The dangers of the rise of self-professed breastfeeding experts.


It seems as if anyone can call themselves an expert in something these days. When you look across fields like nutrition and vaccination there are multitudes of self-professed ‘experts’ very vocally pedaling their opinions and ‘expertise’ in spite of the minor detail that they have absolutely no training or qualifications on the subject matter whatsoever. No, hundreds of hours of Googling don’t count.

The same is true in breastfeeding. There are many people who give themselves a fancy title, write a book, get a TV appearance or two, and claim to be experts in the field. It is alarmingly easy for people to do this in the field of breastfeeding because terms like ‘lactation consultant’ ‘infant feeding consultant.’ ‘breastfeeding specialist’ ‘infant feeding adviser’ are not legally protected terms in the same way that ‘midwife’ ‘dentist’ etc. are. So anyone can give themselves a title even if they have had absolutely no specific training in breastfeeding.

Sadly the UK provides fertile ground for these self-styled ‘experts’ to flourish. As highly social creatures we rely on our village to help us navigate life, particularly when it comes to parenting. Our breastfeeding rates have been so low for so long then when it comes to breastfeeding we’ve lost our village. Mums today can no longer turn to their own mothers, sisters aunts, friends etc. for breastfeeding support because chances are that they formula fed. So instead they turn to the ‘experts. Now, if the expert they turn to is qualified and trained, like an IBCLC or a breastfeeding counsellor or peer supporter, chances are they’re in safe hands. However if the ‘expert’ they turn to is someone with no training and is just someone who’s given themselves a fancy title, and written a book then the help and support they receive can be much less reliable.

The damage these supposed experts do cannot be over stated. On one hand they damage the breastfeeding support community as a whole by cheapening and damaging the credibility of properly qualified breastfeeding supporters who’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours training, reading, volunteering, staying up to date etc. Imagine that you’ve dedicated your life to studying something and putting that knowledge into practice to try and help mothers meet their breastfeeding goals,and someone with no training comes along calling themselves and expert and giving out incorrect information that actively damages breastfeeding journeys. You’d probably be a bit miffed.

But far more importantly is the damage they do to mums and babies. I won’t go into the full importance of breastfeeding for mothers and babies short and long term health because that would be a whole blog post in itself, but one thing that I will mention is that mothers who aren’t able to meet their breastfeeding goals are at a dramatically increased risk of developing depression. When a mother wants to breastfeed (for however long, an hour, a month, a year or more) it is important to her, and therefore it is important that she is given whatever help and support she needs to meet that breastfeeding goal.

Some of the advice and information given out by the ‘expert’s will actively damage breastfeeding journeys and make it far less likely that mothers will be able to meet their goals.  One of the most profound examples of this is telling mums that things like: frequent feeding, and low pumping out put are indicative of low supply. They’re not.  Anxiety over low supply is incredibly common among mothers though, and despite the fact that genuine low supply only affects a small minority of women, worries about supply is the second most common reason mothers stop breastfeeding (second only to sore and damaged nipples).

If you need breastfeeding support please make sure that the person giving support is trained and qualified to do so. This link provides a good overview of the different titles of qualified breastfeeding supporter you might speak to in the UK

This link will help you find a local IBCLC

And remember if in doubt always ask someone what their credentials are. Who trained them? When did they train? How much experience do they have? How do they stay up-to-date?

Someone who is appropriately trained will have no problem answering and will be happy to put your mind at rest.

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