Mothering magazine: Peddling dangerous health misinformation to new mothers

Last week, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an expose by investigative journalist Brian Deer that enumerated in detail the specifics of how a British gastroenterologist turned hero of the anti-vaccine movement had committed scientific fraud by falsifying key aspects of case reports that he used as the basis of his now infamous 1998 Lancet article suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and a syndrome consisting of regressive autism and enterocolitis. Indeed, Deer even went so far as to describe Wakefield’s fraud as “Piltdown medicine,” comparing it explicitly to the infamous “Piltdown man” hoax, and in an accompanying editorial the editors of the BMJ agreed. These revelations were not by any means new. Scientists had suspected that something wasn’t quite right about Wakefield’s work almost as soon as it had been published, and by 2004 Brian Deer had uncovered clear evidence of major undisclosed conflicts of interest on Wakefield’s part. Unfortunately, by that time the proverbial cat was out of the proverbial bag, and Wakefield’s fraudulent research, aided and abetted by his flair for self-promotion in the media and some truly execrable, credulous, and sensationalistic coverage by the British press, had ignited a major scare over the MMR vaccine. MMR uptake rates plummeted below levels necessary for herd immunity, and measles came roaring back with a vengeance in the U.K. By the time the British General Medical Council finally ruled about a year ago that Wakefield had committed research fraud and violated research ethics in the work reported in his 1998 Lancet article and recommended that he be “struck off” (i.e., have his license to practice medicine in the U.K. revoked), the damage had been done.

As important as Wakefield is to the genesis of the modern anti-vaccine movement, however, there is another force that acts far more “where the rubber hits the road,” so to speak. This force comes in the form of publications and online discussion forums that cater to new mothers, offering all manner of advice and support. Some of these are very good, but all too many of them are hotbeds of anti-vaccine pseudoscience, confidently proclaimed by “elder statesman” members of these forums and included in articles published in glossy, attractive magazines. As a rather ironic coincidence, just as news of Andrew Wakefield’s latest humiliation was finding its way out into multiple news outlets last week, the first issue of 2011 of just such a glossy publication hit the shelves. I’m referring to Mothering, whose tagline is “Inspiring Natural Families Since 1976.” In reality, it should read: “Inspiring quackery and anti-vaccine views since 1976.” Of course, in the world of “alt-med,” the two often go hand-in-hand. In any case, one of our readers sent me a link to the latest issue of Mothering. Unfortunately, I can’t supply you with that link, because it’s for subscribers. I will, however, describe and quote articles and passages that demonstrate just what a wretched hive of scum and quackery Mothering is, particularly with respect to vaccines but not limited to vaccines. Taking into account its large and vigorous online forums, Mothering is major force for the promotion of anti-vaccine views and quackery among new mothers.

Mothering says: Don’t worry, be happy about pertussis

The cover of the January/February 2011 issue of Mothering asks, Whooping Cough: Is Your Family At Risk? Should You Vaccinate?, complete with the mandatory cute photo of a cherubic infant to drive home the point of how important these questions are. Now, it’s very tempting for me to cite the science-based answers and emphasize that the answers are yes and YES!, but, as you might imagine, that’s not exactly what Mothering advocates. Far from it.

The article is by a physician named Lauren Feder, MD and entitled “Straight Talk on the 100 Day Cough: What are the Symptoms of Pertussis? Who’s at Risk? And Is the Vaccine Right for Your Family?” Again, the answers to the last two questions should be “Everybody, particularly the unvaccinated” and “Yes, unless your child has a medical contraindication to being vaccinated.” But that’s not what Dr. Feder says. In fact, her article is a mix of science and pseudoscience, which is not surprising because it turns out that Dr. Feder is a homeopath:

Lauren Feder, MD, specializes in homeopathy, pediatrics, and primary-care medicine. Known for her holistically minded approach, Dr. Feder is a frequent lecturer to parents and professionals. She is the author of Natural Baby and Childcare and The Parents’ Concise Guide to Childhood Vaccinations. Her website is

One can’t help but notice how Dr. Feder says she specializes in “homeopathy” and then “pediatrics,” not the other way around, implying that she views herself as a homeopath first and pediatrician second. Perusing her website, I found that the Mothering article appeared to be very similar to this article on Dr. Feder’s website. In it, after the disclaimer urging parents who suspect their child has whooping cough to take the child to a physician because whooping cough can be life-threatening. Then she recommends various homeopathic remedies for whooping cough. I kid you not. Here are a couple of examples:

Drosera for violent coughing spells ending in choking, gagging, or vomiting. Sometimes these coughs are so strong that the child can hardly catch her breath. Drosera is indicated for barking coughs, whooping cough, croup, and coughs that are worse after midnight, commonly accompanied by a bloody nose and a hoarse voice.

Spongia tosta for dry coughs that sound like a saw going through wood; often used for croup. Useful for croupy coughs that are worse before midnight, accompanied by a dry, barking cough that can sound like a seal.

The text for this section is very similar both on Dr. Feder’s website and in her Mothering article. Added to the sidebar of her Mothering article, Dr. Feder proclaims in addition, “Holistic medicine and homeopathy may shorten the course and severity of the illness.” There is, of course, no evidence presented (probably because there is no good scientific evidence to support such an assertion) that homeopathy can shorten the course of pertussis (or the course of any disease, for that matter), and to suggest as much is irresponsible in the extreme. Homeopathy is, after all, water. In the meantime, Dr. Feder makes exaggerated assertions about the whole cell pertussis vaccine that has largely been replaced by the acellular pertussis because of concerns that it caused a lot of neurological complications. Early reports in the 1980s suggested a high rate of neurological complications due to the whole cell pertussis vaccine, but more recent studies, as described by Steve Novella last year and by Paul Offit in his recently released book Deadly Choices: How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, have failed to confirm a link between seizures, neurological damage, and the whole cell pertussis vaccine. Perhaps the most telling aspect of Dr. Feder’s article is that nowhere does she state that all children without a medical contraindication to being vaccinated should be vaccinated against pertussis. Rather, she plays the game of saying “if you choose to vaccinate,” and then recommending this program of woo around the times of vaccinations:

In an attempt to use a more natural preventive approach, I prefer a different course of action. With any vaccination, I recommend administering the following vitamin and herbal remedy seven days before and after the shot, to generally strengthen the body. They may also help reduce any side effects of the vaccine.

Remember, your child should not receive a vaccination if she is cranky or ill. At our office, we prefer that, when possible, people take only one vaccine at a time. Contact your practitioner if unusual symptoms occur following the shot. You can use this protocol in conjunction with any other medications you give your child.

Each day, for seven days before and after the shot, give your child the following:

Briar Rose This gemmotherapy herb is a general immune strengthener.

Vitamin C Less than two years old, 100 milligrams, twice daily; two years and older, 250 mg twice daily.

She also recommends five homeopathic remedies be given before and after the shots, depending upon which remedy. Hilariously, she recommends giving three pellets of homeopathic DTaP 30C once a week for three weeks, beginning the day of the vaccination. She recommends the same thing for the Hib vaccine, homeopathic Hib given the same way. One wonders why Dr. Feder would even acquiesce to giving the vaccine if homeopathy is so great.

It occurs to me that, if Dr. Feder really believes in giving only one vaccine at a time and that parents should engage in all this woo before each vaccine, it would be a wonder if any parent manages to get through the entire vaccination schedule anywhere near on time in Dr. Feder’s practice. Maybe that’s the point. Also, such a regimen would require a whole lot of visits to the pediatrician, way more than the current vaccine schedule does, not to mention the purchase of a whole lot of homeopathic remedies to be given before and after the vaccines. Maybe that’s the point, too. Be that as it may, perhaps the most disturbing part of Dr. Feder’s article is how, after actually conceding that pertussis is dangerous and can even kill, she then tries to downplay the danger of pertussis by citing her own anecdotal experience, much as our “old friend” Dr. Jay Gordon likes to do:

Thus far, the worst case of pertussis I’ve seen was in an eight-month-old girl who was hospitalized for a few days despite having had two DTaP shots. Following the hospitalization, the patient and her family came to my office for homeopathic treatment to expedite her healing. Now she is fine.

Note the implications. First is the implication that, because this child got two DTaP doses and still caught pertussis, the vaccine doesn’t work. Next, the implication is that homeopathy works. Testimonials aren’t just for cancer, apparently. After all, this child was treated with standard of care in a hospital for a severe case of pertussis. Her parents also gave her homeopathic remedies prescribed by Dr. Feder. Obviously, it must have been the homeopathy that cured her, or at least completed her healing! Worse, Dr. Feder appears to be implying, “Don’t worry so much about pertussis. I’ve never seen a child die of it; so it must not be so bad, and homeopathy can take care of it anyway. So you don’t really need those nasty vaccines.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Feder’s article is not all that this issue of Mothering has in store for mothers. First, Dr. Feder’s article contains a link to an article by anti-vaccine-sympathetic pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon, who has been featured on more than one occasion right here on SBM for speaking at Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine rally, downplaying the severity of pertussis and launching ad hominems at Dr. Paul Offit, arguing that vaccination against H1N1 is not necessary and the flu isn’t so bad, becoming indignant at arguments that parents who refuse to vaccinate shouldn’t be held legally liable if their child infects another, and for arguing on The Doctors that vaccines cause autism. It’s not for nothing that both Steve Novella and I have concluded that Dr. Gordon, if not anti-vaccine, is at the very least an apologist for the anti-vaccine movement. His article for Mothering, entitled “Behind the Scenes with Dr. Jay,” is in the same vein as much of his other parroting of anti-vaccine views. Indeed, he makes nonsensical claims such as, “If vaccines work—and I believe they do—then vaccinated children are not endangered by unvaccinated children.” Apparently Dr. Jay has forgotten that no vaccine is 100% effective and that highly contagious diseases, such as the measles, can infect a subset of vaccinated children who didn’t respond to the vaccine sufficiently to achieve immunity. He then devolves into his usual pharma conspiracy mongering, replete with evidence- and data-free assertions such as this:

The pharmaceutical industry has not earned my trust. They have promoted ineffective drugs and other medicines that they knew had dangerous side effects. They have paid many physicians to ghost-write “in-house” research, and then to speak and write about the benefits of these same medications. Even if I believed that vaccines were the greatest invention in medical care—and I do not—I would still argue that the way they’re manufactured and given to children is not anywhere near as safe as it could be.

Evidence that the way vaccines are manufactured and given to children is not anywhere near as safe as it could be? None is presented by Dr. Jay. As I’ve said before, Dr. Jay clearly holds many anti-vaccine views, as defined thusly.

Also featured in the Jan./Feb. 2011 issue of Mothering is an article by — holy crap! — Barbara Loe Fisher, the Founder and President of the anti-vaccine group the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). Arguably, BLF is the grande dame of the current iteration of the anti-vaccine movement, having started her activism in the 1980s. In it, she regurgitates the same sorts of arguments that we’ve heard time and time again. In particular, she is upset that recent pertussis outbreaks have been linked to the unvaccinated, pointing out that rates of vaccination for pertussis are very high. That’s true when one looks at the overall population, but BLF neglects to note that there are pockets with high numbers of unvaccinated children that provide a nidus for outbreaks to occur because herd immunity has broken down, as Joe Albietz, Mark Crislip, and Steve Novella have discussed, while Dr. Albietz has discussed the complexities of the recent whooping cough epidemic in California. While it is not clear how much of the current outbreaks in California are due to low vaccine uptake rates versus other factors, it is clear that vaccination against pertussis is safe and effective, the attempts of Dr. Feder, Dr. Gordon, and BLF to paint it otherwise notwithstanding.

