Lion of the Blogosphere

The religion of Breastfeeding

Courtney Jung calls it “lactivism.” Lori Gottleib, writing a review of Jung’s book in the New York Times says:

If you’re a parent with young children, you’ve likely encountered a sanctimommy. Sanctimommies, of course, are that modern species of sanctimonious mothers who liberally dispense parenting advice laced with the subtext, “I’m not saying you’re a bad parent, but. . . .” Smug in their maternal superiority, they crusade perhaps most vehemently against moms who choose not to breast-feed.

I’ve previously written about the 2006 study which proves that breastfeeding does not increase IQ:

Der, Batty and Deary study

The Der, Batty and Deary study uses data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It looks at the children of participants in that study, who were tested between the years of 1986 and 2002, so these children were fed formula before supplementation of infant formula with DHA and ARA fatty acids (which are supposed to better duplicate the effect of human breast milk) were available in the United States.

The Der, Batty and Deary study notes the major confounding factor in breast-feeding analyses is that women who breastfeed are usually of higher intelligence and social class than those who don’t breastfeed. In the NLSY79 data, breastfeeding mothers scored about one standard deviation higher on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT).

A multiple regression analysis of the NLSY79 data, which includes 5475 children, shows that breast feeding has no statistically significant impact on children’s cognitive assessments. Factors having the strongest correlations with children’s cognitive assessments are the mother’s AFQT score, the HOME cognitive stimulation score (which is probably a good surrogate for the father’s IQ and a host of other socioeconomic factors), and strangely enough, birth order.

The study also did an analysis of 332 sibling pairs where one was breastfed and the other was not. The results show that the formula-fed sibling had an IQ that was 0.63 points higher than the breastfed sibling. The authors didn’t bother to point out that this result was the opposite of the expected pattern. The P value is 0.506, so the authors probably figured this is just a statistically insignificant fluke and not worth mentioning.

There is additional evidence in the study, beyond what I’ve written about here, confirming the conclusion. Based on the Der, Batty and Deary study, I am convinced that the hypothesis that breast feeding causes higher IQ has been proven false. The cause and effect go the other way. Breast feeding predicts having parents with higher IQs and higher socioeconomic status.

Although one of the authors of the study warned me that the finding of higher IQ wasn’t statistically significant, I think it’s plausible that there’s a connection. I believe that some women who don’t produce enough milk are insisting on breastfeeding instead of using formula despite that, and are thus starving their babies of nutrients.

The problem with nearly all medical studies is that they ignore the IQ factor. Sometimes (but not always) they include socioeconomic factors such as highest level of education or income, but as I’ve been trying to explain for many years, IQ has a surprisingly low correlation with income, and a four year degree covers a vast range of IQs, from someone who is barely able to graduate in seven years with a degree in Justice Studies from a lowest tier local commuter college to a summa cum laude graduate of M.I.T. with a degree in Physics. IQ has a more causal relationship with how people behave in accordance with social class expectations than anything else; in other words, a low-income person with an IQ of 130 is far more likely to behave in a SWPL manner than a person with an IQ of 100 who made a lot of money in sales or as a plumbing contractor.

The breastfeeding article reminded me of the post about religion I wrote yesterday. I think that just as you had these mystery religions running rampant in the Roman Empire, we see the modern-day equivalent in things like breastfeeding, gluten-free diets, cholesterol and of course the biggest pseudo-religious sect of them all, climate change.

Just as the true believers in Christianity wrote Gospels in order to boost belief in their sect, the equivalent is pseudo-scientific studies which purport to show the benefits of breastfeeding. Just as hardly any of the “sanctimommies” evangelizing breastfeeding actually read any of the studies, hardly any of the Christians ever read the Gospels. Remember that there was not universal literacy back then, nor were there printing presses; only priests and a few wealthy and educated Christian believers would have access to the Gospels or other written testaments of Christianity. In those ancient times, a story about supernatural events was seen as the best proof for believing in a sect, but today the “scientific” paper replaces the supernatural story. And of course I put the word “scientific” in quotes because true scientific inquiry has proven that breastfeeding has no discernible benefit.

* * *

A commenter writes:

My wife never produced enough breast milk and this resulted in a 4 day hospital stay after my son was born and a trip to the infant ICU after we took him home because his bilirubin levels became dangerously high.

