Increasingly nebulous “benefits” of vaginal birth and breastfeeding are signs NCB and lactivism are dying


This week the mommy blogosphere was roiled by yet another claim that something “unnatural” causes autism. Exploring a Possible Link Between C-Sections and Autism was the irresponsible title chosen by The New York Times for its coverage. To date there is NO EVIDENCE that C-sections cause autism. No matter; it is fear mongering that sells newspapers.

But the truth is that such claims — irresponsible as they are — are a sign that natural childbirth advocacy is dying. Lactivists make similar claims about breastfeeding and that is a sign that lactivism is dying.

I’ve been writing about natural childbirth and breastfeeding promotion for nearly 25 years, long enough to discern major trends. As the years go by, the purported “benefits” of vaginal birth and breastfeeding are steadily decreasing and becoming ever more nebulous. This C-section autism claim is just another example.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Claims of lives and healthcare dollars saved have been debunked and replaced with nebulous assertions about the microbiome and epigenetics.[/pullquote]

Others include:

For years, natural childbirth advocates claimed that increasing the rate of vaginal birth would decrease the rate of maternal mortality. That claim has been debunked.

NCB advocates claimed that increasing the rate of vaginal birth would save millions of healthcare dollars. That claim has been debunked.

Lactivists predicted that increasing breastfeeding rates in industrialized countries would decrease mortality rates. That claim has been debunked, with the notable exception of very premature infants, the exception that proves the rule that breastfeeding has no impact on mortality rates.

Lactivists insisted that increasing breastfeeding rates in industrialized countries would decrease severe morbidity rates. That claim has been debunked; the only thing that has demonstrably decreased (and only slightly) is rates of colds and episodes of diarrheal illness.

Lactivists also claimed that increasing breastfeeding rates would save millions of healthcare dollars. Instead it is costing hundreds of millions of dollars to hospitalize tens of thousands of babies each year for breastfeeding complications.

Natural childbirth advocates and lactivists could acknowledge they were wrong. Instead, being ideologues, they will NEVER acknowledge they’ve been wrong. They’ve simply begun asserting ever more nebulous “benefits” to replace the concrete claims that have been debunked. That’s why — without any knowledge of the underlying science — they have misappropriated the microbiome and epigenetics.

They are like anti-vaxxers in that regard.

In “All manner of ills”: The features of serious diseases attributed to vaccination, authors Leask, Chapman and Robbins explain:

Parental anxieties about fearful, mysterious diseases that threaten children foment receptive audiences for such claims. These causal attributions do not rely on the strength of evidence for asserting causal association but share a number of epidemiological and societal features …

Autism is, of course, the paradigmatic disease. Why?

It has:

an idiopathic origin; apparent rise in incidence; face-value biological plausibility of a link to vaccines; [and] dreaded outcomes …

These features are intuitively appealing to anti-vaxxers because they do not rely on scientific understanding, but appeal to “common sense.” It doesn’t matter how many studies disprove the purported link between vaccines and autism. It is a dread disease, with unknown and complex causes and an apparently rising incidence. It is far more reassuring to pretend that autism has a simple and easily addressed cause, than to acknowledge that it can strike any child, cannot be prevented and cannot be cured.

These features are intuitively appealing to natural childbirth and breastfeeding advocates as well. As it becomes increasingly clear that neither vaginal birth nor breastfeeding have the benefits claimed for it, there is a need to fabricate new benefits and new mechanisms of action.

Both must be ever more nebulous. That’s where the microbiome and epigenetics come in. We are in the very earliest stages of understanding of these disciplines, similar to where we were when we first discovered radioactivity.

The discovery of radioactivity changed everything from medical imaging to nuclear power to atomic warfare. But before it was completely understood, it was misused in a variety of ways that range from humorous to horrifying. These uses ranged from radioactive toothpaste, advertised as providing a bright smile and freshening your breath by killing bacteria in the mouth, to radioactive cosmetics to make your complexion “glow” and prevent aging, to radioactive suppositories designed to deliver “healthful” radiation directly to internal organs. There is no way to know how many cases of cancer and how many deaths might have been caused by the enthusiastic adoption of radiation as a “cure.”

We appear to have learned nothing from that debacle even though the message could not be clearer: Do not implement new medical discoveries until they are thoroughly tested and understood. Natural childbirth advocates and lactivists are eagerly rushing to repeat the mistakes, using the microbiome and epigenetics.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t believe ANY claims about either vaginal birth or breastfeeding and the microbiome or epigenetics. And you can rejoice that natural childbirth advocates and lactivists are falling back to ever more nebulous “benefits” of vaginal birth and breastfeeding as their substantive claims are debunked.

29 Responses to “Increasingly nebulous “benefits” of vaginal birth and breastfeeding are signs NCB and lactivism are dying”

  1. PeggySue
    September 30, 2019 at 2:41 pm #

    OT here, but I know a young Mom with a 4-month old who was large (10.5 pounds, 22 inches) at birth. He has continued large for age and he is HUNGRY, but has not tolerated introduction of solids well. Mom has been nursing and has not wanted to introduce infant formula because of fear that he will no longer want breast milk. I spoke in general terms about combo feeding possibly being helpful in extending the breastfeeding relationship, since it seems as if exclusive BF is not completely meeting his needs. (Always hungry, doesn’t ever rest well.) I haven’t saved any links, can anyone point me to one of the really excellent sources posted here that might help the parents with some accurate info about combo feeding? Mom felt he was dairy sensitive and so has limited dairy from her diet while BF-ing.

  2. Anion
    September 29, 2019 at 5:17 am #

    It was in the news today that Snoop Dogg’s ten-day-old grandson died. 🙁 The baby’s father (SD’s son) wrote a post about it on social media where he mentioned drug-free births and urged everyone to watch The Business of Being Born. Makes me wonder if he’s perhaps an anti-vaxxer, too, and the infant died due to/as a consequence of refusal of Vitamin K?

    I suspect we’ll never know, but afai could see the baby didn’t have any known health problems, at least none that were mentioned.

    An awful tragedy.

  3. Griffin
    September 28, 2019 at 6:35 am #

    In relation to being careful about too-hastily exploiting new medical discoveries, I have a cautionary tale about the devastating consequences of combining two old medical discoveries that are safe on their own.

    A few years ago, I contributed to a series of scientific articles on a brand new disease in a developed Asian country. The studies were run by the equivalent of the CDC. It all started when one winter, emergency departments noticed that young women, sometimes postpartum, sometimes pregnant, were coming in with a fulminant respiratory disease characterized by massive progressive interstitial destruction in the lower lungs. Nothing the docs did worked. Half of the patients died within a few days, the remainder survived with very impaired lung function, some had to get lung transplants. It wasn’t an infection and pulmonologists had never seen anything like it.

    The next winter, more young women came in and now babies and little kids were coming in too. The mortality rate was horrible. Again, nothing could be done and most died quickly.

    The CDC launched an epidemiological investigation. They narrowed the etiological agent down to first humidifiers and then to the fact that people were being encouraged to put a simple disinfectant in the humidifier water to prevent microorganisms growing in the moist humidifier environment. Lab rats exposed to humidifiers with the disinfectant developed exactly the same pathology.

    The disinfectant is used world wide for pools etc and is considered very safe in these settings. However, it is NOT safe when it is dispersed in nanoparticles that reach deep into the lung, where it causes a horrendous inflammation. Nobody had thought to test the safety of the disinfectant in this new setting.

    So why were women and young children the only affected population? Because in that Asian country, which is cold in winter, they are very solicitous of pregnant women and postpartum mothers. Humidifiers can help ease cold symptoms and the humidifier sellers thought they could get more market share by touting their “fresh and clean” humidifiers to the young mothers at home.

    I heard a story about a mother-in-law who had bought a humidifer as a gift to her pregnant daughter-in-law. You can imagine her pain and horror that this well-meaning gift ended up killing her daughter-in-law and her unborn grandchild.

    I think of this story every time I hear things like fecal seeding, the latest wrap for holding your baby (which takes an hour to put on properly and frankly looks unsafe), home-made formula alternatives etc. I always think – what are you DOING? WHY are you experimenting on your child?! Why don’t you focus on making the world a safer place for everyone by supporting public health endeavors like vaccines or safer food labeling or preventing companies from polluting our air and waterways?

