Lactivists lying to women “for their own good”

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Dr. Gabrielle Colleran, why are you lying to women about breastfeeding?

According to attendees at a recent meeting of La Leche League Ireland, you claimed — falsely — that women who give birth but don’t breastfeed have a 4X increased risk of heart attack. The truth is that the scientific literature shows NO consistent relationship between breastfeeding and maternal cardiovascular disease.

You apparently claimed — in a remarkably vile and vicious falsehood — that both SIDS and childhood leukemia are twice as common in exclusively formula fed children, adding piously that this is very difficult information for parents.

It’s also a lie.


According to a recent comprehensive review of the breastfeeding literature, 3,500 mothers would need to breastfeed 3,500 babies to prevent one SIDS death. Moreover, pacifiers are MORE protective against SIDS than breastfeeding!

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Dr. Colleran, apologize and set the record straight. That’s the ethical thing to do![/pullquote]

The same review cautions that the association between breastfeeding and childhood leukemia is NOT firmly established and even if it were, 12,500 women would have to breastfeed 12,500 babies for more than 6 months to prevent one CASE.

I might have thought that the conference attendee was exaggerating or misunderstood the utterly false claims, but then I saw with my own eyes on the LLL Ireland Facebook page a snippet of video from your talk in which you claim, brazenly and falsely, that giving babies formula often leads to allergies. I shared the LLL Ireland post on my Facebook page and — surprise! — LLL Ireland deleted it.

Dr. Colleran, multiple people have asked you on Twitter to provide scientific references for your claims. As far as I can determine, you blocked each and every one of them. You blocked me even before I asked you.

I can’t imagine clearer sign that you KNOW your claims were lies than the fact that you block anyone who asks for proof and that LLL Ireland deleted the video evidence.

Dr. Colleran, we in medicine have a long and sordid history of lying to patients “for their own good.” As recently as the 1960’s doctors told cancer patients with a straight face and a clear conscience that they did not have cancer. Had those doctors been asked, they almost certainly would have justified their behavior by pointing out that patients given a cancer diagnosis often lost hope; it would be better for them to believe they had a less serious illness while the doctors treated them with chemotherapy without their consent.

This is paternalism.

Dr. Colleran, I know you are a pediatric radiologist, but I can tell you that we in obstetrics have a disturbing history of lying to patients “for the good of the baby.” While the current distrust of obstetricians by some patients has been assiduously fanned by midwives, doulas and natural childbirth experts, it could never have taken hold if obstetricians hadn’t already abused the trust of some patients. Natural childbirth advocates contemptuously refer to such behavior as “playing the dead baby card.” Even though it happens much less often than natural childbirth advocates believe, it does happen.

This is yet another, even less justified, form of paternalism.

Women have been in the forefront of holding doctors to account for paternalism. Some of the most well known legal cases that created informed consent law were brought by women. Furthermore, the natural childbirth movement itself was critical in changing paternalistic hospital practices around childbirth, empowering women as consumers of healthcare to whom hospitals and doctors now market medical services.

I doubt that they fought so aggressively against doctors lying to them “for their own good” so that lactation professionals could take up where other doctors left off — lying to women about the “risks” of not breastfeeding and the “risks” of infant formula.

Dr. Colleran, I suspect that you think you can hide from me and I will give up and go away. You don’t know me very well.

You owe new mothers clarification of and references for your outrageous claims. And if you can’t find references for your claims — because you know they don’t exist — you owe an apology to the attendees of the conference for misleading them. They believed you because you are a doctor. If you lied to them, they will take those lies and repeat them to patients “for their own good.” Both mothers and babies will be harmed.

You also owe an apology to new mothers, many of whom struggle with breastfeeding precisely because people like you apply tremendous pressure with fabricated claims of “benefits” of breastfeeding and “risks” of formula. No doubt you believe you are doing it “for their own good” or “for the good of the baby.”

But just as that doesn’t absolve doctors of the past for lying to patients, it most certainly doesn’t absolve you.

Dr. Colleran, apologize and set the record straight. That’s the ethical thing to do!