The pressure to breastfeed from our pediatrician and the two lactation specialists my wife saw was enormous and sure enough, one of the lactation specialists essentially tried telling my wife that my kid would be at an intellectual disadvantage if he wasn’t breastfed. I got in an argument with the lactation specialist over this. She really didn’t like being questioned. I thought that was just an awful thing for her to say.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 14, 2015 at 10:40 am

55 Responses

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    • We had a very similar experience in the hospital. A nurse finally (finally!) slipped us some formula, and our kid sucked it down like she was starving. We never looked back. Our two girls were nearly 100% bottle fed, and are happy, healthy and smart as tacks. No regrets.

      December 14, 2015 at 1:29 pm

  1. I really like this analysis. The analogy is not perfect b/c I think you are wrong about Christianity and in particular I think you discount (or are more likely ignorant of) many of the really important things that derive from the fundamental tenets of Christianity (search for logos/truth, rman’s rationality, interest in God’s physical laws, freewill, equality of men, etc). And, who knows, maybe in 2000 years, the Cult of Breastfeeding will have helped promote some very important threads in human history. OTOH, I see nothing but boots, faces, packed trains and barbed wire fences in the future of the Climate Change movement.

    not my name

    December 14, 2015 at 11:27 am

  2. “to a summa cum laude graduate of M.I.T. with a degree in Physics”

    There are no summa cum laude or class rank at MIT. Also, freshmen were put on pass/no fail (ie, if they fail, it doesn’t even show on the transcript), although they went back on this circa 2003-4 and it’s only the first semester now. Moreover, they even “outlaw” triple major, so all you can do is double. Best students don’t even care about grades (unless pre-med), and they tend to focus more on research endeavors (UROP’s)


    December 14, 2015 at 11:33 am

  3. You have lost the plot on this one, Lion. Breastfeeding has a great many benefits. Just because it doesn’t increase IQ doesn’t change all the other benefits. It is absurd to suggest it lowers IQ by a fraction of 1 point , with a P value of 0.5. This is meaningless noise.

    Any mother can produce enough milk–the supply is based on the demand. Mother’s who say they don’t have enough milk just think they don’t have enough milk so they start giving formula, which causes their supply to decrease. Or they are trying to feed on a schedule, which also undermines the supply and demand system.

    Many of the benefits of breastfeeding are listed at this site:

    But from your point of view I would think the worst thing about bottle feeding is that it is prole.


    December 14, 2015 at 11:35 am

    • Any article purporting to show “scientific” benefits of breastfeeding can’t be trusted for the reasons already explained in the post.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 14, 2015 at 11:53 am

      • You are carrying the association/causation thing too far. Association doesn’t necessarily prove causation. But it doesn’t disprove it either. You are clutching at straws, like people who don’t want to admit smoking causes cancer.

        You should stick to writing about things you know more about.


        December 14, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      • “You are carrying the association/causation thing too far. Association doesn’t necessarily prove causation. But it doesn’t disprove it either”

        How about this?

        Which is why the bottle-fed baby boomers had such low scores – except that they didn’t.

        Greg Cochran


        December 14, 2015 at 12:44 pm

      • Jayman, I’m not saying breastfeeding increases IQ. But their are health benefits. It is also easier and cheaper, provided you get good advice.


        December 14, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    • Unless you do a double-blind RCT you can not prove causation in medicine.

      Anyone who doesn’t understand this should be silent when it comes to medical advice.


      December 14, 2015 at 12:57 pm

  4. Even if the mystery of any IQ increase and breastfeeding is unresolved, there is no downside and perhaps an upside to tit feed. So mothers, err on the side of safety, especially when the outcomes could influence the child’s life forever.


    December 14, 2015 at 11:53 am

    • There is a significant downside for the 20% to 30% of women who have trouble producing enough milk.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 14, 2015 at 11:55 am

    • There is a downside if the mother is drinking alcohol, caffeine or doing drugs. Unfortunately a lot of lower class women will consume these things while they breast feed. For those sort of women the best advice is to do use formula.


      December 14, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      • A mother would likely die of alcohol poisoning before her breastmilk turned sufficiently alcoholic to impact the baby.

        slithy toves

        December 14, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    • The upside may be in the form of pathogen resistance, which may have currently unknown benefits down the line.


      December 14, 2015 at 12:45 pm

  5. I read that a Chinese company is going to start commercially cloning cows and lab animals. You’d think with all the stem cell tech and gene modified animals that they should be able to engineer cows to produce human breast milk. That would be a huge market. And people would pay a lot of money for that.


    December 14, 2015 at 12:21 pm

  6. There are some observable differences between breastfed babies and formula babies. Formula babies are more likely to be constipated and they are heavier. Also, I have observed in my own family that babies prefer breast milk given the choice between breast milk in a bottle and formula in a bottle.

    Another advantage of breast milk is that it is free. In the US, moms who can financially afford formula give their children free breast milk whereas mothers who can’t afford formula get the government to pay for it. At the very least if you want a smaller government, you should promote breastfeeding.

