch, figure out why the baby is not gaining well, and teach the mother better techniques.

“Dr. Dworkin writes, ‘For those who are unable to produce enough milk, I often suggest formula supplementation.’

“Women know that breastfeeding is important. They feel tremendous guilt if they fail at breastfeeding. Women who bottle-fed their children out of ignorance should regret that they didn’t have the information they needed to make an informed decision or get the help they needed. And most importantly, they should feel rage that health care professionals would dare to withhold information and support that would allow them to be successful at breastfeeding their children.”


From Janet Zablocki RN, IBCLC:

“Mothers are not ‘made’ to feel guilty for failing at breast-feeding. They fail at breastfeeding due to the every day pressures by industry to bottle feed artificial baby milk, thus perpetuating the myth that women do not have enough milk. Health professionals further perpetuate this myth by their lack of knowledge and skill to help a mother get a good latch and to provide her with encouragement and support for breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding for two hours is not an indication for supplementation with formula. It is an indication for fixing the breastfeeding if this is the mother’s goal. You will not see that indication on the list of Acceptable Medical Reasons for Supplementation. (See page 7.22 of Family-Centred Maternity and Newborn Care National Guidelines.)

“Is the mother really okay with bottle feeding? Was hers an informed choice? Was she knowledgeable about the nature of the treatment, expected benefits, risks, side effects, alternative courses of action and the consequences of not choosing to fix the breastfeeding and to give formula? Just asking.”

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