Lactivism and fundamental attribution error

70119109 - word errow. image with clipping path

The lactivist whining continues!

This week the Royal College of Midwives reminded its members that women have an absolute right to choose bottle feeding and are entitled to respect for that choice.

Why did they do that? I’d like to think it’s because they recognized that the benefits of breastfeeding in industrialized countries are trivial, that pressuring women to breastfeed is deeply sexist — violating a women’s right to bodily autonomy — and because they recognized the suffering and anguish they were causing.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Lactivists imagine themselves as motivated by love for babies and fealty to science and imagine women who don’t breastfeed as lazy, selfish, under the sway of formula companies or lacking support.[/pullquote]

But I’m a cynical person and I suspect that the real reason was that aggressive breastfeeding promotion is starting to cost the National Health Service serious money. Breastfed babies are readmitted at double the rate of bottle fed babies. Massive financial judgments are being paid out to compensate parents whose babies were brain injured or died. And that’s on top of the millions of dollars wasted to aggressively promote breastfeeding. Moreover, none of the promised benefits in lives or healthcare dollars saved has materialized.

It’s hardly a coincidence that the RCM was also forced to shutter their Campaign for Normal Birth. It, too, had become too costly in lives and money and failed to provide the promised benefits.

In response, lactivists have continued doing what they do best — lying, shaming, and asserting victimhood.

Consider this tweet from Kimberly Seals Allers:


As #breastfeeding is under attack, we need ALL WOMEN to see the right for women to choose & if so, be properly supported to use their bodies for their biological norm as a Women’s issue. Instead of falling prey to ways of dividing us.

As I noted on my Facebook page, claiming that respecting bottle feeding means breastfeeding is under attack is like claiming “black lives matter” means white people are under attack. Seals Allers dropped in to chastise me.

… Dear NonPracticing OB, I see that you are very consistent with your lack of context and rabble rowsing, while the rest of us are actually at work in the community. But I won’t address your collapsing methaphors and logic gaps — I am used to those but I will address the lack of facts: I never said supporting bottle feeding was attacking breastfeeding –YOU SAID THAT. I support bottle-feeding all the time. Have you been to where I work in Detroit???? And Philadelphia??? I have invited you and Christine on many occasions… Women must use bottles. Women also use formula!! And I support them!!! …. So please get your facts straight. When I say breastfeeding is under attack (And thank you asking instead of making blatant ASSumptions), I mean the commercial interests– the multi-million infant formula contracts, the multi-billion lobbying against WHO Code guidelines and the multi-billion dollar drug industry, the sensational headlines that pit mothers against mothers (your MO) and don’t get to the policy gaps that can save lives (including more training for physicians on lactation failures as I’ve also said many times) –so I don’t know who said I don’t respect bottle feeding because I do. PLEASE GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT!!! …

So many words, so little substance! And so much attribution bias.

In psychology, an attribution bias or attributional bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the systematic errors made when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others’ behaviors. People constantly make attributions regarding the cause of their own and others’ behaviors; however, attributions do not always accurately reflect reality. Rather than operating as objective perceivers, people are prone to perceptual errors that lead to biased interpretations of their social world.

Simply put, attribution bias or error is the tendency to ascribe one’s own mistakes to lofty motives and other people’s behavior to malice.

Attribution error is fundamental to contemporary lactivist theory which imagines all lactation professionals motivated by love for babies and fealty to science and imagines all women who don’t breastfeed as lazy, selfish, under the sway of formula companies or lacking “support.”

Seals Allers demonstrates attribution bias by assuring us of her pristine motivations and attributing base motivations to me.

But the facts are indisputable: Babies are dying because lactivists are lying about the instrinsic failure rates of breastfeeding. Healthcare costs are rising because breastfed babies are being readmitted at twice the rate of formula fed babies, suffering from dehydration, hypoglycemia and jaundice. Liability payments are soaring as babies sustain permanent brain injuries or even die as a result of aggressive breastfeeding promotion. The promised saving from breastfeeding promotion have utterly failed to appear.

Seals Allers excuses herself and her colleagues for culpability in these injuries and deaths because their motives were pure.

She apparently can’t imagine that my motives are pure, too. I want to stop the neonatal brain injuries and maternal anguish at inability to breastfeed. And I have no connection to the evil formula industry, which in any case, has nothing to do with the intrinsic failure rate of breastfeeding.

I’m not so sure the motives of Seals Allers and other lactivists are entirely pure; they make money from lactivism and they feel superior for having breastfed. But that doesn’t really matter; if we want to stop these easily preventable injuries and deaths, and well as maternal anguish, lactivists must take responsibility for the fact that they lied and babies died as a result. Most importantly, they need to stop lying!

They may have had the best of motives, but that does not absolve them. Trying to deflect attention by questioning others’ motives doesn’t absolve them, either.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Moral certainty can be used to justify the harm done by failing policies and actions. Those with good intentions believe their practices are good for the group; it is self-evident to them. They justify collateral damage in the belief they do a greater good.

