Saturday, August 3, 2013

Breastfeeding is Not a Lifestyle Choice

Its World Breastfeeding Week and I read that some breastfeeding advocates along with some social media experts believe that we should support not just breastfeeding mothers but also infant formula feeding mothers.  Yes on World Breastfeeding Week we are being told that it is not nice to support only breastfeeding mothers but we should support all mothers.  I guess they forgot we do have a Mother's Day.  But that is not good enough, I guess.  So on World Breastfeeding Week, we will make it into World Babyfeeding Day and support women whatever their choice?  Is that breastfeeding advocacy?

If breastfeeding is a lifestyle choice, I would absolutely agree with the people who propose this dual support.  What difference does it make if we mute the message of breastfeeding advocacy? If breastfeeding is only a lifestyle choice, then it matters little where we pledge our support.  If on the other hand breastfeeding is a health issue of major importance to all communities, then is this twist in advocacy a wise course of action?

I can hear the comments.  Breastfeeding mothers are mean to infant formula feeding mothers because I read it on the internet.  I read it on a blog.  The social media of an industry has at its grasp on many websites where they can massage a message.  In the many years of advocacy, I never heard a breastfeeding mother be rude or mean to a infant formula feeding mother in person or vice versa.  The difference from my years as a breastfeeding advocate is the rise of the internet.  With the internet one can be anonymous, and being anonymous means that one does not have to be responsible for one's comments.  The internet seems to bred a level of mean and rude behavior that sometimes I suspect is part and parcel of the social media crews that comb the internet in need of controversy.

As for breastfeeding advocates saying rude or mean things to infant formula feeding mothers, I heard that rarely.  I believe in some cases what is perceived to be meaness by breastfeeding advocates is the fact that truth (that infant formula has risks) sometimes hurts like hell. In the earlier days when the stop smoking campaigns took off, were advocates told to support smokers?  What is advocacy?  Is the goal to make everyone comfortable about what they are doing?  Should we make the smoker feel comfortable?  Will that bring about change?  Should we support them in their habit, allowing industry to continue to make profits on creating ill health and death?  Who will say what needs to be said, when we are told its not nice to tell the truth?

Does that mean we say mean things to individual mothers?  No, it means we speak the truth and accept that some women will never consider breastfeeding important nor understand that it is a public health issue.  And, yes some women will take it personally.  How does someone feel when they are told to stop smoking, exercise, eat more varied and fresh foods?  Happy that some health care professional has made a judgmental call on their choices? Or do some people react with anger and unhappiness?  Does advocating for better health for moms and babies mean that we cannot tell the truth for fear that we will make someone unhappy?  The infant formula industry understands all too well, the health issues of artificial baby milks.  Their patents are about the adverse effects of their product, the need to make it better, and how breastfeeding prevents morbidity and mortality in babies. 

The infant formula industry wants us to believe that breastfeeding is just a lifestyle choice with some small benefits.  And that publicly speaking about the risks of infant formula is rude and mean to mothers who use infant formula.  If breastfeeding advocacy embraces this ideology, then they have forsaken  the fact that breastfeeding is a public health issue that impacts the health and lives of women and  babies everywhere.  Muting the message may be socially polite but it certainly will not save lives from ill health and death.

Nestle has a new patent on lactoferrin.  Patent # 8445429 entitled, "Lactoferrin and neuronal health and development in the infant gut."  The lactoferrin may be purified from milk (source may be bovine, human, goat, camel, horse, or donkey) or it may be produced recombinantly (genetically engineered).  This patent is trying to protect the neuronal cells in the infant gut.  Why?  Because we know that lactoferrin in human milk protects the infant's gut when they are breastfed.  Artificial baby milk creates short gut which impacts how well the immune system works.  Should we tell mothers and fathers this?  Or should we stay silent in support of a balanced "choice" to not breastfeed?
Copyright 2013 Valerie W. McClain

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