New US breastfeeding policy, adopted for the wrong reasons, will almost certainly save lives


To my shock I find myself agreeing with something done by the Trump administration.

According to today’s New York Times:

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly…

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

The lactivist community is outraged, but the new US policy — nakedly designed to benefit the formula industry — will almost certainly save the brain function and lives of newborns. Why? Three reasons:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Even had the purported benefits of breastfeeding appeared, they would not have justified the pressure on women; but those benefits never appeared. [/pullquote]

1. Most claims of lactation professionals have been thoroughly DEBUNKED by scientific evidence.
2. There is NO EVIDENCE that breastfeeding is correlated with infant health outcomes.
3. There is a significant and growing body of evidence that the pressure to exclusively breastfeed HARMS babies. It doubles the risk of newborn hospital readmission and increases the risk of neonatal brain injury and death from dehydration, severe jaundice, hypoglycemia, and smothering in or falling from maternal hospital beds.

Sadly, it is lactation professionals themselves who are responsible for this dismal state of affairs. By grossly over promising on the benefits of breastfeeding, by utterly ignoring the substantial risks, and by disingenuously and irresponsibly extrapolating from the impact of contaminated water used to make formula in underdeveloped countries to demonizing formula instead of contaminated water.

Lactation professionals have given the Trump administration moral cover for what is undoubtedly a business decision.

According to the spokesman for the US Department of Health and Human Services:

The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman said in an email. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.”

That’s 100% correct because WHO breastfeeding resolutions since 1981 have been designed to benefit the lactation industry, not babies. The point of these resolutions has been to place unnecessary — and increasingly ugly — hurdles in front of women who wish to use formula: banning formula supplementation, locking up formula in hospitals, forcing women to sign formula “contracts,” banning formula advertising and banning the use of discount coupons to purchase formula.

These ugly hurdles violate mothers’ autonomy; women have the absolute right to decide whether or not they wish to use their breasts to feed their infants. Even had the purported benefits appeared, they would never have justified the inappropriate pressure on women. But those benefits never appeared:

There is no connection between country-wide breastfeeding rates and infant outcome. The countries with the lowest breastfeeding rates (like the UK which is the absolute lowest) have some of the best infant health outcomes and the countries with the worst rates of infant mortality and morbidity have the highest rates of breastfeeding.

To my knowledge — please correct me if you have other information — there is no evidence that increasing breastfeeding rates within a country has EVER had any impact in term babies or overall morbidity and mortality rates.

That’s hardly surprising since the campaign to promote breastfeeding is based on an empirical lie. In truth: Breast is NOT best for every mother and every baby since breastfeeding has a significant failure rate.

Up to 15% of first time mothers will be unable to produce enough breastmilk especially in the early days after birth. Breastfeeding — like fertility and pregnancy — is imperfect.

This was well known to our ancient foremothers. Contrary to the current pressure to breastfeed exclusively, indigenous people on nearly every continent practice prelacteal feeding and supplementation. The high rate of death from insufficient breastmilk led to the supplementation of breastfeeding with teas, water and honey. Sadly, those had their own drawbacks because of microbial contamination but the practice has been widespread for probably tens of thousands of years or more. The risk of death from insufficient breastmilk was greater than the risk of death from microbial contamination of supplements.

Lactation professionals have also promoted the empirical lie that formula is harmful. More than 40 years after the fact they continue to point to the moral horror perpetrated in Africa by Nestle. In order to increase profits, Nestle deliberately and knowingly encouraged African women who lacked access to clean water to replace breastmilk with powdered formula. Babies died needless, preventable deaths as a result. Lactational professionals use the moral debacle to demonize formula even though it was the water that was unsafe, not the formula. There is NO EVIDENCE that formula — properly prepared with clean water — is harmful in any way.

No matter. Try having a conversation with lactivists and you will immediately run into (the newly named by me) Tuteur’s Law of Breastfeeding Discussion. The well known Godwin’s Law asserts:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.

In other words, if any online discussion goes on long enough, someone will inevitably be compared to Hilter.

Tuteur’s Law of Breastfeeding Discussion asserts:

In any online (or print) lactivist discussion of formula, the probability of the invocation of Nestle’s abhorrent behavior approaches 1.

In other words, in any discussion of formula, those noting the inherent risks and limitations of breastfeeding will inevitably be compared to Nestle.

Just as the invocation of Hitler in Godwin’s law is designed to derail the discussion, the invocation of Nestle in Tuteur’s law is also designed to put an end to any discussion that might ultimately reveal the risks of exclusive breastfeeding.

In truth, Big Formula is no different from Big Pharma; both have behaved immorally in the past. But just as Big Pharma’s immoral behavior doesn’t invalidate the tremendous life saving powers of vaccines, statins, antihypertensives, anti-depressive and anti-psychotic medications, the immoral behavior of Big Formula doesn’t change the fact that formula has saved and continues to save the lives of more babies than breastfeeding ever could.

Once again the Trump administration is wrong, but this time they might save lives in spite of themselves. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.