I don’t doubt that your intentions were good, Ms. Seals Allers, despite the harm that has occurred as a result. Please give feeding safety advocates like me the credit for the same pure motivations you give to yourself.

31 Responses to “Lactivism and fundamental attribution error”

  1. StephanieJR
    June 16, 2018 at 9:21 am #

    Fuck the biological norm.

    • Abi
      June 16, 2018 at 1:07 pm #

      Can I get a tattoo with that please?

      • Roadstergal
        June 16, 2018 at 6:15 pm #

        How unnatural! (Therefore, yes.)

    • Mimc
      June 16, 2018 at 2:37 pm #

      Also it’s not a choice if there is only one option deemed acceptable.

  2. mabelcruet
    June 16, 2018 at 7:23 am #

    Why are lactivists so rude when it comes to discussion? They always seem to go for personal insults and name-calling-from what I can see, Kimberley Seals Allers is a award winning journalist, a professional woman with a prominent online presence. So why is she making juvenile and puerile puns about ‘ASSumptions’ and sneering at professional qualifications (“NonPractising”). It’s rude, its unprofessional and it immediately makes me think that someone using that sort of argument isn’t worth engaging with because she can’t behave like a mature adult. It totally negates any value that her argument may have.

    • JDM
      June 16, 2018 at 3:37 pm #

      What options do they have?
      1) accept the facts (destroys their argument)
      2) apologize for their behavior, hurting infants and shaming women (destroys their self-image)

      So they go with Option 3.

    • Roadstergal
      June 16, 2018 at 6:17 pm #

      Not to mention, she gets the saying wrong! It’s supposed to be “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me,” which is a: an actual pun and b: notes that it goes both ways.

      The Long Kiss Goodnight made fun of people who screw that one up, decades ago…

  3. Megan
    June 16, 2018 at 6:24 am #

    OT but could use some advice: Did anyone move their babies to their own room at a young age (or start them there)? My 1 month old is starting to lengthen his chunks of sleep but he is a very noisy sleeper and I find he often wakes me when I think he’s waking up but really he’s not. I’m sure I have inadvertently woken him too because I thought he was awake but he really wasn’t. Anyway, this unnecessary broken sleep is worsening my PPD symptoms so we are thinking about moving him to his own room now. (He’s currently in a bassinet in our room.) I also thought it might help protect his sleep since he has two loud older sisters who don’t let him nap well during the day and usually snuggle with us when they wake up (and are still loud then-they only have one volume!) I know the AAP recommends room sharing but I never thought that evidence seemed all that great. Thoughts?

    • June 16, 2018 at 7:53 am #

      Go for it. I agree about the room-sharing recommendation being weakly supported. Baby 1 got kicked out at 6 weeks, Baby 2 at 2 months, Baby 3 at 3 months–basically, whenever feeding frequency decreased enough that I wasn’t trooping constantly over to the kid.

    • AnnaPDE
      June 16, 2018 at 10:38 am #

      Try it — a bassinet is quick to move, and if you don’t like it for some reason you can just bring it back the next morning. (Or that night, if you really hate it.)
      I had LO in our room until 8 months, or rather we were in his after a house renovation/extension, and then we moved out. He had a horrible tantrum the first day (not night), but it definitely helped with longer sleeps.

    • Kelly
      June 16, 2018 at 12:05 pm #

      I room shared with my first for two weeks before we kicked her to her own room. Neither my husband or I could handle the constant noises or interruption every time she needed to feed. Our other two went straight to their own room and I intend on doing the same for this next one in four months. I just use a monitor and keep our doors open so we can hear them. Sleep is crucial to both of us and so we made the decision that was best for us.

    • demodocus
      June 16, 2018 at 5:25 pm #

      Honestly, I don’t even remember when we quit room sharing with either kid. You have several sensible reasons to give boyo his own space, so why not? It wouldn’t be the first time AAP recommendations weren’t ideal for a particular family.

    • seenthelight
      June 18, 2018 at 11:35 am #

      I think immediate separate rooms are just fine, especially if you’re doing the other safe-sleep practices, like using a ceiling fan, no loose blankets, no toys in the crib, etc.

  4. PeggySue
    June 15, 2018 at 5:57 pm #

    At least marginally relevant–the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs has cared for now 200 giraffe calves. The 200th, who has been named Penny, has had veterinary problems that have required separation from the mother at least temporarily, and establishment of bottle feeding. You would not be surprised to note that lactivism extends to giraffes, as numerous would-be experts have commented on the zoo’s live feeds that she won’t be nourished AT ALL unless she gets mother’s milk, have recommended raw milk (she’s currently feeding on cow’s milk from the grocery store, and people have expressed horror at “all the chemicals,” to say nothing of “the nutritious parts being removed.”) Some have insisted the zoo at least find a way to apply a breast pump to Mom. Baby couldn’t nurse because she was too weak to stand, and she splayed whenever mom even brushed her in moving around, so… I see a baby who would have died in the wild, who is now getting nutrition and gaining strength, and there are only 10,000 of her species left in the wild, so that seems like a good thing to me, especially since she is cute as a button. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has a strong commitment to allowing animals to be animals, all training is voluntary, they won’t force Mom to stand still or to remain in an uncomfortable position to facilitate nursing, nor will they place baby in danger of further injury just for the magic breast, if she can be nourished otherwise. I wish zoos weren’t necessary but I am sure rooting for little Penny, “chemicals” be damned.

