Having children and raising families requires a healthy, productive society.
The war on breastfeeding.
The United States is getting fatter; to compound matters, the greatest country in the world is also getting dumber. Since the seventies, according to researchers at Stanford, the “average rate of decline has been around three IQ points a decade, amounting to the loss of about 13.5 percent in average intelligence between 1975 and 2020.” Some blame the education system; some blame lead exposure; others, meanwhile, blame the rise in technology.
But have you considered breastfeeding? Or, rather, the lack of it. We already know that breastfeeding is positively associated with intelligence. As research shows, adults who were previously breastfed perform better in higher education settings and earn higher incomes. The length of breastfeeding also makes a difference, according to a recent study, with children who are breastfed longer performing consistently better in cognitive tests up to age 14. Why, then, are so few women breastfeeding?
Today, breastfeeding is synonymous with the P word. Yes, the dreaded patriarchy. To understand why, we need to consider the second wave feminism movement that was initiated by the activist Betty Friedan some 60 years ago. The sixties was a time when the act of breastfeeding, once synonymous with the actions of a loving mother, became synonymous with male oppression. And the Third Reich. As the academic Jen Bracken-Hull has noted, second-wave feminists saw direct parallels between the act of breastfeeding and Nazi Germany, where, in her own words, “the credo ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ (Children, Kitchen, Church) conformed women to a doctrinaire model of domesticity.” Before Godwin’s Law, there was Friedan’s Law.
According to Ms. Bracken-Hull, childbirth and infant feeding were considered humiliating, enervating experiences which disempowered women and enabled the patriarchal machine to crush them. At the same time as this idiocy gained sway over an increasing number of women’s minds, commercial infant formulas started to go mainstream. Clever marketing campaigns touted these products as being superior to breast milk. The booby trap was set. By 1970, only 25% of newborns in the U.S. were breastfed. Fast forward to today, and the U.S. finds itself hooked on infant formula. In 2020, the U.S. baby infant formula market was valued at $3.9 billion; by the end of the decade, it is projected to reach $6.8 billion.
So what of the supposed superiority of formula to breast milk? A new study in the British Medical Journal of just over 750 formula products from 15 countries around the world reveals that the majority of health and nutrition claims made for these products are suspect at best. The claims included that the products support the development of the brain, eyes, or nervous system; that they strengthen immunity; and that they support proper growth and development. Almost three quarters of the products offered no specific evidence to allow their claims to be evaluated, and of the products that did, 90% cited trials by authors that had received funding from the formula industry or had direct connections to it.
By contrast, we have ample evidence of the beneficial effects of breastfeeding. We’ve already noted the positive association between breastfeeding and intelligence, but there are plenty of others. Research clearly demonstrates that breastfeeding, a psychophysical stimulant, provides many health benefits for both mother and child. In addition to promoting healthy brain development, breastfed children are less likely to develop diabetes (types 1 and 2), hypertension, and heart disease later in life than those fed with infant formula. Breastfeeding positively affects a child’s socio-emotional development. Breastfeeding is a significant protective factor against obesity in children. Babies who are breastfed are considerably better at delaying gratification and regulating their food intake than their breast-deprived peers. We also know, from various epidemiological studies, that the natural immune mechanisms fostered by breastfeeding are equal, if not superior, to the benefits that can be derived from specific immunizations. This has long been known in the case of malaria, for instance, as well as other diseases like polio.
There are benefits for mothers too. Research shows that breastfeeding and light exercise reduce maternal stress and boost maternal mood. The hormone oxytocin—the so-called “love drug”—is released during the act of breastfeeding and helps the mother bond with her child. Mothers have no reason to fear that their breasts will be damaged or deformed by breastfeeding, either. They won’t. According to researchers at the University of Kentucky, mothers-to-be “should be reassured that breastfeeding does not appear to have an adverse effect upon breast appearance.”
It’s not just that the claims made about infant formula don’t stack up: it’s that the product might actually be harmful. Soy formula is a case in point. Around 25% of babies in the U.S. now consume formula made from processed soybeans. Although soy is touted as a high-protein alternative to animal products like milk, there are problems with this claim, not least of all the presence of anti-nutrients in soy which prevent the effective uptake of that protein, as well as other essential nutrients. Longer term consumption of anti-nutrient-rich plant foods can lead to serious deficiencies, which is bad enough news for an adult, let alone a baby whose entire future development is contingent, in large part, on the choice of proper nutrition on their behalf. Soy formula also lacks cholesterol, which is essential for proper development of the brain and nervous system, among many other things. We could also talk about the masses of added sugar and toxic vegetable oils in infant formula, and that’s before we’ve even got on to the heavy metal (especially aluminum) content. The soy used is also, almost invariably, GMO.
Probably the biggest worry with soy formula, though, is the presence of estrogenic substances, mainly isoflavones, in large quantities, which almost certainly interfere with development at a time of crucial hormonal sensitivity. There is such a thing as “mini puberty,” a sex-specific event in the early life of infants that helps prepare them for later development. This process depends on a gender-specific balance of hormones like estrogen and testosterone, a balance that could be upset by the presence of estrogen-like substances in the diet—with life-long ramifications.
Although in 2010 the U.S. National Toxicology Program released a monograph claiming that soy-based formula poses minimal risks to the health of infants, this was largely done on the basis of limited available data. But before 2010 there was already a large body of animal studies indicating that exposure to soy isoflavones could have potentially adverse negative effects—including one of our favorites, a study which shows that soy consumption turns macaques into passive-aggressive incel-monkeys—but since then there’s been a wealth of studies, including epidemiological and anecdotal studies, revealing the gender-bending effects of soy in humans too. These include a study showing, in particular, that consumption of soy formula is associated with estrogen-induced changes in the development of the female reproductive tract. This should be absolutely no surprise when we consider another recent study which suggests that infants on soy formula have levels of estrogen in their blood that are 13,000 to 22,000 times greater than the levels of babies who are breastfed or given animal-based formula. To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of feeding a 14 pound baby four to five birth control pills a day. If you wouldn’t want an adult woman to take five birth control pills a day, why would you want a baby to?
There’s a broader argument to be made about breastfeeding and the course of modern nutrition more generally, as well as the increasingly all-encompassing role of the medical industry in our lives. The recent history of breastfeeding, of how we were taught to distrust and, ultimately, shun a perfect natural nutrient-dense animal food, is in a very real sense the recent history of nutrition in a microcosm. Over the last 150 years, but especially the last 75, one of the most consequential dietary changes in history has taken place. Under the guidance of so-called nutritionists, food scientists, doctors, and public-health “experts,” and with the backing of massive amounts of corporate and public money, people in the developed world have abandoned the nutrient-dense animal foods that allowed our ancestors to thrive: red meat, eggs, and dairy in all its glorious forms. In the place of these life-giving foods, we’ve substituted industrial food products made with ingredients humans have either only ever eaten in limited quantities or, as with the new vegetable and seed oils, never consumed at all. Unsurprisingly, the renewed health we were promised, including freedom from diseases like cancer and heart disease, hasn’t appeared. Instead, we grow fatter, weaker, sicker, and more dependent on medical treatments than any generation before us.
The baby who is not breastfed gets their first taste of these new industrial foodstuffs not long after leaving the womb—and who’s to say they’re not hooked already? If there is such a thing as a dietary conveyor belt, leading the person on it inexorably from one diet to another, there must surely be one that leads from sugar-laden, vegetable-oil-heavy formula to the sugar-laden, vegetable-oil heavy processed foods that now make up a significant proportion, if not the majority, of the diets of most children and adults. Indeed, British toddlers (children aged between two and five) now consume nearly two-thirds of their daily calories from processed food, making their diet possibly the worst in the world. The figure isn’t much better for the United States, at 58% of daily calories. Such a child, fattened and already dependent on hyper-palatable foods, is ready for a lifetime of consuming these corporate wonders, which food scientists pore over to ensure they are as addictive as possible. Such a person is set up to fail. There are millions of them.
The displacement of breastfeeding with formula can also be seen as part of the growing medicalization of modern life. The negative effects of this process, or indeed the very process itself, depending on your view of it, are known as “iatrogenesis,” meaning “medically caused harm.” The most far-reaching, and disquieting, analysis of this phenomenon is Ivan Illich’s book The Limits of Medicine, also known as Medical Nemesis. The change from breastfeeding to formula-feeding is iatrogenic for a number of reasons. In Chile, for instance, the change was every bit as rapid as in the U.S., if not faster—in 1960, 96% of all mothers breastfed, whereas by 1970 just 6% breastfed beyond the first year, and 80% had weaned their children off breastmilk by the second month—and led to widespread malnourishment among children, especially protein starvation, as well as reduced immunity. A massive indoctrination campaign by political parties made choosing the bottle a status symbol for mothers, a symbol of progress, even as it led to a host of infant problems that had never been encountered before. And because mothers lacked the traditional folk knowledge to deal with babies who were no longer behaving as sucklings, the medical industry stepped in to offer new forms of treatment that would otherwise have not been necessary.
The perils of the creeping medicalization of every facet of our lives have been dramatized unmistakably over the last three years, in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic. No other recent event comes close to revealing as starkly the extent to which we have surrendered our autonomy, indeed our very ability to conceive of what might constitute a healthy or good life, to medical experts and a medical system that is in no way capable of telling us how to live our lives, or even of protecting us from harm.
The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions, and the intention to eliminate all forms of pain and illness is certainly among them, not to mention the desire to liberate women from oppressive social customs. The road to hell is also paved with plenty of bad intentions too, including the desire to create fresh markets for new corporate foodstuffs to replace natural foods that have served us well since time immemorial.
Babies are made for breastmilk. There is no escaping this fact. Nature made it thus. Of course, there are legitimate cases where women can’t breastfeed. Our advice to you, if this is the case, would be to seek out breastmilk support groups, for instance on Facebook, where you can easily acquire donated breastmilk. Breastmilk is so plentiful and easy to acquire, even bodybuilders are drinking it. Failing that, we’d recommend the Weston Price Foundation’s recipe for formula, which uses a variety of animal-based ingredients to create a formula which is as close to the real thing as possible.
Breast, as is clear to see, is best. It always was, and it always will be.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.