Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Bitter Pill of Human Milk Banking

Breastfeeding is the root of self-reliance.  It is like the farmer who saves his seeds year after year, not dependent on Monsanto or seed companies for survival.  A woman who breastfeeds without the aids of our breastfeeding technology (such as pumps, special bottle nipples (teats)/bottles, or other gadgets) is independent of our consumer-driven world.  Her infant determines her production, no other interventions or industry can interfere with that relationship.  She is in the economic driver's seat, financially beholden to no company.  Do we think that in our capitalist society that any industry would be satisfied with this kind of situation where the potential consumers, mother and baby, is independent, not needy of the toys and trinkets of this world?

Yes, the world of women, independent of our consumer-driven economy, seems to be unrealistic.  I know the usefulness of an electric pump and other breastfeeding gadgets that sometimes make breastfeeding easier.  Yet I see that the pump to be useful requires extra time for patient education; and without that education it has the potential to sabotage the breastfeeding relationshipUsing bottles of human milk is a step above the use of infant formula, yet it too can sabotage a mother's ability to breastfeed. Like any medical device, it can save ya (and certainly saves many premature babies) but it can create complications.  We often end up with breastmilkfeeding rather than breastfeeding.

I have always supported human milk banking, believing that every hospital that has birthing mothers needs a milk bank.  Why do I write a blog post about human milk banking being a bitter pill?  Quite simply, the game has changed without most breastfeeding advocates understanding that the game-plan has been quietly changed by the powerful influence of the infant formula and pharmaceutical industries.  These industries are often one and the same companies.  They are the invisible hands now involved in human milk banking.  They smell money to be made and the infant formula industry also recognizes that the long range picture of the public's perception of the safety of their product is crumbling.  Preparation for all contingencies is how some industries survive while others die.

I wrote a blog post this summer about the merging interests of the infant formula and human milk bank industries.

There is now more evidence through patent applications that these interests are increasingNestle has made 2 recent infant formula patent applications that suggest that components from human milk are being considered among other mammal milks:  such as bovine, buffalo, horse, or goat.  There is patent application 20120321600 entitled, "Infant Formula with Probiotics and milk fat globule membrane components," invented by Jalil Benyacoub et al.  Or patent application 20120219526 entitled, "Nutrition compositions comprising lactoferrin and probiotics and kits of parts thereof,"  invented by Petra Gerda Klassen et al.  So we wonder where will they get human milk fat or lactoferin? Well, it is interesting that Prolacta Bioscience, has on its Board of Directors, Ernie Strapazon, a former executive of Nestle.  He helped establish Nestle Nutrition in the USA and was President of Nestle, USA.  Although to be fair one of Prolacta's executive managers who is VP of their sales and marketing was employed by Mead Johnson.  And on their scientific advisory board there is Lars A. Hanson, winner of the 2004 Nutricia Foundation award. (Nutricia is a European infant formula company) And, of course there is the Prolacta and Abbott co-promotion agreement.  So Prolacta seems to have a smorgasboard of infant formula companies involved in their welfare or should we say economic survival?  So it may be reasonable to assume that at least here in the USA, the infant formula industry has its fingers in one company that collects donor human milk.  Of course, Nestle has always had its fingers in everything and its applications are non-specific in which mammal component they will use.  I guess it is to keep everyone guessing and wondering.

Of interest to me is the connection between HMBANA donor milk banks, researchers, and the infant formula industry.  I just recently ran across patent #8314061 entitled, "Adiponectin for treatment of various disorders," invented by Ardythe L. Morrow, Lisa J. Martin, and David S. Newburg.  The owners are the Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati, Ohio and the University of Massachusetts.  I imagine they will try to license this out and may have already done so, since Morrow has in the past received funding from Mead Johnson.  Although she has received alot more funding from the NIH (National Institute of Health).  This patent mentions that donor milk came from the Cincinnati Donor Milk Bank and from Mexico (research done there some years ago).  [Adiponectin is a human milk component--the patent also mentions that this can be of use in baby formulas]

A recent research paper in which Dr. Morrow was involved was funded by Mead Johnson.
"Cincinnati Children's Hospital is a collection site for the Mothers' Milk Bank of Ohio in Columbus.  The MMBO, which is a service of the Grant Medical Center is a member of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America."
from website of Cincinnati Children's Center for Breastfeeding Medicine

At one web page blog post at Cincinnati Children's they explain milk banking.  They also write about the struggle of the HMBANA milk bank in Columbus to supply human milk to hospitals throughout Ohio.  Dr. Geraghty is quoted, "The milk isn't just for patients at Cincinnati Children's--it is available for use at all local area hospitals."   No mention that milk is used for reseach on this particular web page.  I presume when a potential donor mother signs up, she is thoroughly informed of their research program.  I can't quite envision them mentioning previous patenting on donor milk.  But I am rather concerned that it appears that this advertising for donor milk is not as informative to potential donors as I believe it should be.

So this is to me the bitter bill that human milk banking presents.  It does in fact save NICU babies but some of what women donate goes to research to make a better infant formula or a pharmaceutical.  Many breastfeeding advocates fully support human milk banking without question, and find my stance repugnant and destructive.  I find myself wondering why we don't look into the future ramifications of this new industry.  This research is about human milk not breastfeeding.  Its about using a component in a drug or in baby formula. Do we truly believe that the infant formula or pharmaceutical industries will market these new drugs or formulas without sabotaging breastfeeding?  Have these industries ever, ever played fair in regard to breastfeeding?  How aware are donor mothers about the potential use of their freely given milk?  Yes, some of it goes to infants in need and even adults in need.  But how much of this is going for self-serving economic speculation on the potential of human milk components?  Are mothers really being fully informed?  For me it is a bitter pill, that breastfeeding is so devalued in our society and yet the infant formula and drug companies are busily patenting on it.  Twenty years ago I had a dream of human milk banks in every city.  Now I look at it as a nightmare of capitalism.
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain 



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun violence, women and children in the USA

In the USA the threads of violence seep into every crevice and cranny of our lives.  Those blackened, evil threads impact our minds and our hearts.  We weep for the victims and their families.  Innocence becomes the victim of our violence.  We fear for ourselves and our families.  Will our children/grandchildren die at school because of this madness?  Will that shopping trip be our families last trip?  Will going to the movies be "real" violence in 3D?  You hear a heated conversation, you wonder does this person have a gun?  You read in the paper, "Young mother of three shot execution-style in front of her children ages 3, 2, 1."  They were your neighbors a few years ago.  Small idyllic sea-side town, paradise;  and yet the threads of violence are under our sandy, sunny shores.  We become paralyzed by our fears.

This culture of violence is more often directed at women and children.  The recent horror in Connecticut killed adult women, educators, and young girls and boys of 6 and 7 years of age.  I recently read a statistic about women who die at their workplaceStatistically, women die in the workplace from gun violence not from a heart attack or job related injury.  Why is this violence directed at women and children?  We are easy targets for an enraged male with a gun who does not discuss disagreements but instead solves problems with the power of a gun.  We congregate in churches, in malls, at schools and are easy pickings for someone with an assault rifle, high on prescription or street drugs.

Listening to the election debates this year and reading headlines was just plain sickening.  Republican males believing that they have the right to decide issues regarding the female body.  Is there any wonder why women do not report rapes, with legislators and judges in court systems who blame the women for her rape.  If she was pure, she wouldn't get raped or have the rapist's baby.  Men without brains running for government offices.  The Republicans wonder why they lost this election.  Simple.  They totally discounted women.  I wonder how many men think the crazy thoughts that were expressed by the Republican candidates during this election.  And we wonder why violence is directed at women and children.  We don't exist to these men of power.  They haven't even figured it out that they lost this election because they have no compassion or understanding of women or children issues.

American culture is war.  We are like the Greek Spartans.  We wage wars across the world with little understanding of other cultures.  Inherent in those wars is what is called by our war machine, collateral damage:  death to civilians who get in the way.  Those civilians are usually women and children.  Wherever armies go, along comes rape and pillaging.  This attitude directed towards other nations seeps into our culture, fermenting a young male attitude about women and children.  It permeates Hollywood movies, with their violence towards women.  The roles women play in the movies being rather bizarre and usually not central to the movie.  And usually women are the "expendable" characters.  The ones butchered, shot or murdered in some horrid way.  How does this impact young men?  Even the gaming is about wars and fighting.  We are steeped in the tea leaves of violence towards others but in particular violence against women.

We wonder why birth and breastfeeding doesn't happen in the USA.  Why are our c-section rates so high?   Why breastfeeding just doesn't work?  Look towards the male views of women in American society.  Look to a political system warped by the power of weapons, the power of a male world outlook on how problems get solved.  Problems are solved through power and force.  Birth and breastfeeding problems are not solved in this manner.  They are solved by community, by women to women sharing, by the tincture of time.  Our violent society has no time for such problem solving.  Birth by the clock or else--we cut you open!  And if breastfeeding doesn't happen right after birth, we solve the problem by sticking a bottle in a baby's mouth.  The violence of surgical births and shoving a bottle or a boob into a baby's mouth is part and  parcel of a society that believes there is no time left to solve problems.  So we solve our problems by force.  And in the case of Friday's tragedy, a young male solves his problems by killing women and children.  We are a sad, sick society.  Those threads of violence are creating the downfall of a country.
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain


Monday, December 10, 2012

The Breast: Fear, loathing, and mutilation

Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted a story from Natural News about this year's Miss District of Columbia who planned to have a "preventative" double mastectomy after competing in the Miss America pageant.  This young woman did not have breast cancer.  The source for the story in Natural News was from a blog in the Washington Post.  This young woman's  mother died from breast cancer when she was 16 years old.  According to the Washington Post blog the young woman who is now 24 years old stated, "My dad looked me in the face and said, 'You're going to end up dead just like your mother."

According to the article she does not have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations that indicated a high risk for breast cancer.  Some women who carry these mutations have "preventative" mastectomies. But she is a carrier for Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.  Her doctors "suspect a correlation between the mutation and breast cancer," despite the fact that this immune disorder is mostly found in men.   All the women in her family have died from breast cancer.  I assume this is the reason they suspect that this syndrome predicts that she too will die from breast cancer.

I made a rather ugly comment on Facebook to this article because it hit me hard.  Why?  Because my mother died when I was 14 years old of breast cancer.  And I cannot fathom a father telling his daughter that she was going to end up dead just like her mother.  Thank you Dad, although you are no longer in this world.  Thank you for not making me believe that I was doomed to die like my mother.  My mother died a young 47 years old.  My world as a teenager went from normal to up-side-down rather quickly.  

I am thankful that what happened to my family so many years ago came before genetic testing and this belief in a infallible medical community that can predict death, disease through gene technology.  My mom died in the 1960's.  She had a mastectomy and radiation.  They didn't have chemo back then.  The radiation was bad enoughShe suffered greatly from the treatment.  But as a 14 year old, I never expected her to die.  It was a shock.  And the reality that life is fragile and far too short suddenly became part of who I am.

So I feel a kinship with this young woman because we both at a young, impressionable age suffered the deaths of our mothers.   It's a loss that never, ever really goes away.  Even in childbirth in my 30's, I cried out for my mother.  I wanted her there to hold my hand, to see my babies.  Only in my dreams do we share the wonder of those births.  She didn't breastfeed me.  I feel that loss but I was born into the bottlefeeding world of the 50's.

Has anything changed in the interim of the 50 years since my mother's death?  It seems more women are dying of breast cancer.  And many women with cancer face mastectomies, chemo, and radiation.  But why are some young women so willing to chop off healthy breasts?  Why do we believe that we are helpless in the face of breast cancer?  We believe that prevention is giving our breasts a good dose of radiation.  Yet, our science tells us that breast tissue is very sensitive to radiation, more so than other tissue.  Is mammograms preventative?  Or do they cause more cancers?  If everyone in a family got brain cancer?  Would a person schedule surgery to take out their healthy brain? We'd consider that odd because a brain is a vital body part. Why are we so willing to mutilate breasts?  Do we believe that breasts serve no purpose?  They are just female decorations?

Why do young women of wealthier families get breast implants as graduation gifts?  Why are women so unhappy with their breasts, that they willingly risk surgery and damaging the functioning of their breasts?  Who are we really trying to please?  Is this mutilation any different than our willingness to chop off our breasts to save ourselves from breast cancer?  

Is public disgust of breastfeeding another side of the coinOur society cannot bear to see the breast as a functioning organ in the survival of infants.  Instead, our society honors the mythical, sexualized breast of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Palace.  We can view that naked breast and even the nipple but heaven forbid we see a baby at the breast, even when the breast is covered up.  A sexualized breast is acceptable but a working, functioning body part is not.  And if we can't sexualize it, then we really don't need it.  So it becomes easy for young women to believe in our society that breasts can be manipulated and carved into something betterWomen don't need functioning breasts because afterall we have our designer infant formulas. 

So, we women in this society seem to be giving our bodies, our cells, our tissues to science.  A male-dominated science that believes that nature can always be improvedOf course,  I start to wonder if this young woman will be donating her healthy breast tissue to science after her double mastectomy.  I guess lately I am always thinking about patenting and how breast tissue is a great source of stem cells.  Yes, suspicious soul that I am, I wonder about medical care providers that do surgery on people that want healthy body parts taken off.  

Why in our society are we so crazy, fearful, and full of loathing regarding the female breast?  Why do women accept that mentality and draw within their souls this self-loathing?  Why do we believe that breasts represent female sexuality, when their function is to feed babies?  Is it akin to the view of female feet in China, where the female foot was bound because small feet were viewed as sexually attractive?  We bind our breasts with bras to make our breasts appear attractive.  We surgically enhance them.  We surgically remove healthy breasts.  How far have we come, we liberated women?  Not very far at all.
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain