Sunday, August 3, 2014

World Breastfeeding Week 2014: Breastfeeding is Political

                      "Nevertheless, inappropriate feeding practices--
                       sub-optimal or no breastfeeding and inadequate
                       complementary feeding--remain the greatest
                       threat to child health and survival globally.
                       Improved breastfeeding alone could save the lives
                       of more than 3500 children every day, more than
                       any other preventive intervention."
                                    from the Innocenti Declaration 2005

How many people remember the statement, "the personal is political."  This was a statement made by Carol Hanisch, a feminist back in the late sixties/early seventies.  It was in response to the criticism made regarding the feminist movement's use of conscious-raising sessions.  The critique was that these sessions were merely personal bitch sessions and not political.  Hanisch wrote that the personal is political (which became a feminist tract/book).  I must have read it years ago because I believe that the personal can be political and the political can be personal. Breastfeeding is personal.  Breastfeeding is political. I found myself thinking about the social media campaign of "I Support You" and its lack of political awareness.  From my perspective it appears that breastfeeding advocacy has disintegrated into believing that infant feeding choices is a personal issue.  Are the angry feelings expressed by infant formula feeders towards breastfeeding mothers and advocates misplaced? 

The issues that infant formula feeding mothers bring up appear to me to be about issues of power and powerlessness of women within a society that supports breastfeeding in meaningless words of support rather than in adopting medical and legal practices of support.   Birth practices impact infant feeding. The care or lack of care by health care providers when giving birth is about who holds the power when giving birth.  Mother?  Or the medical institution?  Or the Doc?  Or the Midwife?  Birthing can either empower you or make you feel helpless, depressed and angry.  Likewise learning to breastfeed can either empower you or make you feel helpless, depressed and angry.  Who holds the power when breastfeeding?  The mother?  The IBCLC or CLC?  The Doc?  The Midwife?  If mothers hand over their power to the supposed expert, they become powerless and helpless.   Control over your body is a human right. Birth and breastfeeding can be a struggle to have some control over your body.  If a woman cedes control to someone else, then this is an issue of power and not a personal issue.  If a mother gives birth in a hospital that separates moms and babies, gives out gift packs of infant formula, touches her without permission and does painfully invasive procedures, is her depression self-inflicted?  Or is her depression a result of the politics (power) of medical institutions over birthing mothers?

And what about the struggle to breastfeed, when one must return to employment within two-four weeks (very common in USA).  The first 6 weeks postpartum is statistically filled with the most breastfeeding problems.  Thus, mothers are under a time crunch to get breastfeeding working well before they go back to employment.  Most mothers are faced with unsympathetic employers and a society that has little sympathy for the problems faced by mothers who have to return to work far too early.  Mothers are often faced with an unfair choice of financial disaster if she stays home too long.  And going back to her employment early means breastfeeding ends before it really begins.  Is this really a personal issue or a political issue?  Our society has chosen to not support women with families, to not give them sufficient leave time to get their babies off to a good start.

What about the marketing of infant formula and how this impacts women and their infant feeding choices?  Marketing is a powerful tool to control a society.  It is a powerful tool used to create a desire for products.  Infant formula has intrinsic risks but the industry does not inform its customers of this fact.  Instead customers are persuaded to believe that infant formula is better than ever because it is more like breastmilk.  The labels tells us that pediatrician recommend it or hospitals recommend their product. or even pharmacists recomment infant formula.  Who holds the power of the media?  The infant formula industry.  I would prefer the truth about these products but an industry that makes billions is allowed to hold sway over the media. We become powerless because the control of information is in the hands of those who have the most to gain economically.  Politics is about power.  The WHO Code, if it were enforced, would balance that power, so that consumers would not be manipulated by the media hype regarding infant formula. Infant feeding may be about making personal choices but those choices are ultimately tied to politics.  

Here are some more infant formula patents to think about:

Patent # 8771789 entitled "Oligosacharide ingredient," filed in 2009.  This patent is owned by Nestec (Nestle) and the inventors are Sprenger et al.

"The large quantity of sialylated oligosaccharides in human milk is of particular interest.  Sialic acid is a nine-C sugar that is a vital sturctual and functional component of brain gangliosides.  It is thought to play an essential role in nerve cell transmission, memory formation and cell to cell communication.  Studies in rat pups indicate that early supplementation with sialic acid improves brain ganglioside sialic acid and learning ability in well-nourished and malnourished animals and that these changes persist into adulthood."

They also state that "infant formulas have lower content of sialylated oligosaccharies than human milk."  The reason they want to add this substance to infant formulas.

Patent # 8703173  "Newborn infant formulas and feeding methods," filed in 2011.  Patent owned by the University College of London, Cambridge, Great Britain with inventors Atul Singhal and Alan Lucas.

"We have found from our long term infant studies that rapid early growth, achieved in large part from nutrient enriched feedings from conventional infant formulas, may result in long-term adverse health effects in individuals later in life, particularly with regard to long term vascular health relevant to the development of atherosclerosis and to the later propensity to insulin resistance and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIODM), while slower growth in newborn infants, achieved in large part from feeding human milk or formula with a modified carbohydrate, fat and protein calorie distribution (ie., higher protein, lower caloric density) can have a beneficial effect in the form of reduced occurrence of markers of adult morbidity."

Patent # 8648036 entitled, "Use of nutritional compositions including lactoferrin and one or more prebiotics in inhibiting adhesion of pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract," filed in 2010.  Owned by Mead Johnson with inventors Anja Wittke et al.

"Lactoferrin is one of the primary proteins in human milk and is considered a glycoprotein..."

"Lactoferrin has been known to both bacteriostatic and bactericidal in inhibiting growth of specific bacteria while also killing microbes prior to a susscessful invasion of intestinal cells."

"Further, as known in the art, human breast milk is relatively low in iron, containing about 0.3 milligrams of iron per liter of breast milk.  While this quantity is low, human infants have high absorption rate, absorbing about half of the iron from breast milk.  However when human infants are given prior art formulations with high levels of iron fortification for example of from 10mg to 12 milligram per liter, the infants absorb less than about 5% of the total iron."

The reason why infant formula fed infants are more likely to be anemic than breastfed infants. 

Copyright 2014 Valerie W. McClain



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