Maureen Minchin uses 6000 words to say “no,” she can’t show the benefits of breastfeeding are real

Vector realistic isolated neon sign of No logo for decoration and covering on the wall background.

Those who are following the debate between Maureen Minchin and myself may recall that in my response to her opening statement I noted:

  • The widely touted benefits of breastfeeding are based on extrapolations of small studies riddled with confounders.
  • The impact of increased breastfeeding rates predicted by lactation researchers have failed to occur.
  • There has been no measurable impact on mortality of term babies or anything else.
  • That’s in direct contrast to the benefits for extremely premature babies where increased use of breastmilk has led to a decreased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis and death.

Does Maureen even realize she has conceded?

I pointed out that Maureen, despite putting a lot of words on paper, had not demonstrated that breastfeeding had saved any term babies’ lives, prevented any diseases or saved any money. I asked once again if Maureen could find any real world, population based evidence that breastfeeding has the benefits claimed.

You can find her bizarre, meandering response on her website.

I read it so you don’t have to.

Maureen Minchin uses 6000 words (??!!) to say “no,” she can’t show that the benefits of breastfeeding are real or clinically relevant.

She couldn’t show evidence of lives saved. She couldn’t show evidence of disease incidence reduced. She couldn’t show evidence of money saved, either.

Moreover, she admitted why there is such a massive disjunction between benefits claimed and benefits realized.

About 4000 words in, she first quotes me:

What won’t answer the questions? The statements of authority figures or organizations, scientific citations of studies that found effects in small groups, the naturalistic fallacy (“if it’s natural it must be good”), personal beliefs and personal anecdotes, mathematical models based on extrapolation of small studies.

Then responds:

…Out goes all infant formula research, which often consists of groups of 40-100 children at most. There goes our beliefs about how food works in bodies, which are based heavily on animal studies -as I said, pigs and rats for formula.

Thank you for admitting that, Maureen. The widely touted benefits of breastfeeding are based on small studies with tiny sample sizes and animal studies. I’m not sure she even realizes that she has conceded my point.

She then goes on to say:

How did scientists and society find out about smoking causing cancer? individual case histories, small studies, animal experiments, mathematical models, basic biology which suggested that lungs clear of tar might work better (but that’s the naturalistic fallacy) – all played a role.

But scientists were spurred to investigate the link between cigarettes and smoking because of clinical evidence — real world, population based data; the incidence of lung cancer was rising and people who smoked had a much higher risk of lung cancer than those who didn’t. In the intervening 55 years since the publication of the Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and lung cancer, the predictions made have come true. Physicians and scientists predicted that the rate of lung cancer would drop if fewer people smoked. That’s exactly what happened.

That’s a stark contrast with breastfeeding. Nearly all of the predictions made by smoking researchers have come to pass, nearly none of the predictions made by breastfeeding researchers have come true.

The bottom line is that Maureen has acknowledged that she can’t show that the benefits of breastfeeding aren’t real or clinically relevant. That’s not surprising. Over the years I’ve asked real breastfeeding researchers from Melissa Bartick to Amy Brown to Jack Newman to demonstrate that the benefits of breastfeeding are real. They haven’t been able to do it, either.

The only remaining question is whether anyone should continue to believe that the benefits of breastfeeding are real when its strongest proponents CAN’T show that increased breastfeeding rates have had a meaningful impact on the health of term babies.

  • mabelcruet

    You mean wishful thinking isn’t evidence? Well I’ll be….

  • CanDoc

    Whoa… she is seriously delusional. But probably not… probably she’s just desperately wanting to protect her niche and livelihood and sell books. I get that, if I had just written a book based on my late-night hypothetical musings and was trying to sell it as fact, I probably wouldn’t take kindly to someone poking holes in all my arguments, either.
    Bizarrely, she doesn’t link to your responses at all.
    Moron. But a dangerous moron because she’s a credentialed and respected author.

  • Sarah

    You did well ploughing through that. I decided to stick knitting needles in my eyes instead after the first few paragraphs.

  • Mel

    I’m amused by the fact that Minchin lays out all sorts of good scientific methodology – and then ignores the fact that one of the overarching themes in case studies, animal models, small studies, mathematical models and structural modeling of organs is that confounders matter.

    To point out the obvious, the link between smoking and lung cancer is a hell of a lot clearer in societies where few people are exposed regularly to unventilated or inadequately ventilated cooking or heating fires that gum up people’s lungs with all sorts of carcinogenic chemicals.

    Speaking of those animal studies, if formula is so destructive to immunological systems of mammals, that data should have shown up years ago in cattle industry studies. Cattle calves are born with no antibodies that cross over the placenta; they are an immunological blank slate. And sure enough, they do better if they receive bovine colostrum within 8 hours after birth to get those important antibodies. After that? No difference between calves raised on a dam and calves raised on formula.

  • Bee

    If there was great evidence to support breast feeding her reply would be as short and simple as yours. She’d be able to say “just look at study a) it had 1000 people and showed x, y and z benefit. Then there’s study b), it had 5000 people and showed v, x and y. And lastly there’s study c) that had 20000 people. In that study it showed benefits r,s,t,u,v,x,y and z, in fact in that study breast feeding was massively better in every outcome they looked at.” The fact these studies aren’t at her fingertips says they don’t exist. So they either need to be done or have been done and shown no statistical difference between bf and formula fed.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Exactly!

  • Cartman36

    Maureen and her followers don’t seem to get that, as attributed to Einstein although I can’t find a reputable source, if you can’t explain it to a 6 year old, you don’t understand it yourself. Everything that I have read written by MM (which is too much I might add) is made to sounds science-y but really is just a bunch of ramblings from a woman who needs a hobby. On the other hand, Joan Wolf’s book “Is Breast Best?” is a little dry and reminded me of a text book, but I can certainly summarize it to a point that my 5 year old would understand it.

    It honestly just embarrassing from MM and her followers. They think they make these great points but anyone who has actually worked in science or academia is left thinking “that’s not how any of this works”.

    • Sarah

      We’re dealing with lactivists here, you don’t need a reputable source. If anything it’s a disadvantage.