Top Russian Breast-Feeding Expert Arrested as “Cult Leader”

by Adrienne Tooley

There has always been a bit of controversy surrounding breast-feeding, but one label that is hardly ever given the natural mammalian processes is “cult-like.” Yet, in Russia last week, the country’s top breast-feeding specialist was arrested and charged for just that: being a cult leader.

The Rozhana Center was founded in 1989 to re-introduce birthing techniques, such as home birth and breast-feeding, that were not allowed during the Soviet Union’s reign. Recently the director of the neo-natal center, Zhanna Tsaregradskaya, was accused of running a cult. And for giving clients information on breast-feeding, midwives, and home births.

Investigative reports claim that the women at the Rozhana Center were taught to “reject the family as a social institution, to act negatively toward their spouses (men), to refuse medical help, education, work and military service.” One of the coordinators at the center named Anna (last name withheld) insisted that no such brainwashing occurred during training. Instead, she said the center offers a hotline that gives free advice for women who have trouble breast-feeding or want more information on the topic. The hotline is still in operation, and no police have come to shut it down, despite the director’s arrest.

There are other legal issues surrounding the Rozhana Center—in 2010, when clients tried to enter the live-in center located in Kaluga to retrieve personal belongings they claimed they had left behind after a seminar, Tsaregradskaya wouldn’t let them in, saying they had refused to pay for her services. When they perservered, Tsaregradskaya’s husband assaulted them with an air pistol, and he was later sentenced to five years in jail.  Tsaregradskaya has also been accused of charging exorbitant fees to her customers.

But her arrest has nothing to do with her business practices. It seems to have more to do with the surrounding clamor for more natural birthing methods. Under the Soviet Union, women were required to have babies in state run hospitals and feed their newborns pre-packaged formula. Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., women have become more interested in home birth, holistic medicine, and breast-feeding. The Rozhna Center is one of the most prominent places to gain access to information regarding these topics.

Tsaregradskaya, having appeared on many talk shows to present the benefits of breast-feeding, has now become a prominent player in a witch-hunt. 

Anna and other workers at the center have no idea what prompted the charges and the arrest, but they reason it is probably due to fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, this charge makes it seem as though individuals are unwilling to equip Russian mothers with the information necessary to make informed decisions about their bodies and their children. Let’s hope that’s not the case. 

Thanks to Time

Image courtesy of She Knows

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