Dr. Melissa Bartick owes Courtney Jung an apology


Well that didn’t take long.

Lactivists have faced the first real public challenge to their misrepresentation of the scientific evidence about breastfeeding, and they’ve already sunk to character assassination. I suppose that was only to be expected since they have no scientific evidence to dispute the central arguments in Courtney Jung’s book, Lactivism.

Not surprisingly, internist Melissa Bartick, MD is leading the charge. She committed the most egregious exaggeration of benefits and she’s been caught out. In her 2010 paper The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis, using highly fanciful methods, Bartick “estimated” that the US could save 900 infant lives and $13 billion if 90% of US women breastfed. These numbers are grossly misleading since the purported savings are primarily the “lost wages” of the 900 dead infants (not a single one of which Bartick could identify then or now).

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#FD1221″]My baby, my body, my breasts, my choice![/pullquote]

Bartick became desperate relatively quickly; I guess that reflects the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to support her 2010 claims. She has promptly resorted to character assassination on the WBUR website:

If Donald Trump suddenly jumped into the breastfeeding fray, he might sound a bit like Courtney Jung.

I would have thought that such a gratuitous insult would be unworthy of both Bartick and WBUR, but I guess when you’re desperate the rules of civil behavior go right out the window.

At least Bartick is honest that her attempts to shoot the messenger are a response to having her work criticized:

I offer myself as Exhibit A in Jung’s book. She spends pages tearing apart a 2007 essay I wrote on combating formula proponents’ use of the word “choice.” Taking my essay out of context, she implies to readers that breastfeeding advocates do not think mothers should be given a choice in how they feed their infants. Here she describes me as an “ardent lactivist,” although in that very essay, I caution against “lactivism.” Jung couldn’t have gotten me more wrong: I have never engaged in any of the judgmental pressuring tactics to women I meet typical of the lactivists Jung describes.

Dr. Bartick, please don’t compound your harassment of new mothers by lying about it. Your words in Making the Case: Effective Language for Breastfeeding Advocacy make it clear that Jung described your views accurately.

You DON’T believe that mothers should be given a choice. Indeed you are so opposed to choice that you want the word eliminated from the discussion.

Choice” is the language of breastfeeding opponents. When they talk “choice,” it’s best to respond using entirely different language, like “marketing” or “profits.” Avoid the word “choice” altogether.

You DO believe in shaming women who don’t breastfeed, approvingly quoting Diane Weissinger’s ugly manifesto on shaming.

Instead of talking about the “benefits of breastfeeding,” talk about the risks of not breastfeeding.

You believe in IGNORING what women are saying about the breastfeeding experiences, as if your belief about their OWN experiences is more important than theirs:

Reframe “guilt” as anger or grief.

But the key issue remains exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding:

Breastfeeding is a public health issue, just like smoking, safe sex, and seatbelts.

But it isn’t! Unlike the benefits of not smoking, safe sex, and seat belts, which can be measured in tens of thousands of lives saved every year, the benefits of breastfeeding in first world countries are trivial and even Bartick herself can’t identify any term babies in the US who died because of properly prepared formula, let alone the hundreds she claimed are dying each and every year.

When Bartick was asked in the comments why she didn’t retract her study since it is obviously untrue, she replied:

There is nothing to retract. The study was accurate at the time. And we are doing an update that includes maternal health and pediatric health. It is massive. This kind of research is painstaking and building the computer model and testing and retesting it has taken out[sic] team of 9 all this time. It is costly. And of course we say outright that the results assume the relationships are causal which might or might not be the case. However, given that mammals have evolved to feed their young their own milk over thousands of years, it would not seem that man can improve on this in a couple generations. Critics who do not engage in research such as Amy Tuteur, do not realize what needs to go into a well done study and what needs to happen to get it published. You can’t just make stuff up.

Whining that research is hard?

Invoking evolution?

It’s almost as bad as smearing Courtney Jung by associating her with Donald Trump.

Dr. Bartick owes Courtney Jung an apology, though I doubt that one will be forthcoming.

She also owes American women an apology for massively exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding in an effort to force new mothers to breastfeed. In keeping with her own advice to other lactivists, Dr. Bartick insisted that formula feeding is a public health crisis, even though there is no scientific evidence to support that claim.

I can’t wait to see how Dr. Bartick attempts to smear me when my book, Push Back, is published in 14 weeks. I go beyond Jung’s argument that the benefits of breastfeeding have been exaggerated to promote the breastfeeding industry, and address the ways in which lactivism is profoundly sexist and deeply retrograde. Ultimately, the “breastfeeding wars” are about whether or not we believe women should be judged by the function of their reproductive organs.

That reflects a fundamental difference between Dr. Bartick and myself. She is so sure that women should have no choice but to breastfeed that she actually counsels other lactivists to refuse to discuss “choice” altogether. In contrast, I believe:

My baby, my body, my breasts, MY CHOICE!