Guide to more effective, nuanced discussions about infant feeding

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In my previous piece on breastfeeding science denialism, I noted that many professionals, clinicians, and public health advocates have expressed uncertainty as to how approach the issue with the general public. It just so happens that I have a tiiiiny bit of public relations and science policy experience, and have road-tested some language and strategical approaches to these discussions, and found them to be helpful. What follows is a collection of tips.

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It’s time to talk about breastfeeding science backlash movement

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Knowing the type of reactions this topic elicits, I have mulled over whether or not to write this post for a long time. But World Breastfeeding Week is a time for health practitioners and health advocates to reflect, and as someone who hails from the world of science rather than clinical, and as someone who is not a parent, I think I have some unique thoughts on this subject.

Also sorry about the ads.

In July of last year, I attended a science conference. Conferences often come with lots of coffee, and was feeling a little self-conscious about how enthusiastically I had gushed about my scientific field of interest, the anthropology of infancy–which I’m sure will come as no surprise to you largely involves breastfeeding. During the closing proceedings on the last day, I felt several eyes flit in my direction when the plenary speaker brought up news that had broke that day: Donald Trump attacked breastfeeding on Twitter, prompting the New York Times editorial board to take a rare step of publishing an editorial on their own behalf. And that was the day the non-parent world found out that the breastfeeding science backlash movement was a thing.

When I chose to study anthropology, I knew I would encounter science denialism, dismissal, or rejection at some point; I just expected it to be about human evolution, not breastfeeding! Sometimes I get pretty frustrated at having chosen a subfield that has turned out to be so controversial. I just want to say “Hey, I just came here for the science, leave me alone.” So I don’t really want to write this. What I really want to write about is weird animals that make milk and that crazy new video that came out in May showing what a letdown looks on the cellular level. But I’m starting to realize that this amazing science only gets done because the public believes in its value, and this science–the science I love and have dedicated the past decade of my intellectual life to–is currently being questioned on its validity, not by people with a scientific background in this area, but by people with huge platforms. People who parents look up to and respect.

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Emergency Quick Start Guide to Breastfeeding

Note: I apologize for the ads. I know they’re ugly. I’m working on a budget for this thing!

How to use this guide
If you are really tired or drugged, and you want MINIMAL INFO ONLY, then you may read only the bolded sentences and section titles, and then read the rest if you need more details on the whys and hows of each item. There is a brief summary at the end.

What this guide covers
This is not a complete guide!! It assumes you’ve had, like, a class or something and know the basics, and so what I’m covering here is the stuff that hospital nurses often overlook or don’t have time for. Lots of “pro tips” and visual aids. It also includes a way of breastfeeding that is much less technical but is not usually taught in hospitals.

Why this guide exists (and who it’s for)
Often I am approached by a new mom, or someone who’s friend just gave birth, and Mom is totally blindsided by the learning curve* involved with breastfeeding and feeling a little overwhelmed! She’s just given birth, she’s elated and sore and tired, and needs simple information and quick! I often find myself giving the same information over and over, and have always thought it would be a good idea to organize all my information into a kind of “Quick Start Guide” to breastfeeding. Just like quick start guides to electronics, this guide is simple, to the point, and uses visual tools.

BUT FIRST, a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, etc.
I’m not a lactation consultant or doctor or midwife or even a parent. I’m just a huge nerd who has accumulated some knowledge that some people, I’m told, find useful. It’s always best to talk to a professional.

Also, another disclaimer: Don’t let me tell you how to parent
The language in this guide is different from the way I normally talk to parents. Normally, I try to avoid “shoulds” and “do X” sort of language, because every family is different and I truly believe there is no one “right” way in parenting. However, this is a guide for someone who is overwhelmed, can’t take in too much info right now, and “just wants to be told what to do.” Normally, though, I encourage parents to critically analyze advice, trust your gut, and if something isn’t working for you–change it up!

That having been said, here are some tips and tricks that science and experience have shown are helpful for families who have decided breastfeeding is important to them.

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Six must-follow experts to follow for dope breastfeeding science

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Note: I apologize for the ads. I know they’re ugly. I’m working on a budget for this thing!

During World Breastfeeding Week 2019, I have been reflecting on how there is a whole heck of a lot of misinformation being spread around the internet about breastfeeding in recent years. I have noticed a trend of framing breastfeeding parents, advocates, and even clinicians as scientifically illiterate, uneducated, and anti-vaccinationist. As a lifelong philosophical skeptic and lover of science, you can imagine my dismay! Particularly stinging are implications that research hailing from the “soft sciences,” psychology and anthropology (a.k.a. my Minor and Major), isn’t “real” science, because they don’t usually involve randomized, controlled trials. 🙄

Part of the problem, here, is that breastfeeding is a reeeally under-funded area of research, so there are very few researchers doing it relative to, say, cancer research, or even erectile dysfunction. (← Click if you need a good crylaugh.) And since researchers are paid to teach and do research, there isn’t much time left for communicating their science to the public. So, it becomes relatively easy for charlatans to mislead folks by using “sciencey”-sounding language and posting cherry-picked links to scientific papers.

So how can non-scientists who love science be sure that you’re sharing information from respected experts?

Well, first and foremost, you can be scientifically literate without being a scientist. This means developing your critical thinking skills and finely calibrating your baloney detector. I’ll be diving deep into that topic in a future post. In the meantime, I have a couple of quick and dirty tricks I can share right now.

Continue reading “Six must-follow experts to follow for dope breastfeeding science”