There was a time when all babies were breastfed; how did that work out?


Lactivists are fond of logical fallacies and their favorite is the naturalistic fallacy.

According to Logically Fallacious:

When the conclusion expresses what ought to be, based only on actually what is more natural. This is very common, and most people never see the problem with these kinds of assertions due to accepted social and moral norms. This bypasses reason and we fail to ask why something that is, ought to be that way.

Jennifer Grayson, writing in HuffPo, adores the naturalistic fallacy:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]If our goal is to ensure maximum survival of children, it is both foolish and ahistorical to pretend that breastfeeding holds the key.[/pullquote]

Breast is best? Prove it! the media shouts with every study, unraveling a stream of headlines like “Should I Breastfeed My Baby to Make Him or Her Smarter?” Such headlines, unfortunately, trivialize the depth or greater context of the real science, or else misrepresent it altogether. The unthinking substitution of formula for breast milk is virtually as if, during the past century, we had decided to swap out the blood supply in our bodies, to replace it with an artificial blood substitute — and then demanded that the people who support real blood prove that it really worked better than the manufactured alternate.

In Grayson’s version of the naturalistic fallacy, breast must be best because it’s natural.

But the naturalistic fallacy isn’t a logical argument; it’s the absence of a logical argument and if you think about breastfeeding for anything more than 30 seconds you will recognize that.

There was a time when all babies were breastfed and in that time gone by child mortality rates were hideous. It is estimated that under 5 mortality in ancient times ranged from 1:3 to 1:2. Nearly HALF of all children did not survive beyond age 5.

But how can that be if we’re still here?

Easily, as this paper on population dynamics explains:

Over the long haul of pre-recorded history,the human population survived,but grew very slowly, with an average annual growth rate of less than one per thousand… Over the long haul, births and deaths have to have been in very close balance, and the net reproduction rate (the number of females surviving in the next generation to replace the mothers of this generation) must have averaged very slightly over 1.0… Thus the requirements of population dynamics indicate that, over the long haul of prehistory, the probability of dying by age five for females was probably no lower than 440 per thousand live births.

This pattern has persisted until the past century:

Since the beginning of the age of the Enlightenment and over the course of modernization, the mortality of children below 5 years of age has declined rapidly. Child mortality in rich countries today is much lower than 1%. This is a very recent development and was only reached after a hundredfold decline in child mortality in these countries. In early-modern times, child mortality was very high; in 18th century Sweden every third child died, and in 19th century Germany every second child died. With declining poverty and increasing knowledge and service in the health sector, child mortality around the world is declining very rapidly: Global child mortality fell from 18.2% in 1960 to 4.3% in 2015 …

Big countries like Brazil and China reduced their child mortality rates 10-fold over the last 4 decades. Other countries – especially in Africa – still have high child mortality rates, but it’s not true that these countries are not making progress. In Sub-Saharan Africa, child mortality has been continuously falling for the last 50 years (1 in 4 children died in the early 60s – today it is less than 1 in 10). Over the last decade this improvement has been happening faster than ever before. Rising prosperity, rising education and the spread of health care around the globe are the major drivers of this progress.

Indeed, in 2016, the countries around the world with the highest breastfeeding rates have the HIGHEST rates of childhood mortality.

For most of human history, breast wasn’t particularly good or healthy at all. It may have been better than the contemporaneous alternatives, but it was far, far worse than what we have today with easy access to infant formula, clean water and healthcare.

Fallacious assertions like Grayson’s are based on profound ignorance of prehistory. Life in nature was not a paradise; it was hellacious. Therefore, if our goal is to ensure maximum survival of children, it is foolish to pretend that breastfeeding holds the key, or even has any particular benefits.

Grayson is nothing if not ignorant about the scientific evidence:

Four generations of human beings have now been reared on infant formula, and millions upon millions of people would attest that they’re fine. But maybe we should stop talking about the benefits of breastfeeding and instead start considering the risks of not breastfeeding, since I’m certainly not fine. Are you fine? Are we — an overweight nation of chronically ill, medicine-dependent formula feeders — fine?

In prehistory, human life expectancy was 35 years. After the technological discoveries of clean water and sanitation systems, (but prior to the advent of infant formula) human life expectancy reached 48 years. In the US today life expectancy is approximately 80 years. What accounts for the difference? The very lifestyle and medications that Grayson unthinkingly derides.

Grayson commits another logical fallacy beloved of lactivists, confusing correlation for causation.

The reason was are a “nation of chronically ill, medicine-dependent” individuals is because so many of us live to be far older than we ever would in nature. Indeed, the prevalence of chronic illness is a sign of SUCCESS, not failure, but Grayson doesn’t have a clue.

Grayson’s “argument” is the intellectual equivalent of claiming that life before sewer systems was “best” because 1. that’s what nature intended and 2. sewer systems are responsible for the current rate of chronic illness and medication dependence.

Grayson concludes with a flourish of stupidity:

In the epidemic of our nation’s ill health, what if we are overlooking an utterly simple piece of the puzzle — that what and the way we feed our young, radically altered for the first time in human history, has played a role?

We AREN’T experiencing an epidemic of ill health; we are enjoying the BEST health of the entirety of human history! The rise in formula feeding has been accompanied by a dramatic INCREASE in health, not a decrease.

There was a time when all babies were breastfed … and they died in droves. Too bad Grayson seems utterly clueless about that reality.