It’s World Breastfeeding Week and it’s time to stop the lactivist madness

Child saying no

It’s an amazing fluid with amazing properties. It is critical to health and well being. It is adaptive: it’s amount and constituents can change as circumstances change. Human beings could never have survived and thrived to this point without it.

No, it’s not breastmilk. It’s sweat … and it’s arguably just as important to human survival as breastmilk.

Why is there World Breastfeeding Week and no World Sweating Week?

So why is there a World Breastfeeding Week and no World Sweating Week?

Because there are special interest breastfeeding groups that have lobbied government to support them in promoting their product. World Breastfeeding Week is ostensibly about promoting infant health, saving money and increasing sustainability, but the truth is that the benefits of breastfeeding have been grossly exaggerated, the “dangers” of formula feeding mostly fabricated, and the risks of exlusive breastfeeding hidden or denied. Indeed, at this point, the harms of breastfeeding promotion — infants injured, infant deaths, maternal mental health compromised — arguably outweigh the benefits.

It’s time to stop the madness!

Let’s start with a fundamental premise:

Promoting process over outcome is wrong.

We’ve all heard the expression, “The operation was a success, but the patient died.” It’s an aphorism that memorably expresses the folly of valuing process over outcome.

Breastfeeding is a process. Infant health is the outcome and it is infant health that should matter, not breastfeeding rates. Lactivists have managed to elide this critical issue by starting with the dubious conclusion — that breastfeeding must be healthier because it is natural — and promoting scientific data that is weak, conflicting and riddled with confounders to support it.

The scientific literature on breastfeeding affirms over and over again that breastfeeding is theoretically healthier for babies. But we don’t have to resort to theory when we have reams of actual data. Over the past 100 years we performed a major “experiment” in industrialized countries. Breastfeeding rates, which in the US were in the range of 90%, dropped precipitously to 24% by 1973 and have since rebounded to initiation rates of nearly 80%. What impact have actual breastfeeding rates had on real life populations in industrialized countries? They’ve had no discernible impact at all. The infant mortality rate dropped steadily regardless of whether breastfeeding rates were rising or falling.

But what about middle and lower income countries where access to clean water to prepare infant formula is uncertain? Surely breastfeeding rates must have a significant impact on infant mortality rates.

Here’s a scatter chart of breastfeeding rates vs. infant mortality created from data on 121 low and moderate income countries.

IMG_1679

As you can see, as the breastfeeding rate rises, the infant mortality rate not only doesn’t fall, it actually rises, too. In other words, there is no correlation between breastfeeding rates and infant mortality rates. But, as demonstrated below, there is a strong correlation between economic activity and infant mortality.

IMG_3014

There’s no evidence here that increasing breastfeeding rates improved infant health.

But breastfeeding is natural!

So is sweat. Indeed breastmilk is actually modified sweat and the breast glands are modified sweat glands.

Sweat is critical to human survival because it is a primary method of thermoregulation, regulation of the body’s internal temperature. People who cannot sweat face the very real threat of death from drastically elevated body temperature. Given the lifesaving nature of sweating, you might think it would be accorded the same treatment as breastfeeding, but you would be wrong.

Consider:

It is widely recognized that temperature outstripping the ability to sweat is common. That’s why we recommend additional cooling methods like cold drinks and immersion in cool water. In contrast, lactivists refuse to accept that a mother’s ability to produce breastmilk can be outstripped by a baby’s needs for nourishment. Both are natural but only one is presumed to be nearly perfect.

It is widely accepted that using technology for cooling, like fans and air conditioning, is often superior to sweating. In contrast, lactivists insist that using technology, in this case infant formula, can’t possibly be as good as breastfeeding.

No one thinks that people who use technology to cool themselves are lazy or selfish, yet lactivists often assert that women who refuse to breastfeed are lazy and selfish. Many mothers are left with shame and guilt when they cannot meet the arbitrary lactivist imperative to breastfeed.

