Hey Weston A. Price Foundation – Language Matters: How NOT to be a Breastfeeding Advocate

The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) is an organization that promotes a diet based on traditional nutrient-dense foods.  They have a large following which we examined in my last blog article.  Since they are so influential, we must not ignore what they say about breastfeeding.  The WAPF has said that they think breastfeeding is important, but I am going to point out ways that their choice of words and information is actually detrimental to mothers who want to breastfeed.

Let’s start by going to the WAPF’s page on breastfeeding, dated December 31, 2001.  The title is: “Successful Breastfeeding …And Successful Alternatives”.  Producing breastmilk is what our body does in response to pregnancy.  Your body produces breastmilk whether you intend to breastfeed or not.  It’s just a natural bodily function.  You wouldn’t say you were successful at breathing, because it’s just something your body does.  The word “success” also places a subjective goal on a biological function.  How does one determine if you are successful at breastfeeding?  Is it nursing for a certain amount of time?  It is also perpetuating guilt because where there’s “success”, there’s also the word “failure”.  You don’t fail at breathing if you are having problems, so you don’t fail at breastfeeding.  You may have issues and you seek out help, but that never means you succeeded or failed at it.  “Success” and “failure” are just words that are perpetuating the “Mommy Wars” and has everyone arguing amongst themselves.

The very next sentence on that page is, “Breastfeeding is best.”  This is a widely used phrase that even the formula companies use in their advertisements.  But, think about it.  If breastfeeding is best, what is ok or normal?  That would be using artificial baby milk (formula).  Our current culture considers infant formula as normal.  But since breastmilk production is a natural biological function, breastfeeding is actually what’s normal.  So, by going around saying things like “breast is best”, it’s subliminally giving the ok to use infant formulas since many parents find that the “best” is hard to obtain.

Next, the page goes on to cover “disturbing studies” about breastfeeding and formula.  Why did they use the word “disturbing”?  How can you go from talking about how “breastfeeding is the best” to talking so negatively about it?  The studies they cite are all summarized to show that formula is better than breastfeeding.  A quote from their page:

“Our interpretation is the following: the diet of modern American women is so appalling, and their preparation for successful breastfeeding so lacking, that their breast milk provides no better nourishment for their infants than factory-made formula.”

They then go in to talk about all the bad things that may be in breastmilk…spreading more fear and doubt.  One sentence was about how a breastfeeding mother eating peanuts leads to allergies in her child.  If you look up the study in question, you would see that the sample size was only 23 mothers.  You cannot draw a definitive conclusion from a study so small.  It does not represent the population.  When poor studies are used to support a certain position, confidence in their information starts to crumble.

The next section is about milk supply.  I do agree with them that a mother’s concern over her supply is a major reason why many mothers stop breastfeeding, but they only cite diet as a factor in low supply.  They state this, referencing the book, Infant and Child Feeding by M G Rowland and A A Paul from 1981:

“The researchers found no correlation between milk supply and frequency of feeding. The main factor was the amount of food available to the mother.”

It is very well known that breastmilk production is based on supply/demand.  This image explains it well:

The brain releases oxytocin and prolactin following stimulation of the nipple – both prolactin and oxytocin have important functions in milk ejection and synthesis.  Image from: VisualMD.com. For more information check out:VisualMDHealthCenters.

The brain releases oxytocin and prolactin following stimulation of the nipple – both prolactin and oxytocin have important functions in milk ejection and synthesis. Image from: VisualMD.com. For more information check out:VisualMDHealthCenters.

They also fail to mention any other factors that could lead to low supply.  Not once are tongue/lip ties discussed, bad latches, bad positioning, etc. ever brought up.  They actually say mothers “… know better than any lactation consultant that they do not have enough milk, or that their baby is not happy with the quality of milk that it is getting from her breast.”  This sentence attempts to discredit any knowledge or advice that a lactation consultant would offer, alienating mothers from the very professionals that can help with milk supply issues.

