Weird Findings

 In the era of the International Breastfeeding Conference, Cindy Turner-Maffei and Karin Cadwell would present their beloved Weird Findings segment on the last day of the conference. I always found it delightful and now wistfully reminisce about the session sometimes.

One year, we learned about pink yak milk, spider milk, goat wet nurses and donkeys with “good moral reputations” with the alleged ability to cure distemper and poisoning. That year, I was also introduced to the jaunty tune “I’m a Mammal”.  It was all great fun; entertaining and educational.  

So, this week’s post is my attempt at a Weird Findings collection, a nod to all that is quirky. I landed on quirky as the best word applicable to most of the items below, but quirky and weird are really just umbrella terms for those things that might also be totally awesome, maddening, perplexing and all of the things in between and just outside of these descriptors. 

 

The artificial womb 

My high school biology teacher once asked our class to contemplate a riddle about the Nacirema people. Part of it contained a description of their reproduction which read like an excerpt from a science-fiction novel. Really, it described Americans. 

Reading about the development of an artificial womb to support premature birth had me thinking back to this exercise. 

Like any technology,  great promise and great unknown surround “advancements”. Because this womb is not available to humans yet and because of my overall skepticism, I thought it necessary to point out that we have a means to help very premature babies right this very moment…our bodies.

 

Be inspired, maddened, saddened, weirded out by the remainder of the comments here

 

Exercise and breastfeeding 

This study found that adiponectin concentrations increased in breast milk after high intensity interval training (HIIT). “It has been postulated that higher breast milk adiponectin concentrations may prevent rapid weight gain in infancy,” the authors write. The real-life implications of this discovery?  South China Morning Post’s coverage on the study points out how exercise has physical and mental benefits for mom and baby. 

 

Tomatoes and erectile dysfunction 

Around three minutes into this amazing video, Katie Hinde points out: “When we zoom in on the number of articles just investigating breast milk, we see that we know much more about coffee, wine and tomatoes… We know over twice as much about erectile dysfunction.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t know about those things — I’m a scientist, I think we should know about everything. But that we know so much less about breast milk — the first fluid a young mammal is adapted to consume — should make us angry.” 

 

The disgraceful CMF industry 

As sophisticated as the commercial milk formula industry’s insidious marketing tactics are, they are truly a disgrace in the event of pregnancy loss or stillbirth. The authors of an ABM blog post share the perspectives of mothers who endured pregnancy loss and stillbirth and subsequently received infant formula samples. 

 “‘It feels like a slap in the face, a punch to the gut,’ Caitlin C. says, after discovering formula samples at her door following two second-trimester losses. ‘If [the formula company] somehow knew I was pregnant, couldn’t they also know I’m not anymore?’”

 

Amphibian milk 

It wouldn’t be a proper Weird Findings collection without the inclusion of a creature that challenges our Linnaean classification system. NPR reported that “a species of worm-like amphibian has been caught on camera feeding milk to its young…The creature, known as a caecilian, lives underground. Researchers believe that the animal developed the ability to produce a milk-like substance independently of mammals…” Weird. 

 

Milk composition 

There’s weird and then there’s WEIRD: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic.   

Klein’s, et al work found variations in milk composition across populations classified by four subsistence patterns: urban-industrialism, rural-shop, horticulturalist-forager or agro-pastoralism. The authors synthesize: “Populations living in closer geographic proximity or having similar subsistence strategies (e.g. agro-pastoralists from Nepal and Namibia) had more similar milk immune protein compositions. Agro-pastoralists had different milk innate immune protein composition from horticulturalist-foragers and urban-industrialists. Acquired immune protein composition differed among all subsistence strategies except horticulturist-foragers and rural-shop.” 

It was found that “When compared with western populations, some of these groups have genetic profiles that favor… immune responses and elevated levels of immune molecules throughout life…” 

 

Microbiome and breast cancer 

Other examples of the microbiome and immune connection come from Nikki Lee’s ponderings.  “This new world of research is astounding!” she shares. 

In Microbiome and Breast Cancer: New Role for an Ancient Population, the authors show “a significant difference in the microbiome composition of nipple aspirate fluid between healthy individuals and patients with BC suggested the potential role of the ductal microbiome in BC incidence.”

In L-asparaginase from human breast milk Lactobacillus reuteri induces apoptosis using therapeutic targets Caspase-8 and Caspase-9 in breast cancer cell line the authors conclude that “Breast milk L. reuteri L-asparaginase induces apoptosis via Cas8 and Cas9 upregulation in the breast cancer cell line. L. reuteri L-asparaginase treatment may be the hopeful approach for the management of breast cancer. Furthermore, the results may highlight the fact that the presence of L-asparaginase-producing L. reuteri isolates in human breast milk may aid in breast cancer improvement or even prevention.”

“Could the microbiome be a reason that breastfeeding reduces the chances of breast cancer?” Lee asks.  

 

Choose and embrace breast milk

The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health created a mass communication campaign to increase awareness of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for infants in their first 6 months. This video features a Nigerian celebrity and family. Watch it here

The final element of a Weird Findings segment is song and dance! 

This video is a public health announcement rolled into song by Rodah Amakal, a gospel musician from West Pokot County for the Pokot community in Kenya. Enjoy! 

 

 



Proximity and profit

The red bud in my yard is bursting with magenta. The remnants of nighttime thunderstorms, gems of rain dangle from its branches glistening under late morning sun. There’s a lot of anticipation in our backyard woods; a buzzing of green that will soon become too dense to see the railroad tracks that curve through the neighborhood. 

When I open the grill on one of these beautiful spring days, I’m confronted by a mother mouse perched in her nest. Her black, beady eyes send me shrieking, foolishly and frantically flailing into my house. 

My partner, much less ruffled by the tiny animal, uses the grill utensils to relocate the mother mouse and her nest. Upon removal, he notices that her tiny, pink babies, nearly translucent, are attached to her teats. 

“Oh my god!” he exclaims. “Oh my god, they’re nursing! They’re just hanging on!” And then, minus the flailing, proceeds to freak out, because he is so affected by the fact that he has disturbed a nursing mother and her babies. Despite the assault of grill tongs and  humans giant relative to their size, the mother and her babies remain together, in an act of survival. 

A few days later, at my daughters’ soccer game, my son finds an empty field to kick around his soccer ball. His location and the girls’ game are separated by a small parking lot. I want to finish watching the girls’ game, so my son and I establish a meeting spot. When I go to check on him the first and second time, he is happily occupied, working on what looks like some fancy footwork and big boots. The next time I go to check on him, I scan the landscape, but he is not there. There’s a berm, so I swiftly walk over to see if he’s hidden behind the mound. Still, I don’t see him, so I panic, shouting for him, over and over with no response. 

Perhaps I will reveal too much about my character here…I start to conjure up all of the possibilities: he’s been abducted by a stranger, driven away in a van and I’ll never see him again; he’s been swallowed by the marsh on the other side of the road; he’s wandered off into the woods on the perimeter of the field and wolves will eat him; he’s been coerced by someone in the stands and they’ve snuck off with him somewhere. 

At this point, my heart is beating in my forehead. Blood drains from my arms and legs and they begin to tingle. It feels like I could be staggering from light-headedness, but I manage to make my way over to recheck our meeting spot; he is not there either. I walk up into the bleachers and ask a familiar face if she has seen my son.

“Yep, he’s right there; I’ve been keeping my eye on him,” she points to the other end of the bleachers… not our meeting spot. 

I exhale, thank her quickly, rush to him, embrace him, scold him through trembles. He holds my hand as we make our way to the top of the bleacher seating. He curls his arm around my waist and we sit side-by-side this way watching the reminder of the game together. 

My son is no longer a nursling, but my point in sharing these vignettes is that the connection we have to our children, the instinct to be with them, near them, is mammalian, primal. It’s beautiful and powerful. 

