Natural parenting isn’t based on science but on romanticism

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The central conceit of natural parenting is that it is based on science. Nothing could be further from the truth. Natural parenting does not seek validity in rationality, but rather in romanticism.

What’s the difference?

Those who do not remember the past have condemned their children to repeat its suffering and death.

According to philosopher Walter Truett, there are a variety of different ways of understanding the world including:

… the scientific-rational in which truth is “found” through methodical, disciplined inquiry

in contrast to:

… the neo-romantic in which truth is found either through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual explorations of the inner self…

The scientific view of parenthood is reflected in modern obstetrics, pediatrics, and immunology among other fields. It is predicated on the idea that nature is amoral (“bloody in tooth and claw”), as well as the easily verifiable scientific facts that childbirth is inherently dangerous, breastfeeding has only limited benefits, and vaccines are the biggest life-savers of children.

Natural parenting is a rejection of rationality in favor of a past that never existed:

Neo-romantics reject both the postmodern and the modern, and long for a fantasizes golden era before the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment.

Both scientific and historical fact tell us that childbirth is dangerous, and was only made safe by technology. Romanticism fantasizes that childbirth was safe in the past, and technology has made it dangerous.

Scientific fact and historical fact tell us that exclusive breastfeeding has a high death rate that can only be prevented with infant formula. Romanticism fantasizes that breastfeeding saves lives and formula kills.

Scientific and historical fact tell us that vaccines are one of the greatest public health advancements of all time. Romanticism ignores the dead and their potential descendants and fantasizes that because survivors of infectious scourges are “still here” vaccines are unnecessary.

Why have we experience a resurgence of romanticism in the face of incontrovertible evidence that nature is often deadly?

The growth of the neo-romantic culture in recent years has been nothing short of spectacular. It obviously expresses … a deep disaffection for modern civilization… It has most of the features of earlier romanticism — the reverence for nature, the personal-development preoccupation bordering on narcissism, the mystique of the noble savage — but these appear in much updated forms: environmentalism, spirituality, movies such as Dances With Wolves.

  • Hence the narcissism of promoting the mother’s birth experience above the child’s safety, the mother’s “breastfeeding journey” above the child’s health, and the narcissistic fantasy of being “educated” about vaccines.
  • Hence the insistence that childbirth is traditionally deeply spiritual and labor pain has been a source of empowerment when it was never either in the past.
  • Hence the veneration of “normal” birth.
  • Hence the wannabe birth “goddesses” who chant affirmations and refuse medical care.
  • Hence the mystical faith in breastmilk to treat and prevent every illness known.
  • Hence the fantasy that native peoples eat the placenta despite the fact placentophagy was first described in California in the 1980’s.
  • Hence the notion that food is “medicine” and you can “strengthen” your immune system by eating right.

Contrary to the claims of natural parenting advocates, these are not supported by scientific evidence, but rather reflect a desperate desire to romanticize the past as being somehow preferable to the technological present.

Natural parenting is firmly backward looking yet the past it looks back toward never actually existed anywhere but in the mind of natural parenting advocates. Sadly it recapitulates the past that truly did exist: preventable deaths at homebirth, babies starving due to insufficient breastmilk, children dying of infectious disease for lack of vaccination and women forced back into traditional gender roles.

Natural parenting isn’t merely unscientific; it is ahistorical.

To paraphrase George Santayana: natural parenting advocates who do not remember the past condemn their children to repeat its suffering and death.

And the ultimate irony is that they are proud of themselves for doing so.

  • Anna

    I know that in the past birth was considered successful if AT LEAST mother survived to have further offspring. NO WAY is that romantic.

  • Anonymous

    I think that this is why Hollywood types love to paint with such a rosy brush the whole natural childbirth/parenting image. They’re used to delivering a stylized version of reality in a lot of cases, this isn’t any different.

  • CSN0116

    OT shameless plug: A good friend and I had our now 2-year-olds just a couple weeks apart. She ardently breast fed her daughter for well over a year and became crazed obsessed with every other AAP recommendation as well. I EFF my son – the cheap stuff and basically flip off the AAP with my parenting (haha). Flash forward: those two toddlers have now started a nursery school program together where she called me stressed out last night, complaining that her daughter has missed 10 days of school already and has only attended one day in November, “She’s just sick all the time, she keeps picking up everything!” There are certainly colds and such going around these kiddos but ***miraculously!!!*** my son has caught nothing and has missed zero school days.

