“I love when people have one bad experience with a person and use it to generalize about all of the lactation community,” Bialik wrote in her Monday-evening post. “This is what I call posting something for shock value.”
Her comments referred to a Kveller essay she shared, in which a mother describes what she felt was the “militant insistence” of an in-hospital lactation consultant that she breastfeed her baby. The author wrote that she “felt violated” by how the consultant “kept touching my breasts and squeezing my nipples all without having asked if it was OK by me,” and how the experience “scarred” her for years, ultimately putting her off of breastfeeding altogether.
In response, Bialik’s post continued, “If anyone touches your breasts and it’s not OK with you, that’s a violation. Let’s not write posts about how all of the lactation community is shaming you for not breastfeeding. Enough already.”
But her comments — which so far have been shared more than 125 times and elicited more than 2,900 reactions — may have backfired, as many of the nearly 300 commenters expressed offense or anger, or at least empathy with the essayist, Tina B. Eshel.
“So you shame this woman for expressing her true feelings about her personal experiences?!” one woman asked. “I found her article pretty moderate and middle of the road even if personally she did not breastfeed her children. There is a lot of pressure to breastfeed, and I personally know women who cried themselves to sleep because they could not do it.”
Another took Bialik to task, writing, “Sorry Mayim, but 3 kids and I had the same awful experience with a lactation consultant every time. I’m sorry, I just did not want to breastfeed. I had to go back to work right after birth and in my career, pumping is not easy and I worked odd hours. I wanted to formula feed. All three times I ended up in tears because of how absolutely sh**ty they made me feel. What started as really happy, ecstatic days ended in sadness and a feeling like I was the worst mother on earth.”
That particular post elicited 51 responses, most expressing empathy, as well as one from Bialik herself: “Right, and that is NOT the entire lactation community. I meet rude people all of the time. To smear the entire breastfeeding community — who are simply trying to help you feed your baby the way mammals feed babies — is ridiculous. Bad experiences suck. I’ve had them too. But let’s not make it about breastfeeding advocates being horrible people.”
One of the respondents, though, also was not letting Bialik off the hook. “Mayim, I usually agree with you, but how else do you expect people to respond?” she wrote. “You are right to point out that not all consultants are the same. But don’t try to pretend that bad ones don’t exist in fairly large numbers. The wide-ranging response to this post proves that. Why don’t you take up the cause of reeducating the fairly significant numbers of judgmental consultants, including those who have made disparaging remarks right here in the comments of your post?”
Bialik, an actress who has authored several parenting-themed books, including one on attachment parenting, posted twice more on Facebook in response to the fireworks display of responses to her original Monday-night post. “If you don’t believe in feeding your baby with breast milk, fine. If you don’t like breastfeeding, fine. If you have a rare condition that you have been told makes you not able to breastfeed, that’s also fine…” she wrote. “But chill out with your broad brush judgment. Do what you want and stop making those of us who believe in breastfeeding feel bad for doing what bodies do. Golly.” That got more than 7,000 responses and nearly 800 comments — which prompted yet another Bialik post shortly thereafter.
“Oh my gosh. Last comment on this. Ladies: read the thread before you post … I know how you are shamed for bottle feeding; everyone knows you are because certain websites make a business out of posting how much we lactation people shame you for bottle feeding and how unfair that is,” she wrote. “The article I originally posted about was bashing and smearing the lactation community. That’s why I posted about it this morning. I know everyone feels shamed. It’s 2017. I get it. I am going to have a stiff cup of tea right now.”
The famous mom has spoken out many times over the years about breastfeeding, particularly about how she chose to nurse her son until he was 4. She wrote about weaning him in her own Kveller essay, in 2013, in which she declared, “Well, nay-sayers, prepare to be proven wrong. All of you snarky mamas who glared at me nursing my 3 1/2 –year-old on the NYC subway, prepare to be amazed. … Fred isn’t going to nurse on his way down the wedding aisle or at his high school graduation. I didn’t need to break him of a ‘habit’ and teach him ‘who’s in charge.’ I didn’t need to set boundaries you thought I should have set when I didn’t want to set them. Because we did it: Fred weaned.”
In this latest series of Facebook posts, Bialik takes offense on behalf of lactation consultants. But Yahoo Beauty reached out to Leigh Anne O’Connor, an international board-certified lactation consultant with two decades of experience in the field, as well as the president of New York Lactation Consultant Association, who says she can understand both sides of the discussion.
“When I see moms in their homes, I get to spend a couple of hours with them and assess the bigger picture,” O’Connor says, explaining how she works. “I have had feedback that hospital-based lactation consultants can be aggressive. Knowing many of them who do work in hospitals, I know that there is a mixed bag of competencies. Also, many only have a few minutes with new parents and are under pressure to get the baby fed and to move on to the next family. Some can be insensitive.”
She adds that “some may not have their hearts in it, so they are not as in tune with the nuances that go into breastfeeding.”
That said, O’Connor notes: “It is sad to me that people will take one experience and let it color their perception about everything in that arena — but we are human. New families are very vulnerable and raw emotionally. For these reasons, I believe hospitals need to invest in skilled lactation help. This investment will pay off in the long run.”
And that’s something many other women — at least judging by those in Bialik’s post — would surely get behind.
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