From the start, our infants’ survival depends on proximity. Of the many things that Karin Cadwell and Kajsa Brimdyr have taught me and that have stuck with me is how babies instinctively crawl to the breast, so even when infant feeding hasn’t been a part of the prenatal conversation, or even if a mom has been on the fence about “committing” to breastfeeding, the baby often makes that initial decision, questing to the breast when given the opportunity in uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact after birth. 

“[Babies] are 10,000 years old when they are born,” Nikki Lee has said. “If they’re not next to a heart beat, they are saber-toothed tiger lunch.”

As well as being ancient, breastfeeding is a natural progression in a continuum. Linda Smith once remarked at an International Breastfeeding Conference: “We don’t ask women if they want to deliver their placenta. Why are we asking about breastfeeding?” Smith was not making a point about the removal of choice; instead she was commenting on the fact that breastfeeding is biological

Yet, we find ourselves in a culture that has stripped us of these sacred experiences through marketing and medicalization. We have been acculturated to believe that separation is normal, acculturated to believe that tending to our babies’ basic needs will spoil them, acculturated to believe the only way we can be rested and sane is by separation from our babies, acculturated to believe that we require gadgets to properly raise our children, because somewhere along the line, we started to believe the marketing that nature must be flawed. We fell into the corporate trap, succumbed to their greed, allowed it to dim our instincts. 

Now, the language we use refers to the “benefits” of our mammalian behavior: the benefits of physiological birth, the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, the benefits of breastfeeding. Max Ramirez of IBFAN & MOH Panama has said that “Talking about the advantages of breastfeeding versus the risks of not breastfeeding is like talking about the advantages of breathing instead of the consequences of smoking.”

The idea that without breastfeeding, a baby is significantly disadvantaged, is not in our vernacular. 

As commentator Frn Ange wrote on a The Natural Parent Magazine post “…Proximity is not profitable…” and so we have been forced away from the power of the dyad, the power of our innate abilities as babies and parents. Marketing propaganda created the breast versus bottle wars because it drives profits, further dismantling our power. 

In this Leadership Pittsburgh presentation about “Milk Money,” Todd Wolynn goes as far as to say, “Economics dismantled us as a species.” (He’s referring to formula companies.) 

All is not lost. In fact, Camie Jae Golhammer has said of Indigenous traditions, that they’ve gone dormant rather than have completely died off. 

 

Like the boasting red bud in my yard, these sacred moments during our reproductive years will not always lay dormant and there are bright spots to celebrate. 

Programs like the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative empower families with practices and messaging like: “Every mother has the right to evidence-based information, free from commercial interests to help her decide how to feed her baby and should be equally supported and treated with dignity and respect for her infant feeding decision.” 

Global recognition of the importance of midwifery care came to the forefront late last year when midwifery was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This recognition is not only well-deserved by the many, many generations of midwives who have supported and continue to support healthy families, but essential in order to safeguard those in the practice of protecting fundamental human rights and these sacred moments. 

 

Another ray shines as the people at the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) do lots and lots of hard work to advance policies that actually allow people to be with their babies. The organization offers a hub for policy action that makes it incredibly simple for citizens to engage and influence change. 

 

Further reading 

Interrupting the mother-child dyad is not the answer to infant safety

Ancient bodies in a modern world 

Mothers matter 

Nuturescience and Kangaroo Mother Care 

The Hidden Pregnancy Experiment which explores anxieties around surveillance.   “As a general rule, these devices don’t lead to better outcomes for the babies they monitor. More often—like social media, which promises connection as a salve for the loneliness created by social media—parenting tech exacerbates, even calls into existence, the parental anxieties that it pledges to soothe.”

Continuing the conversation about language use in perinatal health

What is ‘appropriate’ language? What one might consider distasteful, hurtful, impactful, another may consider harmless or meaningless.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán

Take this exchange offered by Ravae Sinclair, JD, CD (DONA), LCCE at the early 2020 International Breastfeeding Conference for example:

A white-presenting lactation professional working with a black mother and her baby shortly after birth exclaimed something along the lines of, “Awww, look at him, he looks just like a little thug!” commenting on the slight sag in his newborn hospital cap.

“Little thug”– a heavily loaded term generally carrying negative connotations– was understandably a trigger for the mother. She shut down no longer feeling safe in the space and asked to be discharged early. Most likely, the lactation professional did not intend to offend, but the impact of this short exchange has much further reaching consequences than the intention itself.

We have explored the impact of language to a relatively great extent here on Our Milky Way. You can check out these pieces for examples:

In a recent exchange, Nikki Lee added to this ongoing conversation about language in maternal child health. She shared an observation about how “the media rarely misses a chance to plant negative seeds in the public’s mind about breastfeeding”.

Citing an example from a PubMed alert that morning– Sudden Death in a Breastfeeding Woman with Arrhythmogenic Mitral Valve Prolapse— Lee commented “I ask you, how in the world does the infant feeding method have to do with the death of this mother? She had some kind of cardiac defect; pregnancy and labor place huge stresses on the cardiovascular system. What would you think and how would you feel if you saw a headline ‘Sudden death in a formula feeding woman with arrhythmogenic mitral valve prolapse’?”

Julie Smith’s, et al 2008 paper Voldemortand health professional knowledge of breastfeeding – do journal titles and abstracts accurately convey findings on differential health outcomes for formula fed infants?  “showed a surprising ‘Voldemort effect’ in the studies examined; formula feeding was rarely named as an exposure increasing health risk in publication titles or abstracts.” The authors conclude that “ If widespread, this skew in communication of research findings may reduce health professionals’ knowledge and support for breastfeeding.”

In her own reflection on the use of language in perinatal support, Donna Walls, RN, BSN, ANLC shares her guest post Our words need to send a supportive message- how can we do it? this week on Our Milky Way.

——

As a child I often repeated “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. As an adult, I know this is not true. Words are powerful. In our breastfeeding advocacy world, words can be used to build a new mother’s confidence, or they can be used to undermine it. Below, I offer you some of my pet peeves,  words and phrases we commonly use without  thinking about their impact.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

First, maybe the most common and certainly one of the most harmful is talking about “milk coming in”. We know that the number one fear of new moms, especially first-time moms, is not having enough milk. In the first days after birth,  there aren’t often  visible signs of milk production. New parents have often heard about engorgement and how breasts get so full, they look like they are ready to explode. But, they see no signs of exploding breasts in the first one to two days after birth. They may be able to express drops which is encouraging but no big reassurance that there is plenty for their baby.

We often see at about two days of age the occurrence of “cluster feeding” when their quiet, precious newborn seems ravenous and so, so hungry. Many moms think, or unfortunately are told, that this is a sign of not having enough milk. This is not even slightly, vaguely true but rather a normal newborn feeding pattern. We dutifully tell this anxious mother not to worry; her “milk will come in” in a day or two. The not-so-subtle message is that there is no need to worry about not having milk now, that  it soon will come in.

What has happened is that we have reinforced her biggest worry about not being able to adequately feed her baby. I don’t believe for a minute that this is intentional on our part, really just one of those things we have always said and never really examined the consequences.

I sometimes feel sorry for underappreciated, often ignored colostrum. Maybe it’s time we change the language. So instead of saying “your milk will come in”, might I suggest we instead say “the milk you’ve been making for your baby while you were pregnant is there for the first feeds. It is newborn milk, sometimes called colostrum, and this small volume is all your baby needs in the first hours and days. When you nurse frequently in these first days the newborn milk will change over to mature milk and you will see an increase in the amount as your breasts will become fuller, firmer and heavier.” You can of course  come up with your own wording just as long as new parents get the message that there is milk NOW- not “coming in” later!