Mothering, HIV/AIDS, vaccines, and other quackery

Christine MaggioreMothering magazine has been a hotbed of anti-vaccine rhetoric as long as I’ve been aware of it, which has been around six years now. Worse, as I pointed out earlier in a post from two years ago about the death of HIV/AIDS denialist Christine Maggiore of what appears all the world to look like a case of terminal AIDS, Mothering has supported HIV/AIDS denialism. Indeed, Maggiore was featured on the cover of an issue of Mothering several years ago when she was pregnant, her pregnant belly emblazoned with the word “AZT” in a circle with a slash through it. The issue featured Maggiore in an article entitled Safe and Sound Underground: HIV-Positive Women Birthing Outside the System. Other articles published in Mothering about AIDS include Molecular Miscarriage: Is the HIV Theory a Tragic Mistake?, AZT Roulette: The Impossible Choices Facing HIV-Positive Women, HIV and Breastfeeding: The Fear. The Misconceptions. The Facts. (of which only one out of three was correct, namely the fear), and AZT in Babies: Terrible Risk, Zero Benefit. So, in addition to irresponsible and non-science-based recommendations about vaccines, Mothering promotes irresponsible and non-science-based recommendations about HIV very similar to the misinformation that led Christine Maggiore and her daughter to their deaths. Hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa have died following this sort of advice.

Then there’s vaccination.

If you Google for information on vaccination safety, after science-based sites like the CDC and CHOP and non-science-based sites like the NVIC, it doesn’t take long to find one’s way to the forums on vaccination, particularly if you Google “vaccine safety discussion.” If you then head to the Vaccination Forum, right at the top, you’ll find two discussions, Selective & Delayed Vaccination and I’m Not Vaccinating. The rules for the forums are stated thusly:

For I’m Not Vaccinating:

Posting to this forum will not be restricted only to members who do not vaccinate. However, we will actively restrict conversations in favor of mandatory vaccination or other topics that would be inappropriate for the forum. This is not a place for debate or discussions on the merits of vaccines or the dangers of not vaccinating, it is also not a place to argue against vaccines or selective and delayed vaccination schedules. Such discussions are already hosted in the main Vaccinations forum and posts in that vein are most welcome and appropriate there.

For Selective & Delayed Vaccination:

This forum is not a place to argue against selective or delayed vaccination or debate vaccination in general. Such discussions are already hosted in the main Vaccinations forum and posts in that vein are most welcome and appropriate there. Our purpose for this forum is to provide information that is helpful for parents who have made the decision to vaccinate and are not seeking discussion against their decision but rather support and information to help them proceed in the best manner. Please respect this and post at all times with this in mind.

In other words, don’t intrude on the comfy, self-reinforcing, supportive vibe. But what about the main vaccination forums, where, supposedly, in contrast to these two forums, it’s OK to debate the merits of vaccinating versus not vaccinating? Well, it doesn’t sound so friendly to anyone who wants to have a science-based discussion of vaccination, as evidenced by this notice about updated guidelines for the vaccination forum:

MotheringDotCommune is a community forum geared toward parents interested in Natural Family Living. On the issues of vaccinations we believe in informed consent. This means we look at both sides of the vaccine issue. However, one of our objectives, and for which members and guests come to our forum, is to bring to light the information that is not mainstream and readily available.

Recently, we have seen several members join MDC who seem to have an agenda to promote vaccinations. Though Mothering does not take a pro or anti stand on vaccinations, we will not host threads on the merits of mandatory vaccine, or a purely pro vaccination view point as this is not conducive to the learning process.

We will be contacting several members to discuss their sincerity on MDC. In the meantime, we are asking our members not to quote from this notice or address members within a thread as this is strictly prohibited. Instead, contact a forum moderator or administrator if you are concerned about a post and we will take appropriate action if need be.

And, from the guidelines themselves:

We embrace all parents, regardless of their choice. We uphold the Vaccinations forum as a place where they can come and discuss all aspects of all vaccinations, and find support in their desire to make an informed decision to not vaccinate, to vaccinate, to selectively vaccinate, or to delay vaccinations.


We expect and insist that all members post here with an open mind and a willingness to learn — even from the new member. There should be an understanding that a large number of Mothering community members are against vaccinations so when you do come here to post to ask your questions, and you have an intention to vaccinate, members here will feel a need to inform you of the concerns about vaccinations. While no one should be labeled as irresponsible or uninformed for deciding to vaccinate, neither should parents here who have chosen to not vaccinate be accused of irresponsibility, not caring for their child, or presenting a threat to others.

Elsewhere in the guidelines, it is spelled out:

That said, we will not tolerate new members who come to this forum with a focused agenda.

That “focused agenda” being, apparently, supporting vaccines and countering pseudoscientific arguments against them, which will get you booted off the MotheringDOTCommunity (MDC) discussion boards really fast if you persist after being warned. We don’t want to harsh the buzz of all those crunchy moms clucking about how vaccines are “unnatural” and “unnecessary.” Particularly revealing is this thread entitled Problem with ‘The Purpose of this Forum.’ One mother even asked, “Why does have to be so PC by stating Vaccinations Forum is neither pro-vax or anti-vax in policy??” Another mother wondered if the reason the MDC forum moderators don’t want to own up to being “anti-vax” is due to liability concerns. If you want to get a flavor of the discussions on these boards, though, check out the reaction to Andrew Wakefield. For example, macha10 writes:

Here’s how this issue boils down for me. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t care if this Wakefield guy falsified data. I don’t care if the study was good. I don’t even care if vaccines contribute to autism or not. I STILL will not vaccinate my children, for plenty of other reasons. Autism is not my only reason. And I am so sick of the media and the so-called “experts” out there telling the public that we crazy non-vac parents don’t vaccinate only because of autism. And now that the study is false, we can all just vaccinate our kids again. And everything will be great. UGGGG.

In other words, don’t bother me with facts and science. In fact, if you want to get a flavor of the entire attitude of the MDC towards vaccines, you can’t do better than a conversation I monitored about five and a half years ago, specifically, this disturbing challenge about vaccines posted by someone using the ‘nym Jen123:

Mercury seems to be getting tons of coverage. When that deal is settled and we win, we need to go after another ingredient. We’ll dismantle the vaccine industry ingredient by stupid ingredient if we have to.

Who is with me?

Oh, no! It’s the toxins gambit coupled with mercury fear mongering! Although this was written in a semi-facetious tone, subsequent discussion demonstrated that this woman was serious. To her, it’s not just about mercury. It’s about vaccines. Here is a sampling of the depressing replies:

Actually I believe that the chickenpox vax does have fetal tissues in it.**

Eh, every time we win on one though, they’ll just throw another creepy ingredient in.

Yeah, what about aluminum? Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic. It boggles my mind that some people are ONLY worried about mercury when even without mercury they still contain carcinogenics and nuero/blood toxins (oh and antibiotics in some.) Yummy.

In another 50 years or so, they’ll make the connecting b/w vaxxes and alzheimers, soon teenagers will be getting it with all the aluminium they are being injected with. I really believe our life span is going to be decreasing — everyone will have some sort of cancer, and will be dieing at a younger age. But no one agrees with me irl

This is the sort of the sort of antivaccination rhetoric that “vaccine safety proponents” try to hide from view. These mothers claim they are not “anti-vaccination,” and probably most of them honestly believe that they aren’t. However, right beneath the surface of all their attacks on mercury, just out of sight to the casual observer, full-blown antivaccination paranoia and conspiracy theories lurk, and certainly their “anti-mercury” advocacy provides aid and comfort to those who have more global problems with vaccination. The bottom line is that MDC is anti-vaccine to the core.The few brave souls who try to post science-based information will rapidly find themselves under attack from a swarm of anti-vaccinationist cyber sisters. If they persist after being “informed” of the forum’s guidelines or “counseled,” they will be rapidly banned by the forum moderators.

Misinformed consent on MotheringDotCommunity

Mothering and claim to be all about “informed consent” when it comes to vaccination, alternative medicine, “alternative” childbirth practices such as the various forms of “natural” childbirth, and even homeopathy. They are in reality about misinformed consent in that the risks of vaccination are grossly exaggerated, while the severity and danger of the diseases vaccines protect against are minimized, as are the ability of vaccines to protect against these diseases. Thrown into the mix are articles like Dr. Feder’s, which “informs” readers that, while pertussis is bad it’s really not that bad, that the vaccine isn’t so good, and that homeopathy can be used to treat pertussis. In other articles, readers are “informed” that there is doubt over whether HIV causes AIDS, whether AZT can decrease the transmission rate of the virus between HIV-positive mothers and their children, and whether antiretrovirals can prevent the progression of HIV to AIDS. In still other articles, parents are told that they can manage colds, asthma, the flu, earaches, and lots of other conditions with homeopathy.

Perhaps the best example of “misinformed consent” found in can be found at this link to Vaccine Safety Awareness. Right there is a “Physician’s Warranty of Vaccine Safety” that plays the “toxin” gambit and demands in essence absolute safety from vaccines. Elsewhere, prominently featured is a link to the monthly VAERS Report. Never mind that VAERS is a database to which anyone can report an adverse event after vaccination, whether the event is related to vaccination or not. Worse, VAERS is highly subject to publicity. Indeed, trial lawyers have in the past gamed the database by encouraging their clients to report that vaccines caused their children’s autism. Amusingly, a parent by the name of Jim Laidler entered a report into VAERS that a vaccine turned him into the Incredible Hulk, and Kev Leitch did the same in a report claiming that the flu vaccine turned his daughter into Wonder Woman. The point is that anyone can enter a report, and there is no verification that the adverse event reported is actually due to vaccination. VAERS has the potential to be useful as a sensitive “early warning” system that could alert health officials to a problem, but it is useless for estimating actual rates of vaccine injury, and the ease with which it is gamed diminishes its usefulness even as an early warning system.

In fact, the entire Vaccines section of is full of dangerous misinformation. For example, chicken pox parties are recommended, even though as a result of the party described one child had the “worst case his doctor had ever seen,” with “hundreds of lesions, even in his mouth and down his throat.” Another article, entitled Poison in our vaccines, played the toxin gambit in huge, bold letters.

Mothering and MDC represent themselves as places to obtain accurate information about child care, health care, and childbirth. Because the magazine’s circulation is healthy and the community is very large, links to these sites all too often appear high in Google searches, leading young mothers to fonts of misinformation that leads to misinformed consent. Andrew Wakefield and his fellow travelers promoting unscientific information about vaccines are definitely to blame for providing the raw material for the anti-vaccine movement, but it’s communities like MDC and magazines like Mothering that spread the message to the masses, all in the name of protecting “freedom of conscience.” Unfortunately, freedom isn’t free when it’s based on misinformation, pseudoscience, and quackery.0

ADDENDUM: More on Mothering can be found here.

Also….Surprise! Surprise! Mothering has a fawning interview with Andrew Wakefield featured in a recent podcast.

Posted in: Health Fraud, Homeopathy, Science and the Media, Vaccines

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101 thoughts on “Mothering magazine: Peddling dangerous health misinformation to new mothers

  1. “Some of these are very good, but all too many of them are hotbeds of anti-vaccine pseudoscience, confidently proclaimed by “elder statesman” members of these forums and included in articles published in glossy, attractive magazines.”

    Oh please, tell which ones are very good! I haven’t managed to find a non-annoying, non-loose with the science parenting magazine yet.

  2. AlexisT says:

    The situation on Mothering is even worse than you presented. S&D is the closest thing to support for vaccination but anti-vaxers regularly run rampant in there. Meanwhile, you can’t challenge anything in the “I’m not vaccinating” forum. If you’re pro-vax, you’re pretty quickly banned, official policy or not. There is no honest discussion or “informed consent” on there because pro-vaccination posters are censored. Their posts are deleted, the threads are locked or sent to “thread jail” where no one can read them, and finally, they get banned. I gave up posting in that forum long ago because there’s no point. I think there’s one pro-vaccination (officially S&D) poster who’s lasted, and I don’t know how she’s managed.

    They finally banned people from posting links to because of the Holocaust denial on there.

    The vaccination boards are the least of it. Check out the unassisted childbirth boards. Or the home birth boards. Now try telling someone it’s not a good idea.

  3. Kylara says:

    Mothering also prints appalling misinformation on SIDS and co-sleeping, among many other topics. It appears free at my home periodically and I must throw it out in disgust.

    Even some of the “how to have a good marriage while having babies” articles make me want to scream and slap someone. Basically someone is sitting in an office somewhere using stock photography and MAKING SHIT UP to put this magazine together.

  4. ElspethS says:

    AlexisT is correct. It is a dangerous place for women. This is a place where women often talk about having an unassisted home birth as early as (what was it?) 34 weeks and are supported in making that declaration because the only thing that a premature baby needs is kangaroo care. And colostrum. And positive feelings from mama.