WAPF continues on, saying that insufficient milk supply is not rare and “…it’s a wonder that so many nurse successfully at all.”  They believe medical professionals and lactation consultants are out to deceive mothers by saying it’s a rare problem – again pushing mothers away from breastfeeding professionals.  The Foundation states insufficient milk supply “…is rare in a society of truly healthy people but the western nations are not inhabited by truly healthy people.”  So, not only is the WAPF making women think that low milk supply is super common and normal, they are making women feel that it’s their fault for having supply issues.

The page fails to mention donor breastmilk or wet nurses as an option for moms who do struggle with their milk supply.  They only explain that cow (or goat) formula is a logical substitute, based on early baby books, saying the early writers were smarter than today’s “experts”.  The use of quotes around “experts” is a subtle way of discrediting modern information.

Under the heading: “Tips for Successful Breastfeeding”, you find another quote where they fail to recommend help from an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and only suggest their infant formula, “If you have any qualms or fears about not having enough milk, assemble the ingredients for homemade formula…”

There are lots of little sentences like these examples that are placing doubt and fear into the mother’s head.  They put in a few helpful tips to make it look like they support breastfeeding, but the overall tone of the article is very negative towards breastfeeding.

Also, look at the article.  The word “formula” is in bold and highlighted in yellow.  When you scan through the entire article, that is the only thing that jumps out at you.  Is this supposed to be a subliminal message?

Recently, a mother contacted the Weston A. Price Foundation on Facebook to see what they currently thought about breastfeeding, since the article on their website is from 2001.  Here is what they said on March 29, 2013:

Weston A. Price's stance on breastfeeding and breastmilk

Weston A. Price’s stance on breastfeeding and breastmilk

Note the order and notice the fact that they do not share the studies to support their beliefs, but say that it’s all in their new book, The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care which just came out in March 2013.

The book’s chapter on breastfeeding, titled “Nourishing Your Baby”, is pretty much word for word what the WAPF’s site says on breastfeeding with a bit of filler added.  It starts with some positive messages about breastfeeding, but by the fourth paragraph, they are already reverting to negative language about breastfeeding: “But for some women, even many women, all does not go well.”

Then they go back to talking about how wonderful breastmilk is with its “amazing qualities” , but it’s quickly followed up by a section entitled “Benefits of Breast Milk: Conflicting Studies” where they again cite the same studies used on their website that show breastfeeding in a negative light.

There is a section on “When Breastfeeding May Not Be Best” and it includes vegan mothers, adopted babies and even babies conceived from in vitro fertilization! See below:

The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care: Chapter 7, page 132

The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care: Chapter 7, page 132

The book gives poor and dangerous advice like an old wive’s tale about preventing cracked and sore breasts with a daily application of rubbing alcohol on the nipples for the last month of pregnancy. They also suggest an herbal supplement for engorgement and oversupply that is known to dry up milk completely, not reduce it.

In the Milk Supply section, they say that if a baby has persistent crying, even after nursing, an inadequate or non-nutritious milk supply should be suspected. To substantiate their claim that low supply is way more common than breastfeeding advocates claim, they reference artwork showing women praying for good milk supplies. They also note that milk volume varies between women, which is true, but then they compare a woman who can squirt her milk across the room to a mother who can’t produce milk while pumping. Those are two different situations and not fair comparisons. Pumping output is no indication of supply.

When they discuss stress as a possible factor for lowered milk supply, they recommend that the environment should be very relaxing. However, they turn this good advice negative by saying, “…for many women, burdened by domestic strife or financial worries, a stress-free environment may be impossible to achieve.”

It’s not until the very end of the Milk Supply section, that they describe the normal behavior of an infant wanting to nurse a lot during growth spurts and the mother’s menstrual cycles. So a mom has to read through all the negative discussions of low milk supply before she sees that her situation is normal and there isn’t an issue with her supply, but doubt is already in her mind. They also recommend using their homemade formula for supplementation during supply drops.

Even when they suggest seeking help from a lactation consultant, they turn it negative by saying “…some consultants can leave mothers in tears.”

Their section on donor milk warns that you need to ask the mother about her diet before accepting milk. They also state that you should observe the donor’s own baby to see that they are “rosy and robust” and not “pale and whiney”. That visual observation will tell you if a mother’s milk is nutrient dense.

