Lactivism and fundamental attribution error

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The lactivist whining continues!

This week the Royal College of Midwives reminded its members that women have an absolute right to choose bottle feeding and are entitled to respect for that choice.

Why did they do that? I’d like to think it’s because they recognized that the benefits of breastfeeding in industrialized countries are trivial, that pressuring women to breastfeed is deeply sexist — violating a women’s right to bodily autonomy — and because they recognized the suffering and anguish they were causing.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Lactivists imagine themselves as motivated by love for babies and fealty to science and imagine women who don’t breastfeed as lazy, selfish, under the sway of formula companies or lacking support.[/pullquote]

But I’m a cynical person and I suspect that the real reason was that aggressive breastfeeding promotion is starting to cost the National Health Service serious money. Breastfed babies are readmitted at double the rate of bottle fed babies. Massive financial judgments are being paid out to compensate parents whose babies were brain injured or died. And that’s on top of the millions of dollars wasted to aggressively promote breastfeeding. Moreover, none of the promised benefits in lives or healthcare dollars saved has materialized.

It’s hardly a coincidence that the RCM was also forced to shutter their Campaign for Normal Birth. It, too, had become too costly in lives and money and failed to provide the promised benefits.

In response, lactivists have continued doing what they do best — lying, shaming, and asserting victimhood.

Consider this tweet from Kimberly Seals Allers:


As #breastfeeding is under attack, we need ALL WOMEN to see the right for women to choose & if so, be properly supported to use their bodies for their biological norm as a Women’s issue. Instead of falling prey to ways of dividing us.

As I noted on my Facebook page, claiming that respecting bottle feeding means breastfeeding is under attack is like claiming “black lives matter” means white people are under attack. Seals Allers dropped in to chastise me.

… Dear NonPracticing OB, I see that you are very consistent with your lack of context and rabble rowsing, while the rest of us are actually at work in the community. But I won’t address your collapsing methaphors and logic gaps — I am used to those but I will address the lack of facts: I never said supporting bottle feeding was attacking breastfeeding –YOU SAID THAT. I support bottle-feeding all the time. Have you been to where I work in Detroit???? And Philadelphia??? I have invited you and Christine on many occasions… Women must use bottles. Women also use formula!! And I support them!!! …. So please get your facts straight. When I say breastfeeding is under attack (And thank you asking instead of making blatant ASSumptions), I mean the commercial interests– the multi-million infant formula contracts, the multi-billion lobbying against WHO Code guidelines and the multi-billion dollar drug industry, the sensational headlines that pit mothers against mothers (your MO) and don’t get to the policy gaps that can save lives (including more training for physicians on lactation failures as I’ve also said many times) –so I don’t know who said I don’t respect bottle feeding because I do. PLEASE GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT!!! …

So many words, so little substance! And so much attribution bias.

In psychology, an attribution bias or attributional bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the systematic errors made when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others’ behaviors. People constantly make attributions regarding the cause of their own and others’ behaviors; however, attributions do not always accurately reflect reality. Rather than operating as objective perceivers, people are prone to perceptual errors that lead to biased interpretations of their social world.

Simply put, attribution bias or error is the tendency to ascribe one’s own mistakes to lofty motives and other people’s behavior to malice.

Attribution error is fundamental to contemporary lactivist theory which imagines all lactation professionals motivated by love for babies and fealty to science and imagines all women who don’t breastfeed as lazy, selfish, under the sway of formula companies or lacking “support.”

Seals Allers demonstrates attribution bias by assuring us of her pristine motivations and attributing base motivations to me.

But the facts are indisputable: Babies are dying because lactivists are lying about the instrinsic failure rates of breastfeeding. Healthcare costs are rising because breastfed babies are being readmitted at twice the rate of formula fed babies, suffering from dehydration, hypoglycemia and jaundice. Liability payments are soaring as babies sustain permanent brain injuries or even die as a result of aggressive breastfeeding promotion. The promised saving from breastfeeding promotion have utterly failed to appear.

Seals Allers excuses herself and her colleagues for culpability in these injuries and deaths because their motives were pure.

She apparently can’t imagine that my motives are pure, too. I want to stop the neonatal brain injuries and maternal anguish at inability to breastfeed. And I have no connection to the evil formula industry, which in any case, has nothing to do with the intrinsic failure rate of breastfeeding.

I’m not so sure the motives of Seals Allers and other lactivists are entirely pure; they make money from lactivism and they feel superior for having breastfed. But that doesn’t really matter; if we want to stop these easily preventable injuries and deaths, and well as maternal anguish, lactivists must take responsibility for the fact that they lied and babies died as a result. Most importantly, they need to stop lying!

They may have had the best of motives, but that does not absolve them. Trying to deflect attention by questioning others’ motives doesn’t absolve them, either.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Moral certainty can be used to justify the harm done by failing policies and actions. Those with good intentions believe their practices are good for the group; it is self-evident to them. They justify collateral damage in the belief they do a greater good.

I don’t doubt that your intentions were good, Ms. Seals Allers, despite the harm that has occurred as a result. Please give feeding safety advocates like me the credit for the same pure motivations you give to yourself.