The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is the breastfeeding equivalent of Prohibition

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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!

  • all

    i nursed 2 kids exclusively but honestly it is a nother way to oppress women. the guilt and shame you are fed if you dare to ask about formula feeding is unreal, and i say this as someone with a bit of so called privlege

  • Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild

    Hey Youse Guys…..Tit Juice Ain’t Magically Germ Free Anymore!

    https://gizmodo.com/pumping-breast-milk-changes-its-microbiome-1832568169

  • Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild

    Hey Youse Guys…..Tit Juice Ain’t Magically Germ Free Anymore!

    https://gizmodo.com/pumping-breast-milk-changes-its-microbiome-1832568169

  • Cartman36

    It is always a mistake to make assumptions about what someone wants or needs. Lactivists got so caught up with the idea that breastmilk was the wonderful perfect food tailor made for babies (blah blah blah) that they forgot to stop and actually ASK the woman expected to do the breastfeeding what she needed / wanted. I supplemented from birth one because I never made enough milk but two BECAUSE I WANTED TO. The freedom to go out to dinner and leave baby and some formula with grandma or to leave baby with Dad and go out with my girlfriends for drinks was always more important to me than the purported benefits. Even if it meant one more episode of diarrhea or one more ear infection, so what? My kids live in a clean home, attend a clean daycare, have two active engaged parents that love them immensely and do reasonable things to give them bright future. EBF just wasn’t something I was willing to do.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      Same – although in my case it was, I do NOT want to breastfeed, period. For my own reasons, which I don’t feel like sharing.

      And personally I am not sure I totally buy the ” slightly more colds or mild stomach upsets” line either. You know what made a difference in my (obviously) limited circle of friends with babies? Whether the baby went to daycare or not and whether there were other kids at daycare.

      My daughter got her first cold at about 10 weeks old. She went to day care starting at about 6 weeks. My sister’s kids were all home for at least the first 6 months because she had better maternity leave. Her older kids seemed to get their first cold etc later than my kids. Her younger two though caught everything (see what fun having 2 grade school siblings is?)

      • Griffin

        I agree, daycare is a massive determinant of when kids get colds etc. There was a period where I constantly had a sore throat and felt like I was going to get a cold, but the cold never eventuated beyond a little nasal discharge. It went on and on for about 6 months, so I went to the GP, thinking I might be run down or something. The blood tests were normal and GP was quizzing me about possible reasons when she looked at her computer screen and said, “Ah, I know the cause. You have a 1 yo who started daycare 6 months ago. I reckon your immune system is doing just fine.”

        Bingo! And sure enough, when my next kid commenced daycare, the getting-a-cold feeling merry-go-round started up again. I told the GP and she shrugged sympathetically and said in her laconic Aussie way, “Yeah, kids are infectious little buggers.”

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          I have told the story of our kids many times. Kid 1 didn’t go to daycare until 14 mos old, and was at home with us the entire time. The only cold he got that year + 2 mos was after his baptism….he went out in public.

          Then he went to daycare, and was getting sick every week, with regular ear infections. I told my wife, he couldn’t look at the door of the daycare without spiking a fever! That lasted for about 3 months, until summer came along and he caught up.

          Our younger guy started getting sick at 1 mo old, because his brother was bringing everything home from daycare, although there is an immunity difference. The younger guy still is more chronically sick than the older guy.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        And personally I am not sure I totally buy the ” slightly more colds or mild stomach upsets” line either. You know what made a difference in my (obviously) limited circle of friends with babies? Whether the baby went to daycare or not and whether there were other kids at daycare.

        Yep. Daycare attendance has to be controlled for in any good breastfeeding study.

    • Sarah

      I didn’t even want to go out and leave the baby but I still wasn’t up for breastfeeding. No thanks. Not having to be the only one responsible for all feeds was more than enough reason to EFF.