Breastfeeding promotion causes brain damage

cheerful boy with disability at rehabilitation center for kids with special needs

Yes, you read that right, the aggressive promotion of breastfeeding by the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative has led to an epidemic of newborn brain damage.

No less an authority than Lawrence Gartner, MD, member of the BFHI Board of Directors has admitted that 90% of kernicterus cases are attributable to breastfeeding! Sadly, Dr. Gartner acknowledged it only to other breastfeeding professionals. Parents and pediatricians have been left in the dark.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Breastfeeding is responsible for over 90% of jaundice-induced brain damage.[/pullquote]

What is kernicterus?

Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas City has an easy to understand explanation for lay people:

Kernicterus is a form of brain damage caused by excessive jaundice. The substance which causes jaundice, bilirubin, is so high that it can move out of the blood into brain tissue.

Kernicterus is disastrous for babies:

When babies begin to be affected by excessive jaundice, when they begin to have brain damage, they become excessively lethargic. They are too sleepy, and they are difficult to arouse – either they don’t wake up from sleep easily like a normal baby, or they don’t wake up fully, or they can’t be kept awake. They may have a high-pitched cry, and decreased muscle tone, becoming hypotonic or floppy with episodes of increased muscle tone (hypertonic) and arching of the head and back backwards. As the damage continues they may arch their heads back into a very contorted position known as opisthotonus or retrocollis, they may develop fever, and they may even develop seizures (convulsions).

The jaundice is caused by breastfeeding induced starvation.

It is important to understand that In 2017, kernicterus is an iatrogenic injury. It is astoundingly easy to prevent; judicious formula supplementation will prevent it 100% of the time.

The slides for Dr. Gartner’s lecture to the California Breastfeeding Summit are chilling.


The most common cause of kernicterus used to be Rh incompatibility; and Rh- negative mother attacked the red blood cells of her Rh+ baby. With the advent of Rhogam, Rh incompatibility is only rarely a problem.

As Dr. Gartner pointed out:

We thought kernicterus had disappeared! It has not! … What types of infants are still having kernicterus? All kinds of children – but one type has emerged recently as predominant.


Breastfed infants: 90% of all cases of kernicterus especially with weight loss in excess of 10%.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine suggests that the contribution of breastfeeding starvation may be even higher.

In the U.S. Kernicterus Registry, a database of 125 cases of kernicterus in infants discharged as healthy newborns, 98% of these infants were fully or partially breastfed …

As a result of aggressive breastfeeding promotion, those babies were allowed to starve.

Strong evidence suggests that increased serum bilirubin in the first few days is highly correlated with suboptimal enteral in- take; serum bilirubin concentrations are highly associated with greater weight loss in breastfed infants.

In summary:

  • We are experiencing an epidemic of jaundice-induced brain damage (kernicterus) in newborns.
  • Between 90-98% of cases are the direct results of aggressive breastfeeding promotion.
  • In every one of those cases, brain damage could have been completely prevented by formula supplementation.
  • Kernicterus is almost non-existent in formula fed babies.

If we care about babies, the solution is obvious: Every baby should be aggressively monitored for adequate breastmilk intake and when there is any doubt about intake, babies should be supplemented with formula.

We could EASILY prevent 100% of breastfeeding starvation jaundice by feeding at risk babies (those who have lost 10% of body weight or have elevated bilirubin above physiological levels). It would cost very little, only a tiny fraction of the cost of hospital readmissions, phototherapy, and subsequent treatment for brain injuries.

But lactation professionals are apparently more interested in promoting breastfeeding than in promoting infant health.

It may be necessary to supplement with infant formula if neither own mothers’ milk nor donor human milk is available. The impact of introducing formula to an exclusively breastfed infant must be considered.

Wait, what? We are talking about preventing brain damage!

From the paper Impact of bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction on neurodevelopmental outcomes:

Kernicterus most usually is characterized by choreoathetoid cerebral palsy (CP), impaired upward gaze, and sensorineural hearing loss, whereas cognition is relatively spared…

But levels below that needed to cause kernicterus can also result in brain injuries:

Clinically, BIND [bilirubin induced neurologic dysfunction] may manifest after the neonatal period as developmental delay, cognitive impairment, disordered executive function, and behavioral and psychiatric disorders…

There is no possible impact of formula on breastfeeding that is even remotely worth considering compared to preventing cerebral palsy, hearing loss, cognitive impairment, disordered executive function and other behavioral and psychiatric disorders. The benefits of breastfeeding in industrialized countries are trivial and certainly pale into insignificance besides these risks.

What is going on here?

Sadly, a group of health professionals has become so invested in a process – breastfeeding – that they are willing to destroy baby’s brains in order to protect that process.

Indeed, as Kavin Senapathy reported in Forbes:

When asked [by the Fed Is Best Foundation] whether WHO plans to inform mothers of the risks of brain injury from insufficient breast milk, and that temporary supplementation can prevent complications, Dr. Rollins responded that this recommendation was not identified as a “top priority.”

The bottom line is that we’ve spent the last 30 years aggressively promoting breastfeeding and all we have to show for it is an epidemic of iatrogenic brain damage.

Protecting babies brains is infinitely more important than protecting breastfeeding.


As of today, 4300 parents and professionals have signed the petition to implore the WHO to make breastfeeding induced brain injuries a priority. Please join them.