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The Truth About Statistics

excerpts from an article by Diane Wiessinger


When we talk about the advantages of breastfeeding -- the "lower rates" of cancer, the "reduced risk" of allergies, the "enhanced" bonding, the "stronger" immune system -- we reinforce bottlefeeding yet again as the accepted, acceptable norm.

Health comparisons use a biological, not cultural, norm, whether the deviation is harmful or helpful.

Because breastfeeding is the biological norm, breastfed babies are not "healthier;" artificially-fed babies are ill more often and more seriously. Breastfed babies do not "smell better;" artificial feeding results in an abnormal and unpleasant odor that reflects problems in an infant's gut.

When I ask groups of health professionals if they are familiar with the study on parental smoking and IQ, someone always tells me that the children of smoking mothers had "lower IQ's." When I ask about the study of premature infants fed either human milk or artificial milk, someone always knows that the breastmilk-fed babies were "smarter." Even health professionals are shocked when I rephrase the results using breastfeeding as the norm: the artificially-fed children, like children of smokers, had lower IQs.

Inverting reality becomes even more misleading when we use percentages, because the numbers change depending on what we choose as our standard. If B is 3/4 of A, then a is 4/3 of B. Choose A as the standard, and B is 25% less. Choose B as the standard, and A is 33 1/3% more. Thus, if an item costing 100 units is put on sale for "25% less," the price becomes 75. When the sale is over, and the item is marked back up, it must be marked up 33 1/3% to get the price up to 100.

Those same figures appear in a recent study, which found a "25% decrease" in breast cancer rates among women who were breastfed as infants. Restated using breastfed health as the norm, there was a 33-1/3% increase in breast cancer rates among women who were artificially fed.

Breastfeeding isn't the only place where we get the norm backwards.

Which seems closer to the biological norm to you: a modern obstetric facility or a woman laboring with the continuous support of another, experienced woman?
Which do we choose as the norm in our studies? Which *should* we choose, biologically speaking, and how would it affect how we run our hospitals?

Here are some impressive statistics from a study on how the presence of a doula affects childbirth:

Having a supportive person nearby results in a:
50% decrease in cesarean sections
25% decrease in length of labor
30% decrease in use of forceps
40% decrease in use of oxytocin
60% decrease in use of epidurals,
30% decrease in use of pain medications

So the mom thinks, "Okay, if I get around to it I ought to line up a doula, to augment my normal, safe, hospital delivery."

Now try this: When a woman must labor without a supportive woman at her side, she experiences a:
100% increase in cesarean sections, or twice as many
33% increase in length of labor
43% increase in use of forceps
67% increase in use of oxytocin
150% increase in use of epidurals, or 2 1/2 times as many
43% increase in use of pain medications

Don't you think a woman might think, "Wait a minute! Why would the hospital knowingly increase my risks like this? What other issues should I be questioning if I give birth in a hospital"

Suddenly the whole mirage of the normal, safe, unquestioned hospital delivery evaporates.

Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC, Ithaca, NY


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