The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is the breastfeeding equivalent of Prohibition


They meant well.

It was a social movement to improve the health of children, women and families. Its leaders emphasized the negative effects of making different choices. It promoted intensive education as well as policies restricting access. And it was a resounding failure, causing more harm than good.

I’m talking about Prohibition, but I could just as easily be talking about contemporary lactivism.

As Wikipedia explains:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Both are resounding failures, causing more harm than good.[/pullquote]

Temperance proponents saw the alcohol problem as the most crucial problem of Western civilization. Alcoholism was seen to cause poverty, and all types of social problems … They believed that abstinence would help decrease crime, make families stronger, and improve society as a whole. Although the temperance movement was non-denominational in principle, the movement consisted mostly of church-goers. Temperance advocates tended to use scientific arguments to back up their views, although at the core the temperance philosophy was moral-religious in nature.

Similarly, lactivists — particularly lactation professionals — see breastfeeding rates as a crucial problem of contemporary society. They claim or imply that formula feeding decreases IQ, decreases job prospects, and decreases adult incomes (without ever taking into account that breastfeeding itself is socio-economically patterned). They believe that pressuring women to breastfeed will make children healthier, families stronger and improve society as a whole. Although lactivism is non-denominational, it’s origins are in religious attempts to force women back into the home. Although lactivists tend to use scientific arguments to support their views, at the core, the philosophy is moral-religious in nature; it’s primarily concerned, NOT with the well-being of babies, but with the control of women.

Temperance advocates were so supremely self-confident in the rightness — both scientific and moral — of their position that they were able to convince the US government to completely prohibit the sale of alcohol. Lactation professionals are so supremely self-confident in the rightness — both scientific and moral — of their position that they have been able to convince hospitals to allow the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative to be the only private organization to operate within them. They have created a system of formula prohibition within hospitals, emphasizing mandatory “education” and draconian restriction of formula access.

When passage of the 18th Amendment ushered in Prohibition, temperance advocates settle down to watch the benefits unfold. Instead of the success they had envisioned, their movement was a disaster.

Both federal and local government struggled to enforce Prohibition over the course of the 1920s. … Despite very early signs of success, including a decline in arrests for drunkenness and a reported 30 percent drop in alcohol consumption, those who wanted to keep drinking found ever-more inventive ways to do it. The illegal manufacturing and sale of liquor (known as “bootlegging”) went on throughout the decade, along with the operation of “speakeasies” (stores or nightclubs selling alcohol), the smuggling of alcohol across state lines and the informal production of liquor (“moonshine” or “bathtub gin”) in private homes.

In addition, the Prohibition era encouraged the rise of criminal activity associated with bootlegging… Such illegal operations fueled a corresponding rise in gang violence, including the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929, in which several men dressed as policemen (and believed to be have associated with Capone) shot and killed a group of men in an enemy gang.

Lactation professionals have been struggling mightily to enforce formula prohibition within hospitals. Despite early signs of success, including a rise in breastfeeding rates, the BFHI has precipitated a health crisis. It isn’t merely that NONE of the predicted benefits of term babies have materialized. Lactivism in general, and the BFHI in particular, has led to a dramatic increase in newborn hyponatremic dehydration, hypoglycemia and severe jaundice with resulting brain injuries and deaths. Lactivism in general and the BFHI in particular has been responsible for an explosion of newborn hospital readmissions amounting to tens of thousands of readmissions EACH YEAR at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Indeed, exclusive breastfeeding on discharge (the central goal of the BFHI) has become the LEADING risk factor for newborn hospital readmission.

But lactation professionals, like temperance advocates, have met repeated failures with ever greater determination, abandoning scientific evidence and logical thinking in the process.

Consider this recent declaration by professional lactivist Dr. Jack Newman, responding to a articles in the mainstream media about the dangers of aggressive breastfeeding promotion:

It is a big jump to conclude that … because there is no rock-solid evidence for breastfeeding being better, that means breastfeeding is not better.

No, Dr. Newman, it’s not a big jump. It’s SCIENCE! With no solid evidence for breastfeeding being better than formula feeding, we must conclude it ISN’T better.

I left this comment on his Facebook page:

Dr. Newman, since you are so sure breastfeeding has substantial benefits, can you please show us any impact that changing breastfeeding rates have had on term infant mortality or any metrics of major term infant morbidity. To my knowledge, the only impact breastfeeding has had on these parameters is a dramatic increase in the rate of neonatal hospital readmission. Indeed exclusive breastfeeding is now the leading risk factor for readmission. So I see the risks, but I can’t find the benefits. Can you show us the population data that supports your claims?

It’s been over 24 hours and he hasn’t responded. That’s not surprising since he has no data to rebut my claims.

Sadly lactivism in general, and the BFHI in particular, are the equivalent of Prohibition.

Why did Prohibition fail? Because advocates failed to take reality — people would always want to drink alcohol — into account and, obsessed with the promised benefits, they never even considered let alone anticipated the risks.

Why is the BFHI a failure? Because lactivists failed to take reality — that some babies and some mothers would ALWAYS need formula — into account. Obsessed with the promised benefits of breastfeeding, they never even considered let alone anticipated the risks of aggressive breastfeeding promotion.

Prohibition was relegated to the dust heap of history. That’s exactly where aggressive breastfeeding promotion and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative also belong!