Breastfeeding professionals admit they were wrong. When will they apologize for the suffering they caused?

Newborn and hand

It has happened again.

Another major breastfeeding professional has been forced to acknowledge what I have been writing about for more than a decade: breastfeeding has a significant failure rate!

Indeed, the language Dr. Alison Stuebe uses almost perfectly mirrors what I have written repeatedly in the past.

On breastfeeding, I told you so!

In Breastfeeding, Like Every Other Organ System, Is Not Invincible, Dr. Stuebe finally admits it:

As physicians, we should not be surprised that the breast is not invincible. After all, there are >1 million children and young adults worldwide with type 1 diabetes—if pancreatic islet cells can fail, why would lactocytes be invulnerable? …

I have repeatedly used the example of the pancreas and diabetes to illustrate why claims of the “perfection” of breastfeeding must be wrong, why insufficient milk supply is not “misperceived” and why the recommended treatments (like brutal pumping regimens) often don’t work.

Dr. Stuebe admits that the need for supplementation is so common that it was described in some of the first extant works of writing produced nearly four thousands years ago.

Throughout human history, if a mother was not able to produce enough milk, she could turn to another lactating woman in her community for help. Wet nursing is referenced in the Law Code of Hammurabi, and one of the earliest medical encyclopedias, The Papyrus Ebers, includes a prescription for lactation failure.

Dr. Stuebe acknowledges that aggressive breastfeeding promotion is causing major health problems:

That is a significant public health problem, because more families than ever are following evidence-based recommendations to breastfeeding exclusively. In the past half century, breastfeeding initiation rates in the United States have climbed from a nadir of 22% in 1972 to 84% in 2016. Nearly half of infants are exclusively breastfed through the first 3 months of life.

When mothers are encouraged to breastfeed exclusively even though a significant proportion of women are physically incapable of producing enough breastmilk, babies suffer major health problems and risk disability and death.

Referring to a comprehensive review I wrote about last month, Stuebe notes:

… [W]e synthesize evidence published over the past 10 years regarding early infant feeding and growth, as well as management of hypoglycemia and hyperbilirubinemia. We further integrate recommendations for maternal and infant risk factors and management, recognizing that breastfeeding is a two-person organ system; evaluation and management require a dyadic approach.

She is referring to the just published Evidence-Based Updates on the First Week of Exclusive Breastfeeding Among Infants ≥ 35 Weeks.

As I noted:

Breastfeeding researchers admitted that everything the Fed Is Best Foundation and I have been writing for years is true:

-Insufficient breastmilk is common
-Serious, life threatening dehydration can result
-Wet diapers are NOT a reliable indicator of hydration status
-Insufficient breastmilk is not “misperceived”
-Low blood sugar can threaten babies’ brain function
-Serious, life threatening jaundice can result from insufficient breastmilk
-Judicious formula supplementation does not harm breastfeeding
-Pacifiers bans have no basis in science
-The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative has led to babies harmed by falling from or being smothered in mothers‘ hospital beds

There’s only one glaring omission from the paper: an apology to the Fed Is Best Foundation and myself. We’ve been desperately trying to gain attention for the tens of thousands of babies who suffer and are re-hospitalized each year because breastfeeding professionals such as Dr. Stuebe refused to admit that breastfeeding — like every other organ system — has a significant failure rate.

Had they admitted the obvious in 2010 instead of in 2020, Dr. Christie del Castillo—Hegyi’s son might not have suffered a permanent brain injury as a result of insufficient breastmilk. Jillian Johnson’s son Landon would almost certainly still be alive, not a victim of neonatal hypernatremic dehydration.

I wonder when it will finally occur to breastfeeding professionals that they have caused untold suffering for babies and mothers. Maybe then they will feel remorse.

  • Ruth D

    In the UK, one of the most prominent antenatal organisations NCT’s breastfeeding training as part of their signature package for expecting couples, spent ooh 80% time on what a good latch looked like (complete with fuzzy knitted boob), and zero time addressing potential issues we might have, e.g. delayed or low milk production, how to mixed feed, how/when to pump, what if your nipples bleed, what if your baby loses too much weight, what if you have PCOS. Midwives in hospital and during home visits were the same. Consequently there are very few people I know who didn’t have unexpected issues. I get NCT/NHS want to encourage breastfeeding, but pretending it’s all going to be fine seems like it’s more of a ‘marketing’ push and we are being sold to. Caveat emptor – buyer beware! Just treat me like an adult and give me the facts!

    • Anna

      Whats up with those bloody manky knitted boobs? My boobs aren’t spherical – or knitted.

  • sleigh

    Over-educated arrogance has nothing to do with error, medical malpractice, legal malpractice, or commercial abuse by professional PRACTICEioners, and their “associates.”