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Reply to Brendan O'Neill's message to "Militant Lactivists" @ The Telegraph

In response to Brendan's "Message to 'militant lactivists", I thought it only courteous to respond.  Given everyone vaguely pro breastfeeding seems to be considered militant, I figured I would qualify as an "addressee" of said message,

Dear Mr O'Neill

Thank you for your message posted today in The Daily Telegraph, I've taken time from my "intense campaigning" to jot you a reply - and perhaps receive clarification on a few points?

In the first paragraph you note breastfed infants are considered more cranky, and that bottle fed infants are more content (possibly as a result of overfeeding) before disputing the conclusion "breast is best".  For the record it isn't, it's purely the normal milk for human infants.

Does this mean you feel potentially overfeeding babies to make them unusually settled is "best" or healthy? Particularly given the current obesity problem, and the cost of the NHS treating this and related conditions (estimated by David Cameron at £4 billion a year, with this expected to reach £6.3 billion by 2015 ) it wouldn't appear at first glance to be a healthy option?  I'm sure you're already aware, this isn't the only discussion to be had surrounding infant feeding and obesity?

It states the reason you feel this has been the conclusion is because:
"it is virtually against the law - certainly the unwritten laws of polite society - to say anything critical about breastfeeding or positive about bottle-feeding."
And I have to wonder if we're living in the same society. I blogged about how non breastfeeding friendly  I think society actually is just a couple of days ago - but perhaps I'm missing something significant?

With mothers exclusively breastfeeding (ie making up the militant fraction) being minute, 3/4% at 6 months (Infant Feeding Survey 2005) - who exactly is running this "intense campaign" to which you refer? Where are they getting their funding, which papers are involved and where are the stories? Or does the research consistently reflecting the fact breastmilk is our human norm qualify as "militant scientists"?  I'm perplexed.

Despite I'm sure in your opinion qualifying as one such "militant lactivists", I absolutely think women have the right to choose how they feed their infant and I think they deserve the support to ensure they meet their personal goals, whatever they may be. But don't you feel women deserve factual evidence based research upon which to make that choice if they want it?

You say "allowing women to decide for themselves, free from the pressure of health-worker hectoring and Brussels-enforced censorship" -

before going on to say:

"However, in our breastmilk-worshipping, advert-banning, formula-demonising society"

So you figure anyone educated to provide information should be removed from the equation, but the formula companies, the one making multi millions, the ones who have a vested interested in women using their product, who spend so much money compared to the government for each baby born, reinforcing their milk is "nearly as good" - (despite lacking a few hundred/thousand constituents depending on how you break it down - hence why they're genetically modifying cows) should be allowed to advertise?

And you consider this allowing women to "decide for themselves"?

Perhaps we should get the NHS to scrap any sort of health guidance and just get those manufacturing to advertise instead?  Ditch the ridiculous research that consistently "makes us feel bad".

You state:
"The NHS relentlessly advises new mums that they must breastfeed exclusively for the first six months if they want their baby to grow up healthy and happy, inducing waves of guilt in those who, for various reasons, can’t breastfeed or who just don’t want to."
Perhaps this is because after summing up the evidence, the NHS acknowledges there are risks to giving milk of a different species? Perhaps this is because of the millions it costs them to treat conditions directly related to not breastfeeding (infant feeding survey 2005)? Yet this "guilt trips" mothers? You don't feel women should get the facts so they can make the "choice" you purport to support? Perhaps we shouldn't tell parents the risks of not using a car seat either, after all what if someone who can't afford one or who chooses not to use one feels guilty?

The fact is many many mums who want to breastfeed, who have decided simply don't get effective help to do so - they get passive support as described in the blog entry above, and are left feeling they have no choice but to formula fed or endure pain, a hungry baby or whatever else they are struggling to overcome.

Why don't they get the help? We could start by looking at the marketing techniques of the companies that make the product that "saved them", the literature they produce for the health professionals supporting these mothers, the methods by which they insidiously undermine a woman's ability to breastfeed.

Don't you find it amazing how so many women in so called rich, medically advanced countries physically can't breastfeed? Perhaps we're broken!

I'm sure as someone dedicated to "raising the horizons of humanity by waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms." the irony surely can't be lost, if it is, grab yourself a copy of "The Politics of Breastfeeding, When breasts are bad for business".

I've blogged my take on yesterdays news here - can't say I reached the same conclusions you did though.



UPDATE - Like others I have been baffled as to why Brendan has seemingly such anger and issues towards breastfeeding, advertising of substitutes and so on - but I think it's all becoming clear...