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

My second pet peeve is judgey diagnoses of flat nipples. Way too often when prenatal breast assessments are done, there is a diagnosis of flat nipples, usually based only on the appearance with no regard to assessing function. Once these misunderstood nipples are labeled, the mother is deemed not quite right for feeding. Silly exercises and gadgets are recommended to make already elastic skin behave appropriately. First point: nipples are erectile by nature, some stand up a lot, some a little. Sadly most new mothers have seen artificial nipples and think they should look like these, not ever recognizing that we have the real nipples so why aren’t bottle nipples more like ours?! When counseling mothers, ask the mom if she notices her nipple erecting in cold weather or with sexual/manual stimulation.

As a clinical lactation care provider for many years, I would often be saddened by the words used to make a mother feel her nipples weren’t quite right, not good enough. I have seen too often women struggling with breastfeeding because they were told even before the baby’s birth that the chances were slim for successful breastfeeding; bad nipples would certainly cause problems.

I am quite sure males are not discouraged about the abilities of their erectile tissue at the onset of sexual activity. This is not to say that there may not be challenges  with inverted nipples; they may cause challenges  when they are retracted enough to not ever be stimulated or stretched for hormonal release, but flat nipples will evert. They just want to do it their way. We need to remind moms that the nipple their baby will prefer is attached to their favorite person.

Third, let’s talk about the term engorgement. By definition, engorgement  is not normal. It is a state brought on by interruptions in the expected initiation of lactation [Source]. Unfortunately, the term is used by professionals and families to mean a fullness in the breasts. Signs of engorgement include hot, reddened, uncomfortably swollen breasts which can be hard for a newborn to correctly latch to the breast. This needs to be distinguished from normal signs of lactation when breasts become rounder, fuller, firmer and heavier. Too often a mother may complain about her breast “engorgement” and interventions are recommended to help reduce the discomfort and swelling when in reality she just needs to be reassured that what she is feeling is normal and actually a good sign that she is producing milk. So, my request is that when a mother talks about her concerns about engorgement, our response needs to be to ask something along the lines of “what exactly are you feeling?” as well as the usual questions of frequency of feedings, adequate output and signs of comfortable  latch.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

Our words can have a profound effect on the success or failure of breastfeeding. A huge part of our job, our responsibility to our patients and their families is to build confidence in their ability to nourish and nurture their newborns. Be aware of the message that is being sent and choose words that will build confidence, be generous with realistic praise and couch our intervention suggestions with success in mind. Ask for parents’ input; we want them to know their thoughts are important to the process!

Reference Cadwell, K. and Turner-Maffei, C.  Pocket Guide for Lactation Management. 2022. Jones and Bartlett. Burlington, MA.

Conflicts of interest everywhere one turns

The authors of Call to end sponsorship from commercial milk formula companies published in The Lancet last month urge all health-care professional associations (HCPAs) to commit to ending sponsorships from companies that market commercial milk formulas (CMFs) by the end of 2024.

Greed depicted in an image that is part of a series of prints of the Seven Deadly Sins, engraved by Pieter van der Heyden after drawings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. More at https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/338698

The CMF industry targets healthcare providers, because they understand providers’ influence on parents’ decisions.

The group of leading HCPAs  is working to compile case studies, references, guidance on how to manage without sponsorship, and more to help any associations in ending such relationships. 

The effort is not a restriction on parental choice, and the authors recognize that all healthcare professionals (HCPs) must support parents on a case-by-case basis. 

Instead, this work focuses on combating the inappropriate marketing of CMFs which interferes with parents getting accurate information to make decisions. The 2023 Lancet Series offers much more information on the industry’s tactics. Find it here.

The CMF industry has its tentacles tangled in affairs beyond the health care provider-patient relationship, raising concerns about conflicts of interest everywhere one turns. 

Healthy Children Project’s Karin Cadwell, PhD, RN, FAAN, ANLC, CLC, IBCLC points out that other fields have separated themselves from industry.  For instance, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) will not accredit an organization that it defines as a commercial interest. The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) adopted policies opposing gifts to physicians and medical students from the pharmaceutical industry in the early 2000s. This piece describes some of the more recent policies governing physician interactions with industry. 