    ETA When vaping came out, many pulmonologists worldwide were against it, despite it being an aid to quit smoking. And as we’ve seen in recent days, their concern is very well-founded.

    • rational thinker
      September 28, 2019 at 7:22 am #

      I have been saying it for years that vaping is probably more dangerous than everyone thinks. Nobody I knew wanted to listen to me when I said there have not been enough studies to say it is safer or safer than smoking. I have been smoking for 21 years and about seven years ago I switched to vaping for about a month. Not only was it more expensive but after a few weeks my lungs just felt heavy and developed a wheezing cough so I went back to smoking.

      A week ago my 17 year old nephew was admitted to the ICU in a childrens hospital cause of not being able to breathe most likely because he was vaping with a juul brand vape. He could have died. He may be able home today.

      • Griffin
        September 28, 2019 at 10:07 am #

        Yes, and I was shaking my head with dread when they started putting out vapes with tastes like strawberry etc. I was wondering, have you REALLY checked that this is safe?

        That CDC series of papers really made me realize how fragile and utterly ESSENTIAL the lungs are…

        I hope your nephew will be hale and hearty again soon.

        • rational thinker
          September 28, 2019 at 11:10 am #

          Thanks, he should be coming home today. We searched his room and threw all the vaping crap out.

          I have been watching news reports about vaping and the companies were saying “our products are not meant for children and we are not marketing them torwards children”.

          So I say ok but with flavors like COTTON CANDY, FRUIT PUNCH, GUMMY BEAR who the hell is that marketed to. Cause flavors like that dont strike me as adult flavors.

          • Toni35
            September 28, 2019 at 1:45 pm #

            I smoked for 25 years and switched to vaping 3 years ago. If not for strawberry cream, caramel frappuccino, and fruit stripe gum flavors, among many others, I would still be smoking (the tobacco flavor tastes like chewing tobacco, not like cigarette smoke). I’m 39, btw. If those aren’t “adult ” flavors, why are they common flavors for alcohol (which has killed a hell of a lot more than 12 people over the past 15 years)?

            It seems that the vast majority of these cases are black market CBD or THC cars, not simply flavored eliquid, and that these cases involved eliquid that contain oils (bad idea for a lot of reasons). I think the UK gets it right on vaping, but big tobacco companies don’t have the same pull as lobbyists over there. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that juul got heavily invested in by Altria, and a few months later people started getting sick.

            If we must ban something, start with pod based systems (cheap, easy to conceal, high nicotine levels, low vapor output, all making them appealing to young people looking to conceal their vaping). Raise the minimum age for nicotine to 21. Restrict the sale to only licensed shops and sites with strict age verification. These outright bans only fuel the black market (where the products that are killing people originated), and potentially sends people back to combustible cigarettes, that we know kill a half million people a year in the US alone. Whatdver one’s opinion on vaping might be, banning vaping, but leaving cigarettes on the shelves is a level of insanity that is unfathomable.

          • rational thinker
            September 28, 2019 at 3:41 pm #

            The issue is that we cant just assume things are healthier than something else or that they dont pose a risk in general until we have done the proper scientific/medical studies on them.

          • Toni35
            September 28, 2019 at 4:08 pm #

            I agree, completely. I would never say vaping is safe (even with 0mg/ml eliquid). The Royal College of Physicians has studied the matter for more than a decade and they consistently say that vaping represents a 95% reduction of harm over combustible cigarettes. Is 10-20 years long enough to show effects for a lifetime of vaping? No. Obviously a product that hasn’t been around for a lifetime yet, won’t be proven until it has. Certainly the scientific community may find negative effects after longer usage, and if that’s the case, we should certainly act on those findings. But banning an alternative to smoking with such great short term results (not only the huge reduction of harm, but better efficacy than NRTs like the gum, the patch, and the pills) seems short sighted at best.

            480000 people die every year in my country from smoking combustible cigarettes. THAT is a public health crisis. And it has gone on for far too long.