They make a completely false statement about breast pumps, too:

“Most importantly, the breast pump provides an accurate picture of how much milk a mother is producing. If, after pumping consistently, mom still only produces an ounce or two of milk per day, she will know for sure that supplementation is an absolute necessity.”

Like I said earlier, pumping output is no indication of supply because it doesn’t get milk out the same way a baby does. It is not as efficient and it could take multiple pumping sessions to obtain the same amount of milk a baby can get out in one breastfeeding session.

When working mothers are discussed, they mention that there are some state laws about pumping at work, but it’s actually a federally mandated law from 2010 that requires employers to provide break time and a place to pump. Unfortunately, the book had to make mention that white collar employees (such as lawyers and editors) would find it easier to pump than teachers and service workers. This gives the impression that full term breastfeeding can only work for women with “good jobs”, and other moms have to use formula, perpetuating an elitist view of breastfeeding.

So, even though the book may have some correct information on breastfeeding, the general attitude is disapproving and negative towards it. Decent advice is tainted by negative opinions and comments. It makes it hard to even consider this book as credible source for breastfeeding mothers. It’s not the empowering book they try to make it out to be. It actually perpetuates guilt.

Continuing with the WAPF’s theme of negative and unhelpful advice on breastfeeding, was Sarah Pope’s recent webinar:“Is Breast Really Always Best?’ Pope is a chapter leader and Weston A. Price Foundation board member. She also runs the Healthy Home Economist blog and Facebook page. The webinar’s description was:

“Breastfeeding is critical for baby’s health, but only if the mother is eating a nutrient-dense diet. Learn how to eat for your baby’s optimal health, and what to do if you can’t breastfeed.”

In my last blog article, I covered what happened when a few breastfeeding advocates expressed concern over her language, but let’s examine the webinar itself.

Pope starts by talking about her history with breastfeeding, but then jumps right to being negative about breastfeeding by sharing her observations:

“…breastfed kids really weren’t that healthy looking. They were pale…they had really crooked teeth…they just didn’t look well at all. In fact, a lot of times, they didn’t look any healthier than the kids that were on the commercial formula.”

She goes on to say that she’s a “common sense observation orientated person”. But common sense is not science based. The entire video just comes off as a big opinion piece and an attack on breastfeeding.

“To me it was complete common sense that what a woman would eat would affect her breastmilk. I’m a computer programmer in my background and we have this thing in computer programming – garbage in garbage out, and to me it was the same thing. Whatever you put in your mouth, if it’s garbage, your breastmilk is going to be garbage.” 

Without even looking at her dietary comments, just examine the language she is using. Is it positive? Is it supportive or empowering? No, it’s insulting to breastfeeding women. It’s offensive and inflammatory. Encouraging a healthy diet is great, but don’t attack and put down women who struggle with it. She is just piling on the guilt.

Explaining that she breastfed her children for 2-4 years, Pope labels herself as a huge breastfeeding advocate. However, that doesn’t mean you are an expert on breastfeeding. She even makes the comment that she wants to make sure she states that she’s an advocate because she’s going to make controversial statements, as if giving that disclaimer makes the comments ok.

She takes a dig at breastfeeding advocates, nursing while pregnant, and tandem nursing by again saying common sense told her it wasn’t a good idea. She negates all the information that’s out there saying that says it’s usually ok and safe to breastfeeding while pregnant and to tandem feed, by giving her own opinion on the matter without providing studies backing it up. She continued by saying traditional cultures never practiced it.

Pope explains that traditional cultures have always relied on the milk of other mammals to nourish them when breastmilk wasn’t available. She brings up a mummified infant found with a primitive baby bottle as an example. What she fails to discuss is that wet nurses were very important in traditional cultures and that babies fed animal milks tended to die early on or they experienced severe health problems without breastmilk.

In the discussion of what a mother can do if she is struggling with breastfeeding, seeking help from a breastfeeding professional (IBCLC, etc) is never suggested. Pumping breastmilk to have a backup supply is also never brought up. Pope feels it’s just important to always have the ingredients on hand to make the homemade formula in case of an emergency.

