Friday, November 25, 2011

It is what it ain't

I still hear that little voice inside my brain, "it is what it is."  I am working on negating this slogan of our times.  Think about the words.  Yeah, I am thinking hard, my brain is burning.  In the current state of economic crisis and the blatant corruption at Wall Street;  this slogan is hypnotic.  The words lull me into a stupor of acceptance.  Nothing will change, because it is what it is.  How comforting this simple slogan.  There is nothing we can do because it is what it is.  Over and over again we hear the words.  I am not influenced by repetition of stupid thoughts.  Or so I think I am not influenced?  Repetition is one of many techniques used by propagandists and advertisement industry.  They use it because it works.  Hitler wrote about it and changed history with it.  Advertisers use repetition to sell products.  We often think we are too smart to be bamboozled by advertisements.  Yet subliminal messages impact our brain in some ways.  see Propaganda

I suppose that is why I was fascinated by breastfeeding and infant formula blog sites that use a web design of specific words.  It is a propaganda technique;  the use of "loaded" words that "arouse a strong emotional response."  Does it mean that I believe the sites are connected in some way?  No. The only connection is the site owner's understanding of the power of words to create an emotional response.

Words are important.  The use of breastfeeding and breast milk as interchangeable words creates a fiction.  They are not interchangeable concepts.  They are vitally different.  While "breastfeeding is free," breast milk is not free.  Why?  Because in most cases our current culture dictates the use of pump technology to separate the milk from the mammary gland.  It requires the use of bottles and bottle nipples (few mothers are willing to use a cup which is far simpler to clean).  All this equipment must be bought.  Storage of breast milk requires refrigeration/freezers, which means a mother is dependent on some form of energy (be it electric or gas).  Which translates to higher electric or gas bills. 

I find it fascinating that breastfeeding advocacy organizations are saying that breastfeeding is not free.  But the infant formula industry says that breast milk is not free.  They know the difference.  Why don't we?  Woman who donate their breast milk give far more than a product that is life saving.  They are giving their time and money invested in equipment to help babies.  It is why I feel that mom's who donate to milk banks should get an honest accounting of where their donor milk goes.  How much of donor milk goes for research/researchers in the infant formula industry, how much to the NICU?  I never could get this question answered by HMBANA.  

I see breastfeeding advocacy organizations drifting into policies that don't make sense to me.  Baby Milk Action states at their website that they are not "anti-baby milk." and   "Our work protects all mothers and infants from irresponsible marketing."

This sounds so good and proper.  Yet I am troubled by these statements.  Promoting breastfeeding is protecting all mothers and infants.  One cannot protect formula feeding mothers as well as breastfeeding mothers. How can an organization serve well the needs of both groups without hurting one side or the other?  And the question is what information are breastfeeding organizations basing this subtle shift of thinking?  Do breastfeeding organizations believe that the formula feeding blogs are an accurate reflection of mother's who formula feed?  

I read a paper at one of the infant formula industry website called, "Women's perceptions of their healthcare experience when they choose not to breastfeed."  This article was from Women Birth (2011) At the bottom of the page in a stand-out grey box, the website which represents the infant formula industry states, "Please cite this article in press as Wirhana LA, Barnard A.  Women's perceptions of their healthcare experience when they choose not to breastfeed.  Women Birth (2011), doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2011.08.005"

Rather interesting to me that the infant formula industry is very aware of why women "choose" not to breastfeed.  That understanding leads to better and better and better advertisements.  And better and better blogs are created with that knowledge.  If you know someone's fears about birth, about breastfeeding, one can capitalize on those fears.  One can also persuade breastfeeding advocates that there are large numbers of women angry at them for advocating for breastfeeding.

In the drive to change the culture of cigarette smoking, because of its risk to health, the tobacco industry used its enormous profits to create a number of illusions.  Likewise, the infant formula industry will present its illusions to the public.  Unlike years ago, the infant formula industry has the whole playground of the internet to persuade people.  Believing PR campaigns by industry creates dangerous misconceptions about reality.  The anti-smoking campaigners/advocates did not feel the need to protect smokers from reality.   Advocacy is not for the faint-hearted or those who wish everyone to feel good about their choices.  As the Bible says, you cannot serve two masters.
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"It is what it is"

It is what it is what it is...I think I am going to vomit.  I am so sick of being told, "it is what it is."  Why is everyone saying this slogan?  It's like a broken record, spinning in my head, like the song that you hate that just keeps playing around in your mind.  I am being mind blasted by Hollywood.  I heard it on some TV show and decided right then and there that I hated the show.  If I ever say this to someone, I will know that I am being controlled by the force...beam me up Scotty....

And this is the nature of making a good slogan, good PR.  Catchy phrase, simplistic reasoning, and get some Hollywood actors or actresses to say it and say it and say it.  Then we all believe it.  Ya hear something often enough you think you thought of it and that you are so brilliant.  Yeah...sure.  We creatures of this planet are the Great Imitators.  My first born at 3 weeks old was imitating her grandma who was making a clicking sound with her tongue.  I couldn't believe it.  My baby was positively, absolutely brilliant.  She could imitate the mouth movements of her grandma.  Slowly, after more children, I began to realize that babies/children imitate the adults around them.  It's the why of how your child learns her/his first swear word and repeats it and repeats it.  They heard it from you.  Of course you tell your family and friends my sweet child learned that word from that rotten delinquent 4 year-old kid from down the street.  Yes, of course, who probably learned it from some adult.  Although nowadays they probably learned those wonderful expletive deleted words from your TV set or computer.

So where is this discussion heading?  The wonderful new slogan created by breastfeeding advocates that breastfeeding is not free.  We are told that breastfeeding costs us:   in energy to produce milk, time, and in what we give up-opportunities lost.  (James Akre, author of The Problem with Breastfeeding)  What?  This slogan totally invalidates my experience and probably the experience of other mothers (because I don't think I am the only person who thinks this way).  My initial reason for breastfeeding was because it was free, because I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  Exclusive breastfeeding helped the family budget in so many ways.  It did not mean that I devalued it because it was free.  It was the buried treasure because the longer I breastfeed my baby the more I valued it.  I believe it is like the farmer who treasures his seeds.  The seeds he/she has saved from harvest to harvest.  Freely given by nature but life-giving to the farmer and to a nation.

The need to say that breastfeeding is not free is a sophisticated intellectual argument in support of capitalism, of worth being measured in dollars and cents only.  The argument spins on the belief that time is money and that taking time for mothering babies forces women to miss employment opportunities.  It's about what we value in our society.   In the past decades of American life, our values have changed.  I think of the bumper sticker on some cars a few years ago, "He who dies with the most toys wins."  Bingo, life in the USA.  Of course now that we are in an economic Depression (yes I know the government says Recession), the bumper sticker seems rather sad because we have lost all our toys.  No, I guess we "all" haven't lost our toys.

So now we are to believe that breastfeeding is not free.  And I imagine if we repeat it many times, in many places in our media-driven society that we will also believe it.  What is the reality?  Breastfeeding is  like the plant that freely gives it seeds to the farmer.  It is free for the taking.  The farmer treasures and saves those seeds.  Only now has our corrupted economic times created a system in which the farmer must pay for his "terminated" seeds that do not reproduce.  Farmers and farming is being destroyed by this patent pending seed system created by Monsanto.  Likewise, if we, women, embrace that breastfeeding is not free, we will be accepting a system in which we will always be dependent on the ebb and flow of a market system.

Why do we devalue what is free?  My family had a motto that I still use, "if its free, its for me."  I think we have come to believe, "it is what it is."  That our society will never change.  That mothers with babies will continue to have to go back to employment at 6 weeks postpartum.  That value is only how much we are monetarily worth, our educational titles, our "new" clothes. We accept our caste system that professionals, the experts are at the top of the value pyramid which works its way down to white collar then blue collar workers, to the pit of despair the unemployed.   And somehow its strikes me as absurd.  As absurd as believing that, "It is what it is."
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In the darkest hour of the night

Why do we believe that the internet is about fostering community?  What is community?  The internet, the virtual is a smorgasbord of ideas, thoughts, bytes.  Surfing the wave of the past, the present, and the future;  we run smack dab into our community.  Someone who thinks like us, who touches our thoughts, our dreams, our hopes.  Yet unlike the street I live on in Realityville, the people walk the mean streets of the Virtual, veiled and hidden.  Who are they?  Are they really who they say they are?  Who do they work for?  Why are they saying what they are saying?  Belief?  Or are they the public relation hired hands, who feed on controversy.  Willing to say anything to create a War of worlds?  You say you know what is going on in the world of infant feeding.  And I feel totally lost by the players, real and the imaginary ones who like to post vicious, nonsense.  For what?  For traffic's sake.  And breastfeeding advocacy steps into the fray believing that the internet is community, that bloggers are really who they say they are and that the overheated comments are made by people who give a damn.  All I see are the public relation trolls having a ball at everyone's expense.  Why can't I see the world that others see?  

So tell me, friend, explain to me why breastfeeding organizations and the infant formula industry are using the same mantras.  At the Infant Nutrition Council website they state, "The Infant Nutrition Council recognises; that breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby."  Everybody has dropped that Breastfeeding is Best for Breastfeeding is Normal.  They also state that breastmilk is not free.  So we seem to have found common ground, a shared usage of promotional words.

The Infant Nutrition Council is made up of infant formula manufacturers in Australia, as well as New Zealand infant formula marketers.  Their membership includes, Bayer (yes, US readers Bayer makes infant formula...Novalac), Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd, H. J. Heinz Company Ltd, Nestle, Nutricia, Wyeth;  asooicate members are the Dairy Goat Cooperative and Murray Goulburn Cooperative.  They state that, "The Infant Nutrition Council will work in collaboration with other breastfeeding advocates such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association, the New Zealand Breastfeeding Authority and other NGOs."

"The Infant Nutrition Council is committed to supporting both breastfeeding and infant formula."

The Council does state "will work," meaning the future, right?  Yet they make this other interesting statement.  "The members of the Infant Nutrition Council work with key stakeholders to support the public health goals of promoting breastfeeding and good nutrition for infants."  Who are these stakeholders?

Is this just more smoke and mirrors from the infant formula industry?  Or has there been a change in viewpoint among breastfeeding organizations to "if ya can't beat them, join them?"   I can't tell anymore.  It seems like one huge masquerade ball.  We have Prolacta (who advertises for donor human milk) aligned with Abbott, the infant formula manufacturer.  And now the undercurrents, the eddies of new games in our Virtual Community.  

In the darkest hours of the night, I think the world I once knew is no more.  Nothing is what it seems.  Whose PR team will win this War?
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Infant Feeding Wars: PR Campaign?

"The newer salesmanship, understanding the group structure of society and the principles of mass psychology, would first ask: "Who is it that influences the eating habits of the public?" The answer, obviously, is: "The physicians." The new salesman will then suggest to physicians to say publicly that it is wholesome to eat bacon. He knows as a mathematical certainty, that large numbers of persons will follow the advice of their doctors, because he understands the psychological relation of dependence of men upon their physicians."
--by Edward Bernays, from his book entitled "Propaganda,"  Bernays is credited for getting US women to smoke in the late 1920's through public relation campaigns featuring models and actresses smoking.

Who influences the eating habits of infants?  Yes, physicians have a great influence, just like they did in the 1920's.  But the advent of the internet, the Virtual has created a whole new realm of influence...blogs.  The CDC uses its "mommy bloggers."  One campaign was to address, "the importance of vaccination, vaccine safety and communication messages. see "Don't get the Flu. Don't Spread the Flu.  Get Vaccinated."

Then we have various infant formula companies using bloggers to market their products to parents and families.  Nestle is using Latina Mom Bloggers (Joscelyn from Mami of Multiples, Ericka from Nibbles & Feasts, Liz from Thoughts of a Mommy and Dari from Mami Talks)

"Abbott Pays Mommy Blogs to Review Similac App," an article written by Ed Silverman at

discusses the lack of transparency by some bloggers about their associations with the industry.

Some mommy bloggers disclose their associations to the infant formula industry, some do not.  So how do readers of these mommy blogs evaluate the content of some sites, if there is no disclosure of financial ties.  I don't think it is an easy task.  

Are their mommy bloggers hired to promote breastfeeding?  Yes, I believe this is so.  The US Government is spending money promoting breastfeeding.  I am sure the size of the budget for this is miniscule compared to the infant formula industry.  

What I believe we are witnessing on the internet, on the Virtual, is a war between public relation camps.  Each side willing to make the most outrageous comments.  Should we believe that the commentators to these blogs are just "Josephine, citizen."  Are they just a part of the huge network of PR people assisting their friends in the PR industry of smoke and mirrors?  Certainly some commentators are from the PR industry; intent on making a stir, creating more traffic to blog sites (believing that this adds credibility to a blog). And certainly some commentators are who they say they are, a citizen who wants to be heard.

For instance trained actress (according to her resume), Suzanne Barston Cobb, Fearless Formula Feeder, had over 300 comments to her post/critique on a paper published in IBJ (International Breastfeeding Journal) on emergency infant feeding.  Some statements by commentators were outrageous and one commentator seems to think that boiling water for infant formula (even in emergency situations is unnecessary).  The concern seems to be if the WHO/UNICEF made these recommendations for infant feeding, then obviously it is a political ploy.  Maybe these commentators should read  literature from the International Formula Council on Bottle Safety Tips...
"Be sure to ask your pediatrician if you should boil and cool the water that you mix with the formula.  Depending on where you live and the quality of your water supply, boiling the water may help to keep your baby safe and healthy."

I would encourage parents to read the IFC (Infant Formula Council:  members are Abbott, Mead Johnson, Nestle, PBM Products/ A Perrigo Company, Pfizer) statement on genetically modified ingredients.  "The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies have declared that foods and ingredients produced through biotechology are safe.  The FDA also has concluded that all genetically modified (GM) ingredients they have approved for use in human foods, including infant formulas, are the same in composition, nutritional value and quality as non-biotechnology derived ingredients, and therefore labeling of foods containing GM ingredients is not required in the U.S."

Actually I don't believe that statement is quite correct.  The FDA leaves it up to industry to declare their product safe.

Fearless Formula Feeder and her commentators are planning to write to the journal that posted the paper on infant feeding in emergencies.  In her post she cites the article to the Journal of Human Lactation.  The article was not published there, but in the online publication called International Breastfeeding Journal. 

There is a blog called, Moms Feeding Freedom written by Kate Kahn.  The IFC (International Formula Council) recommends this blog.  And Source Watch states that this blog is funded by the IFC.  Kate Kahn is an adjunct professor at Boston University and was senior news producer at WHDH-TV (NBC-Boston).  She is the Principal at Kahn Communications.  Her blog has some featured articles:   "Selling your breast milk online--a dangerous trend,"  "Depression, Postpartum and Breastfeeding," "Breastfeeding--it's not really free."  And all brought to you by the IFC.  I think I have heard the mantra, "Breastfeeding-- its not really free," somewhere else?  Oh yeah, I remember...from some breastfeeding advocates.  Seems like breastfeeding advocates and infant formula advocates think along the same lines.  

Certainly, this infant feeding war, creates TRAFFIC.  Exchanges get very heated.  But who is creating this so-called war?  
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mass Media: The Great Manipulators

Noam Chomsky has stated, "Propaganda is to democracy as the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state."  We are witnessing the use of mass media to restrict dialogue on issues in order to promote the interests of corporations and government.  What is public relations and when is it propaganda?  How do we make a judgment on the sites we visit on the internet?  Has public relations become more and more a propaganda game?  And how does that impact society?

