…Contemplating the Core Elements of a Modern Breastfeeding Lifestyle
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Retro Breastfeeding: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Retro breastfeeding…now there’s a concept.  It could be viewed in many ways, both positive and negative.

Retro is a prefix from the Latin meaning backwards.  Retro, in the common vernacular, refers to the way things were.  Be it a noun, adjective or adverb it describes something from the past. 

For purposes of this post I am drawing on an expanded definition found in Wikipedia, ”a term used to describe, denote or classify culturally outdated or aged trends, modes, or fashions, from the overall postmodern past, but have since that time become functionally or superficially the norm once again.”

Breastfeeding has been around since the dawn of time.  It is the way human babies were meant to be nurtured after birth.  Nonetheless, it fell out of fashion in the 20′th century. 

You could say that the first wave of Retro breastfeeding began with La Leche League in the late 1950’s.  Against much resistance, mothers banded together to support one another and breastfeed their babies.  They were viewed as reactionaries as they seemed opposed to the progress offered by the medical model of birth and childrearing that relied on the drugs and formulas of big Pharma.  Going back to the “basics” was their call to action.

In 1985, the inception of the allied health profession of Lactation Consulting, born out of  La Leche League roots,  fanned the flames of that Retro breastfeeding comeback.  The job of the IBCLC’s (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) was cut out for them.  In those days, breastfeeding meant timed feedings and supplementation with water or formula.  Those consultants entered in to the fray and began working to change the standards of practice in Western hospitals.  They set out to educate and support women so that breastfeeding would be the rule rather than the exception.   At first there was resistance from some in the medical community who were accustomed to managing infant feeding by manipulating formula intake.   Gradually it became politically incorrect to advocate against breastfeeding.

As we approach the 25′th Anniversary of Lactation Consulting as a profession we are entering yet another wave of Retro breastfeeding.  However, this one merely pays lip service to what began in La Leche and the early days of lactation consulting.   It is a weird amalgam of dogma and old practices, that fundamentally do not support breastfeeding,  blended with touches of tech and pseudo-science.

What is most ridiculous and ironic is that this latest version of Retro breastfeeding can be traced to the the practice of many lactation consultants. Those that have begun to rely too heavily on managing pumps and gadgets and less on the art and skill of breastfeeding have changed the focus from breastfeeding to human milk feeding.

Give me the music any day, but spare me this techno version of breastfeeding from the 1970’s!


1 StorkStories { 07.18.09 at 2:39 pm }

Hi! I want to know more about what exact practices you are encountering that you refer to as “retro” breasfeeding. I have a lot of staff who are once again turning up their noses at mom’s who wish to avoid all nipples/bottles etc… They are feeling the need to always enc mom to sleep while they keep baby and supplement in nursery. Barriers I hate! What is your biggest problem you are refering to?

2 Maire Clements RN IBCLC { 07.18.09 at 9:52 pm }

It starts in the hospital with staff urging the mothers to pump to “see” if they have milk and then urging them to supplement. C/S moms at greatest risk because they have more time to work on them to get them to supplement.

Unfortunately, it does not end there. The Peds are all pushing formula like they did so many years ago. You know, breastfeed then offer the bottle of formula after every feeding. Problem of course being that breastfeeding quickly becomes an aperitif at best and the die is cast for weaning. They refer out to an LC only after they have messed with the mother’s head and the foundation of breastfeeding.

Just got a call from a tearful mom. Doc is expecting the baby to be gaining 1-2 oz./day at one week post delivery. As the father said, “4 minutes full price visit and all they did was weigh our baby” Hate to sound so cynical, but it’s turned into a real racket. LC’s push the pump and then formula to keep the docs happy and referring. Breastfeeding is being deemed a risky behavior. It is a vicious cycle and it makes me furious!

Glad to have a comrade who understands. What can be done? This problem is rampant.

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