Yet, formula companies and breast pump companies are right in the middle of the baby feeding arena at conferences, like at  WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). 

Industry at conferences 

Rob Revelette MD, PhD FAAP questions the AAP’s relationship with formula companies in this essay where he notes that the AAP, both at the national and state level, accepts money from formula companies for advertising and sponsorship of meetings.https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/335169

Greed Breaks the Bag (“La codicia rompe el saco”)
Leonardo Alenza y Nieto Spanish
1807–45
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/335169

Saroj Jayasinghe offers in Pharmaceutical industry sponsorship of academic conferences: ethics of conflict of interest, “The most definite way to prevent COI is to completely avoid industry funding of conferences…” 

Because this isn’t always feasible, Jayasinghe writes, it is crucial to establish these proposed guidelines:  “(1) avoid the sponsors having any influence on the decision-making of conference; (2) avoid promotion of specific products; (3) transparency of sponsorship; (4) develop guidelines for future interactions; (5) consider contextual factors such as the trust in the profession and social roles of physicians; (6) ensure that the long-term objective of the organisations is independent of influences of the industry.” 

Dr. Revelette points out that The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health and the British Journal of Pediatrics have both cut ties with formula companies. He writes that “The time for the American Academy of Pediatrics to do the same and comply with the Code is long overdue.” 

CMF companies in science 

CMF marketing commonly and effectively uses science to build brand credibility and influence the scientific community as Rollins, et al detail in Marketing of commercial milk formula: a system to capture parents, communities, science, and policy.

‘Landscapes and seaports’ (Paysages et ports de mer, dans des ronds)
Stefano della Bella Italian
1639
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/412519

The authors detail how they misrepresent research and their sponsorship of journals and conclude “the capture of science as a strategic objective of CMF marketing fundamentally shapes medical practice in addition to boosting CMF sales. Science is used in a pincer movement: parents looking to resolve problems accentuated by marketing, with health professionals offering marketing-constructed solutions.” 

One government employee, a practicing physician, who asked to remain anonymous suggests that “most academicians can’t survive (as academicians) without getting sponsor grants for research”. That’s because public funding has decreased in the last couple of decades.  

Patricia Baird notes in Getting it right: industry sponsorship and medical research “…the pharmaceutical industry has become the single largest direct funder of medical research in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.”

The anonymous physician says that the number and type of potential competing interests do not tend to concern him especially when there is supplementary data available for review. 

He shares that “Most multi-center studies are done by funding from sponsors since no one Institution has deep enough pockets to do these critically important studies.  I get red flags going off and my ‘BS detector’ starts sounding when I see a small, short author list with a single sponsor funding the study that lacks supplementary data and is making extraordinary claims.” 

One of the touted benefits of working with industry in research is the development of new therapies for patients, as Baird writes and is also noted in ‘Deal with the Devil’: Harvard Medical School Faculty Grapple with Increased Industry Research Funding

However, Baird shares: “…a lack of balance in research activities, with a focus mainly on potential medications, is likely to divert talented researchers from the pursuit of profound scientific questions, or divert them from the pursuit of questions without market relevance but with an aspect of public good. A company has little incentive to support trials evaluating whether inexpensive, off-patent drugs, or whether nonpharmaceutical interventions, could replace their profitable patented drug.”

Because profits are foremost for industry, Baird continues that “it is unrealistic to expect drug companies to stop making drugs to treat diseases that result from [unhealthy behavior].”

This reality, Baird goes on, “highlights the need for funding of research into new and effective ways to get people to change behaviour, and of research into policies that provide incentives and support for healthier behaviours at a population level.” 

*Ahem… Family-friendly policies that support breastfeeding and adoption and adherence of the Code!*  One has to wonder, would maternal infant health look differently if we put as much effort into breastfeeding and supportive policies as we did responding to the formula crisis

One group, the Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI) conducts the BMS and CF Marketing indexes which assess the marketing policies of the 20 largest baby food companies globally. This spring, the organization released the Breast Milk Substitutes and Complementary Foods Marketing in the United States: Launch of the 2024 Country Report as a complement to the indexes. The recording of this event can be accessed here

ATNI has created a model policy for companies’ full compliance with the Code. 