    I love my friend. And there’s nothing I did, or do, that is superior. Just sharing a mere real-life illustration of how much all of it DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER.

    • N

      Yes. I’m a breastfeeding extremist. I breastfeed my babies for years. And yet with my first I always wondered why my miracle liquid gold wouldn’t work, as he was constantly ill. Like only a couple of days between every virus or bacteria that were medication free!

      Now my third, also still breastfed at almost 2 years is the least ill of all 3 of my kids. Could that be more related to the fact that other that his older siblings he is not in any daycare, as I stay home now for a couple of years now???

      • CSN0116

        I think that’s very real possibility and it’s why many of the breast feeding-economy talks had here will discuss how backing off on breast feeding advocacy, and letting women do what they want how they want, while mandating even 6 months of full-paid maternity leave – the keeping babies out of daycare for those 6 months+ would have a much larger impact on decreasing childhood illness and health care dollars spent than breast milk ever could.

        My little study I have going on — of my five children (all still very young), the oldests (twins) went the longest until their *first* illness (they were well over a year before even a sniffle), BUT they got sick very frequently throughout preschool and up to the end of kindergarten. Then the illnesses really slowed down.

        Their younger siblings have each been increasingly healthier and healthier. They each got their first illness sooner (still as infants), but get far fewer sicknesses overall, even after starting school.

        My money is on all of the incremental, small exposures that the younger sibs get on a daily, via big sibs, that the older ones did not. The older ones were hyper-protected and then thrown to the wolves lol. The youngers are constantly in limited, but real, contact. There’s something to be said about exposure.

        We always had a sitter in our home as well, no daycare.

        • N

          Funnily I could have the same study going with the exact same results, for my 3 kids. 🙂

        • Chant de la Mer

          Hmm, that is an interesting thought. To add my own experiences I have three boys, 1 EFF, 1 EBF and 1 combo fed and I would say that the formula baby was the only one of the three to get any tummy viruses before age 3 but he was also born before the rotavirus vaccine, otherwise they’ve all been about the same level of healthy. Minor colds only one or two illnesses requiring antibiotics, usually strep, and incredibly healthy hearty boys. None of them have been in real daycare, just a small 5 kid preschool starting at 3 and have had continuous contact with extended family and older siblings. This might just be the luck of a hearty commanding immune system, or it could be something to do with small incremental exposures like you say. Very interesting.

  • Romanticizing the past through some rose-coloured nostalgic lens that ignores all of the painful, incredibly ugly aspects of that past – what could possibly go wrong? Who could possibly pay the price for that? Who benefits?

    • shay simmons

      Who benefits?

      Hucksters like Tietje, Mercola, and Adams. There’s a sucker born every minute.

      Who doesn’t benefit? The kids.

      • SporkParade

        I’m not sure the mothers’ benefit either. Perpetual, unwarranted guilt, trauma-inducing levels of pain, plus having to deal with the fallout when it all goes wrong? No thanks.

  • CSN0116

    I read this post right off the heels of having read about my husband’s non-vaxxing, home birthing, anti-pharma acquaintance who is boasting about the simmering “healing bone broth” that she’s making today (featured on FB, with pictures) …while referencing “Dr.” Axe.

    • Heidi

      I hope the bone broth people bring back the aspic. Just because I enjoy looking at “edible” things suspended in collagen.

      • CSN0116

        lol

      • T.

        My mother is a fan of aspic! I don’t like gelatin, but that is a matter of taste.

        Bone broth can be used as stock, my father occasionally does it and it is very good but… it is food, not healing anything.

        Seriously, what is with people turning food into medicine?

        • Heidi

          I prefer my stock warm and in liquid form, not all gelatinous and cold. I am not even a fan of Jello, but I especially can’t stomach savory things in that form.

          • Heidi_storage

            Ditto. It’s a texture thing for me; I gag on yogurt, too.

