Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Case Against Infant-formula-feeding

photo by Jessie McClain

Those darn beavers damning up "our" river!! Just like people they take a good thing and create mayhem. But if it weren't for those damn beavers....

The complex weave of life on this planet effects us all. Add a few billion humans who think they know what it's all about, and we have become a planet on the verge of environmental collapse. So what's that got to do with breastfeeding and the article, "The Case Against Breastfeeding?" Nothing and everything. The case against infant-formula-feeding is compelling for those who are environmentally aware of the degradation of the planet. Pile up those empty cans, plastic bottles, and various containers of artificial baby milks in our landfills. Add those bottles and plastic nipples and pacifiers to the mix, and let's see how fast they degrade. Support and push the dairy industry so that our babies will be fed milk from another species. Support your local landfill, bottlefeed your baby.
How much does infant formula really cost? In terms of buying it at the store, and in the need for easy access to medical facilities. Because let's face it babies fed infant formula are sicker. I worked in the WIC program for 4 years. I encountered many mothers who told me regretfully that right after they weaned their babies from the breast their babies got sick. I used that moment to talk about relactation but mothers while interested in the idea had issues that made continued breastfeeding a problem for them. Sometimes it was employment but sometimes it was a member of the family who was pressuring the mother to quit. Sometimes it was because the pediatrician advised them to quit. Mothers noticed that once their infant stopped breastfeeding, their healthy infant got sick. Just mere coincidence? I'd like to see a study done on this issue.
Rosin in her case against breastfeeding writes, "...by insisting that milk is some kind of vaccine, they make it less likely that we'll experience nursing primarily as a loving maternal act..."
Not. One of the most interesting aspects of my experience of breastfeeding was that I breastfed to save money. Yes a very utilitarian motive but I am from the working class and our motivations are quite different from those who are middle class. I got hooked on breastfeeding. Breastfeeding worked its magic on me. It became less and less about the money I would save and more about how I felt about my baby. Even Rosin got hooked with breastfeeding despite her belief that its no better than using infant formula. She hasn't quit yet. I once had a mom tell me that she had 5 children. The first 4 she bottlefed. The last one she breastfed because it was going to be her last child. She whispered to me, that she was afraid she loved her last child more than her others. What magic is this? How can we love our breastfed children more? Is this unusual? I had major difficulties breastfeeding my first baby and quit breastfeeding for about a month and then relactated. While I was bottlefeeding I felt an enormous distance develop between myself and my baby. Upon relactation, I felt that huge gulf between us disappear. What do we believe? Breastfeeding is certainly magical but we don't need to tell women this. We just have to let them do it. Oxytocin works wonders on the body.
As for Rosin's dismissal of breastfeeding being some kind of vaccine, I am amused. She should go interview a company called Glycom APS in Denmark. They are using their understanding of carbohydrate chemistry to produce human milk oligosaccharides (genetically engineered) for use in infant formula and functional foods and also in the development of vaccines. In 2006 they entered into an agreement with Nestle Nutrition. Another biotech company, Agennix, plans on using human lactoferrin genetically engineered as a vaccine against cancer. Some companies are using HMFG (human milk fat globule genetically engineered and the real thing) in vaccines. But Rosin feels that breastfeeding advocates should not use the word vaccine. Industry can use human milk components as vaccines. But heaven forbid breastfeeding advocates talk about breastfeeding as being a continuous vaccination. Instead we can just go and spend some money and get the vaccine that imitates the real thing.
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain

Friday, March 27, 2009

The value system that can create "The case against breastfeeding"

"Mary lost in the garden of thought"