I suspect that much of what we now call PR is a manipulation of the public to accept the corporate state and its views on everything from the acceptability of war to infant formula.  Politics is about power.   The way in which we feed our babies is political.  Who wields that power, and who controls the media.  Ultimately control of the media rests with those who have the most bucks.  The Virtual is an open door to media manipulators to create certain illusions. 
There are techniques used in propaganda that are well-known by people who have analysed successful propaganda.  The following techniques are used:  name calling, glittering generalities, transfer, testimonial, plain folks, card stacking, band wagon. For further information see:

In reading some of Fearless Formula Feeders blog, I am amazed by her statements.  She considers women who formula feed the underdog.  Statistically speaking, breastfeeding is the underdog.  Few women exclusively breastfeed, most woman are weaning their infants within the first 4 months to formula: yet we are to believe that the real underdog is formula feeders.  While breastfeeding initiation rates have increased over the years, duration rates are very low.  So in reality many more women are experiencing formula feeding than breastfeeding.  Women who bottlefeed in public are not kicked out of public places, but breastfeeding mothers face that reality.  Who is the underdog?  What Fearless Formula Feeder's blog uses is "glittering generalities,"  a propaganda technique.  We identify with the "underdog."  Certainly, she may have felt in her social circle like the underdog for bottlefeeding but formula feeding is the reality for a majority of women in the USA.

Fearless Formula Feeder's blog presents "tips for drying up breastmilk (without the attitude)."  Her suggestions regarding drying up milk are not what I would suggest.  I think binding breasts and suddenly stopping production can risk mastitis and/or breast abscesses.  I have always recommended pumping to relieve pressure  (just enough to release some milk but not increase production) and alternating ice packs and warm showers to relieve pain)  I think binding the breasts is asking for a lot of pain that can be circumvented by a gradual process.  I also believe that binding the breasts can increase a mother's risk of mastitis and breast abscess.   

The irony of the need for tips on drying up breastmilk is that we believe that nowadays we have "choice" regarding our biology.  Our mammary glands do not recognize "choice" and make milk anywayMothers have to actively suppress lactation in order to choose infant formula.  Drugs, particularly bromocriptine, have been the answer until it was found that these drugs caused stroke, deaths.  

I think mothers need to evaluate information they are given, often this is difficult and time consuming and horribly confusing.   So many times mothers told me that everyone they had seen regarding breastfeeding had told them something different and that they were feeling very confused.  Who to believe?
I feel the same about medical research and the contradictory and confusing conclusions that we often see.  A key point in evaluating medical research is to understand who is funding the research.  Who do the researchers work for?  The same can be said about websites and blogs.  Who funds that website or blog?  

I was questioned by Suzanne of Fearless Formula Feeder blog about my lack of advertising.  I don't accept advertising.  My blog is free (at least for now).  I am no longer an IBCLC because of their stance on the WHO Code.  I was a La Leche League Leader for 10 years, a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Coordinator for 4 years, I had a private practice for a number of years and could not make enough money to keep it open.  I now own and operate a environmental-friendly cleaning service and work part-time in a historic hotel doing housekeeping and turn-down service.  So my occupations in no way impact my blog or my views.  They do keep me afloat financially in an area that is mostly a tourist destination.  The county I live in is one of the poorer counties.  I was one of the few IBCLCs without a medical background, who got a position at a local hospital within their midwifery department.  Due to politics:  the midwifery program was shut down within a short time because the midwife allowed a mother to stand during 2nd stage of her delivery--a hospital birth.  I was told I would not be allowed to see any clients, particularly the mother who stood during 2nd stage.  I quit.  I quit the WIC Program because of many reasons, mostly because of the difficulty of working within a bureaucracy.  I did ask for the WIC job back, a year or so later, because I needed more work to pay my bills.  They offered half of what I made previously.  I thought the economics in my area was bad then, but they have gotten far worse.  I have cleaned beside a woman who had masters degree and taught college level classes, and local public school teachers who could not make ends met on their salaries.  I am happy to have a job because I see others losing homes and in the streets.  Am I happy about my career change?  No, of course not.  But this is the wonder world that our political and corporate leaders (our wall street wonder boys) have created due to corruption.  Of course I don't blame them totally...I have made the decisions that impacted my family for good and bad.  I can live with it because I have to live with it.  My blog is the result of not having the time to write a book about the patenting of human milk components.  The blog is also the result of certain people in our breastfeeding organizations who have given me and my writings the silent treatment.  Although those same people have wanted the information I have researched, but they didn't want my opinions on that research.  Thus my blog was born. 
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain