Tough Love Breastfeeding Support, AKA bullying, and the case of the stolen photo

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Sometimes tough love is necessary, sometimes people getting in your face, calling you names, and yelling at you totally works as motivation.  Usually motivation to punch them in the throat but hey it’s motivation.  Entire “reality” TV shows have been built on this premise: you can scream troubled teens onto the right path, personal trainers can belittle overweight individuals into exercise and healthy eating, and business moguels can rant apprentices into savvy executives.  In spite of all the studies that show that shaming doesn’t actually provide any kind of lasting intrinsic motivation, countless parents, self-help gurus, educators, and others in positions of influence and authority resort to shaming in a desperate attempt to inspire positive change.  Sometimes tough love really isn’t tough love, it’s a power trip down false-sense-of-superiority lane.

Even those purporting to support families.  Birth, breastfeeding, and, ironically, gentle parenting advocates, far too often resort to shaming other parents.  Because that makes sense, something negative is going to have a lasting, positive impact.  Undermining parents’ confidence surely is going to result in change for the better, right?


It may get your website page views, it may increase your “talking about” numbers on Facebook, it may even get people pinning your content on Pinterest.  But helping people?  Not likely.  Inspiring them to do something different?  Maybe but that may just be to ignore any information or support because it all starts to feel like an attack.  I’m not talking about guilt here (though wishing guilt on people is just nasty) but rather intentionally belittling, mocking, and dismissing others in order to induce shame and build a false sense of superiority.  Guilt is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that what they did was wrong, shame is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over their personal ability of perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that who they are is wrong. Shaming is intentionally trying to make someone not only feel guilt but to internalize it as believing that somehow they are bad/lazy/stupid/unloving/pathetic/unloveable/worthless as a result.  Ultimately, shaming comes from a desire to see someone feel bad about themselves.

It’s disgusting.  And it doesn’t work to motivate people to change their actions.  It isn’t education, it isn’t support, it is really nothing more than abuse.

I’ve shared before that I’m not really passionate about breastfeeding.  I mean, I am, but I’m not actually passionate about breastfeeding.  What I am passionate about is people and personally, I don’t see how you can actually be passionate about breastfeeding but not be passionate about people.  To do so would mean that you care less about people than you do about being heard as right.  Do you know what happens with that kind of passion?  It hurts people and detracts from the message you are trying to promote.  That kind of passion becomes easy to dismiss at best, damaging at worst.

The Leaky Boob isn’t about that kind of passion.  The information, images, stories, and interactions we share are meant to inspire and encourage people. While we can’t control nor are we responsible for the emotions of others, we don’t intentionally try to manipulate others’ feelings.  Underlying everything at TLB is respect and the belief that with genuine support and information, women are perfectly capable as mothers to make the best decisions for their families based on the information and resources available to them in their individual circumstances.  We don’t assume to know what that looks like for anyone.

So it was with horror that we discovered an image of one of our own volunteer admins originally shared on The Leaky Boob Facebook page and then on had been turned into a vehicle intended to shame, belittle, and attack certain mothers.  An image that was shared to inspire and encourage, to give someone the platform to share their own personal story and breastfeeding journey, had been used as a vile expression of superiority intended to hurt others.  Words were applied to this image communicating the very opposite of what TLB and Serena, the woman pictured, stand for as a community.  Without permission, Serena’s image was used to spread a message she in no way condones aligning her with those that would bully others.

This message is not approved TAP serena

I’m not going to lie, I am incensed.  For my friend, for my community, and for those hurt by this image, I am outraged. Disgusted.

Mean people suck.  My friend Suzie at the Fearless Formula Feeder breaks it down beautifully.

The person that perverted this image stole Serena’s photo and manipulated it in order to send a shaming message to formula feeders.  In a statement to me Serena expressed that she felt violated and used.  Not only that, but as a woman that has both breastfed and formula fed, Serena’s own image was used to attack a group of women to which she belongs as well.

When I opened FB this morning to a message from a concerned friend with a link to this meme I was shocked. Shocked that MY photo, a photo of a tender moment, could be used in such a hateful, disparaging way. To see that it was posted 28 weeks ago only makes it worse. All this time MY photo has been circulating with such a hurtful message, a message that I would NEVER propagate. Belittling or negating someone else’s breastfeeding issues or choices is not beneficial for anyone. As mothers we all do what we believe is best for our children. Even though our opinions may differ due to choice or circumstance. I am not a breastfeeding martyr, I have used formula in conjunction with breastfeeding when needed. What was important was that I was able to mother my son in the way I wanted to, due to the SUPPORT I received. Support is something that was lacking in the making of this meme. I do not condone the use of my photo in this way.  ~Serena Tremblay


As far as we can tell, the image was originally posted to The Alpha Parent’s Pinterest board “Dear Formula Feeder,” don’t go check it out, it is a virtual collection of putrid hate filled shaming refuse.  Nobody needs to see that.  There has been no response to our two email attempts requesting the image be removed and destroyed (and never shared again) and so Serena has followed Pinterest guidelines to have the graphic removed.  We have tried to utilize respectful means and the proper channels to have this image removed and do believe that Pinterest will not allow the copyright violation to remain.  Still, simply having that image erased from Pinterest won’t be enough.  It has been seen and discussed in some circles, it’s message cutting and hurting and not helping anyone.  The Leaky Boob stands behind Serena that this graphic is not a message we condone.   The Leaky Boob, including Serena and all the volunteer admins hold to a very different set of values:

TLB creed

It is rare that I single anybody out for how they run their own website and social media presence.  I respect that there are different styles and a variety of people are attracted to those style distinctives.  I don’t have to get it or agree.  But this has gone too far.  Stealing an image and putting words to it that are directly opposed to the intent of the owner of the photo.  Standing against the oppression of others is part of my passion for people, so I have raised my voice to express concern and even outrage when I have seen supposed breastfeeding advocates resort to shaming in general and specifically with this same offender.  It is not the first time I have vocally opposed messages coming from The Alpha Parent and I agree with Amy West’s assessment of TAP’s “brand” of support.  This time though a line has been crossed and while I have long not tolerated any abusive messages in the name of “supporting breastfeeding” within The Leaky Boob community, now I am taking stand against any and all expressions of shaming in the name of breastfeeding advocacy outside of my own little space.

Why am I sharing this with you?  What can you do about it?  If you’re reading this and have made it this far you probably care at least a little about how babies are fed, the information moms receive, have an interest in parenting support, or at the very least watch online interactions with a passing interest.  To those ends then, consider how you are promoting shaming messages targeting others.  Here are some simple steps you can take to not contribute to the type of interactions that do nothing to make our world a better place.

  1. Don’t share or spread memes that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone.  This isn’t just a breastfeeding/formula feeding issue.  This is a human issue.
  2. Before you use an image, be sure you have permission and don’t create memes and graphics that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone.
  3. Question every image you see and the message attached with it, particularly online.  Everything may not be what it seems.
  4. If you “like” or follow any personality that regularly engages in such messaging, unlike and unfollow them.  Take away their audience and don’t align yourself with the hate they are communicating.
  5. NEVER share materials, even if they seem supportive, from a source that you can not verify as free of mocking, belittling, or the promotion of shaming.  Many of the breastfeeding support and education sources I follow share materials from The Alpha Parent because some of her content, particularly her older stuff, is pretty decent.  Every time I see one of these resources share content from her I cringe, it’s like leading lambs to the slaughter.  I loved her “anatomy of the toddler brain” post from a while back but there is no way I’ll share that with my audience, it would be irresponsible of me to do so.  Share responsibly.
  6. Ignore them.  It is tempting to take a stand and engage in heated arguments with those that thrive on putting down others, particularly online, but truth be told, ignoring them is far more effective in shutting them up.  Don’t engage.
  7. Consistently share and interact with messages that promote true support and eventually the attraction of the fight will fade.  Offer supportive support and if you find you are tempted to go on the attack, ask yourself why and what insecurities could be motivating you to do so.

I won’t be linking to The Alpha Parent here but I do encourage you to look through your social media channels and remove The Alpha Parent from your playlist if she is there.  My intent is not to shame The Alpha Parent or cause her any harm and I hope that she finds her own happiness that doesn’t depend on a false sense of superiority.  I hope we all can.




  1. Kudos to you ladies for how you have handled this situation. I’m not sure I could have been so calm and level headed.

    Serena – This photo always screams love and support to me. It is a great reminder that you can have a supportive breastfeeding team in a hospital and I am so thankful that you have shared this moment with us. I’m sorry that someone has used it to hurt others.

    Keep doing what you’re doing ladies.

  2. Wow, I took a tour through the Alpha Parent on FB and I can say two things. 1) I am not at all surprised that she would distort and violate to make a point. 2) I am so thankful for your site’s honest, encouraging, supportive, non-judgmental valuing of mothers and their babies. You have chosen to share yourselves with others and that has made you vulnerable. I hope you see how important that compassionate vulnerability is. You have created a safe space and a shelter to encourage moms POSITIVELY — not fear-monger them into doing what *you* did. We need your voice to counter our own fears and struggles and those put on us by others. Please keep doing what you’re doing and know that it is so appreciated!

  3. I really respect this. I support breastfeeding very much, publicly, with a cover, without, pumped, whatever you need. It’s your right and I’m right behind you. I’m a formula feeder. I didn’t think I would be, but life happened.
    I’ve seen the blogger you’re referencing, I’ve seen the memes, and thankfully I don’t define my motherhood by my feeding methods. Or my baby’s birth. Or any other item of interest about his origins and babyhood that will be undetectable when he’s in kindergarten.
    If I were in a more vulnerable place, her hatefulness would hurt me. But as it turns I LOVE formula feeding. I especially love there’s always enough of it and his belly is full. So nuts to her shaming. Suck my bottle nipple!

  4. Kilie Steel says

    I’ve not been following this website long enough to know who She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is. I know it’s not someone that you want to be named, but could you tell me who she is so I can make sure I avoid her?


  5. NaturalMom says

    I just think it’s funny that she stole a photo and then put her own watermark on it, claiming ownership. LOL

  6. Hello Jessica,

    I don’t always agree with what’s posted on TLB, but this was an awesome post. I agreed with every point that you made. I don’t engage She Who Must Not Be Named, but I have seen the damage that she does to others and the damage that her followers inflict on guilt-ridden mothers. It has to stop now and I’m glad to see TLB and FFF at the forefront of this crusade. It’s time to support mothers in their feeding choices. Even if you feel like they are making the wrong choice.

  7. Wow. Just wow. I actually came across the stolen image a few months ago and the first thing I thought was “Wow. Whoever created this is a huge holier-than-thou b*tch.” I’m actually relieved to find out that it was created by a whiny coward rather than the strong, tough mama portrayed. And kudos to you (all) for taking the high road. As tempting as it may be to strike back when you’ve been wronged, it rarely does anything but cause trouble. My parents always told me, “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” One final thought. Alpha = Bully, NOT Better.

  8. I like reading through your websites. Thanks a lot!

  9. Dear dear Serena Tremblay:

    I use this picture in a breastfeeding class for healthcare professionals, and tell the story behind it that was posted on Facebook. I use this picture in the precise way that you describe, to highlight the importance of support. I want healthcare professionals, particularly nurses, to see what best care looks like. This picture opens their minds and is one of the best teachers I use.

    Thank you for sharing it on Facebook!!!!


    • Thank you Nikki, that is exactly what the image was shared for in the first place. It is good to hear that most understand that.



      • Is it okay to do that? Use the image and original story as a teaching aid? I would love to do so. Helping mothers and healthcare professionals realise that a mother’s feeding choices can be respected no matter how birth goes WITH GOOD SUPPORT is a real passion of mine.

        • It would be a good idea to ask Serena to be sure, I’ll send her to come check the comments so she can respond but overall, yes, that would be fine. She has given permission before for such use. Thank you for supporting moms in reaching their parenting goals regarding feeding! ~Jessica

        • Serena Tremblay says

          Lindsey Middlemiss, I would love for my photo to be used to help other mamas. I never expected the sharing of my photo to bring so much support to other mamas. I could not have asked for a better outcome <3 Yes, please use my photo as a positive teaching aid so that those supporting mamas will know that much IS possible with a little help, determination and support from all involved. ~Serena

  10. Andrea Smith says

    Oh. That’s a very different definition of tough love than what I know it as. To me, tough love is loving someone the best and truest way possible, even if it hurts you both at the time: ultimatums to get an alcoholic husband into rehab, reporting a crime that a loved one committed, letting a child experience consequences for their misbehavior, not enabling a codependent relationship, etc. Who ever started referring to screaming, shaming, belittling, and insulting as “tough love” doesn’t get love. Obviously, there are many more opportunities to give mercy and grace love, but tough love is for the tough moments when character hangs in the balance. I’ve watched lives crumble into insignificance for lack of it and it is heartbreaking.

    I’m so very sorry for Serena and the violation of something very personal and powerful. It’s scary how easily images can be stollen and perverted. I have been blessed by the photo and story and I hope most of the damage can be undone.

  11. Becky Thomas says

    This is a new site for me. This image caught my eye. (I’d love to know the original story BTW.) Extremism hurts everyone. Absolute insistence on both sides promoting breastfeeding or formula feeding means poor, struggling mothers get caught in the middle. I did. My first baby was EXTREMELY hungry. For the first 3 days of his life he was feeding every hour on the hour. At one point I was up for over 48 hours straight. I thought I was going crazy. I would cry every single time I put him on the breast because I was exhausted. I called the lactation consultant and nurses, everyone I could think of. My answer was always: “it’ll get better.” And it did. He went from an hour to an hour and a half or two hours. I couldn’t go anywhere. I got very little sleep. Every time I was asked about supplementing with formula I was told that it would “ruin the breastfeeding.” After 3 weeks of this my husband and I finally wore out. We gave him his first bottle of formula. He took 4.5 ounces!!! When I called the lactation consultant to tell her she practically accused me of lying. “That’s impossible.” After that we were on our own, trying to find the best way to supplement. I even pumped for awhile, but I was thoroughly defeated and felt a complete failure.

    It wasn’t until my 2nd baby was in the NICU due to uterine rupture and placental abruption that I found the encouragement that I needed with my first. They took all the milk I had, with glee and “finished him off” with formula. A process that I continued with at home. He received very, very little formula once I got into the swing of things. Until I began to suspect relux, anyway.

    Extremism hurts us most. The most painful experience in the world is feeling like a failure at breastfeeding. But taking the road that some breastmilk is better than nothing and encouraging mothers to continue in the best way they can is vital.

  12. My mom developed a serious uterine infection after my brother was born and could not breastfeed. She breastfed me and my four other siblings. It was not a statement or a cause, it just was. When I gave birth to my two daughters they were breastfed, because that was what I knew. My sister stopped breastfeeding her first baby because of mastitis but ran into a milk allergy and the baby had problems with the formula. My oldest daughter breastfed her four and my younger daughter expressed milk for her premature son while he was in the ICU but switched to formula after a short time. She breast fed her second son. Your choice as to how and what you feed your baby is your choice. There are as many right ways as there are mothers and children. What works for one may not work for another. Anyone who thinks that their way is the only way is uninformed or willfully ignorant. Feeding your baby is a joyful journey… not a vengeful crusade. As long as the feeding contains love and laughter, the baby will thrive.