The decision to breastfeed by middleclass, college-educated women seems to be predicated on the benefits of breastfeeding as marketed in the USA. Rosin in her article in The Atlantic writes about Dr. William Sears, the parenting guru of breastfeeding. She writes about brighter brains being at the top of the list of benefits. Dr. William Sears is/was the medical advisor to Martek Bioscience maker of DHA and ARA for infant formula. This is the genetically engineered (the company denies gmo but it admits to its novelty as a food) algae and fungi that is put into infant formula in order to imitate the human milk components. He has a financial axe to grind. The studies done on IQ in breastfed infants (DHA/ARA) were funded by Mead Johnson and Martek Bioscience. Great marketing--glorify breastfeeding, imitate the human milk component, and sell it in artificial baby milks. And another target for DHA/ARA supplementation is pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Thus a new industry is born. What is the reality? IQ is obvious a mixture of a variety of factors and I am quite sure that species specific nutrition would encourage brain function. Are women like Rosin aware that their are being influenced by marketing of a product, DHA/ARA? Sears has mixed the messages to women because he has a financial interest in women believing in the importance of DHA and ARA. It is one of those partial truths that makes for great marketing.
Industries know what women value, particularly middle class professional women. They value education, knowledge and having bright, smart children. So Dr. Sears (Dr. DHA) has cornered the market. He is valued by breastfeeding mothers for his words of wisdom (and he does have alot of good things to say) and he also has the infant formula and supplement market in case of breastfeeding failure. Oh Parodox of paradoxes...life is so darn complex.
Real scientifc literature does not look like popular literature because popular literature is mostly social marketing, propaganda. Most scientists understand the complexity of life and that benefits and risks can be generalized but are also individualized.
Rosin writes that her and husband noticed that few women hold positions of serious power and blame is put on women breastfeeding. Because current society does not accept women breastfeeding in the workplace, breastfeeding mothers must stay home. Rosin and her husband place a value on "power." Not all humans value power or the side dishes of power--fame and fortune. But it is certainly the undercurrent of US politics and culture.
Rosin is still breastfeeding despite her resentment of being left "powerless" by it. What is that magical thread that binds us to breastfeeding even when we resent it? Oxytocin? Maybe. What do we believe about breastfeeding? What do we value? Rosin seems annoyed by people who say breastfeeding is free. "It's only free if a woman's time worth nothing." Time as in hourly wage? I think I am going to send my children a bill for all the time I spent with them breastfeeding--let me see 3 children nursed 4 years 2 months, 3 years 9 months, 5 years 6 months=13 years 5 months. Multiplied by hourly minmum wage-currently $7.21 an hour in Florida. Or course I didn't nurse them 24 hours a day but some daze it felt like 24 hours. So let's say half that number: 6 years 2.5months. Oh god the math involved in this!!!I have no brain since breastfeeding siphoned most of it off. Let's see 365 days in a year times 6= 2190 days times 8 hours=17520 hours times $7.21=$126,319.20 Each child owes me about $42, 000 a piece--ought to pay for my nursing home care? Maybe. Let's look at it another way. Last time I looked human milk per ounce was going for (Prolacta's price) $42 an ounce? Not sure of this cause its been awhile since I looked at those figures. Assuming I averaged 32 oz of milk for each child each day for the first year (my kids never ate solids very much that first year--so 99% breastmilk), my milk was worth $1,344 per day times 365 days= $490,560 for one child. For 3 children it would be $1,471,680. That's just for one year. I will be rich some day soon....AIG eat your heart out. I don't need a government bailout, I just need my accountant to send the bills to my kids.
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Female Middle-Class Angst in "The Case Against Breast-Feeding."

Hanna Rosin's article in The Atlantic has raised a furor among breastfeeding advocates. I read her article and was amused and delighted with her writing. But unimpressed with her understanding regarding the science of "human milk." The article, while quoting studies on human milk, was essentially about mothering in a culture in which breastfeeding is just another competitive game of one-up-man-ship. Women educated in the shark-infested waters of a culture gone mad for competition, feel they have been sold the wrong bill of goods when it comes to breastfeeding. University-educated, career-minded women feel trapped by the need to give the "best" to their babies. American society seems transfixed in the dance and drama of outshining your neighbor.
Rosin highlights the paradox of being a feminist but also being a breastfeeding mommy. How can any woman do both? Do we lose our souls because we breastfeed? Where is the equality when mommy is the only one who can feed the baby? All these issues swirl into our minds, as the masks and mirrors of a warped society distort the reality. Did this article pin down reality or has it created its own agenda, its own propaganda to distort what we know about breastfeeding?
How can Hanna Rosin's article be so very wrong and right at the same time? Is this sophisticated spin, a disinformation campaign brought to us from media man, David Bradley, owner of The Atlantic? Bradley founded a company called Advisory Board Company in the 70's, which directed "business intelligence to improve operational and financial performance" (Wikipedia-Advisory Board Company) to healthcare executives. How much of our media reflects the business goals and values of industries? Why do certain articles get published and others are untouched by the media? Why is patenting of human milk components mostly unknown and undiscussed, even among breastfeeding advocates?
Rosin writes about a 2001 JAMA article she found in her pediatrician's office. I am amazed because the pediatricians offices I have visited had only magazines like Parenting, Baby Talk, Highlights for Children not medical journals. Obviously, big city pediatrician's cater to a more sophisticated group of mothers. The JAMA article was the PROBIT study by Michael S. Kramer et al. One of the problems with this study and many other studies on infant feeding is that breastfeeding or exclusive breastfeeding is not defined. The definition of breastfeeding is critical to a scientific understanding of the impact of feeding methods upon infants. If mothers are breastfeeding and also using infant formula, or foods, or drinks, how do we know the effect of breastfeeding? Wouldn't mixed feeding cause less observable health benefits? We know that human milk has a dose related response in infants, meaning that the more human milk an infant receives the greater the benefits. Not defining breastfeeding or what we mean by exclusive breastfeeding in studies, means that we fail to get a real understanding of the health benefits of breastfeeding or the risks of infant formula. Very few women exclusively breastfeed their infants (by exclusive I mean, only breastmilk-no water, no formula, no foods, no drinks, no drugs, no vitamins).
Most studies on infant feeding are done by the infant formula industry. Most are slanted to a degree. Most human milk researchers are funded by the infant formula industry. Thus, the reality of health effects in breastfed infants is distorted. Distorted by the secrecy of patenting of human milk components and the need of industries to have women believe that breastfeeding does not really matter. Let's look at obesity and what researchers are patenting at the Nemours Foundation. Two patents called "Administraiton of leptin," in which the real component-human milk fat globule will be used to regulate the size of adipose tissue. It will be used in the production of infant formula, foods, and drugs. patent #6475984, #7354896 at the US Patent & Trademark Office. I would suppose that Nemours Foundation would be a reputable organization, not given to fantasy or investment in far-fetched outlandish schemes. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe this is all magical thinking.
How about patent #6258383 called "Dietary supplement combining colostrum & lactoferrin in a mucosal delivery format by Gohlke, et al? The purpose of this patent is to stimulate the immune system to inhibit infection, create healing. Based on human milk, it is a dietary supplement in the marketplace. Another version of magical thinking I suppose, only these men are making money off their magical thinking. Agennix, a biotech pharm company in Texas, has 60-70 patents on the human milk component, lactoferrin. It is genetically engineered and perceived to be identical to the real human milk component. The US Government has funded this company in clinical trials regarding wound healing. They call their drug, a new antibiotic. Heck more magical thinking by industry and the government, too. We can't beat the patent owned by the Department of Health on lactoferrin as a diagnostic but also to be used in treating and inactivating hiv/aids. The magic of human milk brought forth into paper reality at the US Patent & Trademark Office. We have magical thinking at John Hopkins, who owns two patents on Human Milk Fat Globule to controll diarhhea in infants and in immune deficient persons like hiv/aids patients.
Rosin writes, "Given what we know so far, it seems reasonable to put breast-feeding's health benefits on the plus side of the ledger and other things--modesty, independence, career, sanity-on the minus side...."
Confusing, I thought she believed that breastfeeding offered very little in health benefits? Modesty--this from a feminist? This is the real nitty-gritty. Sanity resides on the side of bottlefeeding? Yes, I knew it all along that breastfeeding made us insane, immodest, dependent, and career-less. The IQ points I added to my children (questionable according to Rosin) were directly sucked out of my brain while I immodestly nursed them because I was careerless and dependent on the "man" for a life. We seem to have a younger generation who believes that the center of the universe is middle class virtues. Is this feminism or masochism?
Ms. Rosin writes, "Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental." Who is the magical thinker?
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MRSA, AIDS...the fear

