Natural parenting isn’t based on science but on romanticism


The central conceit of natural parenting is that it is based on science. Nothing could be further from the truth. Natural parenting does not seek validity in rationality, but rather in romanticism.

What’s the difference?

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Those who do not remember the past have condemned their children to repeat its suffering and death.[/pullquote]

According to philosopher Walter Truett, there are a variety of different ways of understanding the world including:

… the scientific-rational in which truth is “found” through methodical, disciplined inquiry

in contrast to:

… the neo-romantic in which truth is found either through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual explorations of the inner self…

The scientific view of parenthood is reflected in modern obstetrics, pediatrics, and immunology among other fields. It is predicated on the idea that nature is amoral (“bloody in tooth and claw”), as well as the easily verifiable scientific facts that childbirth is inherently dangerous, breastfeeding has only limited benefits, and vaccines are the biggest life-savers of children.

Natural parenting is a rejection of rationality in favor of a past that never existed:

Neo-romantics reject both the postmodern and the modern, and long for a fantasizes golden era before the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment.

Both scientific and historical fact tell us that childbirth is dangerous, and was only made safe by technology. Romanticism fantasizes that childbirth was safe in the past, and technology has made it dangerous.

Scientific fact and historical fact tell us that exclusive breastfeeding has a high death rate that can only be prevented with infant formula. Romanticism fantasizes that breastfeeding saves lives and formula kills.

Scientific and historical fact tell us that vaccines are one of the greatest public health advancements of all time. Romanticism ignores the dead and their potential descendants and fantasizes that because survivors of infectious scourges are “still here” vaccines are unnecessary.

Why have we experience a resurgence of romanticism in the face of incontrovertible evidence that nature is often deadly?

The growth of the neo-romantic culture in recent years has been nothing short of spectacular. It obviously expresses … a deep disaffection for modern civilization… It has most of the features of earlier romanticism — the reverence for nature, the personal-development preoccupation bordering on narcissism, the mystique of the noble savage — but these appear in much updated forms: environmentalism, spirituality, movies such as Dances With Wolves.

  • Hence the narcissism of promoting the mother’s birth experience above the child’s safety, the mother’s “breastfeeding journey” above the child’s health, and the narcissistic fantasy of being “educated” about vaccines.
  • Hence the insistence that childbirth is traditionally deeply spiritual and labor pain has been a source of empowerment when it was never either in the past.
  • Hence the veneration of “normal” birth.
  • Hence the wannabe birth “goddesses” who chant affirmations and refuse medical care.
  • Hence the mystical faith in breastmilk to treat and prevent every illness known.
  • Hence the fantasy that native peoples eat the placenta despite the fact placentophagy was first described in California in the 1980’s.
  • Hence the notion that food is “medicine” and you can “strengthen” your immune system by eating right.

Contrary to the claims of natural parenting advocates, these are not supported by scientific evidence, but rather reflect a desperate desire to romanticize the past as being somehow preferable to the technological present.

Natural parenting is firmly backward looking yet the past it looks back toward never actually existed anywhere but in the mind of natural parenting advocates. Sadly it recapitulates the past that truly did exist: preventable deaths at homebirth, babies starving due to insufficient breastmilk, children dying of infectious disease for lack of vaccination and women forced back into traditional gender roles.

Natural parenting isn’t merely unscientific; it is ahistorical.

To paraphrase George Santayana: natural parenting advocates who do not remember the past condemn their children to repeat its suffering and death.

And the ultimate irony is that they are proud of themselves for doing so.