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.
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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.