Pope dismisses donor milk as a viable option for mothers. She feels that it’s only an option if the breastmilk came from a close group of friends where you know their diet. She says it’s very rare to have that option available to mothers. Breastmilk from a milk bank is not recommended because she feels that it destroys the good stuff in the milk through pasteurization.

So what is up with all the negative information about breastfeeding? Why has the Weston A. Price Foundation continued for YEARS to spread this misinformation and fear? Why do they push their homemade infant formula so much?

Without even examining the Weston A. Price Foundation’s dietary claims, I have clearly shown that they are not the breastfeeding advocates or supporters that they say they are. I don’t understand how an organization which is all about traditional foods can talk so disparagingly about nature’s traditional food for babies. Without providing proper information and support, they are failing breastfeeding mothers.

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21 Responses to Hey Weston A. Price Foundation – Language Matters: How NOT to be a Breastfeeding Advocate

  1. L says:

    Great piece but you forgot to mention how Pope makes no mention of the informal milk sharing phenomenom created by Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies:) I was so shocked she claimed to be such an expert yet had no knowledge of them! It’s easier than ever to find a mom to connect with and get donor milk from.

  2. unlatched says:

    yes, L, Pope did ignore all informal milksharing avenues because she immediately dismisses donor milk as an option.

  3. ABruntStorm says:

    I am mind blown at the flat out implication that Vegan milk is less beneficial than FORMULA. Are you flat out INSANE!? I may not be Vegan myself but I have several friends who are and they have some of the freaking healthiest babes I have ever seen!! Disgusting!

  4. Leah says:

    I would gladly accept milk from a vegan mother if it meant keeping my son off of formula. Duh! Shame on WAPF, rubbing alcohol, REALLY???

    Now, I will doubt everything that “foundation” has to say. Soooo full of ulterior motives.

  5. I will admit I have not looked at their site yet. Is there any mention that for those in the lower class, diet is a problem due to lack of money for quality food, lack of education that quality food makes a difference, is most likely not going to have easy access to “their” formula or raw milk and breastfeeding IS best. If, if, in theory I would go along with the statement that a nutrient rich diet is best (I agree) and a poor diet produces breastmilk no better than formula (which I don’t agree with the latter), than for many other reasons, breastmilk should be then preferred in order to save money (to pay for a more nutrient rich diet maybe) and for the emotional bonding and so many other things that only breastfeeding brings. Was there mention that supplementing when worried about low supply actually ruins supply? Was there mention that breastfeeding in poor countries with very poor diets is necessary because formula leads to thousands of babies dying due to cutting the formula (to save expense) and poor water supply (mother’s bodies filter a lot out)? I am all about a nutrient rich diet and very much in favor of raw milk (I would agree that pasteurizing donor breastmilk is not a good thing and kills too many beneficial nutrients and bacteria). But I can’t imagine a case where breastfeeding is not best! (I am sure I am preaching to the choir!)

    • tash says:

      I agree that pasteurizing does destroy good things. But pasteurized human milk still has to be better for a baby then pasteurized, dried, adulterated cow milk. Pope has also commented that feelings get in the way of women giving their babies ‘the best’ (in her opinion) in reference to all the additional benefits of breast milk over cow milk.

    • Jaimie says:

      while pasteurized milk is missing some of the good stuff – it is still superior to the formulas, as evidenced by the thousands of NICU babies who thrive on it vs the ones who get NEC from formula… THere is still a TON in breastmilk even when pasteurized.

  6. Milk from a vegan mother has no nutrition at all, yet milk from a vegan cow is vastly superior?

    • J says:

      Cara, EXACTLY.

    • rachelslittleblog says:

      I also completely disagree with the statement about the breastmilk of a vegan being “dangerous” or unhealthy for a baby. However you can’t really compare a vegan cow’s milk to a vegan human’s milk because a) as ruminants cows’ digestive tracts are designed for grass (not grains, which would still make a cow vegan 😉 and are able to convert beta carotene effectively in to usable vitamin A and can access vitamin B12 which humans cannot and, b) they’re not technically vegan since they consume bugs in the grass they’re eating. Humans who choose a vegan diet do need to be aware of possible B12 deficiencies over time (the body can store it for up to a few years, I believe) which can lead to anemia and other more serious problems in certain populations and potentially other deficiencies as well. However, needing to supplement with B12 is a far cry from making “dangerous” milk.

      • B12 deficiencies are found in the general population as well, in fact I have found that vegans tend to be most aware of the possibility of b12 deficiency and will be careful to ensure their intake is more than adequate. Most vegans will have regular bloodwork done too. I know several mothers at the moment who have developed severe b12 deficiency anaemia in pregnancy. Guess what? They are all omnivores who drink pints of milk a day and eat plenty of meat and other animal products. Because of this they presumed they were not at risk. It was only through additional blood tests that the problem was found. Imagine if they lived somewhere where such testing was not on offer? Then their milk could have been totally lacking in b12. Some people cannot absorb vitamin b12 through the gut regardless of diet and again I have found vegans tend to be far more aware of this possibility than the general population.

  7. wow, the report made my brain cringe so many times. I cannot believe they are toting this garbage as “helpful information”. If I had read that instead of being raised in a family that practiced exclusive breastfeeding, child led weaning, and encouraged me to breastfeed my own children, I would have been so worried about nearly everything to do with breastfeeding I wouldn’t have done it.

    Shame on this organization for all of their lies and fear mongering!

  8. Nancy says:

    We have all become a little more enlightened after 12 years surely. It baffles me why WAPF continues along this path of negativity.

  9. This seriously… its making me MAD. I don’t eat an ideal diet but my kids have thrived on my milk!

    And we found out that the source of my son’s constant crying was because I was eating foods he was allergic to! Nothing ‘unhealthy” in fact, if you think bananas and avocados are “unhealthy” you need your head examined! .

  10. Dawn says:

    This assessment seems spot on. I own Nourishing Traditions, mostly for its basic recipes, but I’ve always found the commentary in the book to be somewhat extreme. Not to mention unrealistic for modern women, who usually raise children without the support of an extended family, as in generations past. It takes hours to prepare many of the organic, sprouted recipes. I have no idea how a mother is supposed to eat this way, make infant formula, take care of the children, house, laundry, marriage, and self.

    That being said, I have to say that improper language is a charge I’d lobby more at breastfeeding advocacy than formula promoters. I’d recommend you read the countless stories from women who have been emotionally scarred by their breastfeeding experience, with the trauma being a direct result of the guilt and not-so-subtle pressure they experienced to continue nursing despite overwhelming evidence that it was harmful to the mother, marriage, and yes, even the baby. A vast cache of these stories are available at The Fearless Formula Feeder. I’ve found far more empowering and respectful language by Suzanne Barton about women’s choices regarding infant feeding, because she doesn’t use words like “success, failure, best, give up, etc.” I don’t think people who who are able to and desire to breastfeed can understand the emotional tyrrany of the words they use to promote breastfeeding.

    And as a mother who has breastfed five babies and had to go to formula due to a chronic pain disorder, I know firsthand that your casual recommendation of using a wet nurse or obtaining milk from a milk bank is NOT a viable option for most women. First, where do you propose we find a local wet nurse to feed our babies? I assume we’d have to either give our baby to live with the other woman or have her live in our home, since babies must be fed around the clock. Any person dedicating themselves to such intense infant care is also going to require compensation. Milk banks are also exorbitantly expensive: an average of $400 per month for a newborn, which is only covered by insurance if the baby has a diagnosed medical condition where he MUST have breast milk. Again, not an option for anyone but the fairly wealthy.

    I hope you consider that this organization’s bias toward their own formula recipe mirrors the bias present in the language of most breastfeeding advocacy. I’ve attempted to nurse my babies despite past “failure,” but most women who go through what I have with the first baby are so emotionally traumatized by the pressure and guilt they received from breastfeeding advocates that they can’t bear to even try with subsequent children and go straight to formula. You aren’t losing mothers to formula because of a lack of information or support. You’re losing them because they can’t endure the self recrimination they’re taught to visit upon themselves when breastfeeding advocates refuse to acknowledge that nursing isn’t easy, problems are common, and that there is a wide range of situations in which using formula is actually the BEST choice over continuing to breastfeed.

