Still watching our language

IMG_3644“Achoo!” sneezed my three-month-old Iris. She smiled up at me through Darth Vader breaths and crusty nostrils. My heart sunk.

“How could she be infected with her second cold already?!” I scolded myself. “I’m exclusively breastfeeding!”

There must be something wrong with my breastmilk, I was convinced. Afterall, breast is best! Breast is best. Breast is best. Ad nauseum. Breastmilk is the miracle elixer.

Breastmilk is incredible, unequaled, second to none. (See WHO’s hierarchy of infant feeding.)

Human milk has an antibacterial effect on common causes of pink eye. (Baynham 2013) It can be used to treat infants with blocked tear ducts (Verd 2006) and even chlamydia. (Ramsey 1998)

Besides having antimicrobial effects, breastmilk offers other alternative uses: when applied topically, it reduces skin irritation and can also reduce nasal congestion. The possibilities are endless.

In addition, we know that breastfeeding protects moms and babies from a myriad of health concerns, but does that make it the best infant feeding option? Certainly not. Breastfeeding is the biologically normal infant feeding choice.

There are so many great articles that explain the physiological normalcy of breastfeeding and of course the famous Watch Your Language by Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC. In her piece, she explains some of the dangers of professing that breastfeeding is best; when we deem breastfeeding best, artificial baby milk defaults as the normal infant feeding option.

“Optimal is not necessary…” Wiessinger writes. “Normal is fine…”

Of course, our culture’s normal is generally not fine when you consider the risks involved with formula feeding or the risks of not breastfeeding.

Wiessinger continues, “Artificial feeding…is neither the same nor superior [to breastfeeding; it] is therefore deficient, incomplete, and inferior. Those are difficult words, but they have an appropriate place in our vocabulary…When we talk about the advantages of breastfeeding…we reinforce bottlefeeding yet again as the accepted, acceptable norm.”

IMG_1637In addition to the insight Wiessinger shares with us, I’ve come to find the disadvantages of professing breast is best in my own experience; recall my concern with my stuffy-nosed Iris. Breastmilk is not bulletproof, rather breastfeeding normalizes the risk of [fill in the blank.] When we fail to acknowledge that the breastfeeding dyad is not invincible, it sets up false and unrealistic hope.

“Breastfed babies are not ‘healthier…’”, Wiessinger reminds us. “…Artificially-fed babies are ill more often and more seriously.”

This idea applies to breastfeeding mothers as well. A friend’s friend of mine with three young children has been battling stage four breast cancer for several years. My friend explained her frustration, “She eats organic, she breastfed all three of her babies, she’s healthy otherwise…”

How is it then, if she breastfed three children, that she wound up plagued with cancer? I asked myself this question, blaming breastmilk for failing its reputation as best. Best doesn’t mean it won’t happen. (For more information about breastfeeding and breast cancer risk visit: https://www.bestforbabes.org/breastcancer)

Claiming breast is best also opens the door for unneeded criticism. A recent article wastes our energy declaring that, “A new study confirms what people…have been saying for years now: The benefits of breast-feeding have been overstated.” Why certainly, because there are no benefits of breastfeeding, only risks of artificial feeding, I sarcastically retort not reading much further into the article than the first few paragraphs. (Check out the following for responses to the study: ABM, Evolutionary Parenting, Mammals Suck, Lonely Scribe and Baby Milk Action. Thanks, Unlatched, for the collection.)

Willow nurses her bear.
Willow nurses her bear.

Best for Babes Foundation wonders in response to the study, “Are the benefits of breastfeeding being overstated? Is the eyeball overstated? Human blood and bone marrow?…”

With our society’s logic concerning infant feeding, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if someone came out with a product to replace or supplement blood supply unnecessarily.

“Custom Corpuscles. America’s #1 Plastic Plasma Brand. Choose the Product That’s Right for You and Your Body! You Lose It, We Infuse It!”*

At the same time, this company would deceitfully acknowledge that “Blood is Best” but, well you know, just in case, this will do!

Um, what?

As author Fleur of Nurtured Child explains in Why Formula Companies Love Breast is Best, “‘Breast is best’ allows formula companies to say ‘We fully support breastfeeding. See – it says so on our website and products’. It allows the companies to give the appearance of caring about breastfeeding while they go about undermining it.”

Formula companies along with insufficient support have done an excellent job of undermining mothers’ breastfeeding goals judging by our increasing but still pathetic breastfeeding rates.

Dr. Alison Stuebe outlines yet another issue associated with breast is best.

Nursing on the job.

“If we accept that breast is best, but formula is fine, then we’re off the hook when we don’t know how to advise a breastfeeding mother, when we send her home with a duffle bag filled with formula samples, or when we maintain pitiful maternity leave policies that undermine her efforts to sustain breastfeeding,” she writes in Why we still need to “Watch our Language. “If breastfeeding is extra credit, then it’s up to mom to over-achieve. The rest of us are off the hook.”

In Our Milky Way’s OB/GYN shed light on creating breastfeeding culture, Stuebe reminds us that focusing so heavily on breast is best assumes that formula is evil.

If that evil is so ingrained in our minds, mother might be motivated to neglect her child’s needs just as long as she never allows that baby to consume “rat poison”, or formula as Stuebe half-jokingly puts it.

Watching our language is as important as ever. Watching our language is an important step in supporting mothers with their breastfeeding goals. It’s an important step in educating our culture about WHO’s infant feeding hierarchy so that babies who cannot or do not breastfeed have access to the next best things: first their mother’s own expressed milk then human milk from another mother. When those options are exhausted, artificial milk feeds just might save the day.

*Special thanks to Cindy for her creativity!

References:

Baynham JTL, Moorman MA, Donnellan C, et al, BR J Opthalmol 2013;97:377-379.

J Trop Pediatr. 2007 Feb;53(1):68-9. Epub 2006 Dec 6.

J Reprod Immunol. 1998 Jul;38(2):155-67.

4 Replies to “Still watching our language”

  1. Human milk is not magic fairy dust. Human milk is nature’s seatbelt.

    A seatbelt does not guarantee survival in a car crash. We wear seatbelts because they increase our chances of survival.

    When we talk about the risks of formula, we are speaking in thousands. 10,000 babies fed nothing but mamma milk for a while, compared to 10,000 babies fed nothing but formula for that same length of time. Which group will have more sick babies? The formula-fed group.

    There will be sick babies in both groups. The risks of not breastfeeding aren’t about this specific baby; they are about all babies.

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