    • rox123
      June 15, 2018 at 7:31 pm #

      Holleee shit! Some people be crazy! Anything but the best is terrible according to crazies.

      • PeggySue
        June 16, 2018 at 10:08 pm #

        Meanwhile, little or not-so-little Penny is feeding nicely and gaining strength. She is able to get up and down on her own and looks much brighter–checking out her carers and her surroundings with great interest. Must be all the chemicals in that pasteurized milk. She is so cute!

    • mabelcruet
      June 16, 2018 at 7:32 am #

      Poor baby-I hope she’s on her feet soon. I wonder if other mammals suffer from IGT like humans do?

      • PeggySue
        June 16, 2018 at 10:04 pm #

        I don’t know that the mother has a problem–and that’s an interesting question.

    • Roadstergal
      June 16, 2018 at 6:21 pm #

      Put that baby giraffe in hard vacuum! :p :p

      • PeggySue
        June 16, 2018 at 10:03 pm #

        I am trying to imagine a breast pump for the mother. For one thing, they have four teats.

        • rox123
          June 17, 2018 at 8:06 am #

          Maybe one of those things they use for cows in dairy farms?

          • PeggySue
            June 17, 2018 at 3:10 pm #

            Udder is quite differently shaped, also mom would have to be trained to stand still and accept the device, which would take time. Could take lots of time!

          • momofone
            June 17, 2018 at 3:28 pm #

            Well, if she really loves her baby….

    • WonderWoman
      June 17, 2018 at 3:51 am #

      A lactivist in my country routinely shares videos of animals feeding their young and all the comments below are like: “And no one is telling this gorilla mum that she has insufficient breastmilk!”, “See? No bottle needed!”, etc. It is to suggest that in animal world breastfeeding is perfect and would be perfect for people if it wasn’t for the evil doctors and formula companies. (and all the readers marvel at the beauty of feeding in nature, although I would personally feel offended to be compared to gorillas and told to take example)

      • PeggySue
        June 17, 2018 at 3:09 pm #

        Those who have worked on farms can tell us how perfect breastfeeding is… Also those who have cared for cats or dogs with babies.

        • Charybdis
          June 17, 2018 at 7:52 pm #

          Mel has shared a lot of information about dairy cows….and they ARE bred specifically for their milk production, but they have a 10-15 % (if I remember correctly) failure rate.

    • lawyer jane
      June 18, 2018 at 12:20 pm #

      So colostrum is actually much more crucial for ruminants (including giraffes) than humans! That’s because ruminant newborns get ALL their passive immunity through colostrum; whereas human babies get passive immunity through the placenta as well. To me, this suggests an evolutionary mechanism that actually makes breastfeeding humans LESS important and therefore improving survival … I would be interesting to research how this differs among different human populations, though. I think I’ve read somewhere that human colostrum from less advantaged/higher disease settings is richer in antibodies and thus more protective of the newborns.

      • Young CC Prof
        June 22, 2018 at 9:36 am #

        This is why cow colostrum is commercially available, to keep calves alive when their mothers can’t figure out how. After a few days, the calf can be weaned on to milk replacer, far less expensive. With critters like giraffes, who are not about to just stand there and be milked, if nursing can’t be initiated, it’s actually easier to just give the baby a plasma transfusion from another captive giraffe!

    • Madtowngirl
      June 18, 2018 at 12:54 pm #

      I find the suggestion of pumping the mother giraffe’s milk a shining example of how ridiculous nature worship has gotten. In “nature,” mother animals don’t go to extreme lengths to nurse their young, the young either figure it out or die.

      We have perfectly adequate interventions, such as cow milk, and in the human case, formula. And you’re absolutely right, it’s a lot better than just letting her die when the species is dwindling. Quite frankly, I see it as an obligation to keep the baby alive (but I’m also a bit nutty when it comes to human obligation toward threatened/endangered species). Not to mention, the ethics of “milking” an animal that is not trained to be milked….

      • Sarah
        June 18, 2018 at 2:51 pm #

        Yes, that sounds like it could be extremely unpleasant for the giraffe. And what are they going to do if she doesn’t want to, chain her up?

  5. June 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm #

    At first I wondered if Seals-Aller was British or Canadian and if “rowsing” was a variant of “rousing”.

    Then I realized she works in Detroit and Philadelphia so she’s probably from the US.

    But I’m a bit confused how she works concurrently in Detroit and Philadelphia since those cities are not close to each other at all.

    And major cities aren’t the only places where working moms need to use formula. Heck, even in Michigan, Detroit is suffering – but there are a lot of middle size cities (like Flint), rural poverty (most of the state north of Cadillac), or urban planned racially segregated areas (Muskegon Heights) that are in a world of hurt.

    I assume most states have issues in certain areas of the state so name dropping areas of work is wonderfully naive.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.