    It is possible to mix powdered formula incorrectly. What percent of formula babies are getting too much, too little, or clumped formula in their diet? I figure improper mixing correlates with IQ.

    Van Weyden

    December 14, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    • Prole obesity begins with baby formula.


      December 14, 2015 at 12:38 pm

      • @Van Weyden:

        You don’t under the problem of correlation and causation, or genetic confounding for that matter.


        December 14, 2015 at 12:46 pm

  7. I concur with the assessment that the conscientiousness of the mother to want to naturally breastfeed, in the first place, correlates with her having a higher iq that will naturally pass down to her child. My wife is currently breastfeeding and has been adamant about doing for at least a year as this is what so much of her own research has pointed to. A few weeks ago I made the same remark to her that I did not think that higher iq would be a result of the natural breast milk itself, but due to the fact that women who do breastfeed are more educated and from a higher socioeconomic group. She kind of balked at that, but then I asked her which of the women who were in our pregnancy classes are now also enrolled in the lactation/breastfeeding classes being offered at the same hospital. Unsurprisingly, all of the prole white and minority girls that we met in her initial classes did not stick around for the lactation group. It was now exclusively filled with upper middle class ladies, who like my wife, had both the time and the money to naturally breastfeed. She even told me that the prole girls had previously told her specifically that their parents were against them breastfeeding and that they said that the best way was to bottle feed. Their reason: because that is the way their parents and grandparents did it, which by default made it the best way.

    After that my wife was convinced of what I was saying. We still do not know for sure if the breast milk itself is all that beneficial in boosting iq, but there is no doubt in my mind that the emotional connection is rewarding and nurturing for them both. One thing is for sure and that is that women from higher socio economic/class backgrounds can recognize an evolutionary step in the right direction when they see one, and will pursue it for the sake of their offspring regardless of what their dumb relatives think.


    December 14, 2015 at 12:33 pm

  8. I just deleted a couple of paragraphs where I started telling my breastfeeding nightmare story and realized writing the whole thing out would take up the rest of my lunch. Long story short: my wife never produced enough breast milk and this resulted in a 4 day hospital stay after my son was born and a trip to the infant ICU after we took him home because his bilirubin levels became dangerously high.

    The pressure to breastfeed from our pediatrician and the two lactation specialists my wife saw was enormous and sure enough, one of the lactation specialists essentially tried telling my wife that my kid would be at an intellectual disadvantage if he wasn’t breastfed. I got in an argument with the lactation specialist over this. She really didn’t like being questioned. I thought that was just an awful thing for her to say.

    From what I’ve read about breastfeeding and IQ, it seems like there might be some minor advantage to breastfeeding, but at this point there isn’t a solid answer. The studies contradict themselves, the effects are small, etc. If a woman isn’t producing enough milk, there’s absolutely no reason to tell her that she must try harder to breastfeed or her kid will be a moron.

    My kid will be two in a couple of weeks and he was fed a combination of formula and breast milk until he was one. He can identify and say each letter in the alphabet, count to 20, and identify numbers 1 – 10. What’s more is that he pretty much picked that up from watching television (Super Simple Learning). While this isn’t unheard of, it is uncommon, and I can’t imagine he’d been doing any worse if he’d been on formula from the day he was born. In fact, if I could go back and do this over, I’d insist on formula.


    December 14, 2015 at 12:40 pm

  9. Don’t be stupid, of course breastmilk is going to be far healthier than soy and sugar formula pumped out at high margin by for-profit corps. Doesn’t soy have some estrogen mimicking qualities? Probably makes kids homos.


    December 14, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    • Normal formula is made from cow’s milk. (Good for baby cows, good for baby humans.)

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 14, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      • Baby cows have a very different type of digestive system than baby humans. Cows milk can be modified so that most human babies can do ok on it. But why use fake breastmilk instead of the real thing? Human breast milk has millions of years of evolution behind it.


        December 14, 2015 at 3:18 pm

      • Breast milk can’t be beat though. Evolution and all that.


        December 14, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      • Before civilization, a scarily high percentage of children died before becoming adults.

        Evolution gave us the brains to create artificial milk.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        December 14, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      • Children died in the old days despite breast milk not because of it. You’re flogging a dead horse Lion. Give up.


        December 14, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    • Breastmilk is very high in sugar and in fact tastes sweeter than formula. It tastes like sugar water.

      slithy toves

      December 14, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      • While formula tastes like crap.


