Maureen Minchin uses 6000 words to say “no,” she can’t show the benefits of breastfeeding are real

Vector realistic isolated neon sign of No logo for decoration and covering on the wall background.

Those who are following the debate between Maureen Minchin and myself may recall that in my response to her opening statement I noted:

  • The widely touted benefits of breastfeeding are based on extrapolations of small studies riddled with confounders.
  • The impact of increased breastfeeding rates predicted by lactation researchers have failed to occur.
  • There has been no measurable impact on mortality of term babies or anything else.
  • That’s in direct contrast to the benefits for extremely premature babies where increased use of breastmilk has led to a decreased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis and death.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Does Maureen even realize she has conceded?[/pullquote]

I pointed out that Maureen, despite putting a lot of words on paper, had not demonstrated that breastfeeding had saved any term babies’ lives, prevented any diseases or saved any money. I asked once again if Maureen could find any real world, population based evidence that breastfeeding has the benefits claimed.

You can find her bizarre, meandering response on her website.

I read it so you don’t have to.

Maureen Minchin uses 6000 words (??!!) to say “no,” she can’t show that the benefits of breastfeeding are real or clinically relevant.

She couldn’t show evidence of lives saved. She couldn’t show evidence of disease incidence reduced. She couldn’t show evidence of money saved, either.

Moreover, she admitted why there is such a massive disjunction between benefits claimed and benefits realized.

About 4000 words in, she first quotes me:

What won’t answer the questions? The statements of authority figures or organizations, scientific citations of studies that found effects in small groups, the naturalistic fallacy (“if it’s natural it must be good”), personal beliefs and personal anecdotes, mathematical models based on extrapolation of small studies.

Then responds:

…Out goes all infant formula research, which often consists of groups of 40-100 children at most. There goes our beliefs about how food works in bodies, which are based heavily on animal studies -as I said, pigs and rats for formula.

Thank you for admitting that, Maureen. The widely touted benefits of breastfeeding are based on small studies with tiny sample sizes and animal studies. I’m not sure she even realizes that she has conceded my point.

She then goes on to say:

How did scientists and society find out about smoking causing cancer? individual case histories, small studies, animal experiments, mathematical models, basic biology which suggested that lungs clear of tar might work better (but that’s the naturalistic fallacy) – all played a role.

But scientists were spurred to investigate the link between cigarettes and smoking because of clinical evidence — real world, population based data; the incidence of lung cancer was rising and people who smoked had a much higher risk of lung cancer than those who didn’t. In the intervening 55 years since the publication of the Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and lung cancer, the predictions made have come true. Physicians and scientists predicted that the rate of lung cancer would drop if fewer people smoked. That’s exactly what happened.

That’s a stark contrast with breastfeeding. Nearly all of the predictions made by smoking researchers have come to pass, nearly none of the predictions made by breastfeeding researchers have come true.

The bottom line is that Maureen has acknowledged that she can’t show that the benefits of breastfeeding aren’t real or clinically relevant. That’s not surprising. Over the years I’ve asked real breastfeeding researchers from Melissa Bartick to Amy Brown to Jack Newman to demonstrate that the benefits of breastfeeding are real. They haven’t been able to do it, either.

The only remaining question is whether anyone should continue to believe that the benefits of breastfeeding are real when its strongest proponents CAN’T show that increased breastfeeding rates have had a meaningful impact on the health of term babies.