The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative bullies babies


In the dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell introduced the idea that vocabulary has the power to control thought. In 1984, the government, in an effort to control citizens and force them into submission, subverts the meaning of common words and phrases to promote approved views.

This type of language manipulation is also known as “doublespeak,” as Wikipedia explains:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]There’s nothing “baby friendly” about letting an infant starve.[/pullquote]

… Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., “downsizing” for layoffs, “servicing the target” for bombing, making the truth less unpleasant, without denying its nature. It may also be deployed as intentional ambiguity, or reversal of meaning (for example, naming a state of war “peace”). In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth, producing a communication bypass.

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is an outstanding example of doublespeak. In 2016, the breastfeeding industry, in an effort to control women and force them to use their breasts in the lactivist approved manner, subverts the meaning of “baby friendly” to promote breastfeeding.

The BFHI torments mothers, muzzles doctors and nurses, and, unconscionably, it bullies babies in an effort to ensure ideological conformity.

What do I mean?

Anything that is baby friendly would take into account the needs of babies, and if babies need anything at all, they need to eat.

Hunger is probably the most elemental of infant drives and, as anyone who has seen an infant scream from hunger would probably agree, is experienced by the baby as suffering. For most mothers, myself included, the sound of their own infant crying is piercing in its intensity and distress. I remember being surprised by this when my first child was born. I had spent my entire professional life surrounded by crying babies and it had never bothered me, yet I found my son’s crying unbearable and always rushed to determine what was wrong and fix it in any way possible.

It is a biological FACT that at least 5-15% of women will not make enough breastmilk to fully nourish a growing baby. If that rate sounds high to you or incompatible with the survival of the human race, consider this: the natural rate of miscarriage of established pregnancies is 20% and we’ve survived and thrived despite a high death rate of embryos. A rate of inadequate breastmilk production of 5-15% is comparable. And that doesn’t even include those mothers whose milk comes in late.

What happened to those babies prior to the advent of infant formula? They starved to death.

Exclusive breastfeeding rates of 100%, as occurs in nature, aren’t very baby friendly at all.

Along comes the BFHI, airily ignoring the biological reality of breastfeeding, and focusing instead on ideological conformity. The BFHI is all about promoting a process. But being “baby friendly” should be about the outcome for babies, not the process. There is nothing baby friendly about letting a baby starve.

Healthy infants are equipped to survive a short period without much nutrition. That’s why most babies lose a little weight in the first two days. But after that point, a baby who isn’t receiving an adequate amount of breastmilk begins to starve. And that’s what happens to those 5-15% of babies whose mothers don’t produce enough breastmilk and the additional babies whose mothers’ milk comes in late. They starve with all the agony that implies.

When a baby continues to lose weight beyond the first few days, the baby’s body begins to digest itself. That’s what weight loss is, the baby breaking down its own cells to supply its brain, heart and other vital organs with nutrients. The baby becomes dehydrated and its sodium level begins to rise; seizures, brain damage, and death can be the result. Bilirubin, a waste product, can built up. If the bilirubin level gets high enough (kernicterus) the baby’s skin color becomes orange and permanent brain damage may occur.

That’s bad enough, but the worst part is that the baby FEELS that she is starving and she suffers. She screams from hunger until she is too exhausted or too weak to cry. She can’t sleep because hunger wakes her up to scream some more.

What’s baby friendly about that? NOTHING!

What can a woman do if she suspects that her newborn is starving? Not much, if she’s in a “baby friendly” hospital. Infant formula, which would ease the baby’s suffering and has been shown to preserve not harm the breastfeeding relationship, is off limits. A mother must subject herself to a mandatory lecture from nurses and or lactation consultants. She may need to beg for formula or send a family member out to buy it. She is the object of official scorn. All the while her baby is suffering.

Nurses and doctors are muzzled; they can’t counsel her about formula supplementation until the baby is seriously ill. All the while her baby is suffering.

We KNOW that this will happen to 5-15% of babies yet, under pressure from the breastfeeding industry, doctors and hospitals have caved to this distinctly baby unfriendly policy. Why? Not because it’s good for babies; not because it’s good for mothers; they submit because the BFHI credential is good for MARKET SHARE.

The ultimate irony? There’s no evidence that the BFHI has much if any impact on breastfeeding rates.

What should we do?

It seems to me that a good first step would be to force the program to change its name to more accurate “Breastfeeding Friendly” Hospital Initiative. Instead of hiding the true motivation in doublespeak designed to manipulate women, let’s be honest about who really benefits: lactivists and their organizations.

Let’s also make the program mother friendly by ending the hectoring lectures to mothers, ending the muzzling of doctors and nurses, making formula easily accessible, and re-opening well baby nurseries so new mothers can rest and heal from childbirth.

Most importantly, let’s make babies’ wellbeing the centerpiece of hospital care by ending the mandatory starvation the agony that goes with it for a substantial proportion of babies.

There’s nothing baby friendly about letting an infant scream in hunger. The BFHI makes babies suffer. That MUST stop.