Dr. Jack Newman, professional breastfeeding scold, strikes out

Portion of a red baseball scoreboard that says "Strike Out"

Adam Conover of “Adam Ruins Everything” recently released a video debunking claims about the supposed superiority of breastmilk compared to formula. It hilarious! My favorite line is “Formula has autism in it.”

In the video, Courtney Jung, author of the book Lactivism, pops out of a can of formula to point out that there is clinically no difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding (for term babies). The video has aroused the ire of Dr. Jack Newman, lactation professional and breastfeeding scold. He blasted his outrage on his Facebook page.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]There is no clinically meaningful different between terms babies who are breastfed and those who are bottlefed.[/pullquote]

When a political scientist pops out of a can of formula announcing that formula is just like breastmilk, not surprisingly, many people watching the video are left just as confused as the political scientist, wondering whether it all really makes any difference…

Videos like these are not only full of unscientific and just plain wrong information but they also bring the whole system many steps away from making a real effort to provide efficient help to breastfeeding mothers with breastfeeding problems. Because they confirm what so many in the health care system prefer to believe – that breastfeeding just is not all that important and really not worth the time or effort.

Dr. Newman can’t resist throwing in his sexist views:

and “what about all the hours mothers spend breastfeeding which they could be working outside of home instead?” (forgetting that someone still has to take care of the baby and why would that someone be a better candidate than the baby’s own mother?)

It’s almost as if he thinks fathers and grandparents are substandard caregivers, or that all mothers have the luxury of opting out of the workforce.

Worst of all, in my view, is the gratuitous viciousness in the accompanying blog post:

The act of breastfeeding is different from bottle feeding. Breastfeeding is a close intimate, physical and emotional relationship between two people in love.

Here, let me fix that for you, Dr. Newman: MOTHERING is a close intimate physical and emotional relationship between two people who love each other profoundly. Breasts have nothing to do with it.

Despite Dr. Newman’s vigorous protestations, the truth is that — as Adam Conover set out to show — for term babies there is no clinically meaningful difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding. That’s why I left this comment on his Facebook post.

Dr. Newman, if breastmilk is appreciably different from formula for term infants in industrialized countries, surely you could show us population data that demonstrates a correlation between breastfeeding rates and infant mortality rates. Where is the evidence that breastfeeding has more than trivial benefits in real world populations of term infants (as opposed to extrapolations of small studies riddled by confounders)? I’ve asked other lactation professionals and they can’t find such data, but perhaps you can.

In attempting to address it, Dr. Newman struck out:

Maybe you should read the blog, Dr Tuteur. I didn’t write anything about breastfed babies being healthier. The blog says only that there are ingredients in breastmilk that are not in formula and stuff in formula that shouldn’t be there. It is a response to the outrageous claim of Dr Jung that there is no difference between formula and breastmilk.

I responded:

So you are agreeing with me that there is clinically no significant difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding? That’s important for women to know!

Within the past few hours he wrote back:

No, I am not agreeing with you. I am saying that what I wrote provides clear and scientifically based information that formula is nothing like breastmilk.

Nothing like? Actually, it’s remarkably similar, but that’s not the point. The issue is whether breastmilk provides any clinically meaningful benefits for term babies (it does provide benefits for preterm babies).

My reply:

Since you are unable to provide evidence that breastfeeding rates are correlated with infant mortality, you ARE acknowledging that NO such data exists. There is NO population data that shows that increased breastfeeding rates leads to healthier term babies, let alone data that would be sufficient to prove causation…

I don’t doubt that Dr. Newman, like many professional lactivists, believes fervently that breastfeeding is better for babies. I don’t doubt that he think those benefits justify his sexism (comments about women working outside the home) and his gratuitous viciousness implying that women who breastfeed love their babies in a way that women who bottlefed can’t. As someone who has breastfed four children (whereas he has breastfed none), I can say with certainty that mother love has NOTHING to do with breastfeeding!

When pressed in a public forum, Dr. Newman could provide NO EVIDENCE to support his insistence that breastfeeding is a public health issue. Vaccination is a public health issue and we can demonstrate that a vaccinated population is much less likely to suffer injuries and deaths from vaccine preventable diseases than one that is not. Smoking is a public health issue and we can demonstrate that as smoking rates fall, rates of lung cancer fall, too. Breastfeeding is NOT a public health issue because no one — including Dr. Newman —can demonstrate that breastfeeding rates have any impact on major health indices of term babies.

The truth articulated by Courtney Jung in her book and in the “Adam Ruins Everything” video is that there is NO CLINICALLY MEANINGFUL difference between term babies who are breastfed and those who are bottlefed.

In his frustration, Dr. Newman lashes out in the manner of most quacks at others who pressed him to provide scientific evidence for his assertions, though he is not a quack.

And one last thing. I see that it is useless to try to argue with people who post these hate filled comments. I will not try to argue further with anyone who just does not read and does not want to see another side to the story but wishes only to send hate.

Is that how you would argue with a critic at a scientific meeting, Dr. Newman? Do you really think asking you for proof is hate filled? Or are you simply embarrassed that you can’t provide it?

Dr. Newman can continue writing until the cows come home that breastmilk is different from formula. But that isn’t the issue. The issue is whether breastmilk is CLINICALLY different from formula and even he can’t provide evidence to support his insistence that it is.

I pitched him a softball question, he blustered and talked trash, but in the end he struck out.

Here’s a rule of thumb that Dr. Newman would do well to keep in mind:

HER baby, HER body, HER breasts, HER choice, none of his business!

Breastfeeding support should be easily accessible for anyone who desires it, but no one should deride women who can’t or simply don’t want to breastfeed. As Adam Conover and Courtney Jung made clear: the scientific evidence on breastfeeding can’t justify applying either pressure or shame.