Mike Woolridge, former director of Baby Friendly UK, can’t demonstrate the benefits of breastfeeding either

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Mike Woolridge PhD (Zoology), former director of Baby Friendly UK, appeared on my Facebook pages to defend Maureen Minchin and mansplain’ breastfeeding to us poor benighted womenfolk.

It has not gone well for Mike.

He’s offered multiple comments to a variety of posts and has had the unmitigated gall to pontificate to the many women commenting whose babies have suffered from insufficient breastmilk.

They’re NOT starving and screaming in hunger, that’s just what you have culturally been indoctrinated to believe…

That’s unspeakably ugly and cruel.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Mike’s ego is so tied up in believing that breastfeeding is perfect, he can’t see the terrible harm he has caused.[/pullquote]

But for me, the most interesting subthread has been his effort to insist that breastfeeding still has massive benefits despite the fact that he can’t demonstrate them.

After much hemming and hawing, Mike came up with this bizarre effort:

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[L]et’s take just one benefit of breastfeeding in the first instance – the protective effect of pre-menopausal breast cancer; this is the form for which there is a familial tendency, so a woman could protect herself against this risk by breastfeeding. The evidence is that breastfeeding 3 or more babies, for 3 months or more provides maximum statistical benefit. That’s just the way population statistics work, its nothing biological – breastfeeding one baby for nine months would be equally protective, we just don’t do it commonly enough in the populations being studied.

My favorite part is this:

Can you not see the profound ‘colonialist’, white-supremacist basis to this view? You’ve gained the benefit, but f**k everyone else.

Of course, there’s a major problem with Mike’s claim. The incidence of premenopausal breast cancer been rising as the breastfeeding rate has risen.

Oops!

His response when I pointed that out.

Clearly because of other risk factors, which were controlled for as confounding factors in the study, but may be rising in population …

Sure, Mike!

I decided to take a different tack, asking Mike what evidence would convince him that the benefits of breastfeeding are mostly theoretical and therefore, nearly every prediction that breastfeeding researchers have made about benefits of raising rates has failed to occur.

I asked:

What evidence would I need to show you that breastfeeding does not have the benefits claimed by extrapolation from small studies? You tell me what it is and I’ll try to find it for you.

I suspect that there is NO evidence that would convince him and other professional lactivists. They are like creationists in this regard. Their foundational belief is literally non falsifiable.

Mike responded:

And I’m going to reply with a question. Please provide me with specific examples of small studies which have generated significant findings, but which have not generated real benefits when translated to ‘the real world’. I will then critique that study in the time honoured manner of Evidence-based medicine.

So I did.

All the studies prior to 2002 the that claimed that routine use of hormonal replacement therapy in postmenopausal women improved their health…

Why did the original studies show that HRT was beneficial when it really wasn’t? Why did those studies find no serious side effects when HRT actually raised the risk of breast cancer?

Oops!

Backpedaling furious, Mike attempted to reframe the question:

Sorry, I failed to specify breastfeeding and its health benefits, which this discussion was meant to be about!

Sure, Mike!

Deflect, deny, defy. It’s no longer working, Mike. Exclusive breastfeeding is now the LEADING risk factor for newborn hospital readmission in the US, responsible for literally tens of thousands of admissions each year at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. A new paper in the UK shows that neonatal hospital readmissions have been rising largely due to dehydration and jaundice, both consequences of insufficient breastmilk.

Indigenous cultures on nearly every continent practice prelacteal feeding. I guess they didn’t get the message that insufficient breastmilk is rare; they concluded that it is so common that babies should be routinely supplemented to improve their chances of survival.

The benefits of breastfeeding in industrialized countries are trivial and the risks of aggressive breastfeeding promotion are serious and rising. It’s unfortunate that your ego is so tied up in believing that breastfeeding is perfect that you can’t see the terrible harm you have done and continue to do.

Mike is offended:

Your response is crassly irresponsible. For example, any public health laboratory in the UK conducting an audit of admissions for g-i and respiratory infections, finds they are overwhelmingly biased towards formula-fed babies; like 98:2.

Mike hasn’t been keeping up with the literature. He seems to have missed the paper that found that exclusive breastfeeding is now the LEADING risk factor for newborn hospital readmissions. One in every 77 breastfed babies is readmitted to the hospital for consequences (like dehydration and jaundice) of insufficient breastmilk.

He hasn’t even been keeping up with the UK literature.

Hospitalisation after birth of infants: cross sectional analysis of potentially avoidable admissions across England using hospital episode statistics casts light on the harm that Mike and other lactation professionals have caused.

There were 1,387,677 admissions in the first year of life and 4,063,050 live births from 1st April 2008 to 31st March 2014. The overall rate of admission increased significantly over the period from 335·0 (95% CI 333·8–336·1) to 354·6 (95% CI 353·6–355·9) per 1000 live births.

The rate of admission for the potentially avoidable conditions increased by 39% from 39·79 to 55·33 per 1000 live births (Table 2). In the 0–6 day age category the increase in admissions to hospital for these three conditions from 12·36 to 18·23 per 1000 live births contributed 85% of the increase in admission rate…

The authors concluded:

Most of the increase in infant hospital admissions was in the early neonatal period, the great majority being accounted for by three potentially avoidable conditions ESPECIALLY JAUNDICE AND FEEDING DIFFICULTIES.” (my emphasis)

Oops!

This is the harm that lactation professionals like Mike have caused. Their aggressive efforts to promoted breastfeeding have literally made the rate of infant hospital readmissions rise, yet they are still unable to demonstrate the benefits they claim.

There are none so blind as those who will not see, Mike.

Stop quoting studies of small groups and open your eyes to what’s actually happening. The benefits of breastfeeding in industrialized countries are trivial and the harms are real.

  • Ayr

    The whole breastfeeding three babies for three months helps prevent pre menopausal breast cancer though…total BS, my grandmother breastfed 5 children for the first year of each of their lives and ended up getting breast cancer twice! Both times before she turned 50. Every woman I know that has battled breast cancer before 50 has breast fed all of her children. Where do these people get their information?

    • Juana

      Perhaps the causality of breastfeeding being protective works the other way round: if you have breast cancer before menopause, you’re less likely to breastfeed the babies you have because if the breast cancer happened to come before the babies, you don’t have the breasts anymore to feed them by.

      • rational thinker

        You dont need breasts to breastfeed, dont you know it comes out of your armpits instead. (yes, some of them actually say this.)

  • MaineJen

    Oh man. He got his ass handed to him, didn’t he?

  • fiftyfifty1

    His responses are shocking to me. So poorly argued and unmeasured to the point of being unhinged. I can’t believe he had held a leadership position. That he apparently has does not speak well for the Baby Friendly UK.

    • AnnaPDE

      “They’re NOT starving and screaming in hunger, that’s just what you have culturally been indoctrinated to believe…”
      This basically sums up why this man should not be in charge of feeding babies, ever.

      • Sarah

        You stupid women are doing it wrong.

  • Sarah

    So classy to berate a Jew for white supremacism. Especially in the current climate.

    • That hadn’t occurred to me, but I found the charge of colonialism amusing given lactivists’ less-than-stellar record in this regard.

  • FormerPhysicist

    About the protective effect of breast-feeding on cancer … When I saw a breast cancer specialist and a geneticist, and had a BRCA DNA test, NOT ONE of the specialists asked me how long I breast-fed. They didn’t care. It wasn’t relevant. What was relevant? My family history, including ages of incidence, and my DNA.

    They did ask if I was done child-bearing and breast-feeding. Because it was a manageable risk if I want to keep my tits and breast-feed longer. But my youngest was 6, and I was done.

  • rational thinker

    My mother breastfed 4 babies for a year each in a span of 8 years. Guess what she got when she was 35….BREAST CANCER….and a mastectomy.

  • Emilie Bishop

    Wow, I’m glad I’m not his wife. He wouldn’t know what to do with my IGT and my son’s poor latch besides mansplain them away until lasting harm had been done. What a piece of work!

    • Cristina B

      My ex was raised by a mother who was a hardcore lactivist. He admitted to still being mad at me for never breastfeeding when we separated (when my oldest was 5). I couldn’t imagine being so attached to an idea that it harmed my relationship with my partner, especially since there were never any negative effects from it.

      • Emilie Bishop

        That’s awful and I’m so sorry

      • Sarah

        Probably for the best that he’s an ex.

        • Cristina B

          Best decision I ever made, lol

          • Sarah

            If he really cared he’d have induced lactation himself.

          • Cristina B

            I *might* have suggested it…