    I was touched by Serena’s story and saddened that it would be stolen and used to cause pain. For those of you who don’t know, this is the original story…

    Let your baby bring as much healing and happiness into your life… and let the haters learn from the lovers.

  13. I appreciate the thoughtfullness and grace afforded in this message. Fortunately I have never heard of TAP before and I won’t be giving her any traffic bumps by doing so.

  14. As much as I agree with the content of this post, I admit to being greatly disappointed.

    Allison Dixley, aka TAP, has made a point of specifically singling out and viciously attacking the Fearless Formula Feeder and her community. I find it telling that TLB chose to speak out against Dixley pretty much by name when she abused a breastfeeding mom, but not when she started referring to intelligent, loving, educated, health-conscious formula-feeding moms and dads as “defensive formula feeders.” Your points are true, but could just as easily have been said when Dixley started her “triumphant Tuesdays” as a direct slam against FFF’s Friday guest posts. And why wait to circle the wagons around one breastfeeding mom, when Dixley went to FFF’s blog directly to repeatedly and directly slam the very women you say you are there to support–women who struggled with breastfeeding, who needed help integrating formula in some way into their babies’ diets?

    I don’t expect a defense, because I don’t think one is possible. Rather, I hope to see a thorough and public introspection on the part of the TLB leadership and community to figure out why this and similar sins of omission have happened. Bullies gain power only when powerful bystanders keep bystanding. You are speaking out against TAP now, which is welcome, but conspicuously absent in this article is any real awareness that your organization and others like it have had a hefty hand in creating this monster.

    I appreciate and agree with the sentiment in this article, and recognize it for what it is–a step forward from a lactivist organization in rejecting the extremism that has permeated the lactivist world. I would like to see further articles like this, rebutting and discrediting other voices in the lactivist world who attack formula feeding parents. Please don’t wait for a breastfeeding mom to be the next victim, not when it’s so easy to find formula parents being verbally eviscerated, citing your page among others to back their venom up. And an excellent way to reinforce your statements of support at the end of the article would be to invite FFF to write regular guest posts discussing formula support and identifying problems with breastfeeding support.

    Lactivism has devolved to the point where poisonous people like Allison Dixley have gone unchallenged for far too long, by this organization and otherss. This article is a good, if late start to rectifying the situation, but it MUST be a start to a wide-reaching campaign to reform lactivism from within in order for TLB to be taken seriously as a voice of reason and true, universal support.

  15. Teri, you seem to take it as given that there is extremism in the lactivist world. I would be interested in your definition of what “extreme lactivism” is. You have escalated one lone blogger who crosses the boundary at times into meanness directed towards formula feeding mothers as common behaviour in breastfeeding advocacy circles. Where is your evidence that this is so?

  16. You need to seek legal counsel and take the appropriate actions. I remember another lactation consultant telling saying that they received a letter from an attorney seeking thousands of dollars for copyright infringement when she used a photo. Don’t just “unlike” the site — take legal action. Especially if this has been circulating without permission for over 26 weeks. Also, the woman depicted in the picture, Serena, has to seek legal recourse.

    • We have spoken with a lawyer. With the internet, it is complicated, further complicated by all of this happening in 3 different countries. But we are looking into our options. ~Jessica

  17. Stealing this photo was not acceptable and the Alpha Parent can be abrasive and judgmental. It is totally appropriate to call her on this. However there are also other bloggers who are as equally judgmental and bullying. Dr Amy springs to mind immediately.

    Some followers of Alpha Parent tell her when she crosses the line. I would hope that would happen when there is bullying on other pages and sites as well. There is also school yard bullying behaviour on display by formula feeding advocates on the FFF page.

    Rather than singling out one blogger for criticism we need to acknowledge that any bullying behaviour needs to be challenged.

