Mothers, ignore anyone who tells you to ignore your doctor

Red IGNORE button on a computer keyboard

I’m the first to acknowledge that medicine is far from perfect. Members of my family have been victims of poor medical practice: failure of a doctor to listen, failure of a doctor to take the time to think about what’s really going on, failure of a doctor to believe what a patient is telling him or her, not to mention sheer incompetence.

Despite that, the most important medical advice I can give you is ignore anyone who tells you to ignore your doctor.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Modern medicine is the worst form of treatment except for all others that have ever been tried.[/pullquote]

It’s not that your doctor can’t be wrong; if you don’t agree with what a doctor has told you or you don’t like the way that a doctor cares for you, get a different doctor. But don’t listen to a layperson or a purveyor of alternative health.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill:

Modern medicine is the worst form of treatment except for all others that have ever been tried.

There is no system that has saved more lives, cured more diseases, performed more successful surgeries, invented more lifesaving drugs and devices than modern medicine. Nothing else even comes close.

Who might tell you to ignore your doctor? In my experience, there are two types of people who make that recommendation: those who are selling something they want you to buy and those who are desperate to boost their self-esteem to have their own choices mirrored back to them.

That’s especially true in the realm of natural parenting.

People have been parenting naturally for millions of years and during that entire time span the mortality rate of children (and mothers) has been astronomical.

How have we lowered the death rates of mothers and children to current levels?

1. Alternative health advocates like to claim that it is entirely due to clean water and sanitation. It’s true that those have saved millions of lives. What people fail to realize is that clean water and sanitation are MEDICAL advances. The rationale for both is the germ theory of disease and that was not proposed by laypeople.

2. Better nutrition has saved lots of lives, too, although the main component of better nutrition is simply adequate food. Children died because they were forced to live a subsistence existence. Sure, all the food was organic, but there wasn’t enough of it.

Moreover, everything we know about nutrition was discovered by doctors and scientists. No nutrition discoveries were made by advocates of alternative health, chiropractors, homeopaths, reiki masters and any of the other charlatans who claim to be practicing medicine when they are simply stealing your hard-earned money.

3. Antibiotics have saved millions of lives and continue to save millions of lives every year.

4. Prenatal care saves millions of lives and it was developed by doctors. No one besides obstetricians, not even midwives, have contributed a single life saving intervention to the care of pregnant women.

5. Infant formula has also been one of the greatest life saving discoveries of all time. It is estimated that 5-15% or more of women are biologically incapable of fully nourishing a child with breastmilk. In the past, those babies simply died of starvation or dehydration. Now they are easily saved.

6. Vaccination, after sanitation, is the greatest public health discovery of all time. Once we learned about the way the body fights off disease (by recognizing bacteria and viruses as foreign and killing them) and why it often fails (the bacteria and viruses act faster than the body can recognize and kill them), we used that knowledge to improve the odds. Now we teach our immune systems to recognize foreign invaders before they invade. We give the body’s natural defenses an enormous head start and that has led to the eradication (smallpox) and near eradication of many infectious scourges.

Who tells parents to ignore their obstetricians? Individuals and organizations who make money by convincing you to distrust the only people who can save your life. Midwives resent that obstetricians learned to do what they did better, more safely and with far less suffering. Midwives make money when they tell you to ignore your doctor despite the fact that THEY count on the SAME doctors to rescue you when they can’t. They tell you to ignore the preventive medicine that obstetricians offer since they can’t offer it themselves, but they’re more than happy to call the obstetrician to save your life when the disaster that the obstetrician might have prevented actually occurs.

Who tells parents to ignore their pediatricians? For a long time that distinction went to the anti-vax lobby, which makes money from books and supplements. Anti-vaxxers are the 21st Century flat-earthers. Doesn’t the world look flat to you? That makes it flat. Doesn’t it seem to Jenny McCarthy that vaccines cause autism? That makes vaccines the cause.

The ultimate irony is that anti-vaxxers rely entirely on vaccination in order to convince you not to vaccinate. If everyone rejected vaccines, millions of children would sicken and die. But if only a minority of people reject vaccines, their children will be protected by the herd immunity created when the majority vaccinate.

More recently, lactivists have climbed on the “ignore your doctor” bandwagon. Why? It is an article of faith among them that breastfeeding, uniquely among all bodily processes, is both perfect and never fails. Both claims are spectacularly wrong, and sadly, babies are dying preventable deaths because lactivists tell people to ignore life saving advice from pediatricians. Lactation consultants aren’t medical professionals; they are special interest marketers. They make money only when women breastfeed, and they make more money when women struggle unsuccessfully to breastfeed, paying for countless $100/hour sessions of LCs telling women with low supply to breastfeed harder.

To my knowledge, not a single term baby’s life has been saved by refusing to supplement breastfeeding with formula, but tens of thousands of babies lives are saved each and every year by formula itself.

Doctors aren’t perfect. No one knows that better than a doctor like me. But doctors are dramatically more knowledgeable than midwives and lactation consultants. They know infinitely more than quacks like chiropractors, cranio-sacral manipulators, homeopaths, and anti-vaccine fear mongers.

You should ALWAYS feel free to consult another doctor if you have doubts about what your doctor recommends. And if a second opinion does not address your concerns, get a third doctor’s opinion.

Your doctor may be wrong, but that does not make your midwife, lactation consultant or alternative health practitioner right.

Ignore anyone who tells you to ignore your doctor. To do anything else is to risk your baby’s life.