Discussion on Facebook reveals this isn't the first rant that has hit the news - check out this Guardian rant a few years ago. Even more interesting is one of the comments under said rant:

"Brendan, why don't you tell us a bit more about the relationship between your online magazine, Spiked Online, and the "Infant and Dietetic Foods Association"?

On page 10 of your "Brand Manager's Pack" ( it says that you've "worked with" the INFORM campaign, which is apparently "an Infant and Dietetic Foods Association (IDFA) initiative on behalf of the UK infant formula manufacturers SMA Nutrition, Nutricia (Cow & Gate, Milupa) and Farley/Heinz." (

Also quite striking is the fact that all 8 articles on breastfeeding on the Spiked website ( seems to take exactly follow the industry line in attacking what you call "militant lactivism".

Sorry to bang on, but in your "Brand Manager's Pack" it also says that one of the services you offer to businesses is that you can help them with "brand alignment", or they can "commission a Spiked series". I'm curious - how much does it cost to "commission a Spiked series", and what would I get for my money?

In the name of robust, open debate, free speech etc., do you not agree that journalists with financial links to a particular industry ought to declare any such affiliations up front?"

Well well well.....

Epidemiology. 17(1):112-114, January 2006  Armstrong, J et al, “Breastfeeding and lowering the risk of childhood obesity.” Lancet 2002, 349: 2003-4  Toschke, A.M. et al, “Overweight and obesity in 6 to 14-year-old Czech children in 1991: rotective effect of breast-feeding”, J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2002 Dec; 141(6):764-9  von Kries, R et al, “Breastfeeding and obesity: cross sectional study.” BMJ 1999; 319:147-150 (July 17)


  1. I would add: why the numerous Nazi references? How does infant feeding relate to gas chambers, hateful mass murder, and the attempted extermination of a people. Forget about his mixed up facts, more concerning are his mixed up feelings. Why such intense hatred, and towards whom?

  2. Quite! I tackled that more here:
    Actually you provide evidence based information and support informed choice, so I guess that makes you a militant too!

  3. No idea why blogger is splitting up my comments lol

  4. Why is it though the people in the press can be awful, rude and anti to women who breastfeed? The very thing they are accusing us of they are doing themselves! Remove

  5. I cannot believe how disgusting this Telegraph article is. This man talks about choice but it should be about informed choice. And unfortunately formula companies have so much more power than all "Breastfeeding Nazis" and "Breastapo" combined.
    When I had my boy I thought formula is almost as good as breast milk and if I wasn't able to breastfeed I would have happily given it to him. Now, I consider myself quite an informed individual, but I had no idea how much better breastmilk actually is and what amazing benefits it has. Formula companies not only push their products but also downplay the benefits of breastmilk. Only when I began reading about breastfeeding in greater detail was I able to get the full picture and that is a shame. Every person should know the benefits of breastfeeding in order to make an informed decision for them and their baby. However, I was lucky and I got the support I needed right at the beginning when breastfeeding was tough and I managed to get through it and I enjoyed breastfeeding for many months. Every woman has that right to make an informed decision and to get all the support she needs to feed her baby the way she likes.

  6. Can we please have this copied and pasted into the comments under the artical?

  7. Yup, that is just about right. A journalist taking money from the formula companies and then ranting about breastfeeding advocacy - honestly the Levenston Inquiry is only the tip of the iceberg! Is there even such a thing as a neutral press any more? This is a brilliant response and as always wonderfully written. Thank you so much for this, made my night!

  8. I did find his article particularly ironic considering his little write-up at the top.

    Double standards or what? Sadly his article will reach more than this. I hope he at least sees it.

    I'm honestly getting so tired of being called 'militant' just because I don't sugar coat the facts if someone asks me. I am tired of treading on eggshells for fear of causing someone somewhere some guilt over something. We're adults, we make our own decisions. If you're truly happy with yours then noone can make you feel guilty. If you're not, well then I do feel for you, genuinely, but I'm not going to tiptoe around you. The facts need to be heard so women can make an educated, informed decision on what is best for their child in any given parenting situation. THAT is feminism.

  9. Well written AA. What a complete and utter numpty (I have far more unattractive labels for him, put lets keep it clean) Do he and others like him even realise how stupid they sound?

  10. "Does this mean you feel potentially overfeeding babies to make them unusually settled is "best" or healthy? "

    I had the same exact thought... apparently even though people realize that overfeeding babies is bad, hey, if it makes them placid and content, that's a good thing in many people's eyes.... I don't get that thinking at all.


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