          • mabelcruet
            September 28, 2019 at 5:21 pm #

            We had a similar issue in the UK with ‘alcopops’. They were alcoholic drinks (about the same strength as standard beer) but in fruity and sweet flavours and really bright colours. You can legally buy alcohol here from age 18, but these drinks were seen as gateway drinks aimed at much younger teenagers, not matter how much the drink companies denied it.

          • AnnaPDE
            September 28, 2019 at 7:56 pm #

            There are lots of adults though who don’t like the bitterness of beer but do want a roughly equivalent drink. Predominantly women – there’s a reason that „summery“ and „girly“ beers are being put on the market.
            I for one was very very grateful that Reef existed back in 2003… Nice and fruity and fresh but still cut with the absolutely noticeable sharpness of alcohol. The other beer alternative in pubs at that time, cider, gets boring quickly and tastes like piss when it‘s not ice cold.
            Sure, we can argue that alcohol that doesn’t taste horrible is more likely to be drunk and therefore we should ban the tasty stuff, but I don’t think that will ever really work. Teaching people to enjoy alcohol for its taste instead of its effects might work better… while addressing the reason people want to get actually drunk in the first place.

      • October 2, 2019 at 12:52 am #

        I don’t think it’s the vapes that are the issue. I have been trying to keep up, and it’s black market carts that seem to be causing the issues in every article I’ve read on the subject. Juul is just the most popular brand of vape pen.

        That said, I could be wrong and it could be a more systemic safety issue.

    • Azuran
      September 28, 2019 at 10:19 am #

      The whole ‘quit smoking aid’ is just marketing smoke. It was never intended as such and anyone who bothered to think about it for 5 seconds could see it, it’s just a lie the company made up to justify selling it.
      Where I live, ‘quit smoking aid’ are sold by pharmacy, under doctor prescription. You can’t by nicotine patch or nicotine gum in a corner store or gaz station or in a mobile shop in the mall. And they don’t have flavored gum or cool looking nicotine patch or ‘brand’ recognition.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa
        September 28, 2019 at 2:53 pm #

        “quit smoking aids” like nicotine patch or nicotine are really limited in their effectiveness, because they only deal with part of the problem.

        Yes, nicotine is addictive, and so there is chemical dependence. BUT smoking is also an addictive behavior (like gambling), and no nicotine patch is going to help with that. In order to get people to stop smoking, you have to address the behavior addiction, as well (this is why quitting smoking is so damn hard – it’s a double-edged addiction).

        Vaping does both. It gives smokers something to do with their fidgety hands, and it addresses the nicotine addiction aspect.

        No, on the whole it’s not like vaping is good for you. But damnit, compared to smoking? That’s the question. And despite the issues that have come up with vaping, I don’t see any reason to think it is worse than smoking for the person doing it, and I can guarantee it’s not near as friggin annoying as smoking.

        I would never recommend or encourage anyone to take up vaping from nothing. But I have to say, for a regular smoker? Yeah, I think vaping is a better alternative.

        • Azuran
          September 28, 2019 at 5:09 pm #

          My point is not that vaping should never have been allowed. it’s that if vaping was truly intended to be a quit smoking aid, it should have been considered as such from the start and sold responsibly and sparingly by medical professional whose job is to help people quit smoking, like all the other smoking cessation product, to be used properly. Not super colorful vaping stores with a nobody wearing a white lab coat who sell them freely to anyone asking. Because now we have hordes of people who never even smoked that are vaping.

          • FormerPhysicist
            September 30, 2019 at 3:47 pm #

            And the amount of nicotine in the vapes is horrifying.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa
            September 30, 2019 at 5:46 pm #

            Actually, I know a person who had an assay for measuring that. They went to the store and bought a pack of capsules. 40% of them had no nicotine at all.

          • Nina Yazvenko
            October 8, 2019 at 6:14 pm #

            It would have never been widely adopted if it wasn’t widely available.

        • Griffin
          September 28, 2019 at 7:49 pm #

          I was at a European respirology society meeting a few years ago, and they had clearly had quite bad-tempered debates in the last meetings about whether to support vaping or not. The older respirologists said, “We have fought desperately against lung/life-destroying nicotine addiction in the form of cigarettes for decades and now here we have a new unknown” and the younger ones were arguing, “It’s a new technology, it will stop lung cancer.”

