Sunday, March 16, 2014

"I support you" campaign: public health risks vs. lifestyle choices

                                      "Jarvisalo et al. (2009) have concluded that adult
                            men who have been breastfed have better brachial 
                            endothelial function compared to men who have
                            been formula fed." --Nestle patent application #
                            20140044830 entitled, "Infant Formula for use in the
                            Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases."

There is a public relation campaign entitled, "I support you."  This campaign is about infant feeding and the belief that all mothers need support.  I agree with supporting others during parenting trials and tribulations because mothering/parenting is a tough job.  It has its moments of sheer joy, fun and love.  It has its serious moments like staying up all night with a sick baby or child.  It has its moments of wonder, when a child shows us that our world is pretty amazing.  The new eyes of the child and their enthusiasm for everything uplifts us.  Their never-ending energy tires us beyond belief.  Parenting needs support.

But do we need a public relation campaign to support both breastfeeding and infant formula feeding? Infant formula blogs state that breastfeeding advocates are creating guilt and shame in formula feeding mothers.  These blogs state that formula feeding mothers are being bullied by health care professionals to breastfeed.  So they believe that we need a public campaign to support all mothers.  I would suggest that "all" really means that the support they are asking for is for infant formula feeding mothers.  I read one infant formula feeding blogger who voiced her depression and upset over World Breastfeeding Week.  I suppose that no longer having World Breastfeeding Week would show our support of all women? 

So I have a number of questions.  Is breastfeeding a health care decision that impacts the health and well-being of infants and mothers?  Or is this just a life-style choice?  The premise of this PR campaign seems to be that how we feed our babies is a life-style choice.  It is a choice of equal value and without risks.  Therefore it is important to protect the feelings of mothers who choose or cannot breastfeed.  

Is shame and guilt caused by others?  Can individuals control how others perceive life?  Feelings come and go, should we blame others for our grief, shame, guilt, sadness, depression.  Can other people fix our grief or our shame or guilt?  Or are these feelings resolved when a person accepts that emotions are self-generated and often fleeting.  Or the realization of the importance of building personal boundaries in which feelings of others do not control our personhood. 

If breastfeeding is a health care choice of great importance to the health and well-being of infants and mothers, then should we accept a PR campaign that essentially mutes the dangers of infant formula?  Would the PR campaign for stopping cigarette smoking include a "I support you," organization?  Or wouldn't we consider that absurd?  Or the PR health campaigns for "healthy eating" or "exercising" include "I support you," campaigns.  Is support about hiding the truth about health risks in order to make people feel better or is real love about telling the truth about health risks?  How will mothers feel in the future, when they realize that health care professionals kept quiet about the risks of infant formula in order to protect them from feeling bad about their decision?  

The patents and patent applications by the infant formula industry admit that their product is inferior.  Not just inferior but a substance that causes adverse effects in babies.  The patents and applications are about fixing the health problems that infant formula feeding causes.  So far they are still patenting because they can't eliminate the risks of artificial feeding.  The industry is trying to fix their product through genetic engineering (which has its unknown risks on a vulnerable population).

Nestle is busy patenting infant formulas to prevent obesity,heart disease, infections, etc.  And of course so are the other infant formula companies creating patents to prevent or treat the very health problems that artificial feeding causes in babies.  The real prevention is breastfeeding. 

Nestle's latest patent application on infant formula is about preventing cardiovascular diseases (associated with high blood pressure).  So they are changing the protein and lipid content of their formulas.  They believe that their invention will prevent "coronary heart disease, heart failure, peripheral arterial disease, hypertensive retinopathy, hypertensive encephalopathy, stroke, and kidney failure," in patients later in life.  So one must question whether Nestle has research that shows that before this invention, infant formula was the cause of all these health problems involving the heart.  Is one of the risks of infant formula, heart disease in adulthood???  Kidney failure?  Stroke?

Should the issue of health risks be about "feelings?"  Would health care organizations invest in PR campaigns to "Stand Up For Smokers?"  Smoking causes heart disease besides lung cancer and other cancers.  Not being breastfed puts an infant at higher risk for heart disease as well as various cancers.  Not being breastfed impacts the infant into adulthood.  

In "The Politics of Breastfeeding," Gabrielle Palmer states, "I know that stating these facts can be painful or even enraging to some women who have not breastfed their children, but the continued denial of the risks of not breastfeeding [I prefer the term risks of infant formula] and the value of breastmilk, supposedly to spare women's feelings, is a patronising deception."  and, "No women need feel guilty for 'failing' to breastfeed, though she has the right to feel angry or sad for being denied support and information when she needed it."  

How can we be so stuck on this theme of "shame and guilt?"  I think its time to let go of this "elephant in the room." The risks of infant formula are real and the patents and applications by the industry are the legal proof.  The truth has to be spoken and the consequences of speaking the truth means that some mothers will feel guilt or shame, sadness, and anger.  
Copyright 2014 Valerie W. McClain 


  1. And they have every right to. They've been hoodwinked into thinking formula is something that it's not - comparable, if not superior, to breast milk. And if that was me, I wouldn't only feel guilt, shame, sadness and anger, I'd be utterly outraged - not only at the formula companies, but at those responsible for allowing them to get away with it for so long; for those responsible for disseminating accurate, non biased information; and at those charged with protecting public health. But instead the anger gets turned on other mothers - those who went with their instincts, the overwhelming evidence and, their own desires - as though it's their fault. Something's not right with that picture.

    Excellent post Valerie. Very interesting, thought provoking, if enraging, read. Ann (England)

  2. Thank you for your comments. I had no intention to enrage readers but I do understand how my comments may appear to be enraging. This issue is close to my heart. In 1982 I had my first baby. I quit breastfeeding on day 11 because it had become very painful. I struggled with depression, anger and sadness. After about a month of formula feeding, I happened across a book that had a chapter on relactation. There was very little information on relactation back then. I decided that I needed to relactate to feel better about myself, to emotionally connect with my baby. I eventually fully relactated over a two month period. I never used a breast pump or any other gadgets that so many people now use. In fact I believe if I had had to use all the equipment that now seems standard practice, I would have failed at fully relactating. I simply gradually decreased the infant formula (a few ounces every 3-5 days) and increased breastfeeding. The last two ounces of infant formula were the hardest to give up. I think I understand the painful feelings when breastfeeding fails for one reason or another. I don't think I ever blamed anyone else for my struggles with breastfeeding. Nor did I expect someone else (the expert) to solve my problems with breastfeeding. In essence I owned the problem and did the work to find a solution. But I do realize we are living in different times and all situations are not one and the same. Each mother has different emotional, spiritual and physical needs. Blaming other mothers is wasted energy. Being blamed for something one has not done directly or indirectly creates anger. It is what I call divide and conquer. And the winner is the infant formula industry.

  3. That's exactly what I believe the formula industry and their cohorts in the upper echelons of the medical fraternity have done to mothers - divided and conquered us, to deflect attention away from themselves. They're absolutely shameless. Even mother's who feed the same way, by the breast, bicker about how it should be done - in public, or not; for extended periods or not; under a blanket, or not... The whole thing is really sewn up - with everyone's heads turned one way, while all hell breaks loose the other. Ann in England

  4. Yes and the hell that is breaking loose is that the infant formula industry has changed its investment in some resources. The investment is in human milk or rather components in human milk or the genetic blueprint of those components. They have the patent applications and patents. They already have the technology and manufacturing plant available through Prolacta (which already makes its human milk formulas for premature infants and now term infants) and Medolac. Breast pump technology and the belief system that this product is a necessity to breastfeed has created a generation of women whose focus is on the product (human milk) not the process (breastfeeding). The marketing of pumps helps facilitate the ability of industry to have direct access to a natural resource. The end result of these interests is that the infant formula industry, the milk banking system, and the breast pump industry have a mutual interest in a natural resource and a common belief that many women can't or won't breastfeed. Thus the only solution is to create a better, safer infant formula through human milk components or by genetically engineering those components. The social marketing underpinnings of this new direction in infant feeding has already begun based on the belief that most women can't or won't breastfeed.

  5. I just read that "I Support You" is gearing up for another round this year in "honor" of World Breastfeeding Week.