photo by Jessie McClain
My Dad died a few weeks ago. He was 85 years old. He had heart disease. After bypass surgery in his seventies, he took a baby aspirin daily and did well for many years. But these last few years of his life, he took coumadin and various other meds to control the symptoms of his disease. Six months ago he was hospitalized with congestive heart failure and kidney failure. He recovered and went home. But in January he went to the ER and was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and sent home. The next day he went back to the ER with low blood pressure, admitted to intensive care, and then diagnosed with MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. He was put in isolation and those who visited him had to wear gowns and gloves. He developed pneumonia and the infection targeted his heart. He was put on IV vancomycin (6 weeks of IV vancomycin is standard) and other antibiotics. Early in the infection, he started seeing bugs on the ceiling, having delusions, and wanting to go home. He was put in restraints and when things got really bad he was sedated.
Eventually his delusions lessened, but the dementia demon was always lurking in the late afternoon. He got somewhat better after 4 weeks in the hospital and was sent to rehab, where he spent about 5 days either lying in a bed or sitting in a tinkertoy wheelchair (he was 6 foot 4 inches and this particular rehab center couldn't seem to find him a wheelchair that fit). Day 5, I found him collapsed, ashen-faced in the tinkertoy wheelchair. When a nurse finally came, his blood pressure was 70/35 and his breathing was barely visible. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital and diagnosed with another urinary tract infection-e.coli. More antibiotics and then another infection called c. diff. (An infection that is common in hospitals) Antibiotics, like vancomycin, kill off the good bacteria that could inactivate c. diff. This infection causes an unrelenting diarrhea. The delusions came back in full force. He had quit eating and drinking and lost an enormous amount of weight. Some of the physicians believed that with their medical miracles that he could live another year. Some of the physicians felt otherwise and expressed their belief in hints and in generalities. Eventually my family requested hospice. He spent his last two weeks on earth in a hospice care center. He started to recover or so it seemed. He was eating and drinking. The meals were made and served by volunteers. The appetizing meals and loving care he got helped stimulate a recovery. His dementia started to lessen and at times he seemed to be his old self. He actually recovered enough so that we had plans of taking him to my house. Instead, he had a massive stroke and died at the hospice center before we could implement the plans of taking him to my house.
I can't say I understand the medical community and its response to infectious disease and death. I don't understand how my Dad got MRSA. Nor do I understand why he was MRSA positive, then negative, then positive, then negative? Why the gowns and gloves and then no need for gowns and gloves? How interesting that an environment like Hospice can change the outlook of a patient? One would suppose that entering Hospice would be about doom and gloom. Instead my family found an environment full of caring and love. He died because his heart was weakened by MRSA. He never wanted extraordinary means to keep him alive. My Dad had left hospitals AMA(against medical advice), he had refused an ambulance after collapsing and recovering at a meeting, and he had walked out of an ER after feeling better. After his bypass surgery, he had told the family never, never again would he go through that kind of surgery. He annoyed his heart doctor because he refused another bypass surgery. That doctor wrote that he was non-compliant. And because of his non-compliance this specialist threatened to dump him as a patient (but relented later).
My Dad at one point during his hospitalization and in a very lucid moment, said to me that I ought to write about his recent "adventure" of hospitalization. I am not sure what he meant--from his eyes, from mine? Should his "adventure" be a personal story? Do I even know what he felt during the last two months of his life? Should I write about facts? For instance, the CDC reported in 2007 that more people died from MRSA than AIDS.
Should I write about how fear impacts quality of life? How fear of death, fear of infectious disease impacts medical care? How hospitalization dehumanizes a life? How personal belief effects health care professionals assessment/prognosis of patients? Is fear a basic component to sickness? Why are we expending so much governmental money on AIDS, when MRSA cases have doubled in five years?
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain