La Leche League’s response to claims of overselling breastfeeding is both pathetic and bullying


Way to go La Leche League! Thanks for proving Courtney Jung’s points for her.

In advance of the publication of her new book Lactivism, Jung wrote an op-ed in the NYTimes, Overselling Breast-Feeding.

The benefits associated with breast-feeding just don’t seem to warrant the scrutiny and interventions surrounding American infant feeding practices.

What are those benefits? In countries with clean water supplies, the benefits of breastfeeding for term infants amount to nothing more than a few less colds and episodes of diarrheal illnesses across the population in the first year of life.

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#cf4b93″]Total fail when it comes to refuting Jung, but, fear not. It is a masterpiece of bullying.[/pullquote]

Not surprisingly, La Leche League, the organization that has led the charge in overselling the benefits of breastfeeding and encouraging the moralization of infant feeding was angered by the piece and issued a press release in response.

They insist that the benefits of breastfeeding aren’t oversold.

Before we look at what they said, let’s think about what they’d need to show.

The claims on their website are remarkably expansive:

Breastfeeding has been shown to be protective against many illnesses, including painful ear infections, upper and lower respiratory ailments, allergies, intestinal disorders, colds, viruses, staph, strep and e coli infections, diabetes, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, many childhood cancers, meningitis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, salmonella, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome(SIDS) as well as lifetime protection from Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, some lymphomas, insulin dependent diabetes …

So the first thing LLL ought to show is the dramatic increase in breastfeeding initiation in the past 30 years has led to a commensurate decrease in all the illnesses that breastfeeding is supposed to prevent.

But LLL can’t show that, because with the exception of colds and mild diarrheal illness, breastfeeding has had no measurable effect on any of these ailments.

Furthermore, the increase in breastfeeding rates has had no impact on infant mortality, no impact on life expectancy and no impact on population IQ. And, contrary to the claims of lactivists that breastfeeding could save billions of dollars in healthcare costs, breastfeeding has had no discernible impact on healthcare costs.

What evidence did LLL offer for the benefits of breastfeeding? Their response can be summed up simply: because we said so.

[B]reastfeeding has been shown to have definite health risks and consequences…

This deepening understanding of the importance and value of human milk for human babies from an immunological, physiological, and psychological standpoint is a result of an ever-increasing, vast, and incontrovertible body of research.

What are those definite health risks? LLL doesn’t dare say.

What is this incontrovertible evidence? LLL doesn’t say.

Where is the proof that breastfeeding has any impact on infant mortality, life expectancy and healthcare savings? LLL doesn’t offer it because it doesn’t exist.

So the press release is a total fail when it comes to refuting Jung, but, fear not. It is a masterpiece of bullying and shaming:

Likening breastfeeding to tobacco smoking:

When our organization began nearly sixty years ago, most babies were not breastfed and a significant portion of the population smoked. Just as research has shown that smoking has a serious negative effect on health … not breastfeeding has been shown to have definite health risks and consequences …

Classy, huh?

Slamming women who bottle feed as abnormal:

…[B]reastfeeding is now clearly understood to be the normal way to feed a human baby.

Implying that women who don’t breastfeed are ignorant:

There isn’t any pressure in our society that could force intelligent women to do something that doesn’t make sense.

But no one is claiming that breastfeeding doesn’t make sense or that women are being forced to breastfeed. What Jung has claimed is that women have been tricked into breastfeeding by organizations like LLL that have dramatically oversold the benefits.

LLL ends with a flourish of nonsense:

We’re also hormonally driven and biologically hard-wired to breastfeed and be breastfed.

We’re also hormonally driven and biologically hard-wired to begin reproducing at age 16 or so, but we don’t, do we? We’re hormonally driven and biologically hard-wired to have no control over the number of children we have, but we ignore that, don’t we? We are not animals; we are people and our lives are much safer, healthier and more comfortable because we can and do exercise control over them.

And just in case they hadn’t shamed formula feeders enough:

We’re mammals. Lactation and breastfeeding is the normal behavior and food for human mothers and babies.

Eating raw meat on the hoof is also normal behavior and food for mammals. Should we do that, too?

The bottom line is that the La Leche League response to the claims that the benefits of breastfeeding have been oversold is pathetic, reflecting the complete dearth of evidence that breastfeeding term babies in first world countries has any major impact on health.

In the absence of evidence, LLL falls back on their favorite tactic: bullying mothers who don’t follow their prescription for motherhood.

That’s just nasty.