Friday, January 17, 2014
"Make it possible for me, in imitation of you, O Lady of
La Leche, to nurse my child to perfect health."
-excerpt from prayer
-La Leche League Shrine, first shrine to be
dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in USA,
The La Leche League Shrine resides in St Augustine, Florida. One of the oldest cities in the US. I have visited there many times, and find the grounds of the shrine to be so very peaceful. I look at some of the graves dated from those early times and think how difficult life must have been for the women and men. Life and death, whole families wiped out from epidemics. Walking around the grounds of the shrine in the summer, one feels the heat and wonders how these settlers coped without air conditioning or medical facilities or pharmaceuticals. No wonder this shrine was built and dedicated to Mary. Survival must have seemed so tenuous, and the only hope, prayer.
So unlike today in the US. We presume that there will always be air conditioning, medical facilities, clean water to drink, food to eat, and drugs to make us better. Until some disaster hits, like a hurricane, a flood,a tsunami, or a nuclear tragedy. Then we realize what a fine thread exists between our "modern" society and living without our amazing conveniences. We believe what is, will always be in our lifetimes. Never factoring in that other civilizations thought the same thing. And now their civilizations are the dust we pave over and the lives we have forgotten. Survival of infants in the 17th century in the frontiers of the sub-tropics/tropics depended upon breastfeeding. We no longer believe in the imperative of breastfeeding for infant survival. Instead, we believe that an industry will keep our infants safe.
At this moment in time we are caught up in a paradigm created by an industry in which we believe that artificial feeding can be made safe for all infants. That belief is centered on the safety of our water supplies, the close proximity of medical facilities and access to the finest doctors and nurses, and that the government regulates the industry. Artificial feeding creates the need for a clean source of water. Of late, one may doubt that everyone in the US has access to clean water. Recently, West Virginia experienced a chemical spill that effected hundreds of thousands. Supposedly, 7500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol was accidently spilled into the Elk River effecting the water supplies of many citizens in the area. Those people effected had to find another source of water (provided by the government). How many people drank the water or bathed (caused rashes and burns) in it before realizing that there was a problem? How many formula-fed infants ingested this toxic water?
One could argue that the poor of this country do not have ready access to health care in the US. And one could argue that the baby food industry is not highly regulated by government agencies. Yet, the paradigm our nation envisions is one of wishful thinking. If we live in middle-class suburbia, we think everyone else lives like we do. We avoid the "bad" sections of town and have no comprehension how the people of the "projects" [ghetto] live. We see what we want to see. Some of our politicians (many who are lawyers) view single mothers living in poverty as worthless. Human value has become dependent upon wealth, maleness, and and an ivy-league education. If you aren't running in those circles, your value to society does not exist. Their projection of value because of the power they hold has become our whole society's projection of value. Value is billion dollar industries. Thus, we have created a whole ideology about regulating an industry that feeds babies. Our society believes only those members of society that are employed are valuable. Women despite gains in the workplace are still under-valued and underpaid. And the basic need of babies to be near their mothers is never factored into our society.
But even more strange about our current paradigm of infant feeding is the seemingly lack of knowledge/concern over some of the devastating effects of infant formula. Most recent is the evidence about a pathogen whose name was Enterbacter sakazakii (now called Cronobacter) in powdered infant formula. Powdered infant formula is not a sterile product. It can be contaminated at the factory with various organisms (salmonella, botulism, etc). Enterobacter sakazakii is considered to have a 40-80% infant mortality rate. Survival often means that the infant is brain damaged. In 2011, in the USA there was 12 cases of this contamination in infants. There was a recent lawsuit. Mead Johnson was sued in October of 2012 by parents of one infant that died, and two other parents whose infants were made sick. According to the Associated Press, "The lawsuit alleges that a Mead Johnson executive warned health care workers but not consumers that powdered infant formulas should 'not be used in neonates or immunocompromised patients in hospital settings. http://www.courierpress.com/news/2012/oct/17/mead-johnson-sued-after-babys-death/
Abbott was sued in March of 2011 by a family who believes that their infant daughter contracted neonatal Enterobacter Sakzakii meningitis from Abbott's formula. The daughter survived but suffered permanent brain damage. Their court battle continues and mentioned in this newspaper dated Jan. 5, 2014.
When a product causes death and damage to infants and the industry cannot resolve the problem, is it not time for a paradigm shift? In a recent patent application filed in April of 2013 by Mead Johnson entitled, "Adherence Inhibition of Pathogens by Prebiotic Oligosaccharides," application #20130287895; the patent states, "It [Enterobacter sakazakii] is an opportunistic pathogen that has been implicated in severe forms of meningitis, necrotizing enterocolitis, and sepsis in neonates."
And this patent application states that powdered infant formula has been implicated in "several outbreaks as well as other sporadic cases." Then they state, "Human milk oligosaccharides are believed to elicit an increase in the number of Bifidobacteria in the colonic microflora, along with a reduction in the number of potentially pathogenic bacteria." Thus, this particular infant formula patent application will create, "compositions comprising a prebiotic component for inhibiting adherence of pathogens in the gastrointestingal tract..."
The industry sees the problem and chooses to imitate human milk components because human milk inactivates pathogens. Will this create a safe product, this new concoction of various novel ingredients? Maybe and maybe not. But what will it take to get a society to see that the paradigm of choice in infant feeding comes with a high cost not only emotionally but financially to parents, to the community, and to our society. We are investing in a product that promises safety, nutrition, and female liberation from the demands of female biology. What we are getting is a billion dollar industry that is constantly changing its products to imitate human milk because the old formula was unsafe. Will the new formula be safer? Why are we allowing this kind of risk without demanding more regulations in how this product is marketed? Don't you think its time to envision a new paradigm regarding infant feeding?
Copyright 2014 Valerie W. McClain