    • unlatched says:

      I agree that breastfeeding advocates are just as much at fault with language as formula companies at using “best”, “success”, “failure”, etc. There is a movement to stop using those terms and be more supportive of all mothers. I am a fan of the FFF and enjoy hearing her side and the views of her fans.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I wonder if this article is another weapon in the mommy wars. One where we must all think alike. One where we do not empathize with other views, where we spew our own before really understanding the other side. One where we take sides at all. Us folks following WAPF principles are so careful that our food animals consume their natural diet, we certainly will be sure our children are nourished with foods intended for them: human breast milk. I very much wish WAPF would have worded their position better. And I wish Sarah Pope had shown more restraint and empathy. There are so many of us mamas now who feel caught in the middle. I feel this article very much tears at semantics without really giving what is behind WAPF’s position a lot of thought. I lead a chapter full of families and have met only one mother who needed to use raw milk formula. All else breastfeed, most for years. (I do find it absurd to suggest someone use raw milk formula because one’s diet is too poor. I can’t imagine someone sourcing the necessary ingredients who wouldn’t do it for themselves while pregnant. To WAPFers sourcing those things is no big deal; food is a core value and sourcing it becomes habit. So I did find the whole argument a bit moot.) I do think, like most WAPFers, that diet is extremely important at all stages of life: preconception, pregnancy, breastfeeding, fodder, childhood, adulthood etc etc. I cannot therefore disagree with the position that diet matters while breastfeeding. Nutrition is the core message of WAPF. I doubt they will water down that message to make moms feel better about breastfeeding. I think perhaps they thought they were preaching to the choir — to people who would fight tooth and nail to breastfeed. I do wish they could have communicated it better somehow. Signed, Stuck in the Middle.

  11. farmer heather says:

    This is a little misleading. The new book produced by Sally Fallon (The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Childcare) starts off the chapter about infant feeding saying “It is assumed that any pregnant woman reading this book plans to breastfeed her baby. Mothers who recognize the importance of diet in the physical health of their infants will opt for mothers milk – a food uniquely designed for the infant.” She goes on to recognize the “amazing properties” of breastmilk, and most important states clearly that “For most women, breastfeeding comes easily.” She articulates on the first page that the chapter will be mostly focused on addressing problems with breastfeeding “- not because we don’t think breastfeeding is important, but because little needs to be said about normal, successful breastfeeding.” … I don’t need much more of a vote of confidence than that. The chapter makes it clear that most mamas, especially those with healthy, whole food based diets will have the same success and ease with feeding their newborns as all the “women who have been breastfeeding for thousands and thousands of years.”

    I strongly believe in breastfeeding, and in supporting fully all mamas who choose to nourish their infants this way, but I do believe we are doing a disservice to ourselves, those mamas and babies, and our community as a whole if we are actually arguing that a healthful, whole food, real food diet is not important in nourishing our next generation. Breastfeeding and good health are not mutually exclusive. We don’t need to tip-toe around new moms (or long experienced moms) by saying that it’s okay to make any choices you want for the diet and environment of your children as long as you breastfeed. I understand that bf above all else might be important to some people, but when you take a step back and look at society as a whole – diet, disease, development, ecology, community, etc… it is just part of a larger picture of health, and can coexist with a better food system.

  12. Lisa says:

    Raw milk for a child serious? Can we saw e.coli or salmonella food poisoning. Very scary

    • T smith says:

      What about the diet of the animal in their homemade milk recipe? No mention how their fortified diet makes better milk

  13. Audacious Angel says:

    From what I’ve read about medium chain fatty acids, and the fact that mother’s milk contains medium chain fatty acids, which are so important for a child’s immune system, I am quite shocked that Weston A Price would not be an advocate of breast feeding, because they speak about healthy fats like coconut oil and butter, etc. Anyhow, I”m not a mother and I eat a relatively healthy diet, but if I ever gave birth I would try my best to breast feed my child. Evidence or no evidence, the body is producing nutrition for the child through milk production, and for a woman to say that a non healthy diet will not produce healthy milk is too extreme, in my eyes.

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