Friday, October 23, 2015


"Breastfeeding has been associated with enhanced development and balanced growth and maturation of the infant's respiratory, gastrointestinal and immune systems, thereby providing protection of the infant to infection and inflammatory disease."  from Patent # 8802650 entitled, "Method of using human milk oligosaccharides for improving airway respiratory health," filed in 2011 and owned by Abbott Laboratories

Two American bald eagles were soaring and plunging low over the river.  They were a sight to see.  I quickly glanced at them and returned to trying to concentrate on my driving.  Yet my thoughts continued to be scattered and fragmented.  I had just read the NY Times article, "Overselling Breast-Feeding," by Courtney Jung (October 16, 2015).  Should I write about this article?  Here we go again, another article in a major newspaper castigating breastfeeding advocacy.  I am always baffled by these articles written by highly educated women who they say have breastfed their babies. How do I understand their thinking?   This NY Times article is written by a professor of political science at the University of Toronto.  She was educated at Tufts, Columbia and Yale universities.  She is the principle investigator for the Toronto Intiative for Economic and Social Rights.  She just finished a book entitled, "Lactivism:  How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy."  It appears that the NY Times article is from this recent book.  She has authored two other books but they have nothing to do with breastfeeding.

The first sentence I read in this NY Times article was, "All to often, advocates cross the line from supporting a women in her decision to breast-feed into compelling a woman to do so."  Wow.  Is this a statement by an academic or a propagandist?  Compelling a person is to "force" someone.  I need an explanation of how one forces someone to breastfeed?  One of many propaganda techniques is to use loaded words, creating an emotional response, to sway the audience.  The author in this article does not give evidence of how breastfeeding advocates compel breastfeeding.  Instead she implies that breastfeeding advocacy is equivalent to discrimination against poor women and minorities.  

Women in poverty and some minorities (particularly African-American populations) are the least likely to breastfeed. They are the least likely to breastfeed because of a mega-industry's power through advertising.  And because of social and economic limitations in which poverty creates enormous barriers to breastfeed.  Is the goal of this article to make breastfeeding advocates mute their messages to women in poverty and minorities?  This would be mighty beneficial to the infant formula industry.

The author describes the WIC Program as coercive because women who breastfeed get an enhanced food package.  She states, "The difference in benefits is intended to create incentives for poor mothers to breast-feed, but withholding food from mothers at nutritional risk, and from their babies, seems more like punishment to me."  "Withholding food?" Again the author uses the same propaganda technique, loaded words.  There is a difference between the nutritional needs of a breastfeeding mother and a formula feeding mother.  Likewise there is a difference between the nutritional needs of the breastfed infant and the formula fed infant.   The article states that breastfeeding infants get meat-based baby foods but infant formula-fed infants do not get meat-based baby foods.   I assume that the reasoning for this is that formula fed infants get all their iron requirements from infant formula and would not necessarily need meat-based baby foods.  The WIC Program is a supplemental food program, and its funding is dependent on the congressional budget.  Should we dismantle breastfeeding promotion in the WIC Program in order to promote equality?  Does the author, a Canadian professor of political science, understand the WIC Program and the issues surrounding nutritional risks? 

The author writes about Canadian Dr. Michael Kramer's PROBIT trial.  And states from that study, "breast-feeding having some benefits but did not reduce the risk of obesity, asthma, allergies, dental cavities or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder."  There are a number of issues with this study that I have discussed in this blog.

So the author believes that one study proves her belief that breastfeeding has some benefits but obviously in the words of the author not "a talisman to ward off evil and disease."  And again her words are emotive.  Great propaganda.  I didn't know that I was promoting breastfeeding to ward off evil nor do I know of any other breastfeeding advocate that believes that breastfeeding will ward off evil.  I do know that I am promoting breastfeeding to prevent diseases in mothers and infants. And I am thoroughly amused that this author has no idea that the infant formula industry has patents using human milk components to prevent obesity, asthma, allergies, etc.  The infant formula industry understands and will invest in human milk components. In fact it is the infant formula industry that believes in breastfeeding as a magic talisman.  Breastfeeding is their gold standard upon which the value of infant formula is based.  Why else advertise about their ingredients that "are just like" human milk ingredients?  Yet criticism is not addressed to the infant formula industry but rather against breastfeeding advocacy.  

The article seems like a personal vendetta rather than the writings of a scholar.  Did the author really comb through all the medical literature on breastfeeding?  The author states, "Surprisingly, the question of choice, which is central to so many women's issues, is almost totally absent from discussions about infant feeding."  That statement is a negation of reality.  Choice is the bedrock of infant feeding.  And the reality of choice is that poor women and minorities have no choice in infant feeding.  Their choice is limited because of social and economic pressures.  Change the social and economic through legislation and more women would breastfeed.  Assume that social and economic situations cannot be changed, and what you get is the belief that infant feeding is an equivalent choice.

The author writes the following, "There is a difference between supporting a woman's decision to breast-feed through policy changes like improved maternity leave, flexible work schedules and on-site day care facilities and compelling women to breast-feed by demonizing formula."  Therein lies the crux of her argument, the fear of demonizing formula.  Interesting.  The author never questions how choices are made or whether there really is choice?  Instead her next to the last sentence in her conclusion is about demonizing formula.  

Fascinating.  Currently most if not all universities in the US (and Canada) receive funding from a variety of industries.  The University of Toronto is not an exception to this practice and gets quite a bit of funding from a variety of companies.  The University receives funding in the $100,00-$999,00 range from a large variety of companies.  That list includes Abbott, Mead Johnson, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Heinz, Nestle, etc.

Infant formula funding for this University is not particularly surprising particularly because this University was involved in the creation of a very popular baby food in the 1930's.  Three faculty members (Frederick Tisdall, Theodore Drake and Alan Brown) of the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine  created Pablum. Tisdal gave Mead Johnson permission to manufacture Pablum.

How influential is funding of universities/colleges to what professors can and cannot say without risking unemployment? How a person is employed impacts our views.  For instance, I was employed by the WIC Program for 4 years.  And I do have criticisms of the Program and yet I realize I am biased in favor of the Program.  How much of my defensiveness about WIC are because of being employed in the Program?  The author is employed by the University of Toronto.  Is it possible for a professor in a University that receives large funding from the infant formula industry to be unbiased about infant formula feeding? 

Would we ever see an article in a major newspaper about overselling infant formula?  No. Why?  Because it would have an economic impact towards a major industry and because that industry has a major influence in the media.  What is printed in the media has everything to do with who has the power and money.  Creating discord among women benefits the infant formula industry and diverts us from a critical analysis of the influence of the industry.

I was rather shocked to read an article written by Melissa Bartick in the Breastfeeding Medicine blog that was a response to Courtney Jung's article. She states "...let's replace zealotry with compassion and understanding and meet every mom where she is.  And if we see zealotry in our colleagues, let's gently remind them that this may be how we got to the Time magazine cover and New York Times op-ed.  That is the only way we will stop this negative press."

The acceptance of the article by Courtney Jung as truth is a huge mistake.  The result of this acceptance that there are zealots in breastfeeding advocacy and that they need to stay silent because its the only way to stop negative press is a dangerous concept.  It does not help the situation but makes the situation even worse.  Who defines zealots? Who are the zealots we are talking about that are creating negative press?  Why this easy acceptance of this article as if it is steeped in truth?  And that truth means that one should silence the "zealots?"  I understand quite well the silencing of zealots.  This silencing in the breastfeeding advocacy community has been ongoing for many years.  It is destructive and not in the best interests of anyone.
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Breastfeeding in a Man-Made World

"The large quantity of sialylated oligosaccharides in human milk is of particular interest.  Sialic acid is a nine-C sugar that is a vital structural and functional component of brain gangliosides.  It is thought to play an essential role in nerve cell transmission, memory formation and cell communication.  Studies in rat pups indicate that early supplementation with sialic acid improves both brain ganglioside sialic acid and learning ability in well-nourished and malnourished animals and that these changes persist into adulthood."
Patent # 8771780 entitled "Oligosaccharide ingredient"
Owned by Nestle, Inventors Norbert Sprenger et al.

Reality, thy name is Man.  A Merriam-Webster Student Dictionary on the internet defines man as "a human being, especially an adult male human" or "the human race."  This Student Dictionary defines woman as "an adult female person," and uses the sentence, "a woman who is a servant or attendant."   Men are human beings, of the human race.  Women are defined as servants of the human race.  Reality defined and designed by a dictionary.

How often is a reality defined by others?  What we believe, as defined by others, becomes the "truth."  As a teenager in the sixties, I accepted a reality that my family, my church and my school presented about what a woman can and cannot do.  My Dad was a computer technician for Univac but he spent his evenings and weekends working on and driving a stock car. Sometimes his pit crew buddies were not available, so I became the substitute.  Bleeding brakes, slanted carburetors, roll cages and slick wide tires became a new interest.  I wanted to be part of his pit crew and learn more about cars.  Maybe I could be a driver or so I dreamed.  I asked my Dad, if I could be part of his pit crew.  My Dad said no.  He told me women were not allowed in the pits.  I asked why.  I don't remember his answer.  I think it was something like "bad luck," same reasoning given for not allowing women into mines.  My anger is all I remember from that time, overshadowing what he actually said to me.  In those teenage years I remember his steadfast belief that women should stay home after they are married and that of course women should be paid less than men for the same job. Yet surprisingly, he pushed me to go to college.  We had many arguments over my going to college.  I didn't want to go because I was tired of school, in fact unknown to my parents, I was regularly skipping school.  My girlfriend and I ended up in my senior year at the vice principle's office for skipping classes.  I thought for sure he would call my parents but he told us that since we had never been in trouble before and since our grades were excellent he would let us go with a warning.  Next time there would be consequences!

My Dad won the argument about college.  Amazingly I graduated from college and enjoyed college more than I would admit to my parents.  I thought my Dad was authoritarian and backwards in his views on women.  Yet he pushed for my education.  And years later, he always read what I wrote and always had words of encouragement.  He was a writer himself and he understood the frustrations and joys of writing.

We are a society that is schizophrenic about women and their place in society.  My Dad's views on women were divided.  On the one hand he believed in a hierarchy in which men were in control.  On the other hand he recognized that women were more than objects to be controlled.  Growing up in that era has created within me a wish that I had been born decades later.  Seeing what women do and are able to do now in our society amazes me.  I am envious of the opportunities that are now available for women.  The first time I saw a woman working on road construction, I was so excited. Of course, now most people would not understand that excitement.  Women are astronauts, race car drivers, scientists, doctors, researchers, and even run for President of the US (although none have ever won the Presidency or even been a Vice President) The society I was born into has undergone massive changes as far as women and career opportunities.

Society can change.  But how deep runs that change?  Is it only a superficial veneer, a thin dusting of equality?  Like the dictionary definitions of man and woman, is our reality still man-made?  Women still make less money than men doing the same or similar jobs.  Something I was mad about and argued with my Dad about in the 1970s.  Women are still defined by their appearance not their accomplishments.  Rape is rarely prosecuted.  The word slut is often used among young people to shame a woman/girl who is supposedly sexually active with many partners.  No such term exists for men.   

How is breastfeeding, human milk and patents viewed in a man-made society? Breastfeeding represents a lack of male control.  Man cannot control a crying baby in need of its mother's breast.  Man cannot control the relationship.  They can control the relationship, if the substance is pumped and bottled. When I did breastfeeding classes, the first thing couples often asked was that the father wanted to feed the baby and so they needed pumping and storage information.  My suggestions to couples that there are many other things fathers can do with their babies besides feed them was often met with disbelief.  I found that pumping and storing milk in the early weeks often lead to problems.  If the mom could not pump tons of milk, she presumed that she had milk supply problems.  There are host of problems when pumping starts in the early days with a newborn:  oversupply, mastitis, sore nipples, less time spent with breastfeeding baby and more time spent with pump, giving bottles rather than breastfeeding, etc.  The reason for the breastpump often had nothing to do with employment or separation from baby but simply because the man wanted to bottlefed the baby.  

In our man world, women are expected to go back to employment quickly without regard for the realities of the postpartum period.  I worked with women who had to be back to work two weeks after their babies were born.  Some of those women had c-sections and some of those women suffered for years afterwards with health issues because of it.  In the US there is no consideration for the health and emotional risks for moms and babies created by the economic necessity of having to go back to work too soon.  Nor is consideration given to pregnant women, many who work right up til they give birth.  This standard US belief that women should be able to have their babies and get back to work immediately is essentially about the structure of male corporate and legislative power.  

Breasts in the US are considered part of women's sexual equipment and not about feeding babies.  Big breasts spilling out of bikini tops are used to sell everything from cars to beer.  Breast enlargement is often the desired gift of young women.  Never mind that such surgery can sometimes damage nerves that will influence whether breastfeeding happens or not.  In our man-made world it is okay for a woman to wear a skimpy bikini or thong in public but breastfeeding in public is a no-no.  How many women stop breastfeeding because they are too embarrassed to breastfeed in public?  How many women end up in some dirty public bathroom breastfeeding?  Why?  Because the reality of a male-dominated society defines what is sexual and what isn't sexual.  

Human milk in a male-centric society becomes a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.  While the media appeals made by milk banks is for the poor premature infants needing milk in NICUs (neonatal intensive care units), the reality is that human milk has stem cells and components that are desired by various industries.  Who runs those various industries?  Mostly men.  While about 50% of the population is composed of women, very few women are CEOs of companies or in positions of authority.  Those few women who are CEOs get there because they play by the rules of corporate power.

Ownership of human milk components, patenting, is never questioned in a man-made world.  After all, women are not quite human.  Like mother earth, we are just a natural resource in which to make money.  So what, if donor milk goes to the infant formula, drug and food industries for their enrichment.  So what, if breastfeeding doesn't happen because women can just pump their milk.  Anyone watch the recent movie, "Mad Max" with enslaved women pumping their milk for the survival of a bunch of crazy, violent male villains?  Art imitating life?

The survival of breastfeeding is dependent upon a society that recognizes the needs of women in pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.  The survival of the human species is predicated upon its treatment of women.  Treat women like objects, like a lesser form of humanity and for economic enrichment; the result will be the destruction of a society. 
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain