The truthiness of natural parenting


Natural parenting advocates are certain that natural parenting is the best way to raise children despite the complete absence of proof for any of its central claims.

They believe that unmedicated vaginal birth is safer and healthier although there is no evidence to support that claim.

They believe that breastfeeding of term infants confers massive, lifelong benefits despite data that is weak, conflicting and riddled with confounding variables.

They believe that baby wearing improves the mother-infant bond although that premise has never been tested, let alone found to be true.

They believe that vaccines are harmful, cause autism and that a multiplicity of vaccines “overwhelm” the immune system despite masses of data proving the exact opposite.

Why do they hold such strong beliefs in the absence of scientific proof? It’s simple; they are impressed with the “truthiness” of natural parenting.

The comedian Steven Colbert coined the term “truthiness.” According to Wikipedia:

Truthiness is a quality characterizing a “truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

In an out of character interview Colbert explained:

It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. People love the President [George W. Bush] because he’s certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don’t seem to exist. It’s the fact that he’s certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?…

Truthiness is ‘What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.’ …

Colbert was talking about politics, but it applies equally to natural parenting. Indeed, the appeal to truthiness is quite explicit in natural parenting. The natural childbirth advocacy advice to trust your “instincts,” is a call to value truthiness above truth. It doesn’t matter what obstetricians say about the dangers of postdates, breech vaginal birth, homebirth, etc; the only thing that matters what you believe the dangers to be.

Why are so many professional natural childbirth advocates either sociologists or anthropologists? Because they, too, value truthiness above truth.

Many dismiss science as a male form of “authoritative knowledge” on the understanding that there are “other ways of knowing” like “intuition.” Many are post modernists who believe that reality is radically subjective, that rationality is unnecessary and that “including the non-rational is sensible midwifery.”

Perhaps nowhere is truthiness more valued than among the vaccine rejectionists. They, too, are quite explicit in their rejection of truth for intuition. Vaccines cause autism because some parents feel that vaccines caused their children’s autism. Never mind that copious scientific evidence has shown that there is no causal connection between vaccines and autism. They embrace modified vaccination schedules because some parents feel that multiple vaccines given together or even separately over time “overwhelm” a child’s immune system. Never mind that anyone with a modicum of knowledge of immunology recognizes this claim as nonsense.

Colbert, in explaining the genesis of truthiness, observed:

We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist.

The central claims of natural childbirth, lactivism, attachment parenting and vaccine rejection aren’t the truth; they’re the truth that natural parenting advocates want to exist. Those claims may be appealing because they’re truthy, but the reality is that they are not true.