          • Heidi

            I have friends, sisters, who can’t eat really stand yogurt or pudding or even more than a bite or two of ice cream because of the texture. Their mom is that way, too. I always eat my yogurt with those little espresso spoons, though, because I can’t stand to take huge bites of it. My husband will inhale yogurt in 2 bites.

          • Sean Jungian

            I prefer my stock in warm gravy form lol

        • BeatriceC

          I make my own stock because my allergies force me to. I can’t trust commercially prepared stocks and broths as the often times have stuff in them that will make me stop breathing. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t bother. It’s a lot of effort.

        • Mishimoo

          I tried making chicken bone broth simply because I hate wasting food and thought “Well, if this is delicious, then I have the base for an easy chicken soup when I feel sick.”

          Used some instead of white wine when making a leek and bacon tart last night, absolutely amazing! Most of my picky eaters demolished it and said they’d happily eat it again.

          • Sean Jungian

            I second that and Beatrice’s post – it’s definitely work making if you have a chicken carcass of some sort. It makes the best sauces, the gelatin just gives it this velvetiness that isn’t overly fatty or rich, just delicious.

          • Sarah

            Yeah it’s amazing stuff. I think fairly nutritious too, but the main thing for me is how versatile it is.

    • Mrs.Katt the Cat

      I love making bone broth, then freezing it in cubes for easy use later. Plop into other recipes for a flavor burst, mmmmm.

    • Sue

      Here is what I want to know: How is “bone broth” different from “stock”?

      Isn’t stock made from boiling up bones with attached meat and optional veggies/seasoning. Hipster food-celebs seem to think they’ve invented it.

      When I did “Home Economics” as a junior high school subject, we learned to make “beef tea” in a subject entitled “Invalid Cookery”. There was also “barley water”.
      Mmmmmm.

      • SporkParade

        According to the interwebs, broth is made from meat and stock is made from bone. Also, stock should be unseasoned, whereas broth should be seasoned. So basically, broth is a subset of stocks and you are absolutely correct. 🙂

        • Heidi

          I’ve always thrown in salt, pepper, garlic, onions, carrots, celery, and a few herbs when I’ve made stock.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      The bone broth craze drives me crazy! I’ve got 3 different kinds of homemade stock in my freezer right now, not because I think it’s a magic potion, but because it’s delicious and also just a part of my family’s food culture. I’m Eastern European Jewish on my mother’s side and any cook in that tradition knows that a real homemade chicken stock is the key to a good matzah ball soup. My dad always made stock too, as did his mother from whom he learned to cook–she grew up in the Depression and, what were you going to do, throw that chicken carcass away? My grandmother would have had a heart attack at the very thought of such waste! It drives me nuts that crunchy “natural” fetishists have commandeered something that is simply part of my family tradition but, really, it’s just like hipsters to think they invented freaking soup. I’m constantly explaining to people that, no, that stock pot isn’t simmering because I think it will give me eternal life. It’s just because I was raised by the the kinds of people that “natural” types want to pretend to be.

      Not that the truth could ever live up to their myth, which I sometimes find greatly amusing. My award-winning 4H clubber paternal grandmother and my bona fide Old Country Jewish maternal grandmother would undoubtedly fall short of the standards of people like Kate Tietje, Sarah Pope (“The Healthy Home Economist”) and other “Traditional Foods” mavens. See, they did not cook Traditionally but merely traditionally. They used white flour for some thing, did not soak and ferment every damn grain product that passed their or their family’s lips and certainly did not simmer their stock for 24 hours or more, as Traditional Foods/Paleo bone broth fanatics insist is necessary. Unless you are cooking over an open hearth which is doubling as the heat source for your home (which is not something most people have done for a very long time), that is an enormous and costly waste of energy, which is ironic for people who also often consider themselves to be environmentalists.

      As far as I know, no actual medicinal or health benefits of “bone broth” have been demonstrated. But I still keep a quart of chicken stock in the freezer for when a seasonal cold strikes, so I can quickly add some vegetables, chopped fresh dill and egg noodles (kicking it Eastern European-style) for the best psychological cold treatment I have yet found. It may not be “boosting my immune system” but it boosts my spirits and that’s all I ask.

  • CSN0116

    “We Have Never Been Modern” -Bruno Latour 😉

    • guest

      That’s on my bookshelf.

      • CSN0116

        It’s a hell of a book.