Cooling technology saves lives and improves quality of life. Sure, sweating is great and quite effective, but fans and air conditioners are far more pleasant and allow people to be productive in hot climates or during heat waves. In truth, infant formula also saves lives and improves quality of life for both mothers and babies, but lactivists vehemently deny what it right in front of their eyes and what mothers tell them.

Hence we have World Breastfeeding Week, when activists insist that babies’ health is threated by low breastfeeding rates, though there is no evidence of this; that infant health will be improved if more women breastfeed exclusively, though there is no evidence of this; that women stop breastfeeding because of lack of support, though women report that they stop because of low supply, pain and inconvenience; and that society doesn’t promote breastfeeding, even though tens of millions of dollars are spent each year doing just that.

It’s time to stop the madness!

Yes, breastfeeding is a good thing, but it produces milk, not magic, no matter how much lactivists pretend otherwise. And like any bodily process (think fertility or pregnancy), it has a significant failure rate, not a low rate. The decision to breastfeed instead of use formula is like the decision to sweat instead of using air conditioning. It doesn’t make people superior; those who choose not to do it aren’t lazy or selfish; and, most importantly, it’s a personal choice, not the appropriate purview of activists or governments.

  • Megan

    I was born 6 weeks early due to my mom’s preeclampsia. I was brought home at 4 lbs. and had to be fed every 2 hours with some special formula that wasn’t sold in stores at that point. That was in ’91. My parents had to order it. I was a tiny kid, but now I’m 26 and healthy.
    My sister was then born at 9+ lbs. (I guess that is considered a celebratory “VBAC”, but you know what my parents celebrated? A healthy child. It wasn’t about them.) and my brother 7-8 lbs. or something a few years later. My mom knew the formula routine, so they were both formula-fed too. We’re all healthy. Bro is off to college in a few weeks. There is no “right” way of doing things. That’s what frustrates me with all this formula-shaming. We’re all unique.
    Focus on what’s best for your child, not your ego. Thank you for being a voice of sanity.

  • momofone

    I am so frustrated and fed up with people who promote breastfeeding over everything else (even survival). Someone I know on Facebook posted something a friend of hers posted (friend is a super-crunchy lactation consultation who I’m fairly sure has never had a basic science class) about the impossibility of breast milk/pumps to be contaminated unless evil formula was introduced and somehow came into contact with the pump or milk. I commented (I normally don’t, but I just could not let it stand, for all the good it will do) that at least one baby who developed meningitis had never had formula. How dare I question BreastMilk and its superpowers!

    • Young CC Prof

      I challenge them to leave a bottle of breast milk on the kitchen counter for three days, then taste it. I’m sure it would still be totally pure and yummy, right?

  • Zornorph
    • Sarah

      Saw that and thought of you lot!

  • Kerlyssa

    huh. thought this was going to be about the whole ‘mammary glands are modified sweat glands’ thing

  • mabelcruet

    And in the UK I had hailstones the size of cherries yesterday-we’ve had thunder and lightening 5 days in a row with endless rain. It’s very weird weather for us-its all St Swithin’s fault.

  • Zornorph

    I have to say, down here in the Bahamas, this feels like World Sweating Week!

    • BeatriceC

      The Pacific Northwest in the US is heading into a nearly unprecedented heat wave. They rarely see temperatures above 80F or so, and this week they’re expecting temperatures above 100F. It’s definitely World Sweating Week for them.

      • Roadstergal

        World Sweating Week is in full force in Basel. Not massively hot, but humid as all get-out.

      • Emilie Bishop

        Yeah, not looking forward to the next few days in greater Seattle!

        • KQ Not Signed In

          We hateses the Yellow Face, Precioussss.

      • KQ Not Signed In

        Triple digits in the Willamette Valley. IT IS NOT GOOD. NOT GOOD.

        We move here for the rain and the cool gray climate. WHAT IS THIS ANGRY FIREBALL IN SKY

        • BeatriceC

          Meanwhile, in San Diego, where it’s supposed to be upper 80’s to lower 90’s with occasional triple digit days: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a8bc8e89713e087d8210db270310c80389c57452fb4216d1dcde463858804852.png

          • Box of Salt

            Beatrice,
            don’t worry. It will hit triple digits in about 4 weeks when school starts.

          • BeatriceC

            Of course it will. And my house was built in 1965 when air conditioner just wasn’t a thing, even in high end homes. I hate August and September.

          • Same. I live in the Northeast, in a house built before yours. Central air just wasn’t a thing, and adding the ductwork after the fact just leaves you with a hot upstairs. We make do with window AC when it’s really bad.

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            And up here it doesn’t get hot enough for long enough for a lot of our 19th century homes to get retrofitted.

      • Sooo, on the one hand, I entirely sympathize. *waves from Dallas, TX*. On the other hand, yessss now you feel our pain. Though we all have AC here, and I don’t know if that’s true up in the Pac NW or not.

    • Mel

      Up here in Michigan, we are having a freaking weird summer.

      Right now, it’s in the mid 80’s, humid and we haven’t had rain in nearly a month. This is pretty normal if 5-10 degrees below normal.

      By Friday, the high is supposed to be 67 degrees F. That’s normal for mid-October not early August.

      I’m not complaining; I like it cold, but that’s cold enough to slow growth on a lot of our C4 crops like corn and stop growth on produce like tomatoes, beans and squash…..

    • Young CC Prof

      I have to point it out: the mammary glands appear to have evolved from sweat glands. So…

  • Mel

    One of my college professors died last week. She was 77 years old. She had been a Dominican Sister for 56 years who taught science to students from junior high to college for over 50 years.

    Sr. Katrina never breastfed anyone, but she spent her whole life training doctors, teachers, researchers, technicians and community members to think calmly and rationally about about scientific claims.

    On a completely unrelated note, she gave me a heap of excellent tips on keeping chickens alive and healthy when I married my dairy farmer husband and moved out to the country.

    There are so many ways to touch lives. Never let anyone tell you as a woman that you have to do any given process – even breastfeeding – because there are hundreds, no, thousands of women who have changed the world through completely different routes and methods.

    • BeatriceC

      I’m drinking coffee this morning out of a “world’s greatest mom” mug that was given to me by a young lady* that is not actually my child. Two years ago I got a midnight phone call from the then-girlfriend of one of my boys asking if I could pick her up right then. She was hysterical. I asked if she was safe and she said no. So I went and picked her up. We got back to my house and I noticed the handprint shaped bruises on her throat. We called CPS. I had temporary custody of her until they could find more appropriate foster care (I would have kept her, but I have all boys, and one was her boyfriend, and that’s just not appropriate.) She gave me this mug last year. I still check in every few weeks because even though she and my kid have long since broken up, and her foster mother adopted her a few months ago, I still care. It doesn’t take an unmedicated vaginal birth, or breastmilk to be an important influence in a child’s life. It takes giving a shit and doing your best to meet their needs.

      *This is a different young lady than the one I helped out this week. I have a bit of a reputation among the friends of my boys for being judgmental, even keeled, and willing to help problem solve. Sometimes that means letting a kid crash in my guest room for a few days, or helping a kid access services, or facilitating productive discussions with parents to help bridge whatever problem is happening.

      • anh

        I hope I can do that when my daughter is older.

      • KQ Not Signed In

        I want to be a mom like you, BeatriceC.

        • BeatriceC

          *blush* To be fair, I certainly have my faults. I’m far from perfect. But I do my best and when I screw up I admit it and fix it, and do whatever I can to not repeat the mistake. And I think that because I’m willing to talk to my kids and be frank when I mess up, they are not afraid to come to me when they screw up, and also ask me for advice for their friends’ issues. That, of course, has led to me physically helping when I can. And kids talk. Word on the street is if you need adult help, talk to mom. If I can, I do. If I can’t, I can listen, provide my thoughts if asked, or find somebody who can help.

          • Kris

            I too have learned to ask, first, “Are you safe?”

            I feel honored to be the person my “bonus children” call when they are in desperate need.

      • Sue

        Thank you, BeatriceC, for reminding us that parenting is not about giving birth, and lasts a great deal loonger (as fathers already know).

      • Sarah

        I presume you also relactated?