My hope for 2019: we recognize the harm we are doing to mothers and babies by promoting the “natural”

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Why do good mothers feel so bad?

Because in the guise of doing what’s “best” for them, we are harming women and their babies with the dominant parenting ideology of natural mothering.

How do I know? Because for decades, I have served as a witness. First as a practicing obstetrician and then as blogger, I have been present literally and figuratively as women cried their hearts out over the many ways they are supposedly failing the infants and children they love so desperately.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Mothers should trust themselves … and be kinder to themselves.[/pullquote]

Our views on mothering have changed dramatically in the past 70 years. It’s easy to see when you compare the advice of the legendary Dr. Benjamin Spock, author of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare, to the advice natural parenting experts offer today.

Dr. Spock told new mothers:

Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do.

Natural parenting experts tell new mothers, ‘Don’t trust yourselves, you know nothing until you’ve read my book.’

Dr. Spock said:

The more people have studied different methods of bringing up children the more they have come to the conclusion that what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best after all.

Natural parenting experts say, ‘If you love your baby you’d do exactly what we tell you because that’s what mothers did in nature; otherwise you are a lazy, selfish cow.’

He was remarkably perceptive and forgiving:

All parents do their best job when they have a natural, easy confidence in themselves. Better to make a few mistakes from being natural than to try to do everything letter-perfect out of a feeling of worry.

Natural parenting experts are notably unforgiving. They tell women, If you don’t have an unmedicated vaginal birth, breastfeed for more than a year, and practice attachment parenting, your child will end up obese, illiterate and unhappy and it will be YOUR fault.’

Dr. Spock counseled:

Don’t take too seriously all that the neighbors say. Don’t be overawed by what the experts say. Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense.

Natural parenting experts say, ‘All your friends on Facebook expect you to follow my advice. But ignore what doctors say; they’re all in the pockets of Big Pharma.‘

The result?

While women stake their self-esteem on having an unmedicated vaginal birth and obstetricians obsess endlessly about the C-section rate, poor women of color die in ever increasing numbers for LACK of obstetric interventions.

While new mothers torment themselves in making sure not even a drop of formula is allowed to touch their precious baby’s lips, breastfed babies are being re-admitted to the hospital at double the rate of formula fed babies and brain injures and deaths from dehydration and jaundice are making a shocking comeback.

While women imagine themselves as educated for refusing newborn vitamin K injections, their babies suffer ghastly injuries and deaths from bleeding into the brains.

While women preen over refusing vaccines, their babies die of pertussis as measles and other nearly eradicated infectious diseases return.

While new mothers tell themselves they are responsive and exhaust themselves catering to a child’s every whim, those same children show no evidence that their mental health is improved and considerable evidence that they are less resiliant, less capable of handling disappointment and less able to cope with the demands of adulthood.

So who has benefited?

Natural parenting experts and no one else.

The lactation profession is the paradigmatic example. Prior to the 1990’s if you needed help with breastfeeding, you could consult a La Leche League volunteer. But that was a matter of your discretion; you sought help and support only if you felt you needed it and wanted it. No one was getting paid for providing breastfeeding advice.

Now breastfeeding is a multibillion dollar business with lactation professionals providing breastfeeding advice for money whether you want it or not. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, to my knowledge the only private group that is allowed to operate within hospitals, has forced hospitals to promote breastfeeding and demonize formula feeding, pacifiers and well baby nurseries. They have whipped up hysteria about breastfeeding rates as if breastfeeding rates had anything to do with infant health. Thus far NONE of the claimed benefits of increasing breastfeeding rates has been realized and the only obvious health impact has been making some babies suffer starvation related brain injuries and deaths … and making mothers suffer guilt if they can’t or don’t want to breastfeed.

The ultimate irony is that there is nothing natural about natural mothering.

Can you imagine an indigenous woman refusing pain relief in labor if it were available? That would be unnatural.

Can you imagine a prehistoric foremother refusing a C-section that might save her baby’s life? That would be unnatural.

Can you imagine a woman in a developing country letting her baby die of dehydration just so she could brag to her friends that nothing but breastmilk was allowed to touch her baby’s lips? That would be unnatural.

Can you imagine any mother from any age up to the present one refusing possible protection of her child from hemorrhage or infectious disease? That would be unnatural.

In truth mothers in nature, including many animal mothers, fight fiercely to give their offspring EVERY chance of survival. They also fight fiercely to protect themselves, recognizing that their ability to mother is critical to their baby’s survival.

My hope for 2019 is that we recognize that natural mothering is a cultural construct that has nothing to do with mothering in nature. May both mothers and obstetricians focus on maximizing maternal and child survival. I want to see the demise of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative; it’s only a matter of time before we stop sacrificing newborn brains and lives on the altar of breastfeeding. May anti-vaxxers recognize that they are victims of a massive effort on the part of charlatans to sell worthless services and products.

But most of all my hope for 2019 is a return to the philosophy of Dr. Spock, encouraging mothers to trust themselves and be kinder to themselves. May they stop trying to be letter-perfect in recapitulating an image of mothering in nature that never actually existed and concentrate on simply doing the best they can.