The Sanctimommy Manifesto

I’ve been writing about sanctimommies for a number of years now, but only yesterday did I learn that there is sanctimommy manifesto and it’s a festival of stupid.

What is a sanctimommy?

The sanctimommy knows how you should raise your children. Specifically, she knows what foods they should eat, what toys they should be allowed to play with; heck, sanctimommy even knows how you should have given birth…

The newest sanctimommy on the block is Darcia Narvaez, PhD. Writing in Psychology Today, Narvaez has produced a sanctimommy manifesto, Do We Need a Declaration for the Rights of the Baby? subtitled ‘What do babies have the right to expect?’

Who is Narvaez and what are her qualifications for opining on the rights of babies? She doesn ‘t have any. Narvaez is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame. Her research explores questions of moral development. In other words, she has no training at all in pediatric health, obstetrics, nutrition, but hey, when you’re a sanctimommy your sanctimony is all you need!

Dr. Narvaez doesn’t merely what her real or theoretical children need, she knows what YOUR children need.

  • Natural birth.
  • Intentional beginning
  • No induced pain.
  • Breastmilk on demand for several years.
  • To have intensive maternal contact from birth with separations only initiated by the child.
  • Deep bonding.
  • To be treated as a person.
  • Needs respected and met.
  • Appreciation through positive touch and nonverbal and verbal communication.
  • To be embedded within the activities of a family 24 hours a day.
  • Community care.
  • Keeping their autonomy.
  • Keeping their spirit.
  • Full sensory and intellectual development.

In other words, babies have the right to attachment parenting!

Ms. Narvaez, as is the habit with most sanctimommies, insists that these aren’t her ideas; they’re simply what “science” shows is best for babies:

But now we know quite a bit of what helps babies thrive, what helps their brains and bodies grow well, and what facilitates optimal development. We can learn from societies that have happy, cooperative, intelligent children.

There’s just one teensy, weensy problem. The scientific evidence does NOT support Narvaez’ claims. Let’s look at a few of her claims in detail to see what I mean. Narvaez says:

Natural birth. The baby should be allowed to arrive in the new world on his or her own time, not on the doctor’s or mother’s timetable. This means avoiding inducement of labor and avoiding cesareans except in emergencies and preferably past full term (40-42 weeks). This also means maternal self-governance instead of relinquishing control of the birth to medical personnel. Mothers should follow the deep, primal instincts that positively guide healthy childbirth (with a birth plan for emergencies) and that provide the needed hormonal boost for caring for the newborn afterwards. Mothers and babies should not use drugs and fetal monitors, but instead using natural approaches to easy delivery.

In others words, Narvaez advocates just what they did in “the good old days.” And how did that work out? Not particularly well for either babies or mothers. Back in the good old days, 10 times as many babies died in or near childbirth as today; 100 times as many mothers in or near childbirth as today.

Intentional beginning. The birthing environment should mimic the womb as much as possible (warm temperature, soft lighting, no strong sensory input). There should be no procedures that cause pain to the newborn (separation from mother, eye drops, cloth rubbing or wrapping). First impressions on a dynamic system (the baby) shape the trajectory in development of that system–in many ways initial conditions cannot be changed later. The first impression should be one of pleasurable gentleness and loving support, to jumpstart prosociality.

There’s no scientific evidence for any of that other than a warm environment, and no reason to believe that it is true. Moreover, if you take it to heart, mimicking the womb does not lead to “warm, temperature, soft lighting and no strong sensory input.” It leads to intubating a baby, dropping it into a pool of water, leaving it in the dark and feeding it by IV.

Breastmilk on demand for several years... Breastmilk not only builds the brain, body, immune system, it has longterm delayed effects, such as the timing of puberty (delaying it in comparison to infant formula which speeds up pubertal timing)…

But that’s not what the scientific evidence shows. Virtually none of these purported benefits are established science, but rather suggestive results of selected studies, much of which is contradicted by other scientific studies. In addition, even if the benefits are real, most are quite small, and not even clinically relevant.

I’m beginning to detect a pattern here: Dr. Narvaez is offering her personal opinions, claiming (erroneously) that they are supported by scientific evidence, and insisting that babies have a right to expect that their parents will follow this evidence. Too bad that Narvaez is so eager to promote her personal opinions that she ignores her own advice, given in a different article:

But even more important for parents of young children is to realize that there really aren’t any human experiments that can be done to inform you how to parent at any given moment. So, for example, experiments that show the “success” of cry-it-out parenting might be interesting but they have several flaws.

Science cannot recommend particular parenting practices at particular times for a particular child in a particular context. Why not? Because parenting is like white-water rafting (but much harder)—there is too much unpredictability and changing circumstances.

Dr. Narvaez ends her piece with a plea:

Please make suggestions for other rights babies deserve.

How about these from Declaration of the Rights of the Child?

  • The child shall be entitled from his birth to a name and a nationality.
  • The child … shall be entitled to grow and develop in health; to this end, special care and protection shall be provided both to him and to his mother, including adequate pre-natal and post-natal care. The child shall have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services.
  • The child who is physically, mentally or socially handicapped shall be given the special treatment, education and care required by his particular condition.
  • The child … shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents, and, in any case, in an atmosphere of affection and of moral and material security; a child of tender years shall not, save in exceptional circumstances, be separated from his mother…
  • The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory …
  • The child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief.
  • The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. He shall not be the subject of traffic, in any form.
  • The child shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age …
  • The child shall be protected from practices which may foster racial, religious and any other form of discrimination…

Of course, they’re from the United Nations General Assembly, and what could they possibly know about human rights?