Tuesday, May 12, 2015
BREASTFEEDING: PROTECTING OUR GENETIC & BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
"Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times: it is a survival imperative."--Vandana Shiva
Breastfeeding is the sacred and timeless dance of love between a mother and her baby. It is at its basic level; a gift of food and water, warmth and safety. Mothers and babies have been dancing to this melody of love and communion for centuries. It is a dance that is truly unique and specific between a mother and her baby. A mother must surrender her own needs for the survival of her infant. In societies, like the USA, where this mother-baby dance is of little or no value, it is very difficult for a woman to sustain this kind of relationship.
The commercialization of human milk and growth of milk banking (both for-profit and non-profit) is the marketing of the antithesis of the sacred dance of breastfeeding. It is the isolation of mothering into being a producer of a product for consumption. It is about the separation of a mother and her baby and the presumption by society that the product, the milk, is equivalent to breastfeeding. Preserving the milk takes priority over preserving the breastfeeding.
But is breast-milk-feeding equivalent to breastfeeding? The loss of breastfeeding goes unrecognized. Mothers recognize the loss. But in a society that places value on things and products not relationships, the preservation of breastfeeding is not often considered of prime importance. Instead our society believes that the milk is the priority. But mothers feel the loss. How much of the postpartum depression epidemic is related to mothers feeling this loss? How much is about a society that believes that mothers should "man-up" and go back to being a "productive" member of society? How much of our rising preterm births and c-section rate in the USA are the result of pregnant women having to work up until they give birth? Our society creates an enormous economic stress on women. Instead of protecting future generations, our society seems hell-bent on destroying it.
Breastfeeding preserves diversity in a society. The milk that is produced by one mother is never identical to another mother's milk. The milk carries the genetic blueprint, the mother's DNA, as well as protective antibodies against all the pathogens and toxins in the mother's environment. The milk varies from hour to hour but from day to day, month to month. Preterm milk is very different from term milk and seems specifically geared to the premature infant. This individualization is the basis of human survival on this earth. We jettison this individualization at great risk to the survival of the human species.
Yet we now have an industry willing to create human milk-based infant formulas derived from heat-treated and pooled donor milks. The pooling and pasteurization of donor milks is similar in principle to the vast development of monocultures in agriculture. Instead of preserving breastfeeding, valued because of its diversity; our corporations and institutions are creating the need for greater and greater use of a manufactured breast milk. By destroying its uniqueness, the product, breast milk no longer has many of the genetic and biological properties that make it a life-protecting substance.
What fascinates me is that the companies that will profit from creating human milk-based formulas, believe that they have a scientific understanding of human milk. The patents describe the uniqueness of human milk and then go on to describe their various heat treatments to make their pooled donor milks"sterile" (safe for many consumers), freezing and refreezing the product, as well as extraction methods to filter out various components of the milk and then putting it all back together again only in different combinations. Depending on the product the addition of fortification is also part of this picture. Will this product create the same health benefits that are derived from a baby breastfeeding? Will all this handling create better health for infants? Isn't there a much more cost effective and simpler way to feed and protect our infants? How about preserving and protecting breastfeeding?
One of the most interesting aspects of the creation of a large network of milk banking systems is the relationship between milk banking and human milk researchers who are often funded by the infant formula industry. Over the years that I have looked at patents on human milk components, I have noted how often human milk researchers seem associated with various milk banks. And surprisingly enough it isn't just Prolacta or Medolac, the for-profit "milk banks." But in many cases human milk researchers seem very involved in the non-profit milk banks-HMBANA (Human Milk Banking Association of North America). For instance human milk researcher, David Newburg, is new board member/director of HMBANA.
He owns a variety of patents on human milk components (to be genetically engineered)and is the co-founder of a company called Glycosyn.
Products that his company are working on are oligosaccharides to be used as supplements in infant formulas. Probiotics/prebiotics for use in infant formulas. Anti-obesity agents (human milk adiponectin--patent) for use in formulas. And a diagnostic derived from a human milk component that identifies the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants.
He has over the years received funding from Mead Johnson and Wyeth (which became Pfizer and is now Nestle). Helped edit an article of prebiotics in infant formula for Mead Johnson
It is highly understandable why human milk researchers want to be involved with milk banks. But why do milk banks want to have human milk researchers involved with their organization? Particularly when most human milk researchers receive funding from the infant formula industry. It is also must peculiar in that HMBANA wants the FDA to regulate internet milk sharing/selling. But it sees no problem in giving access to and/or influence to their organizations to human milk researchers who have ties to the infant formula industry?
Are non- profit milk banks like HMBANA protecting breastfeeding from commercialization, protecting the genetic and biological diversity of breastfeeding? Or are they part of the problem? Where are we going as a society, when the answer to feeding infants is more about a culture of breast-milk feeding rather than breastfeeding? Where are we going when milk banks believe the same mantra as the infant formula industry that there is the need for more and more supplies of milk because "some" women can't or won't breastfed? Is that the truth or just a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain