Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Supplementing breast milk: Deficiency or Delusion?

"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."  Martin Luther King, Jr.

I heard the calls of the Red Shouldered Hawks that live down the road.  They have lived here as long as I have or so I like to believe.  Maybe they are descendants of the original pair.  But they seem to be arguing politics lately in loud, raucous voices that carry in the wind entangling me in their drama.  Today they are riding the wind, yelling at their newest baby who is flying like a bat out of hell.  Watching momma and poppa chasing this baby reminded me of the days not so long ago, when my little ones ran ahead of me.  The toddlers ran without fear, headlong and fast into the unknown.  And, we the adults ran after them, trying to keep up.  Fearful, ever fearful, scared that my treasured babies are too naive to run so fast.  Into the future they run without fear, soaring and singing their songs.  I stand back, breathless and tired and admire their strength and courage.  The pair of hawks seem to be yelling at their baby to stop but their little one throttles forward moving faster and faster like a race horse out of the starting gate. 

It was fun watching the Hawk family and wishfully making their behavior relevant to me.  Pure escapism on my part because the world appears to be getting more and more troubling.  I am feeling fearful for the future, my children and grandchildren.  I have always kept that fear on the back burner of my mind.  Yet that fear, that darkness that seems to be enveloping our world seems to be growing.  I wonder whether insanity is contagious?  Greed and hate and more greed and hate.  The sad history of humanity with brief moments of peace and loving kindness.  

Breastfeeding advocacy has been so much a part of my life energy that it is upsetting to see it being infected by profits. patenting and distorted science.  When human milk science plays to the tune of corporate values, then it creates the victimization of women.  Not that, we as women find anything new about being victims.  Its that I believe women are tired of being victims. 

For example, the other day I read in Breastfeeding Medicine an article dated in January of last year, "Relationships of Maternal Stress with Milk Immune Components in African American Mothers of Healthy Term Infants."  (funded partly by Medela) After reading it, I was appalled.  Why?  The authors state that, "race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status were associated with increased stress and health disparities."  And, "Historically African American have been at risk for health disparities; however recent evidence suggests that chronic stress may also play a role in health disparities such as hypertension, diabetes, and adverse birth outcomes."  They mention that African American infants have the highest infant mortality rate and lowest breastfeeding initiation rates.

The authors decided to measure cortisol levels as an indication of stress. They would take breast milk and saliva collections (measuring cortisol levels) on Day3, 9, and 14 post delivery.  The collection of breast milk was to monitor MIC (Milk Immune Components):  IgA, milk cytokines, chemokines and growth factors.  The instructions for mothers regarding these collections were amazing.  For example with the saliva samples; it was to be done upon awakening, 30 minutes after awakening, and 60 minutes after awaking.  No food or drink 30 minutes prior to collecting the saliva.  With breast milk collection they were to collect 1 tsp of hind milk using either hand expression or breast pump.  Samples were to be frozen and mothers had to transport those samples to the principle investigator.  Mothers had to do a self report survey on physical and environmental stressors in their life.  These mothers were recovering from childbirth (34% of the mothers had c-sections and were on antibiotics), taking care of their babies and then having to fill out questionnaires, pump-obtain hind milk, saliva collections, no food or drink prior to the saliva collections.  Are the researchers kidding?  How to stress out moms that were already stressed out?  I find this ethically irresponsible.  Not surprising that many moms weaned or did not do the samples.  I remember after my first baby and how difficult it was to even eat or go to the bathroom and I didn't have a c-section.  The whole concept of interfering with moms and their babies time together in the first weeks postpartum is just wrong.  But to do this specifically with African American moms and babies who are at the most risk for stress and health disparities seems unethical. Mothers who returned all the surveys and milk and saliva collections received a $25 gift card.  I suppose that represents 3 hours of work for minimum wage.  It seems small compensation for such interference.

Of course, what makes this whole study more upsetting is that one of the authors, Maureen Groer is a listed inventor to patent #9345249 entitled, "Method of supplementing cytokine, chemokine and growth factors in donor human milk." filed 6 months before the above study.  The study stated that there was no competing financial interests.  So having a patent is not considered a financial interest?  The patent is owned by the University of South Florida and it is probably available for licensing.

The patent states the problem of pasteurization of donor milk (Holder method) which is thought to "destroy the immune properties in milk and denature many other proteins."  The patent proposes to supplement donor milk with chemokines, cytokines and growth factors.  For this patent  they boldly state that donor milk was provided from a single non-profit milk bank in Northern Texas. Since this particular research had government funding, the US government has certain rights to the invention.

Inventor and researcher, Maureen Groer, was quoted in the Tampa Bay Times in January of 2014 in regard to the media blitz about unsafe milk sharing over the internet.  According to the article she stated, "Breast milk sold over the Internet is creating a very dangerous situation."  

I wonder which is more dangerous?  Breast milk sold over the Internet or patenting to create a "better" donor milk?  Is this about controlling a natural resource or safety? Who wins and who loses in the drive to create a better donor milk?  Who are we sacrificing on the altar of invention?
Copyright 2017 Valerie W. McClain