Dr. Alison Stuebe, better dead than not breastfed?


Dead babies can’t breastfeed. I would have thought that even the most ardent lactivist understands that. Apparently not.

The editorial, Should Infants Be Separated from Mothers with COVID-19? First, Do No Harm, by Alison Stuebe, MD, the new president of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine is deeply troubling for its willingness to sacrifice the lives babies whose mothers are infected with COVID-19. Why sacrifice their lives? For no better reason than to promote breastfeeding.

Like gun rights activists, lactivists reject even the most common sense restrictions.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve already seen lactivists like Melissa Bartick, MD cheerfully do the same, promoting bedsharing despite the fact that it is the single biggest risk factor for SIDS.

But equally troubling to me is Dr. Stuebe’s willingness to use “arguments” typically associated with anti-vaxxers and gun rights activists.

Dr. Stuebe starts by acknowledging that separating newborns from COVID-19 infected mothers can save their lives:

The benefit of separation is that it minimizes the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from mother to infant during the hospital stay.

But then follows with this absurdity:

However, if the goal is the health and well-being of mother and child in the months following birth, there are additional considerations.

That makes her invocation of the phrase “first do no harm,” especially inappropriate. As Wikipedia explains:

Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means “first, do no harm.”…

It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit.

Immediate contact between a newborn and a mother infected with COVID-19 carries the obvious risk of the infant’s death. The chance of benefit of immediate contact is not merely less certain, but non-existent. The purported need for immediate skin-to-skin contact was invented less than 50 years ago and reflects religious and cultural beliefs, NOT medical evidence.

In other words, like gun rights activists who reflexively reject even the most common sense gun restrictions designed to save lives, breastfeeding activists reject even the most common sense restrictions designed to save babies lives. Why? For the exact same reason. Once people see that restrictions DO save lives and DON’T cause harm, they will no longer believe the expansive claims of activists. Better that some should die to preserve the “freedom” of others to claim what they want.

Let’s analyze the rest of Stuebe’s arguments.

1.“Separation may not prevent infection.”

This is a classic anti-vax argument: if it’s not 100% effective it’s not worth doing.

2.”Interruption of skin-to-skin care disrupts newborn physiology.”

That’s nonsense. Three generations of American babies were born to mothers who did not have contact with them for hours after birth. No one has ever documented even a single instance of harm to those millions of infants and mothers, let alone widespread harm.

3.“Separation stresses mothers.”

You know what stresses mothers far more? Their babies contracting a deadly illness and requiring painful interventions, NICU stays and possible death.

4.”Breastfeeding is a baby’s first vaccine.”

Breastfeeding is NOT a vaccine. Vaccines provide ACTIVE immunity; they teach the baby’s immune system to make antibodies to specific bacteria and viruses; babies make more of those antibodies whenever threatened, providing years or even lifetimes of protection. Breastfeeding provides PASSIVE immunity to a few bacteria and viruses; babies do not learn to produce their own antibodies. Therefore, the protection lasts weeks at most.

5.”Early separation disrupts breastfeeding, and not breastfeeding increases the risk of infant hospitalization for pneumonia.”

This is perhaps the most ridiculous of Dr. Stuebe’s ridiculous arguments. Early separation of babies from infected mothers is designed to prevent COVID-19 pneumonia. It is highly effective. Are we supposed to believe that letting babies get COVID-19 pneumonia is an effective strategy for preventing future pneumonia?

6.”Separate isolation doubles the burden on the health system.”

So? Is the fact that saving babies’ lives cost money supposed to be an argument for letting babies die?

The bottom line is that the risks of COVID-19 transmission from infected mothers to infants is real, documented and deadly. The “risks” of maternal newborn separation are purely theoretical and never seen over millions of babies born in the US over 50 years of experience.

Better dead than not breastfed immediately? Maybe to lactivists Dr. Stuebe, but not to mothers and certainly not to babies.