        December 15, 2015 at 3:52 am

  10. This article is written by a horrible feminist but she nicely picks apart the “science” behind breastfeeding activism:

    Having breastfed a lot of children, the only tangible benefit is that the baby doesn’t have to wait for you to prep a bottle… you just stick the kid on your boob. Yes, it’s free, but that also means the mother is kept away from work if she is so inclined to earn an income (not all women can pump adequately). And remember… for poor mothers in the US, formula is already free courtesy of WIC.

    The risks of a mother thinking her baby is getting sufficient milk, when in fact he is not, are underestimated by the medical community. There have been a number of tragic cases where babies starve to death while their well meaning mothers keep on breastfeeding.

    I don’t know if it was because he was slightly premature, but my youngest child became dehydrated and severely jaundiced after 36 hours of “breastfeeding.” There was absolutely no milk coming out of me. I think he ingested some skin gnawed off my nipples but that’s about it. I started giving him bottles of formula while the nurses weren’t looking. One nurse, who caught me, yanked the bottle from his mouth and delivered a stern lecture on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

    The white nurses were the worst with the breastfeeding mania. The nursing assistants, who were all african american, were the ones sneaking me six packs of similac. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.

    Once home he did breastfeed successfully but I kind of wish we’d stuck with the formula.

    slithy toves

    December 14, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    • Blacks are more conservative than whites.

      And no, that doesn’t mean they are going to start voting Republican.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 14, 2015 at 5:11 pm

  11. And then there’s the (thankfully) small trend of SWPL women who continue breastfeeding their children long after they should have stopped. Even up to ages 5 and 6.



    December 14, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    • Does decision to breastfeed correlate with high IQ of a woman? If it does, then it is most likely beneficial to having the high IQ.


      December 15, 2015 at 4:01 am

  12. I wonder if issues with producing milk had to do with the prevalence of breasts implants.

    My wife has a pair of implants and had trouble making enough milk. We supplemented with formula since my son was born. In fact, we completely turned to formula after five months of small production.

    I overheard my wife taking to a group of ladies about implants affecting milk production. It was not unheard of amongst this group of women. Also, many ladies in my life have had babies recently. None of them have issues with milk production and, coincidently, none have implants.


    December 14, 2015 at 3:34 pm

  13. …IQ has a surprisingly low correlation with income…

    If you’re extremely intelligent, you probably have better things to do with your time than to try to get rich.


    December 14, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    • The extremely intelligent are an outlier which don’t even register well. But we do see lots of intelligent self-actualizing SWPL types also raking in the money.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 14, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      • IQ is like a skill — it can be monetized or not. It takes effort to monetize it. Clearly there are high paying jobs there, that are available only if you have high IQ in the first place. No one at Renaissance Technologies has IQ under 140 or low motivation. This is similar to say, having the genetics/potential to be a top athlete. But you can’t get there unless you put in the work. Without the sweat, high IQ will not get you far, and will not help you in crappy jobs. You only get an edge in high end jobs, and you don’t get there without a lot of work.

        Most people are lazy and not intellectually curious, independent of IQ.


        December 14, 2015 at 7:27 pm

  14. This actually very simple. The Bible in the book of Exodus tells us that baby Moses was breast fed. I think that the message is obvious.


    December 14, 2015 at 5:35 pm

  15. Breastmilk may make it difficult for a baby to reach weight targets.

    Whenever the government tells me something about health, I suspect it benefits the government in some way. For example, the breastfeeding frenzy is simply there for the government to save money on providing formula to poor people.


    December 14, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    • Breastfeeding frenzy has nothing to do with logic, it’s the True Believers in breastfeeding pushing the government agenda.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 14, 2015 at 6:07 pm

      • Actually it was an interesting post. In my family we are all breast feeding fanatics. It was interesting to find out that formula isn’t complete poison and that there is another side to this story. Still, try feeding human milk to, say, a zebu, think he is gonna like it? I dunno, just asking, but I doubt it.


        December 14, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      • It has everything to do with logic. In the 1920’s and 30’s it became relatively safe to use formula and it became very stylish. Soon breastfeeding became associated with proles. By the 1950’s it had almost become a lost art in the West. Then it slowly became popular again in the second half of the century. Now bottle feeding is associated with Prolesphere, or with people too dumb to realize the advantages and figure out how to do it. Someone here commented that 20 to 30 % of mothers can’t produce enough milk. This is nonsense . They are just getting bad advice and don’t understand the supply and demand nature of breast milk. If the baby still seems hungry after feeding, just keep feeding. They might go 24 hours eating every half hour , which will cause your supply to go up, and they will settle down to less frequent feedings.