    • While I do share the specifics of this incident with The Alpha Parent, the entire post is actually about standing against all online bullying of this nature, no matter the source. I agree with you that we need to acknowledge that bullying behavior needs to be challenged. However, I can’t actually invest all my time to that one cause, my first priority is supporting people specifically through supporting breastfeeding. If I were to stand against each and every bully online I would not have the time to do what I already do. The one singled out in this post was for pretty obvious reasons with the theft of that photo. Had I addressed just a blanket bullying problem yet neglected to address this specific incident I would have done nothing to hold them accountable and stand up for my friend whose image was co-opted as a direct result of sharing it through TLB. I had a responsibility to declare that the graphic that The Alpha Parent created was not approved by TLB or Serena nor was it used with permission. The original image went viral because of TLB, Serena is my friend, a volunteer admin supporting women, and a part of our community. She was very hurt and upset by what TAP had done to her photo. I was doing far more than calling out bullying behavior, I am standing up for my friend and protecting my community. ~Jessica

  18. Amen. Well said. I am in full agreement with you. Calling out another blogger is extremely rare for me, but TAP was one that I publicly criticised due to her creation of a meme that shamed formula feeders.

    There are those out there who like to think of themselves as breastfeeding advocates, but they seem unable to get their point across without shaming other nursing mothers and formula feeders. They do nothing to support anyone or promote a cause. They only further the divide and it’s embarrassing to get lumped in with them as “breastfeeding nazis.”

    We can only keep doing what we do – provide support for women attempting to breastfeed and a non-judgmental ear for those who cannot or have not.

  19. The hypocrisy around this issue is astounding. You call TAP on her unsanctioned use of a photo and her bullying and shaming of formula feeding mothers. Fair enough. But you do so by aligning yourself with FFF. The bullying towards respectful lactivists on her page is also unacceptable. The Dr Amy bullies are also FFF regulars and they use the same tactics that Dr Amy uses to belittle anyone she doesn’t agree with.
    There is a disturbing trend developing where only breastfeeding advocates are being called on this bullying. By talking about only one side here you are being unfair to many hard working lactivists who go out of their way to support all mothers no matter how they feed their babies.

    • What makes you think I’ve never called others on bullying? Because you don’t see it in this particular post? And while I have seen such behavior from some that comment on FFF, I have never seen Suzie demonstrate anything close to bullying. I don’t always agree with her but so what? At the core we agree on how families should be supported in reaching their infant feeding goals and it boils down to respect. Additionally, to my knowledge, Suzie has never stolen someone’s image and put her own message on it that the owner of the image did not approve. I believe that speaks volumes as to character. Nor has she incited people to go attack others.

      Obviously you have not spent much time here or with TLB’s community, it wouldn’t take even that much to see how your lashing out is not warranted. I have called out formula companies, marketers, highlighted quality support of breastfeeding advocates and organizations, and celebrated the respectful interactions of others. By the way, I am a hard working “activist” that goes out of my way to support all mothers no matter how they feed their babies, thanks.

      As for this “disturbing trend,” yes, I am going to call out “my own” when I see them abusing others. To not do so would be to condone it.

      Dr. Amy and TAP are different sides of the same bullying coin. Neither are helping their agendas. There are plenty of TAP regulars that unfortunately spend time on TLB, I hope that doesn’t mean my voice of possible influence is dismissed with those that truly need the support. Even so, I am not intimidated, I will continue to support families and stand against those whose bullying tactics create barriers along the way. ~Jessica

  20. I am sorry that this is upsetting to you but I can’t sit back and say nothing when I see good people being bullied. That is what I see on FFF. She does not stop the bullying and even encourages it by liking comments from the main offenders. I repeat it is hypocritical to align yourself with someone who condones the bullying of those with which she disagrees.

    • Katie – I’m glad you spoke up. I agree with you that it is hypocritical to align with FFF since, as you noted, Suzie encourages bullying by liking nasty comments on her FB page. She tries hard to keep the negative comments directed only at people who support breastfeeding and the WHO Code, rather than breastfeeding mothers per se, but bullying is bullying. Thank you for being a voice of reason.

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