          So even the specialists are still debating it. Personally, I think that if vaping helps you to not smoke, that’s great. However, I also share the concerns of the older respirologists in terms of the wider use of vaping in the community.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa
            September 28, 2019 at 10:50 pm #

            We have fought desperately against lung/life-destroying nicotine addiction in the form of cigarettes

            Yeah, but it’s not the nicotine in the cigarettes that’s destroying lungs, it’s the smoking.

            No, vaping isn’t healthy, but compared to smoke?

            I know that vaping has lead to lipid deposits in the lungs, but is it going to cause COPD and emphysema to the same extent as smoking?

            The old guys sound to me like the abstinence-only sex ed people, whereas the young guys are taking a practical approach. “Just stop smoking” has not been a real effective approach so far (yes, fewer people smoke, and it’s good that we are having fewer people take it up, but I don’t know that smoking cessation has improved all that much). The young guys are saying that vaping can help with that.

        • September 30, 2019 at 2:55 pm #

          I’ve never had the slightest interest in cigarettes, but I’ve Had a”3 pack a day” knitting/crocheting habit since age 16. Definitely a psychological dependency.

        • Sarah
          October 2, 2019 at 4:41 am #

          Purely anecdotal, but my mother with COPD switched a 3 pack a day habit for vaping about 10 years ago. She went from at least 1 hospitalization each month and not being able to walk 200 metres to the shops to not only walking to shops but hauling 15kg of groceries home with her, getting back into vigorous gardening etc and about 1 hospitalization a year during the winter cold/flu season. She did eventually still die of COPD but she gained 8 years of “quality” (by her judgement) life in between.

          I am concerned by people without an addiction to smoking taking up vaping, though.

          • rational thinker
            October 2, 2019 at 6:27 am #

            My main concern with vaping is also that too many people who never smoked or intended to smoke have started vaping,especially teenagers.

        • Nina Yazvenko
          October 8, 2019 at 6:12 pm #

          I know 6 people who have successfully quit smoking in favor of vaping. One of them is my family member, who had smoked for 40 years prior. He had tried everything else to quit smoking prior, and even with ecigs it took him over a month to accomplish. I am asthmatic, so now its great. His cars don’t smell like smoke, he doesn’t smell like smoke, the vapor doesn’t exacerbate my asthma, and his own health has noticeably improved in the years since he quit, so much so that his dentist and doctor asked what he did.
          He still vapes. He is still nicotine addicted, and probably will be until he dies. But my god, vaping has been so much better than smoking for everyone in the family!

      • Blake Lee
        September 28, 2019 at 9:51 pm #

        I appreciate not having to smell cigarette smoke around me as much due to the popularity of vaping. I don’t know enough about it to know if it’s safer for the user but it’s certainly more pleasant for me walking by smokers.

      • Anion
        September 29, 2019 at 5:13 am #

        I tried e-cigs to quit smoking a few years ago. I quickly gave them up after realizing that not only did the vaping experience just make me want a real cigarette, but my lungs felt bad after using them. Like, after a total of maybe twenty minutes spent vaping, my lungs felt heavy and like there was water in them.

        I figured anything that made my lungs feel soggy wasn’t as good for me as it was cracked up to be.

  4. rational thinker
    September 27, 2019 at 4:57 pm #

    • rational thinker
      September 27, 2019 at 4:59 pm #

      Turns out microbiome is a big moneymaker. I wonder how many morons will run right out to buy this shit.

  5. September 27, 2019 at 4:42 pm #

    Playing on common fears (ie. obesity, autism) without any regard to the consequences of fanning flames of unfounded fears. You’ve got a dead baby, but at least they won’t be autistic or fat. Never mind that some of the most brilliant minds known to man would meet the modern day definition of autism.
    Never mind that the PC thing is to encourage body positivity. If it was still kosher, they’d probably claim there’s a link with homosexuality if they thought it would up the numbers of women willing to plan on vaginal delivery. It’s almost a religion and any belief contrary must be a true path to hell.

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