The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is like abstinence-only sex education

Hand writing practice abstinence on grey background

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of sexual abstinence for high school students. Most aren’t ready for sexual activity, aren’t careful enough, and don’t properly weigh the consequences.

Despite my strong support of abstinence, I am fervently opposed to abstinence-only sex education.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The ends don’t justify the means.[/pullquote]

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of breastfeeding, having successfully and happily breastfed 4 children. But despite my strong support of breastfeeding, I am fervently opposed to the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative for exactly the same reasons I oppose abstinence-only sex education.

What are those reasons?

1. Both programs present personal values and beliefs under the guise of science.

Promoters of abstinence-only sex education insist that their views reflect the scientific evidence — indeed abstinence is safer than even the best protected sexual activity. Lactivists insist that their views are also bolstered by scientific evidence — all things being equal, breastfeeding has slight advantages over formula feeding.

While there may be some scientific support for their claims, they aren’t fooling anyone. The primary purpose of abstinence-only sex education is to promote the personal/religious belief that abstinence is morally superior to sexual activity of teenagers.

Similarly, the primary purpose of the BFHI is to promote the personal belief of lactivists that “good mothers breastfeed.”

2. Both programs use censorship to compel desired behaviors.

More than anything, advocates of abstinence only programs want to hide the ways in which teenage sexual activity can be made safe; they misrepresent and censor information about the effectiveness of condoms and other forms of birth control — how to get them and how to use them.

Similarly, the BFHI promotes censorship, going so far as to muzzle nurses and doctors from discussing the risks and downsides of breastfeeding.

3. Both programs pervert science.

Abstinence only programs routinely misrepresent the science on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases and the effectiveness of all contraceptives in preventing pregnancy.

The BFHI is in some ways more egregious. It bans formula supplementation despite the fact that judicious formula supplementation has been shown to increase breastfeeding rates. It bans pacifiers despite the fact that there is no evidence they interfere with breastfeeding and a growing body of evidence that they reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It countenances the closure of well baby nurseries and mandated 24 hour rooming in despite the fact that there is no evidence that these practices increase breastfeeding rates and copious evidence that they violate everything we know about the safe care of infants and mothers.

4. Neither program works.

There’s no evidence that abstinence only programs leads to lower rates of teen sexual activity, and precious little evidence (most of it weak and riddled with confounding variables) that the BFHI does anything to increase breastfeeding rates.

5. Both programs deprive people of choice.

Both abstinence only programs and the BFHI are about forcing people to make program approved choices. Want to make a different choice? Too bad for you. The people who run the programs think they are better equipped and more entitled to make choices FOR you than you are yourself.

6. Both programs are punitive.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that teens deprived of accurate information about protecting themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy are going to be at higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Too bad; they deserved it.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that depriving women of accurate information about the risks of breastfeeding is going to lead to infant hospitalizations for dehydration, jaundice and the permanent injuries and deaths that result. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that when you close well baby nurseries and force women to violate every principle of safe infant sleep, some babies are going to die from falling out of their mothers hospital beds or being smothered by the bedding or their mothers bodies when she falls asleep from exhaustion and narcotics. But apparently brain-damaged and dead infants are a price that lactivists are willing to pay to promote breastfeeding.

7. They violate the fundamental principle of bodily autonomy.

People have a right to control their own bodies!

For teens that means that they have a right to accurate information about preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy and information about how to access those methods.

For new mothers that means they have a right to decide whether they wish to use their breasts to feed their babies and a right to parent their children consistent with their personal values which may not be the values that lactivists hold dear.

8. Both programs are unethical.

They subvert science, rely on censorship, deprive people of accurate information and violate bodily autonomy.

It’s pretty obvious in the case of abstinence only sex education programs, but while it may be more subtle, it is equally pernicious for the BFHI.

Advocates of abstinence only programs and advocates of the BFHI both think they hold the moral high ground and that the ends justify the means.

They’re wrong on both counts.