        December 14, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      • If mothers aren’t producing enough milk then they aren’t producing enough milk. It’s a recognized medical problem and wishful thinking won’t make it go away.

        Mothers should definitely formula feed if they are having any problems at all producing enough milk.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        December 14, 2015 at 10:21 pm

  16. [I believe that some women who don’t produce enough milk are insisting on breastfeeding instead of using formula despite that, and are thus starving their babies of nutrients.]

    Without a doubt this is happening, albeit likely on the lower end of the brainpower spectrum of women dedicated to breastfeeding their offspring.

    Infants are designed to withstand calamity and are tougher than you might think. However one wonders what damage is wrought on nascent brains even if “just” for a few days of starvation and dehydration.

    Being the idiot I am I waited 5 days for my milk to come in with my firstborn. It’s remarkable he survived with virtually no hydration over that period. I’m reminded of the Mexican earthquake where newborns were excavated from hospital rubble, alive and kicking, a week after the event.

    slithy toves

    December 14, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    • How often did you feed the baby during the first 5 days? No doubt your baby was getting colostrum and more milk than you realized. Your breast don’t necessarily feel engorged when they are producing milk. When they get engorged usually it means you have gone too long between feedings.


      December 14, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      • No doubt you have no idea what you are talking about. You have absolutely no basis for knowing how much their baby was getting. You just seem to be one of the religious nuts Lion is talking about.

        December 14, 2015 at 11:04 pm

  17. Lion I wish you would’ve posted this 6 weeks ago. We recently had our son and IQ was the main reason we supported breastfeeding. We had a very hard time because he wasn’t getting enough food (she evidently isn’t producing enough), he would not sleep and would feed constantly which was exhausting. We finally broke down after 3 weeks of literal hell and formula fed. And that’s when I realized to check if it was all bs…. After only a little reading I realized what you’re saying here that it’s nurturists looking for excuses to deny nature and confusing correlation and causation.


    December 14, 2015 at 8:39 pm

  18. A high quality recent paper found no positive IQ effects. It seems likely any observed effect is due to confounding


    December 14, 2015 at 10:17 pm

  19. The big breastfeeding problem for white and (American) asian women is that they are often –too old. There are several likely causes reported in the medical literature for the fact “advanced maternal age” (which really means “over 25 or so for first baby”) strongly predicts insufficient milk production– including subclinical insulin resistance which is a serious problem in aging women.

    The women are too old so they have trouble making enough milk, then their friends give them a hard time for bottle-feeding, when they should really be castigated for delaying motherhood too long. (Women who have already birthed and fed a baby or two are much more likely to do well with subsequent babies.)

    If you think about it you will realize that the incidence of insufficient milk production has to be a recent problem– natural selection is not kind to that sort of thing. Baby formula is just another layer of grease on the slippery slope to white extinction caused by white women pursuing sterile careers instead of having children. Formula does help some white women reproduce despite stalling until the tail end of their fertile lifespan.


    December 15, 2015 at 12:22 am

  20. It may sound counter-intuitive, but breastfeeding was designed for babies. As a matter of fact, it is the only thing they really need. Just like an uncircumcised penis was designed for a pleasant and fulfilling sex life and it is pretty much all you need for it. I mean, did you even try to taste breast milk vs. formula? Try it; feel the difference!


    December 15, 2015 at 3:49 am

    • The man completed the Divine creation by circumcision. This is the design. And, obviously, it has nothing to do with carnal pleasure.

      Formula is disgusting to taste. Why can they make better?


      December 15, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      • They need to use partially processed ingredients because of the allergies to unprocessed ingredients. Also, formula does not provide protection against diseases that human milk provides. Also, feeding formula to babies results in fatter babies (think of fat girls): partly because it is already partially digested, so less energy is spent to digest it and partly because it is easier to suck on the bottle (think of a dog with unlimited food supply). Breastfeeding is self regulated because the harder the infant sucks, the more milk is produced next time – by a tiny bit, so you will never overfeed the baby. Of course, all this is relevant for women in their teens and twenties, and maybe early thirties. If the woman is in her late thirties or forties, the success is defined as the baby that can suck at all (born alive without major defects).


        December 15, 2015 at 9:32 pm

  21. Is it a good idea to consume Soylent as the only food you have in life? Probably it’s okay but there is a risk that you are missing something significant. Better to have a few normal balanced meals every week.

    In the same way, my non-professional advice to mothers who use formula is to supplement with breast milk for the first couple months.


    December 15, 2015 at 4:23 am

    • Unfortunately, this will not work because the baby will stop drinking from the breast. Why would he need to work if he could drink from the bottle without any hard work?


      December 15, 2015 at 9:36 pm

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