    The Secret and law of attraction thinking runs rampant there. All you need for a safe, homebirth with breech twins is to manifest a positive experience.

    I truly believe that they have no interest in making any of their ideas “mainstream.” When safe home birth (low risk, with a trained, licensed midwife) starts getting positive attention at sites like iVillage, they have to up the ante so they can “out crunch” the conventional parenting and childbirth sites.

    I was doing research for a class I want to teach and wound up on a listserv with some of the “radical” midwives who frequent mothering with their dangerous, quack advice. Some of the stuff I’ve seen is frightening.

  5. AlexisT says:

    One criticism, though, that I just noticed: you lumped in ‘“alternative” childbirth practices such as the various forms of “natural” childbirth,’ with everything else. Natural childbirth (in and of itself) may be a minority choice, but it is not unsafe, it’s not particularly alternative, and it’s supported by mainstream health professionals. I have issues with the “natural” construction, but in its purest form, all it means is an unmedicated vaginal delivery without instruments. Hardly quackery. I think it detracts from the problem to lump in women who take Lamaze and don’t want an epidural with the real issues on that forum that result in the deaths of babies. The stories of those women are suppressed and sanitized, and women who blame their midwives or the misinformation spread on Mothering are driven off.

  6. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    In the Netherlands a homeopath physician named Tinus Smits (1946-2010) was quoted in three regional newspapers on February 18, 2004 in an article about vaccination. He said more or less the same things as Feder. He advised to start late in life with vaccination, spread the shots out, and that a non-vaccinated child with pertussis could very well be treated with homeopathy. The whole article showed a remarkable similarity to a book published by him entitled ‘Vaccination is not without risks’.

    Energetic antiquacks brought this to the attention of the disciplinary council (if my memory serves me right the antiquacks started writing to the Health Inspectorate and then the Inspectorate went to the council). On January 17, 2005 the complaint was received. Smits got a Warning (i.e. if he would do it again he would be struck off) on April 19, 2006. The Warning was for his claim that pertussis can be treated by homeopathy. The council said that the other things weren’t quite OK either, but as there was no proof that he actually had given a non-vaccination advice to a patient during a consultation, they let it pass.

    So maybe there is reason to ask for disciplinary action against Feder. As an MD she may not directly undermine public health.

  7. windriven says:

    Three observations:

    1. “Mothering,” thankfully, only has a total circulation of around 90,000.

    2. Feder, Gordon, and any number of other holistic-alternative-luddite fruit loops are medical doctors and their malpractice is tolerated by their professional societies and state licensing boards to the detriment of all of us.

    3. A number of top ranked medical schools and medical centers have departments of woo that underscore, to the frightened and ignorant who are drawn to sCAM, the mainstream acceptance of nonsense in the practice of medicine.

  8. AlexisT says:

    Windriven: The magazine has a circulation of 90K, but the boards seep through Internet mommy-dom. It’s more influential than you might suspect.

  9. Thankyouthankyouthankyou for discussing the misinformation of Mothering! The editors distribute all kinds of dangerous medical advice to vulnerable new parents. Isn’t this–especially on the heavily moderated forums–akin to practicing medicine without a license? Is this actionable?

    Windriven: AlexisT is absolutely right that it’s more influential IRL than the print circulation would suggest. Alternative mothers that I know treat it like sacred text and pass links around as if they are gems of holy wisdom. A few years ago I heard someone pass along some opposite-truth, and she cited motheringdotcommune as a credible source of information. It’s a self-validating echo-chamber.

    As an aside, I love the Orwellian title of the editor’s monthly column, A Quiet Place. This is where she spouts all manner of invective against doctors, scientists, agriculture, and so on. It’s a pretty darn loud quiet place…

  10. windriven says:


    I wasn’t suggesting that the publication isn’t influential, only that its circulation isn’t as large as it might be. There are over 4 million live births each year. 90,000 – even if one applies a multiplier to more accurately characterize its influence – isn’t as frightening as, say, “O” with a circulation around 2.5 million.

  11. Jacinta says:

    I used to post at (we call it MDC). I was an active member of the community in the non-woo sections back when the whole site was more moderate.

    Then I started posting in the vaccinations forum and was banned within weeks for being so scandalously un-open to not vaccinating. I was always very carefully neutral and polite, I’d usually link to some basic science articles explaining the immune system, or a refereed journal abstract, or the WHO or CDC. But they don’t want that sort of brainwashing. They’d much prefer their ‘research’ on sites like and mercola.

    But the vaccine forum wasn’t the worst part of the site IMO. I was endlessly fascinated by the Unassisted Birth forum (UC). That’s where you post if you accept the death of a baby from preventable causes as natural and a worthwhile trade-off for being able to stay away from people touching your body in transition. And it was in lurking this forum that I discovered how much moderation was happening. Someone would post how they were worried about something, the cheerleading and ‘trust your body, mama’ would start, then a sane person would come in and point out how serious the symptom was and the thread would disappear. Most upsetting was when a woman whose baby died or had serious complications posted for support and her threads disappeared too. Can’t have nasty old reality intruding in the fantasy now, can we?

    The others talking about how influential the site is are right. google almost anything related to babies and an MDC thread will be in the first page.

  12. baldape says:

    “Oh please, tell which ones are very good! I haven’t managed to find a non-annoying, non-loose with the science parenting magazine yet.”

    “Parenting” magazine. A quick search of their website for “vaccine” yields a resounding endorsement of science-based evaluations of the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. Anecdotally, it’s a magazine I often find myself perusing in pediatric waiting rooms that, though full of too many “fluff” articals to merit my consideration for subscription, has never given any “woo vibe”.

    In the realm of books, I highly recommend “Baby 411″ (by Ari Brown, M.D. and Denise Fields).

  13. David Gorski says:

    Windriven: The magazine has a circulation of 90K, but the boards seep through Internet mommy-dom. It’s more influential than you might suspect.

    Indeed. I forgot where I read this, but it has been claimed that has the largest online community of its kind. It wouldn’t surprise me if virtually every new mother looking for online communities of new mothers comes across before too long; its reach is huge.

  14. Enkidu says:

    Jacinta: “The others talking about how influential the site is are right. google almost anything related to babies and an MDC thread will be in the first page.”

    True that. MDC is heavily referenced on other online Mommy forums too.

    An anti-vaxer “friend” of mine keeps wanting me to go to the MDC vax forums and comment; she thinks that the people there are especially knowledgeable and will put me and my pro-vax scientific rambling in my place. I told her why would I even bother, I’d be banned in 30 seconds flat!

  15. baldape – I agree that Parenting is dramatically better than Mothering. I am probably too picky, but even Parenting gets to me. But my complaint is more in the arena of sociology, discipline, psychology type articles. The “How to Build Your Child’s Self Esteem” or “How to Raise your Child’s EQ” kind of articles that offer advice from parenting experts that are short on real evidence that ties the prescribed parental actions to the desired results.

    But I will admit this is a personal pet peeve no where near as problematic or dangerous as the topic of discussion with Mothering.

    I do enjoy Parenting for the crafts.

    I have not seen Baby411, I’ll have to check out. I’m a bit past the baby stage myself, but possibly a good shower gift.

  16. AlexisT says:

    David: They inflate membership statistics. Accounts are never deleted and they do stealth bans, whereby you can’t post but don’t show up as banned. So any numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. Threads are very highly google-ranked, though. I found the site when my daughter was maybe a month old. I wouldn’t have described myself as “crunchy”, had no idea what Mothering was, and didn’t even live in the US. But when I went looking for information on pumping, up it came.

  17. David Gorski says:

    Threads are very highly google-ranked, though.

    And that’s the problem, far more than raw numbers of members in the various MDC forums. Whatever their numbers are, their influence is huge, thanks to the numerous links going to various discussion threads that pump up their Google juice to the point where it is not uncommon for MDC threads on various parenting topics to show up on the first page or two of results from Google searches.

  18. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Alexa says and have fairly similar traffic rates: (US rank 3,826th) (3,282nd)

    Good Housekeeping’s website came to mind as a random comparison, and they are not much different: (3,409th)

    For comparison to a full-blown all-subjects-addressed nutball website, Alex Jones’ “Prison Planet” planet (which is probably a friendly place for anti-vaccine nuts as well) is ahead of all 3 (1633rd)

    For what its worth, here is a general purpose and gender-neutral website not intent on complete insanity: (610th US)

    So Mothering isn’t the biggest of either nutball websites or websites in general, but they are probably big enough to worry about. If Good Housekeeping and Parenting aren’t just fringes, then Mothering isn’t either.

  19. carrie says:

    You should have seen the article on Unassisted Childbirth a couple of issues ago. There was a section on the “what ifs” and emergencies where people shared their stories. All of them were an emergency that turned out fine with no interventions but “natural woo.” for example, two moms talked about bleeding so much they passed out, but they were fine after one ate placenta and the other had “a big breakfast” with eggs and whatever…

  20. ConspicuousCarl says:

    I used the work “rate” when I meant to say “rank”. It is vague data, because we don’t know the actual number of page views, but it still suggests that is fairly big.

    To get an idea of how low in the ranks a truly obscure thing might be, here is Creative Machine Embroidery Magazine’s website: (366,815th in US)

  21. Khym Chanur says:

    … and are supported in making that declaration because the only thing that a premature baby needs is kangaroo care. And colostrum. And positive feelings from mama.

    … for example, two moms talked about bleeding so much they passed out, but they were fine …

    *jaw drops*

  22. windriven says:

    So what drives Mothering’s readers? Why are so many people willing to ignore science and medicine in favor of anecdote? Clearly these are engaged parents; why else would they subscribe to a parenting magazine? One presumes that they have been exposed to the pro-vaccination argument. One presumes that they are aware of the thorough discrediting of the MMR link to autism.

    Are there any studies examining this?

  23. Chris says:

    I bought one copy of sMothering in the early 1990s, before we had a modem. I was semi-crunchy in that I used cloth diapers, made the baby food and breast fed my younger children for two years (oldest self-weaned when he was one). I looked through the rag, saw advertisement from chiropractors saying they could cure ear infections and the vaccine idiocy. I tossed it into the recycle bin.

    I vaguely remember getting an account some six or so years ago on their forum. I participated in some vaccine discussions with Eos of the Eons and Prester John, I believe we were all banned.

    I especially remember the utterly loony queen of the sMothering vaccine board, Hilary Butler. I heard she actually got banned from there. Perhaps she was scaring the newbies with her insanity and they were leaving to get sensible advice.

  24. hokie98 says:

    What drives Motherings readers? I think magazines like this just prey on new mothers, who are a tad insecure entering motherhood, and want to make sure they do everything “right” for their child.

    I’m a mother of a 5 yr old, and 13 weeks pregnant…I’ve quit reading most parenting magazines, because I find they’re full of stories that are incomplete, and frankly are a tad scary (always some story about something tragic – i.e. terminal illness, autism fears, etc). But, aren’t scary/tragic stories what sell? Especially if they only tell half the story, making it more sensational?

    I’ve seen my own friends transform that had their first child around the same time as I did. One in particular went from pretty mainstream to VERY crunchy – no vax, ONLY eats local/organic/non-GMO to the point of not even eating outside of her home, uses a naturopath, and even wonders if her oldest child’s sensory disorder (not sure if a conventional MD or naturopath diagnosed it) is related to her non-organic diet when pregnant. (My own disclaimer – I breastfed my daughter until she was 3 b/c it just worked for us, we try to eat local and/or organic, try to stay away from processed foods, etc., but my child is fully vaccinated, we definitely believe in SBM, and are pretty mainstream.) I have no medical training, but do wonder if some of these women, like my friend, have deeper issues – like OCD, or something to the like. They want to have absolute control of what goes in (medicinal, food, etc) their children, and by opting out of vaccines and conventional medicine, they feel 100% natural is the ‘safe’ way to go. Unfortunately, the internet just fosters their fears and anxiety…just too much (bad) information. It’s fairly easy with the internet to find something to substantiate your fears, no matter how unrealistic they seem.

  25. @ Windriven: I’ve actually thought quite a bit about this, and I have some ideas about what I think might be going on. This is based on my anecdotal observations, not on any rigorous study.

    Many women who can afford to stay home gave up careers to do so. Larger society undervalues stay-home moms (as well as teachers and other child care workers). So bright, educated women find themselves in clusters, isolated from prestige, and they bring the work ethic and focus that advanced them in careers to parenting. They must seek status and validation from other members of the stay-home community, and this requires separating themselves from the unwashed masses. (My friend calls this “competitive parenting.”)

    This subculture fosters increasing intensity and extremism, and practices that might have begin as reasonable choices are pushed to extremes. Once everyone in the group is breastfeeding infants, for example, the higher-status women are the ones who breastfeed kindergartners.

    This trajectory translates to increasingly harmful cultural norms. Once everyone treats vaccination as an ala carte menu, the higher-status women are the ones who are rejecting vaccines, or rejecting prenatal care, or obstetrical care, or whatever. Statistics are such that the individual mothers and children are likely to be unharmed by these decisions, and this leads to strong confirmation bias.

    Mothering is one more source of validation and status. It feeds right into the paradigm I attempted to describe. The pressure to conform is intense, and I’ve actually heard mothers defensively/apologetically rationalize to other mothers things like weaning early, or allowing a doc to prescribe antibiotics for something potentially serious.

    It would be interesting to find out the demographic information on Mothering readers. Just off-the cuff, I suspect that the majority of Mothering readers are: white, hold at least a bachelor’s degree, over 30, married, middle class/affluent, and had their first child in their 30s, and gave up a decent job to stay home.

  26. Chris says:

    Just off-the cuff, I suspect that the majority of Mothering readers are: white, hold at least a bachelor’s degree, over 30, married, middle class/affluent, and had their first child in their 30s, and gave up a decent job to stay home.

    Yep, that is me. Except having an infant with medical issues from his second day of life makes me a wee bit different.

  27. kittywhumpus says:

    @windriven: So what drives Mothering’s readers?

    I discovered Mothering when I was pregnant. I was drawn to it because it was talking about cloth diapers and breast feeding. It appeals to people who are interested in sustainability, and it talks about “natural” things.

    It tells you what you want to hear and reinforces the beliefs you already have, that you are doing something better for the environment or for your health or your baby’s health.

    It plays on derision of “mainstream” decisions, and keeps you in the echo chamber that most Americans are doing it all wrong, and you are right.

    It’s not interested in evidence; it’s emotion. Though they will trot out supposedly scientific experts when they can.

    It’s not much different than any other denialist community that panders to itself and is unresponsive to outside criticism.

    I stopped reading it when I realized that they did not seem interested in any births that were not their idea of perfect, and my experience as the mother of an extremely premature baby was of no interest to them.

    It wasn’t until I really started looking into the anti-vaccination issue (with much help from another blog) that I saw how dangerous it is and saw how blinded I had been.

  28. @ Chris: It’s me, too. Except no serious medical issues. So sorry about the medical issues.

  29. ElspethS says:

    @Anthropologist Underground,

    That is a really good assessment of the community.


    In general, I think part of the problem is that a lot of pseudoscientific stuff can sound very scientific to someone who doesn’t know otherwise. And there are a lot of people, some who are quite smart in some academic and professional areas, who just do not know how to parse out the good from the bad. I count myself as someone who knows quite a lot about politics and literature and culture, but quite frankly, doesn’t understand a lot of science. I enjoy it (documentaries and books for laypeople), but I don’t know how to make sense of academic studies. So, I try to find credible sources that make it accessible instead of just cramming everything that I find into my head and allowing the stuff that sounds less scary to determine my choices.

    Other people don’t do that and are easily swayed by anything that sounds even remotely authoritative.

  30. Jacinta says:

    “Just off-the cuff, I suspect that the majority of Mothering readers are: white, hold at least a bachelor’s degree, over 30, married, middle class/affluent, and had their first child in their 30s, and gave up a decent job to stay home.”

    Maybe compared to the general population, but not compared to other boards. MDC has a lot more poor and young people than many parenting boards. Of course fewer members work or admit to it, it’s a huge stigma there.

  31. Wren says:

    I was once an MDC reader. Actually, I still read sometimes, but only to be shocked and/or laugh. The unassisted childbirth forum is fascinating to me, particularly when there are women posting who aren’t actually sure they are pregnant but won’t even see a doctor for that.

    For me, a combination of Dr Sears’ baby books and 5 weeks of bedrest in early pregnancy led me to MDC. I liked the ideas, or at least some of them, in the Attachment Parenting approach and MDC strongly supports them. Between some scary things I saw as a child, like my baby sister nearly dying from pertussis, and a biology degree, I never got sucked in by the antivaxers there, but I was sucked in to some of the other things. I got more wary when, shortly after the birth of my first child by Caesarian section due to a footling breech presentation, I was repeatedly told by some members I should have refused the section and gone for a natural birth, staying home if necessary. Um, no thank you. I prefer my baby get a good chance at living through the birth. The final straw for me was when I was advised by a number of longstanding, well-respected members to refuse to give my then 9 month old anything to eat or drink if he refused to nurse after he quit during a bout of hand, foot and mouth. This wasn’t a short term suggestion either and the idea that I should starve my child if he wouldn’t eat what I chose was terrifying to me and what scared me even more was the fact that few people even objected at all to this advice.

    I’ve been on various parenting forums for over 5 years now and rarely run across a mother who hasn’t at least heard of MDC. Its influence really is much, much larger than the circulation of the magazine would suggest.

  32. Chris says:

    Anthropologist Underground, I think another influence that made me toss that rag into the recycle bin was that I had been reading Skeptical Inquirer for years.

    The competitive birthing seems to be a more recent phenomena. I don’t remember it being there when I lurked on their forum six years ago. It looks like that may be the source of questions fired at me when I mention my son’s very difficult birth and infantile seizures,. They include things like if I had an epidural (no) and other nonsense.

  33. aeauooo says:

    “Unvaccinated children tended to be white, to have a mother who was married and had a college degree, to live in a household with an annual income exceeding $75,000, and to have parents who expressed concerns regarding the safety of vaccines and indicated that medical doctors have little influence over vaccination decisions for their children.”

    Smith, P. J., Chu, S. Y., Barker, L. E. (2004). Children who have received no vaccines: who are they and where do the live? Pediatrics, 114, 187-195.

  34. Chris says:

    This series of videos is appropriate for this topic:

  35. rmgw says:

    It’s impossible to underate the “normalcy” of alternative health care for many women: just this afternoon I was present at a conversation between a new grandmother and a mother-of-three, both stating as an understood matter that a drop of Flower “Rescue Remedy” in a glass of water calmed their charges down after otherwise unstoppable crying jags, and they are only two of dozens I have heard on similar topics. In no case have I heard of doctors warning against relying on “alternatives”; rather the opposite. Why are there no prominently displayed health authority warnings?

  36. rmgw says:

    “Underate” – should be “overstate”!

  37. windriven says:


    Yours is a fascinating conjecture. It certainly explains the herd mentality. But why woo instead of science? Why don’t these mothers end up as uber-vaccinators?


    “I think part of the problem is that a lot of pseudoscientific stuff can sound very scientific to someone who doesn’t know otherwise. ”

    But that still requires the mother to weigh the pseudoscientific stuff against the advice of her pediatrician (one hopes) and the scientific community in general. There seems to be some contrarian impulse animating this. I don’t know much about French literature. Those who do generally think quite highly of Marcel Proust. Me, not so much. But I assume that I lack the perspective and context to understand and appreciate Proust, not that there is a global conspiracy to cram Proust down my throat.

    “Of course fewer members work or admit to it, it’s a huge stigma there.”

    A huge stigma ?! Yipes! That doesn’t sound very modern-minded or very Christian (to choose two of the general groups that seem to have splinter groups in the anti-vax movement).

  38. ElspethS says:


    “But that still requires the mother to weigh the pseudoscientific stuff against the advice of her pediatrician (one hopes) and the scientific community in general.”

    I think that some of them believe they are doing so. The problem is that a lot of pseudoscience not only sounds authoritative, it’s also more accessible than science. And it becomes a situation of, “The stuff I understand and makes sense must be correct because I understand it.”

    The logical fallacies are endless.

  39. I always liked Mothering, but I read it when it was a black-and-white saddle-stiched magazine. I’ve never been on the forum.

    It’s very DIY. If you start from the perspective that you’re going to do it yourself, not from the perspective that you are going to make the best use of technology to get it done for you all clean and shiny, it’s great.

    I was particularly impressed by a UC birth story. (Back in the 80s before UC was a fad.) As I recall, this was the mother’s fifth pregnancy (no birth control). She’d become pregnant shortly after the last one was born and she was exhausted. She squatted to give birth to the baby over a baby bathtub. The baby was breech and clearly not doing well. They did end up going to the hospital but the baby died of a massive infection a few days later.

    She was not devastated. She was kind of relieved and took an “all for the best” attitude.

    I thought this was great modelling. This is what DIY means. This is the attitude you’re going to need if you do it this way. If being unable to carry a healthy pregnancy to term because you’re too exhausted is not what you’re looking for, then this DIY approach is not for you.

  40. @ Windriven:

    “Why don’t these mothers become uber-vaccinators?”

    My personal biases tends to lead me (correctly or not…) to conjectures involving status and power. My read is that challenging the authority of conventional medicine and MDs is one way of artificially ascribing status to oneself. If doctors and scientists are all wrong about vaccines, then the mothers who reject vaccines must be even smarter than doctors!

    I also heartily agree with other commenters who described how easy it can be to conflate science and pseudoscience. There was an SBM post awhile back about acupuncture as a cargo cult. I think the metaphor is a perfect fit for Mothering Mag’s misinformation and the subculture that follows it.

  41. Stuartg says:

    Maybe a couple of older, and admittedly anecdotal, examples from my personal experience can illustrate the difference between modern obstetric care and the level of care promoted by the likes of Mothering:

    1. Prolonged “natural” labour (>60 hours), with the eventual delivery of a septicaemic infant. Mother was septicaemic by this time, also had disseminated intravascular coagulation, and subsequently had a post-partum haemorrhage with hypovolaemic shock.

    2. “Natural” labour (<4 hours), normal vaginal delivery, infant with congenital diaphragmatic hernia.

    Number 1 occurred in a modern obstetric hospital, because the mother was toxaemic well before delivery. Mother and infant did very well with appropriate resuscitation and subsequent treatment. The infant in particular went on to exceed all developmental milestones.

    Number 2 was a home delivery to a mother who did not believe in medical intervention. The diaphragmatic hernia was unknown because no pre-natal ultrasound scans were done. There was a long delay before mother and “midwife” realised the infant could not breathe and help was summoned. Hypoxic brain damage was such that the infant only survived 6 hours following intubation and resuscitation. (As an aside, the mother subsequently placed the blame for the death of the infant on the attending medical and paramedical staff!)

    Both of these were survivable in a modern obstetric hospital, neither were survivable without the appropriate medical care on hand.

    For myself, I attribute the good outcome of the first entirely to the development of modern medicine by the scientific method, the second I had previously thought was relegated to the pages of history for exactly the same reason.

    This thread tells me that my experience with the second was not an isolated event, that there are still people out there actively promoting unsafe practices in birthing. All I can really comment is that it should only take one birth like number 2 for a person in the Motherhood camp to completely change their views. Preventing such people from relating bad experiences in their forums is a sure way of increasing poor outcomes from birthing practices.

  42. Chris says:


    Preventing such people from relating bad experiences in their forums is a sure way of increasing poor outcomes from birthing practices.

    That is true. Initially I was reluctant to tell my birth story because I did not want to frighten a soon to be parent. They are under enough stress.

    But lately it is to avoid reactions like the following inane crazy town set of questions (and I don’t know if block quote will work, so it is all there after the colon):

    I am really sorry about what happened to your child.
    You are happy with your decision to give birth in the hospital
    and I support that 100% of course.
    May I ask what the circumstances were though?
    You wrote that your baby got stuck and there was no time
    for a c section so I wonder why you and your baby would have died
    if you were at home. If your baby had shoulder dystocia
    and you had an epidural than that can be very dangerous.
    The easiest and most effective way to deliver a baby with shoulder dystocia is to get the mom on her hands and knees. It sounds
    simple but it works.
    Ina may Gaskin has used this procedure numerous times and has never once had any complications. It has actually been put in medical books ( even though a CPM is the one behind the discovery) because of its effectiveness.
    My midwife delivered an 11 pound baby that got stuck as well and she put her on her hands and knees and the baby was born soon after with no problems. If she had been in the hospital it would have been too late for a section as well and the mom would have very likely had an epidural and would not have been capable of turning around to get on her knees.

  43. Werdna says:

    @ElspethS – That’s a very good point. Parsing out good data, studies, etc… is hard. I can’t count how many times I have to point this out to folks.

  44. Werdna says:

    @Alison – “It’s very DIY. If you start from the perspective that you’re going to do it yourself, not from the perspective that you are going to make the best use of technology to get it done for you all clean and shiny, it’s great.”

    I’m not sure I understand your POV. It would seem that some other magazine which promoted doctors not sanitizing their hands between autopsies and childbirth would be equally “DIY” (for the doctors) in the sense that they are not using “technology” (antiseptic) to get things done for you. Are the infant deaths that would result from that practice equally great?

  45. windriven says:


  46. windriven says:


    “My read is that challenging the authority of conventional medicine and MDs is one way of artificially ascribing status to oneself.”

    Bingo. I understand that this is pure conjecture but it certainly has the ring of plausibility.

  47. Werdna, I don’t understand your question. Someone going to a doctor is not going DIY, and in your example the person taking the risk (the doctor) and the person assuming the risk (the mother) are not the same. I don’t know what parallel is being drawn.

    Around the same time someone else in Mothering talked about her children getting pertussis and acknowledged that they could have died. She was proud of them for struggling and surviving, and I think she thought that the lesson that we are all mortal was valuable for all concerned.

    My point is that at the time there was little denialism in the sense that people were very aware that their choices were risky. They accepted the risks because they thought they were worth it, for whatever reason. And the stories they told did not minimize the risks. Babies died. Children got pertussis. Families faced life with self-reliance and the knowledge that they could handle whatever was thrown at them.

    Maybe things have changed (I think the original editor’s daughter took over and she has a somewhat different agenda) but sometimes people just make different choices.

  48. RE status motivating choices.

    The woo-iest people I know are single mothers and lesbians (or both). People for whom the standard world may not be working that well. An alternate take on reality where one can live in harmony with the universe and the cycles of life and death may be a realistic way for some people to cope when they are marginalized and the fruits of capitalism and individualism that are supposed to justify all are simply not available to them.

  49. Paddy says:

    The woo-iest person I know is married, but I also know some very woo-ie people who aren’t and I don’t trust personal anecdote much anyway.

    In that study referred to earlier, which looked at 151,720 children from across the USA between 1995 and 2001, the mothers of completely unvaccinated children (of whom, fortunately, there were only 795, or 0.5% of the total) were more likely to be married. The mothers of undervaccinated children, however, were more likely to be unmarried.

  50. Paddy says:

    Apologies – credit where credit’s due. The second paragraph should have read “In that study referred to by aeauooo earlier…”

  51. ConspicuousCarl says:

    > windrivenon 10 Jan 2011 at 4:50 pm
    > But why woo instead of science?

    A lot of these woo things wouldn’t even have been invented if they didn’t kind of sort of make sense from a limited point of view. The various forms of quackery are designed (either intentionally or evolved) to appeal to our desire to understand problems no matter how little we know.

  52. Dash says:

    I think Anthropologist has nailed it, I’ll just add an Australian experience.

    I was on a very strong breastfeeding forum – that was it’s focus, mother to mother support of breastfeeding including trained counsellors. While it had a bit of woo as well, particularly supporting homebirths (but there are qualified midwives in Australia and programmes through hospitals), there was also a very strong pro-vax sentiment.

    One of the things that came through very strongly was a feeling that support was needed because it was a battle against the mainstream. No matter what doctors may say, breastfeeding is very much a minority practice especially with older babies and toddlers.

    So when competitive mothers are looking at what they should be doing, there is a major mothering skill (feeding your baby) that is at the same time scientifically supported but non-mainstream and perceived as crunchy. The same happens with environmental awareness – some is good but more is crunchy. It’s simplistic, but to scientifically inexperienced people there are two big pushes away from technology and towards ‘nature,’ which often fits in a package with woo.

    Plus add in the general pendulum swing and doing things differently to the previous generation, we’re coming from a time when technology was wonderful and was going to solve the world’s problems, to seeing it as the cause of many problems. If you aren’t reflecting it’s easy to lump in technology as one big mass of evil, without thinking that maybe medicine is different to coal fired power stations or polluting factories.

  53. Dawn says:

    @Chris: and the sad thing is that if they had ever HEARD Ina May Gaskin speak, they would know that (at least in her later years) she was not down on on doctors and would acknowledge the need for some C-sections. (Her midwifery practice, minus the forceps, pretty much mirrored my GP grandfather’s practice in the 40’s and 50’s as far as home deliveries went. )

    She was pretty crunchy in many ways, but would (and did) change her practices based on scientific information. I heard her lecture when I was practicing as a midwife. She taught us the knee-chest position, but cautioned us that it a) did not always work and that transport should be called no matter what) and b) that you might still have to fracture the clavicle to deliver the baby and if your hands weren’t strong enough you STILL might be SOL.

    Ina May also admitted that babies die, mothers die, and transports happen. I bet none of the people on sMothering would admit she ever said such things.

    Yes, the hands-and-knees position can help; science-based medicine has studied and shown that, so it is in the arsenal of those who practice science-based medicine. Yes, some breech babies can be safely delivered vaginally. Unfortunately, too many suit-happy families have denied physicians (and midwives) the chance to become experienced enough to become comfortable doing these things.

    I would rather have had a c-section done by my physician, who had the experience doing so, than be his first primip breech delivery.

    I also love how the sMothering forums assume the minute you walk into the hospital, you get an epidural. In my experience, sadly, there are a good number of women who WANT the epidural the minute they walk in, but for those who don’t want it, they are not (usually) forced into getting one. (I knew some physicians who insisted that all of their patients get one…they were honestly physicians I would not have sent my worst enemy to.)

  54. lamamaloca says:

    “But why woo instead of science? Why don’t these mothers end up as uber-vaccinators?”

    That would just be going along with what you are being told to do, rather than “using your intelligence and taking responsibility” for your own child’s health. In these communities, choosing an “alternative” option is proof that you have educated yourself and are making decisions for yourself, instead of just “following the herd” or listening to authority.

  55. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @windrivenon 10 Jan 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Dr. Gorski frequently uses the phrase “arrogance of ignorance” in his posts, and one of his links was to this page:

    Add in a whole lot of conflict of interest paranoia (and ignoring the conflict of interest generated by things like prestige, respect and other nontangible rewards, or in the case of Dr. Wakefield tangible ones) and you’ve got a great recipe for rejecting the advice of doctors a priori in order to justify your own choices. Then, once you’ve made that choice, you’ve got to cognitive dissonance (when people have to make the choice between “I was wrong and therefore can be wrong, and might not be smart” and “I am smart and therefore am never wrong and therefore someone else is wrong”) which almost forces the error to be perpetuated, combined with self-serving bias and flawed memory. Mix in some echo chamber effects and in group/out group social pressure, and you’ve got motheringdotcommune and nearly any other nonscientific, nonskeptical venue on the intertubes.

  56. Kylara says:

    Interestingly, when we took our lamaze/birthing class at the hospital we delivered at, we were the only upper-middle class couple in the room, and we were the ONLY couple who said we would definitely get an epidural and would “give breastfeeding a try” but weren’t opposed to formula. All the other couples, where the women were mostly in “pink-collar” jobs and the men were mostly in the trades, were adamant that they were going natural birth ONLY and that formula was tantamount to poison, and most (even the nurses! ack!) were skeptical of vaccines. So I wonder if now that the natural birth/breastfeeding/anti-vax attitudes are trickling down from the wealthy to the rest of society, the wealthy white SAHM 30+ college-educated contingent will start moving back to more traditional medicine, since obviously the prestige of being a natural-birthing, extended-breastfeeding mother wears thin when it stops being a playground for the wealthy and privileged. When poor women breastfeed, wealthy women use formula, and when poor women use formula, wealthy women breastfeed, as they say!

    (Indeed, if health care access in the U.S. continues to get worse, the wealthy may be the only people who can afford traditional medicine and traditional care may become a badge of wealth again.)

    “So what drives Mothering’s readers? Why are so many people willing to ignore science and medicine in favor of anecdote? Clearly these are engaged parents; why else would they subscribe to a parenting magazine?”

    What drove me to liking “woo” (though not experimenting with it very much) when I was in my 20s was a string of relatively appalling interactions with the traditional medical establishment, and I don’t think that’s at all unusual. It ranged from an ob/gyn who medically battered me and called me a liar about my (lack of) sex life, to the near-impossiblity of getting access to a doctor in grad school, to having no relationships or continuity of care with factory-style doctoring. Simple things like incredibly aggravating difficulty accessing birth control. Repeated misdiagnosis from doctors who couldn’t take 30 seconds to LISTEN to me — I was in the ER one time with my throat swollen nearly shut and I insisted I’d had a strep test and it came back negative and the strep antibiotics they’d given me anyway didn’t seem to be helping. The doctor said, “still strep” and gave me MORE strep antibiotics and just said the first doctor must have done the test wrong. Mono was circulating at the time and nobody tested me for mono. I almost died (I didn’t even know you COULD die from mono!), and by the time I realized I really, really needed to see another doctor, I was too sick to get to one and had to be hospitalized for almost a week. A psychiatrist (chair of the department at a major university hospital, no less) told me the only way to get over my depression was to drop out of school (which I was paying for) and cut off contact with my family since I was obviously “too dependent” on them because I called my parents with a question about dealing with a utility bill problem and it “wasn’t normal” for a 23-year-old to go to her parents with questions. I swear to God she was also fishing to get me to say I had been sexually abused as a child (probably because I wasn’t yet sexually active at the time). She suggested I move in with my boyfriend of approximately five weeks and let him be my emotional support instead of my parents. !!!!!

    Anyway, “woo” practitioners LISTEN to their clients. They have lots of TIME to spend with them. They offer solutions. And after the repeated failures I’d suffered from an overworked, uncaring, factory-style medical establishment, I didn’t know if the “woo” solutions would work, but at least someone was LISTENING to me. I couldn’t even imagine going through pregnancy and birth with the sort of “care” I’d received from some of these doctors.

    Fortunately, I kept seeing doctors for my annual pelvic, etc., so when I settled into my professional life in a different city, I had a few false starts (including a doctor who “didn’t believe” in sinus infections BUT PRESCRIBED FOR THEM ANYWAY and who said depression was just whining and that libido in married women didn’t matter because they were married, their husbands didn’t care about sex), but I found an excellent, caring primary care doctor and she (and friend recommendations) helped direct me to an EXCELLENT ob/gyn practice that made pregnancy unscary, and were both caring AND top-of-the-line medically. By now we knew enough to interview pediatricians carefully and were able to find an excellent pediatrician as well. I’m extremely happy, now, with my “mainstream” medical care. But I remember how horrifying that intervening nearly-a-decade was between when I left MY pediatrician and was struggling with uninterested, careless doctors, and how attractive it made ANY alternative seem.

  57. Kylara says:

    I’d like to add, through ALL of those appalling interactions, I was insured. With good insurance. I can’t even imagine what it was like for people who weren’t insured. (Well, yes I can — I knew any number of grad students who simply couldn’t see doctors at all so self-diagnosed and bought meds from Caribbean pharmacies.)

  58. Wow, lots of interesting comments in this thread. A couple ideas on the thoughts sparked by previous comments.

    Anthropologist Underground and Windrive and competitive parenting, why not be the uber-vax parent.

    1) It’s not uncommon for parents to start out (prenatal, birth and infancy, etc) thinking how they want to do a better job parenting than their parents did. I’ve seen many discussions on parenting boards on how to tell their mother or MIL that they don’t want to follow their old-fashion, wrong headed, detachment parenting advice. I believe vaccination in the previous generation was routine and accepted, along with DDT, gas guzzling cars, thalidomide, whipping with a belt, etc*. (It’s easy to find anecdotes of the previous generations mistakes, people forget the successes.) Maybe being anti-vax has a more modern/natural sheen within that context.

    2) I think that distrust of government and corporations have been growing dramatically in the last…what 15-20 years? I think that a good amount of that distrust is well earned, but unfortunately, I think it has become generalized and simplified to the point of being a fantastic conspiracy theory construct in many cases. I believe this is the cases with vaccinations.

    *Maybe that’s the previous, previous generation and I’m showing my age.

  59. Alison and DIY parenting “I thought this was great modelling. This is what DIY means. This is the attitude you’re going to need if you do it this way. If being unable to carry a healthy pregnancy to term because you’re too exhausted is not what you’re looking for, then this DIY approach is not for you.”

    – Oh dear! Are you trolling just a tiny bit? :)

    Firstly, there is a moral issue. As a society, we seem to have generally agreed that a child, once they are born, has a right to a certain degree of safety and physical support, that is independent of their parents preference or wishes (for a DIY existence or otherwise). Personally, I include the birth process, when it influences the child’s safety or well being within that right*. So, morally, I find that woman’s DIY choice and acceptance of the babies death reasonably reprehensible.

    Secondly, there is a practical issue. What if the poor child had not died. Another likely scenario would be survival with severe health or cognitive issues. How was the exhausted mother planning on coping with that?

    *But not to the point where a procedure that saves a child but, endanger the mother.

  60. Paddy ” “the mothers of completely unvaccinated children (of whom, fortunately, there were only 795, or 0.5% of the total) were more likely to be married. The mothers of undervaccinated children, however, were more likely to be unmarried.”

    In this case I would speculate that unmarried mothers have an average lower income and work full time. Under vaccination may be relate to financial constraints or difficulty scheduling appointments around work hours.

  61. Nope. Not trolling at all. They were being realistic about the outcomes of their choices and took responsibility for them. I have no issue with that. today is often accused of hiding poor outcomes so that people can be left with the impression that there are no consequences to ignoring the medical consensus. Back in the day when it was just Mothering magazine, no such hiding took place. Bad outcomes were right out there where they could be seen (and cast in a romantic light).

    RE the rights of born children: yes, I agree.

    (There’s hedging though. I also see a grey area where children up to the age of about 2½ are so dependent on a mothering person that to some degree the child is an extension of the mothering person. If the mothering person can’t hack it I don’t feel that infanticide is criminal in the same way that homicide is. It’s a problem, certainly — especially for the child — but not the same kind of criminal offense.)

    If the poor child had survived with cognitive and health issues, would they be any less valuable? Would they be any less a child of the universe? There are religious/ spiritual approaches to life that emphasize accepting the painful aspects while extending compassion. Mother Theresa and all that.

  62. Kylara says:

    @michele: “I’ve seen many discussions on parenting boards on how to tell their mother or MIL that they don’t want to follow their old-fashion, wrong headed, detachment parenting advice.”

    It’s really hard! My mom is awesome — she HATES putting babies “back to sleep” … it makes her nervous since when she had babies they were so adamantly instructed they had to sleep on their stomachs or choke to death on their own spit-up, and she thinks they’re so “un-cozy” (as in, when they have the little jerk-spasms, they’re flailing instead of hitting nice solid mattress). But she gamely learned to swaddle and always, ALWAYS puts her grandchildren back to sleep. Because she recognizes that’s the medical consensus now. But I think she feels both some guilt about using then-mandated, now-disproven methods (front-to-sleep) and some skepticism about the CURRENT rules, many of which will doubtless be disproven by the time I’m a grandmother. We don’t give our son juice except when he has a cold and we’re pushing fluids; she made a comment about how they never considered juice “bad” when we were little, just commenting, not guilting, but I felt bad. It’s not that juice is bad or that I think she did anything wrong, it’s just that today there’s an obesity epidemic that there wasn’t back then!

    Anyway, there’s some emotional issues at play in having an AWESOME mother who defers to all my parenting decisions; I see how horrible it is for my friends with overbearing mothers who say, “It was good enough back then, it’s good enough now” or “doctors don’t know what they’re talking about, I’m doing it the way we did it 30 years ago” or whatever and proceed to totally undermine their parenting. I can see how that could lead to a GENERAL reaction against EVERYTHING one’s own parents did.

    “Under vaccination may be relate to financial constraints or difficulty scheduling appointments around work hours.”

    I attend a practice with a large medicaid (is that the right one? medicare is for old people, -caid for younger ones? I get them mixed up) population, and my pediatrician says scheduling appointments and appointment compliance is the biggest difficulty with poorer patients; it’s very difficult for them to get time off work, and for some it’s a real stretch to get enough time off to get the kids in for a yearly physical, let alone the CONSTANT appointments of the first two years.

    All required vaccinations are covered, so cost of the vaccines isn’t an issue, but they may have to make a SECOND trip to the health department to get them. And the health department does good work, but it’s a bit of a hassle to have to get vaccinated there. There’s a lot of waiting around. Which, again, very hard for a working single parent, especially with an hourly-wage job, especially with no or limited time off, especially living close to the bone who can’t afford to miss those hours, especially if dependent on the bus schedule.

  63. “If the mothering person can’t hack it I don’t feel that infanticide is criminal in the same way that homicide is. It’s a problem, certainly — especially for the child — but not the same kind of criminal offense.)”

    Same criminal offense to me, possibly worse, because the infant doesn’t have any ability to defend themselves or get away. If the mother can’t handle things, she should contact an adoption agency or take the child to a hospital, fire station, etc and tell them she is a danger to the child and needs to relinquish them.

    Also Alison “If the poor child had survived with cognitive and health issues, would they be any less valuable? Would they be any less a child of the universe? There are religious/ spiritual approaches to life that emphasize accepting the painful aspects while extending compassion. Mother Theresa and all that.”

    I had no intent on commenting on the child’s value to themselves, society or God X* My only intent is to point out that a child with a cognitive or physical impairment requires more work to parent and provide for, potentially over a much longer period of time, which would risk further exhaustion to the already exhausted mother.

    As an aside, I prefer the religious/spiritual approaches that encourage acceptance of unavoidable consequences, over those that create avoidable tragedies in order to be accepting.

    *Insert you deity or non-deity of choice here.

  64. Chris says:


    I also love how the sMothering forums assume the minute you walk into the hospital, you get an epidural.

    And it is not that I did not want an epidural, it was that I never had chance to get one. When I requested it, the nurse anesthetist came in and explained the procedure, including expounding on all the risks versus benefits. By the time he finished explaining it between my contractions I was too dilated!

    Though what got me about the exchange is that person would not read what I wrote. I finally got to the point of just replying: “I’ve never had an epidural. Are they nice?”

    It seems that if a parent does not do what the sMothering consensus dictates, then that is what is to blame for any bad outcome. Another egregious example is the this tactic was the following set of questions on why an infant died from pertussis:
    I have questions concerning the children who died:

    Did they have a natural child birth?
    Were drugs used in the labor?
    Did the mothers have a c-section?
    What was their gestation age at birth? Weight? APGAR Scores? Overall health?
    Did the mothers test positive for strep B? Were IV antibiotics used during labor?
    Were their other health complications for these children?
    Were the Mothers induced?
    Did their mothers exclusively breastfeed these children or were they formula fed, or a mix of both?
    Did they receive other vaccines?
    What was the timing of those vaccines in connection to the time of getting the whopping cough?

    I think it would be very helpful to have this information to understand specifically the deaths of these children.

  65. Kylara “Anyway, there’s some emotional issues at play in having an AWESOME mother who defers to all my parenting decisions; I see how horrible it is for my friends with overbearing mothers who say, “It was good enough back then, it’s good enough now” or “doctors don’t know what they’re talking about, I’m doing it the way we did it 30 years ago” or whatever and proceed to totally undermine their parenting. I can see how that could lead to a GENERAL reaction against EVERYTHING one’s own parents did.”

    Whoops, Just to clarify, I didn’t mean to sound very negative about the inter-generational (mom, grandma) divide. It seems to be a pretty typical part of parenting throughout the ages. I also don’t mean to suggest that we should do everything the way the mom or MIL did. I only want to offer it up as an explanation for why some parents might go anti-vax, being reflexively contrary to how they were raised.

  66. “Same criminal offense to me, possibly worse, because the infant doesn’t have any ability to defend themselves or get away.”

    Yes, that’s the usual feeling people have.

    “If the mother can’t handle things, she should contact an adoption agency or take the child to a hospital, fire station, etc and tell them she is a danger to the child and needs to relinquish them.”

    Yes, these are the things the mother should do. I think more often they leave them with a babysitter and never come back. (A friend of mine unexpectedly became a mother when her ex dropped her toddler off one day and disappeared. Unfortunately the ex showed up again five years later and my friend’s motherhood was suddenly over.) My brother’s mother locked him in a closet and left. After a few days the neighbours called the janitor who broke in and found him and called in Children’s Aid. A couple I know were able to adopt a newborn: her mother had checked into the hospital under a fake name, delivered, then walked away AMA while the infant underwent drug withdrawal in the NICU. (That’s pretty close to what you’re proposing as a “can’t hack it” mother’s ideal behaviour.)

    The thing is, “not being able to hack it” is a pretty dysfunctional state. If someone were able to take the steps you describe they would probably be able to do other difficult things as well.

    Also, how many people are willing to hear, “I can’t do this any more”? If a friend of yours told you that, would you pick up her baby and trot over to the nearest Children’s Aid office to drop it off? Or would you reassure her that in fact, she could do it? Andrea Yates told people she was in trouble and look where that got her.

  67. Kylara says:

    @Michele, I know … I just wanted to express that even when you have a really good relationship, there’s a certain amount of emotion involved in the daughter becoming the mother herself. And it is sort-of hard to navigate both “Mom, you did a great job” and “Wow, things have changed in 30 years” when it’s such an emotional topic, even when all parties have the very best of goodwill — as you say, a very typical part of parenting throughout the ages.

    I can see how people become very reactionary against What Mom Did when their relationship with their own mother (or mother-in-law) is difficult. (And of course if your own mother is mainstream and you choose crunchiness/woo/whatever, that’s one more way to get your own mother’s goat, and it usually serves very well to escalate the tension. A certain subset of very crunchy parents seem to LIVE for being criticized by their relatives so they can feel morally superior about it and complain about being victimized.)

  68. Paddy says:


    If you’re arguing that there may frequently a case for leniency in punishments based on reduced mental competence in some cases of infanticide (e.g. where there is severe post-partum depression and no support), and possibly even a case for an insanity plea in some extreme cases, you may have a case.

    However, I’d disagree strongly about infanticide in general not being murder.

    As for what people are willing to hear… what a lot of people find hardest is that when a friend is in difficulty of this kind, they may want a listening ear far more than to have solutions thrown at them.

  69. Alison – I know I’m swearving madly off topic, but…

    From my understanding Andrea Yates was experiencing pretty severely mentally illness, which means, from my standpoint, that she was not capable of making reality based moral decisions.

    In my moral world, one must be physically and mentally capable of implementing the action to be held responsible.

    I do understand that people abandon, neglect or kill their children, sometimes because they are not capable of doing otherwise, other times because they just don’t care that much or care about something else more. But in the cases of people who are capable, I am not going to say that is a good or virtuous choice and that is what I am talking about when I say moral or immoral. Is it a good or virtuous choice or is it a wrong or cruel choice?

  70. Kylara – it’s all good then. :)

  71. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @Kylara on 11 Jan 2011 at 9:58 am

    I wonder if we’re seeing the effects of the internet – intially it was something available mostly to the rich but now it’s become far more widespread. Initially white-collar moms had access to the nuttery, but with cheap access to the ‘web perhaps it’s become more available to the less well off. I wonder what the super-rich do?

    The other thought I had was the mimicry that occurs from rich to poor. Names go in cycles, first used by the wealthy, then picked up by the poor almost like a kind of sympathetic magic – if I name my daughter Madison, she might do as well as Madison from up on the hill. Freakonomics, much as it’s a lot of speculation, had a chapter on this.

    Hypothesis generation is the funnest part of hypothesis testing.

  72. Tesla says:

    Here is my perspective on MDC:

    I currently have a 7 month old, and as others have stated found the site almost immediately as soon as I googled anything baby related. Interestingly, it played no part in my decision to have a home birth as I had made a pact with myself not to read baby forums, due to previous experience with pet forums and how ridiculously awful they were.

    My home birth of course went horribly wrong and a doctor had to swoop in and save the day. I never registered at MDC until I was looking for a traumatic home birth support group (there are traumatic birth support groups, but since most of those women go running to home birth after their ‘unnecesarean’ anti home birth sentiment isn’t welcome. I found a thread on MDC “has anyone else had a negative home birth experience” and registered up and commented.

    After reading through the site a few times it became a trainwreck I couldn’t look away from. I never post because I know I’d be banned in 2 seconds, but the unassisted childbirth forum is something I have to check once or twice a week. Recently some crazy woman was going to UC ‘twins’ at 43 weeks or so that of course turned out to be one baby, and is now doing ‘lotus care’ on the placenta. Only the best most awesome mommies let the placenta rot off the baby don’t ya know! Another crazy woman is trying to find info on how to get out of the PKU/newborn screen because ‘last time’ she refused it someone called CPS. Ya think? That’s like asking for advice on how to not get caught abusing your children.

    Anyway, what I have noticed of the demographic is this: Mostly white, and actually rather UN educated, often without even a hs diploma. I see a lot of women that have 5-11 kids that started having them at 16 or 18, and have made motherhood their complete and only identity. They literally have nothing else to be proud of or feel accomplished in outside of mommydom, so they post 10-50 times a day on MDC to dish out their expert mommy advice, as well as get increasingly competitive in their crunchiness so they can win title of most AP mommy evar. How they have time to do so with 11 kids that they are home schooling I have no idea.

    I’ve seen two distinct sects emerge and I’m actually quite shocked they get along so well. The extremely religious ‘god will take care of me so I’ll have a UC birth and not vaccinate’ kind, and the veganish hippie “The MAN isn’t going to tell me how to raise my kid” kind. Both seem to have a pervasive lack of maturity in realizing they don’t in fact know EVERYTHING and aren’t capable of learning it all with the tools they have. Both refuse to accept there are experts that may know more than them in the realm of birth/childcare/vaccination.

    Everyone in between is present, from people that showed up because they had an 8 week miscarriage and found their support forum useful, to the part time cloth diaperer that is otherwise totally mainstream.

    I have loathed MDC from the time I first registered due to their deletion of posts, specifically those talking negatively about home birth. Vaccination is a pet cause of mine that I advocate strongly for, and so I’ve never even entered the forum because I’m sure I’d want to bash my head into something reading all the stupid.

    Sometimes when my baby is napping and I have nothing else to do I consider creating a troll account and just posting utter nonsense about how I make cheese and yogurt from my breastmilk and my 11 year old isn’t allowed any dairy but mine, and otherwise up the mompetition ante.

    But then you read things like when McDonalds had their Shrek glass recall and realize that for all the misinformation spreading and grandstanding these women do they are really full of it. These women claim to be organic best mommy in the world nazis but the thread was a buzz with outrage and fear. I wouldn’t have thought those people would go within 100 yards of a McDonalds…

  73. eschatologist says:

    Another perspective:

    At 37 weeks pregnant, I have in fact gotten most of my health information online – not from MDC, I tend to stick to Wikipedia and Baby Center, specifically the articles authored by doctors and nurses. I go to a women’s health clinic for prenatal care, have not explored birthing centers or midwives, and plan to have a “medicalized” birth at a hospital. I’m white, age 30, have a BS in biology, am married and middle class, but I live in a working-class neighborhood and my stereotyping, judgemental observations of fellow patients suggest that most of them do not fall into the college-educated, upper-middle class bracket.

    At my first prenatal exam I was given a basic book on pregnancy and at each visit my doctor asks if I have any questions, but most visits tend to be very short, maybe 5-10 minutes with the doctor, and very little information is offered. If diagnostics are done the doctor explains them, but she doesn’t initiate discussions of issues I haven’t specifically asked about. For example, I kept meaning to ask about flu shots but a few visits passed before I remembered to ask the doctor, at which point she said that, yes, they’re a good idea and we can give you one right now. Okay, if they’re a good idea, why wasn’t I offered one until I requested it?

    I feel that while my doctor seems friendly and competent, the onus is placed on me to educate myself and address any issues peripheral to the office visit itself. I spend countless hours online reading about GD, preeclampsia, the drugs used during labor, etc. and this information has helped me feel more confident about what to expect during my first pregnancy. I imagine many women seek information online for the same reason, but without a science background or at least some basic critical thinking skills, how do they decide whether an apparent authority is making reasonable claims? And many women who might benefit from discussing certain issues with their doctor might not even be aware those issues exist, if they haven’t done their own research.

    Maybe my experience is unusual, but it leaves me wondering if a lot of women slip through the cracks this way, and how many end up on MDC who might not if they felt they were getting enough information from their physician. Obviously, my doctor doesn’t have hours to spend educating me, but the feeling that I’m not getting enough information from her is part of what drives me to seek it elsewhere, and my search engine is the easiest resource to turn to. I feel lucky to have developed a fairly skeptical, science-based attitude while attaining my degree – five or six years ago I was on the MDC mailing list.

  74. eschatologist on online research: “I spend countless hours online reading about GD, preeclampsia, the drugs used during labor, etc. and this information has helped me feel more confident about what to expect during my first pregnancy.”

    No! Bad! If your doctor didn’t specifically tell you about the flu shot then you aren’t supposed to know about it. The internet is bad. This site is bad. Everything you think you have “learned” on the internet is suspect. Forget it all. Trust your doctor.

  75. Alison – You are cracking me up today. If you stir the pot any harder you’ll end up with meringue not scrambled eggs. :)

  76. You think my argumentative streak is showing?

  77. Yes, but IMO it’s good to have an argumentative streak. Often keeps things more interesting, sometimes more honest. Then again, that might be rationalization, on my part, considering my own argumentative streak.

  78. Hey, don’t encourage me!

  79. Kylara says:

    @eschatologist: “Obviously, my doctor doesn’t have hours to spend educating me, ”

    One thing I found very frustrating with my first pregnancy was how LITTLE my doctors talked with me at the beginning of the pregnancy about the END of the pregnancy. I was full of fear and anxiety and NEED TO KNOW. But the local birthing classes were all, “Oh, enroll when you’re within four months of your due date” and the doctor was like, “we’ll discuss C-sections when we know if you might need one” and I had SO MANY QUESTIONS.

    I wish they put together a “first time pregnant” class, like the birthing classes, where I could have gone and learned, when I was just 8 weeks along, what the birth would be like and what I should worry about when and so forth. They could talk about flu shots too. :)

    In fact, maybe I’ll call the community outreach coordinator at the hospital where I deliver and did my birthing class and suggest it as something they could add to their classes!

  80. Davdoodles says:

    “…we will not host threads on the merits of mandatory vaccine, or a purely pro vaccination view point as this is not conducive to the learning process.”

    Holy Mackerel. ‘Stupid’ is bad enough, but deliberately stupid is frankly weird.

  81. Dawn says:

    @Chris: epidurals certainly have their place, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. What I am against is the “forced” epidural where the women are basically told by their MD that they will have one when they get to the hospital. Some women want/need the epidural and then it is perfectly appropriate. (I had one patient come in 9 cm dilated; her OB told us to get her an epidural so that he could finish his golf game and do the delivery…needless to say, the resident did that delivery and the patient did NOT get an epidural – nor did she want one, anyway…she just wanted to deliver!)

    Some women do not want one, for various reasons (I personally didn’t have one because I have an unreasoning fear of the idea of a needle going into my back – I’ve had general anesthesia for procedures that can be done under epidural because I am so afraid – and I’m a nurse-midwife. I KNOW that an epidural is generally safe, but the idea of one makes me so anxious that my BP goes sky-high).

    @Alison Cummins: isn’t it fun to be a devil’s advocate sometimes? I love reading your posts.

    @micheleinmichigan: Hi! You? Have an argumentative streak? I never would have guessed (blinks innocent eyes).

  82. lamamaloca says:

    “I wish they put together a “first time pregnant” class, like the birthing classes, where I could have gone and learned, when I was just 8 weeks along, what the birth would be like and what I should worry about when and so forth. They could talk about flu shots too.”

    My local hospital DOES have an early pregnancy class. From their website, “Topics covered include preterm labor, prenatal nutrition and exercise, changes of pregnancy, fetal development, and substances to avoid.” I never took it, but it sounds like what you want. :)

  83. Dawn – You win the award for flawless execution of online irony without an emoticon.

    Sadly (or happily?…I don’t know) I learned early that if you argue with people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you, and are willing to listen, whether you win or lose, you still learn a lot and it’s much more engaging than doing crossword puzzles.

    This is why I enjoy SBM so much…the slew of intelligent, knowledgeable writers and commentors. I am indebted to you, Alison (and many other writers and commentors) for your efforts and tolerance.

  84. micheleinmichigan, Dawn,

    Thanks for the kind words.

  85. Dawn says:

    @micheleinmichigan: Aw, shucks. You are too kind. (droops head, scuffs toes). I learned it from others, though. Yeah, being corrected on boards by those who know more than you is a great learning experience. I agree.

    @Alison Cummins: you are welcome. I think we would have a lot of fun chatting, the 3 of us, if we ever met in person. We might drive those around us crazy, though!

  86. Alexie says:

    Just on why educated women might dismiss science when they can’t necessarily evaluate it, I have an idea (though I think the posts from anthropologist are brilliant).

    In the 90s and early into this decade, anyone studying liberal arts would have been taught about ‘critical theory': postmodernism, structuralism, Marxist theory, you name it. Critical theory offers ways of critiquing culture.

    The way they do it is by ‘interrogating language’. Basically you analyse a text, looking for the hidden biases. At its best, this type of theory is a form of cui bono – asking, who profits? What is the vested interest behind this seemingly innocuous piece of writing?

    Unfortunately, as soon as you apply critical theory to any text, you are making the assumption that there is a hidden agenda. Also, you are taught that critical theory can be applied to any form of text, including scientific papers. The content isn’t what’s at issue, the language framing it is.

    This can be very useful. For example, feminists have done a very good job of critiquing how biased many scientific studies are e.g. drug studies that use only male college students, where the drug will ultimately also be taken by women.

    However, critical theory also lets you feel that you are qualified to scrutinise anything and everything. It is a direct attack on any kind of academic authority, because its thesis is that there is no real authority, only competing biases.

    An entire generation of well-educated people went through the 90s learning this stuff. You can see the results everywhere, particularly in the political arena, where people now weigh arguments for the bias in them, not for the truth.

    What I’m saying is, for many of the most educated people in society, science now has NO claim to any particular truth. It is merely offering a set of biases, which you can take or leave. Worse, when these same people ask the cui bono question of science, the answer they usually come up with is ‘Big Pharma’.

    In an arena where there is no truth and no objectivity, the winner is going to be the person or outfit who appears the most attractive and likeable – and in this culture, that would be a celebrity like Jenny McCarthy.

  87. Arch01 says:

    Does anyone think that this discussion of Wakefield is a red herring? If Wakefield never existed, anti-vaxers would have simply attached themselves to something else and we would still be having the same debate.
    The Wakefield study looked weak, even when it wasn’t considered fraudulent.

  88. eschatologist says:


    What I’m saying is, for many of the most educated people in society, science now has NO claim to any particular truth. It is merely offering a set of biases, which you can take or leave.

    I think you’ve hit on a big part of it here. My own father called me a close-minded fascist because I don’t agree with him that science is “just another way of knowing”. Most of my family and friends are intelligent and well-educated, and nearly all of them believe in some form of CAM, mainly chiropractic, acupuncture and supplements. When I try to talk to them about evidence, they just come back at me with belief. I’m considered fairly radical because I believe in objective reality.

  89. Anthro says:

    At the risk of being kicked out of THIS forum, I had my children at home with the presence of, but no real “assistance” from, a lay-midwife (she was not woo, but a nun who had been attending births all over the world for 30 years and worked usually with doctors). She was there in case we needed help, but as I had absolutely normal, albeit short, labors and births, she only came in at the last minute and made sure that all the placenta came out.

    I am absolutely in favor of SBM, all my children are vaccinated (one of them twice–her shot record was lost and the school demanded revaxing), I’ve never visited any kind of woo practitioner and preach against all types of woo every chance I get. But, I will defend my choice of home birth (I had regular prenatal care from an OB, who was supportive of my birthing choice–and he was not doing any woo that I was aware of).

    My motive was not nearly as complicated as all the bantering above would indicate. I simply detested the greatly overly medicalized nature of my first hospital delivery (1969). I felt it was a horrific and degrading experience. I managed to have LaMaze (no drugs, slightly less interference) with the second at a hospital, and then the third and fourth at home. I was fully aware that there was a very small chance that something could have gone wrong and I though about it long and hard, but my OB agreed that I was as low-risk as they come and that it was my decision in the end. He referred me to a nurse-midwife, but I went with the nun because I already knew her from my friend’s births. I’m an atheist (okay with the nun), so god’s will nonsense didn’t some into it.

    I’m sorry if this shocks anyone and I do not care one bit what you think of it. I’m only telling it to inform the discussion as to why people do this. I don’t consider it woo, and while I read a few issues of the very early Mothering Magazine (late 70’s), I soon found it to be just as described here and chucked it. You don’t have to be into all this anti-authority, anti science junk to want to have your baby at home and do so in an informed and safe way. How much risk to accept is very individual and I don’t expect anyone else to approve or understand my personal decision on that.

    I want to be clear that I am as appalled as anyone else by some of the stories told here about unassisted births, especially in cases where the mother is clearly high risk or where people do not seek help when things do not progress normally. We had oxygen available and were 10 minutes from a major hospital. With my 15 minute labors, I have always thought that it was a good thing I was at home rather than delivering in a car on the way to a hospital. We took the babies to pediatricians (friends of ours) a few hours after birth for medically necessary tests. The youngest was a bit jaundiced, but didn’t require treatment. I now have six grandchildren, all born in the hospital–some in birthing rooms, I’m sure you will all be relieved to know. Whatever my “problem” was, it doesn’t seem to be genetic.

  90. Chris says:


    I was fully aware that there was a very small chance that something could have gone wrong and I though about it long and hard, but my OB agreed that I was as low-risk as they come and that it was my decision in the end.

    That is the biggest difference between you and several of the sMothering member advocating home birth. You knew the risks.

    Since there were complications with my first, I decided it was not for me. And due to the problems with the first, the doctor was not going to wait until I was 42 weeks, and would have induced at 41 weeks. Fortunately the second came four days shy of his estimated due date, and with a much smaller head!

    Though my neighbor had her second child at home, and it was fine.

  91. ckmw says:

    Alison Cummins-

    I totally get where you’re coming from. I also remember the old mothering, and Compleat Mother (is it even around still) which remained a newsprint rag well into my own parenting experience.
    DIY mentality is hard for some to really grok, but it’s what Mothering started around, and it’s what midwifery, home birth and even breast feeding used to be focused on. This ideal that less dependence on “systems” and less “technological intervention” was ultimately safer because none of us ever know when the grid will fall or some natural disaster will lead to the need to be able to knock down a tree, carve a canoe out of it and get the hell out of dodge. Not really the compound -gun arsenal -theme of survivalism people are probably imagining, not even religious. More peak oil predictions and earth first orientation to humans place in the ecosystem.

    Folks at least had some consistency about their beliefs. They birthed at home, they accepted illness and even death in an effort to be part of the “natural order”. No one tried to pretend that living this way would mean nothing bad would ever happen, it was more the idea that a life worth living was a life fully experienced and grasped onto without the fears and worries that were seen as limiting others happiness. And there was also a whole lot of eco- theory thrown in about footprint, harmony with nature whether urban or rural.

    I am a product of this world begun in my late teens through mid to late twenties, and I still value much of this approach to living. I accept more risk than some because I believe the process of living is a more important goal than the focus on staying alive. But everyone has their limits. I still fantasize about an off the grid homestead though it is neither practical or likely for me. I birthed my kids at home because it seemed the simplest and least chaotic way to deal with childbirth. I breastfed because it was practically free, required reliance on no one else and once figured out was simple. And, here it comes, I also did elimination communication with my kids for all the same reasons. Ecological, simple, and I learned about it working overseas FYI, not from the competitive mommy circle. I am not trying to idealize DIY based communites either, it’s a comments post so I can’t get into all the ways the rhetoric is problematic. Just pointing out that it wasn’t ever meant to slide into mainstream living.

    I became a homebirth midwife back then, and now my life, through that bitch of a thing called unplanned circumstances has morphed into an urban dwelling- professional medicalized practice in hospital- kids in private school existence that I find myself wandering the edges of all the time.

    I gave up on Mothering mag when they ran AIDS denialist stories, and it also made me start to look harder at their choice of everything from advertisements to photographs. I stopped passing it out to clients, stopped carrying it in my office. Now it seems like the equivalent of Real Simple for white middle class urban yuppie moms.

  92. Paddy says:


    If you’ll forgive a brief summary of how I understood your story, after 2 complication-free births, and in the absence of any warning signs, you had your other babies a whole 10 minutes away from the hospital, with the blessing of your obstetrician.

    Why do you think you’d be criticised for that, let alone kicked off the forum? (Incidentally, have a look at some of the other threads, and you’ll see some uber-woo people allowed plenty of oxygen; I’m new here myself, but censorship doesn’t seem to be the way this site works). Electing for a lay midwife half-raised a warning flag, I’ll admit, but I can see why you’d have gone with someone you knew.


    Some interesting history there, thank you. I’m curious, coming from a fairly uninformed position: as a midwife, which anti-SBM (or other) attitudes have concerned you most among the women you give perinatal assistance to? Have you noticed any recent trends or shifts in attitudes? In particular, do you meet any mothers who follow the mothering line to its most extreme measures, or do they just not have any contact with hospital midwife services?

  93. JessA says:

    @Chris –

    And it is not that I did not want an epidural, it was that I never had chance to get one. When I requested it, the nurse anesthetist came in and explained the procedure, including expounding on all the risks versus benefits. By the time he finished explaining it between my contractions I was too dilated!

    The same thing happened to me with my second. My first was an uber-medicalized birth – epidural, pitocin, emergency c-section, in that order. With my second, I asked for an epidural as soon as I was admitted but by the time all the paperwork was complete I was fully dialated and ready to push! Sometimes “natural childbirth” is just a matter of running out of time.

  94. Anthro says:


    Well, I didn’t mean the “kicked out for saying this” exactly literally. Its just that I have read a lot of very negative and accusatory things here about home birth. It is almost universally assumed that only woo woo, Mothering, anti-vax people do it, and I try to dispel that notion (even though I have to agree that probably most home birthers DO fall into that category–to some extent anyway.

    I want to clarify that my home births were planned–I’m not sure what you meant by “absence of warning signs”. My births were uneventful, but not entirely precipitous. I should also say that I had no midwife for one of them, but that my husband (an engineer) trained himself (he really did, don’t attack me people) and we were comfortable that we knew what to look for and would know when we needed help. I felt that if he could take apart and put back together a large industrial “chiller” (air conditioning equipment), he could learn basic female anatomy. We did drills for every complication with symptoms, causes, and response. We practiced pouring specific amounts of liquid onto towels to learn how much blood was something to worry about. Of course, we never needed any of it; baby came out, placenta came out in one nice piece (we saved it for the doc to look at anyway), we put the other kids in bed with me and baby and Dad went to work a bit late. Neighbors came by and marveled at the whole business (they had been very skeptical, as if a baby could NOT be born outside a hospital!) This was 1977, mind you. We read stories and my eight year old made tea and “lunch” (toast w/ peanut butter). I made dinner and the pediatrician who lived across the street came over to check out the baby (who was fine). We weighed him on a postage scale (9 lbs!) that a neighbor brought over.

    Sorry–I’m rattling on, but these are the most precious memories I have and I treasure them enormously–also love to share them. By the time I had my fourth, (different husband) we opted for a midwife on his account–he wasn’t nearly as confident as ex-husband, but she was strictly stand by and didn’t end up doing anything but assuring Dad that everything was fine. I know there is an element of luck in all this, but I think it’s very very small and wouldn’t change any of it.

    Thanks for your supportive response.

  95. lou33 says:

    I’d like to see more studies involving Vitamin D and autism. It seems like a much stronger link than vaccine and autism link.

    I’m looking at vaccines from a point of view. Since immune system needs enough vitamin D to function properly ( INNATE IMMUNITY) against virus (many reports success against flu and cold despite that there’s no vaccine for cold), fungi, bacteria and cancer, would vaccines overwhelm immune system to the point where it “unmasked” or made symptoms of autism worse? That would explain why most parents happen to notice the significant changes after receiving vaccines even though the kids may have had mild autism that was unnoticed. Perhaps Wakefield missed that and just assumed MMR “directly” cause it but he did say that more research is needed and that MMR be separated into 3 vaccines for each. I looked up information on both sides and rabbit hole is indeed very deep and I don’t feel like wasting my time verifying every single thing.

    More and more studies from all over the world are showing a stronger link, it’s hard to ignore vitamin D plus it seemed like a pretty remarkable treatment for autistic children. They showed most of not all of those kids (and their mothers) had very low vitamin D. That would be a good place to start with. Test every single of them and their mothers to see if that’s the case. Would making sure soon to be pregnant mothers getting enough vitamin D before conceiving babies prevent autism? Who knows? Vitamin D is needed for proper brain development (on genetic level). – I’m sure some have read the theory and since then more studies supported it. Those case studies are pretty interesting.

  96. Chris says:

    All but four of those papers point back to that website. Not very convincing. Though you are more than welcome to provide the funds to an academic group to do the study.

  97. Paddy says:


    Running some searches on “Vitamin D pregnancy” and “Vitamin D autism” in Pubmed, the evidence so far for this specific association looks a bit inadequate. It’s also worth noting this is only one of many, many possible risk factors for autism (

    However, Vitamin D deficiency is certainly a real health problem globally (

    Also, it isn’t only autism that’s being fingered for a link with Vitamin D deficiency – there’s also schizophrenia (, MS ( and others, not to mention the classic association with rickets.

    There also appear to be a number of ongoing trials of vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy based on However, if there’s a suspicion of neurological involvement, supplementation in early pregnancy (or possibly even pre-pregnancy) should be looked at, given that neurological involvement is likely to be greatest in the first trimester, and unfortunately, many of these trials actively exclude women who are less than 12 weeks pregnant. This is actually standard practice in clinical trials; there’s too much that can go wrong in early pregnancy, including too high a rate of natural miscarriages, and on the whole, scientists don’t want to risk hurting their study participants and really don’t want to get sued. Even more unfortunately, few of these trials are looking at neurological outcomes anyway. Animal studies certainly support a role of severe vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy with worse neurological outcome in the offspring (, but to really test for whether there’s an association, we’d need to run a clinical trial.

    A clinical trial with four groups should help address this, especially if carried out in a population with a high level of vitamin D deficiency:

    1) Vitamin D pre-pregnancy + Vitamin D + (usual microvitamins, especially iron & folate) during pregnancy + Vitamin D supplementation in infancy
    2) Placebo pre-pregnancy + interventions later
    3) Placebo pre-pregnancy + usual treatments during pregnancy + Vitamin D supplementation in infancy
    4) Total placebo/usual treatment

    You’d have to follow the kids up to age 3 at least for standard developmental outcomes, and you’d want to look at all the usual outcomes besides neurological development. And with only about 1 in 1000 people having autism, or 6 in 1000 having autism-spectrum disorder, you’d have to treat the neurological development score, or possibly a score based on the number and type of autistic traits shown as the primary outcome, rather than autism per se.

    However, the costs of such a trial would be pretty huge, and it would be very difficult to recruit a large enough population pre-pregnancy. A simpler design would be to just look at Vitamin D supplementation throughout + usual treatment vs usual treatment. If this found a benefit, you could then break it down further.

  98. Paddy says:

    Some more reading in Vitamin D:

    There’s some pretty high-profile advocacy of routine Vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy in the UK ( and of routine Vitamin D supplementation in infancy in Ireland ( If we see any decline in the rates of autism, schizophrenia or MS after this (besides the anticipated prevention of rickets) it could really be quite interesting. The only problem is that it’s a rather less compelling form of evidence than a clinical trial, but looking at the logistics of it, I’m very doubtful that a clinical trial on the necessary scale would be likely to happen in the near future.

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