Interestingly, ATNI itself has been criticized for its interactions with CMF companies. 

During the release event, ATNI presenters addressed their involvement with CMF companies. It was reported that ATNI consults independent expert groups and releases their methodology on their website. It was also stated that ATNI engages companies at certain points in their process, but that companies cannot decide whether or not they will be evaluated and do not have influence over the research results.

CMF business affairs within nations 

The United States has an enmeshed relationship with formula companies.

L’Avarice (Greed), from “Les Péchées Capitaux” (The Deadly Sins)
Jacques Callot French
ca. 1620
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/417673

For instance, in Scorched Earth Legal Tactics author Valerie McClain illuminates that “Both the CDC and the FDA have foundations that partner with corporations that donate to their organizations. While these US governmental bodies are not allowed to take money directly from corporations, their foundations through partnerships donate for programs run by the CDC or FDA. The CDC Foundation has a long list of partners who donate various amounts.” 

McClain goes on: “From a political science perspective, corporations entangled with governmental agencies is part of the definition of fascism-a merger of state and corporate power. Every US governmental agency that I have seen has a foundation. So one gets the impression that is one way to pretend that corporations have no influence on governmental policy.” 

She details some of these relationships with specific dollar amounts in the remainder of her piece. 

In another revealing article– The U.S. Government Defended the Overseas Business Interests of Baby Formula Makers. Kids Paid the Price.— author Heather Vogell demonstrates how “the U.S. government repeatedly used its muscle to advance the interests of large baby formula companies while thwarting the efforts of Thailand and other developing countries to safeguard children’s health.” 

And there was the disgraceful act when the U.S. opposed a WHA resolution in 2018 and “blackmailed” Ecuador. 

An administrator from Breastfeeding Advocacy Australia (BAA) explains their country’s involvement with industry: “…Our Government gave the Formula Industry co-operative body, the Infant Nutrition Council (INC) a government grant to expand their international markets. This government one was for India, a country working hard to improve breastfeeding. Last government gave a grant for expansion in Cambodia, a country with historically high breastfeeding now rapidly plummeting. It is immoral and unjust. We must fight for women and babies. It gets worse here in Australia as a developed nation who is enabling this industry. One of our main research organisations SAHMRI has joint trials with Nestle and validates their participation. Unsurprisingly, the result of one trial we’ve seen requires the administration of a Nestle product as an outcome. Then our Doctor group the RACGP, the doctors that virtually all Mums and Bubs see, has their annual conference sponsored by Nestle and that’s just what we’ve seen publicly stated. There is probably much more. We have much work to do.” 

Until our governments do a better job of protecting health over profits and untangle their industry ties, how can we, as maternal child health advocates,  turn down the commercial noise when its notes seem to play everywhere? 

Steven R. Brown’s, MD, FAAFP American Family Physician editorial Physicians Should Refuse Pharmaceutical Industry Gifts offers guidance that is easily adopted for those working as lactation professionals. 

Certified Lactation Counselors should remember the specific line in the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice (ALPP) Code of Ethics for Certified Lactation Counselors (CLC) which reads that we must “Abide by the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions which pertain to health workers.”  

The aforementioned Call to end sponsorship from commercial milk formula companies is a promising launching pad in the dismantling of inappropriate care provider- industry relationships. It signifies progress and as BAA offered, we have so much more work to do.  

 

Further reading/ related resources 

 

Glints of hope and control in a burning world

As I gathered my thoughts for an Earth Month and infant feeding installment, I got an email notification that Valerie McClain had published something new on her Substack. Of course I hurried over, because her pieces are always illuminating. She writes in Standing on the Precipice:  “We are self-destructing on our Mother Earth, and she may be the last woman standing amidst the rubble and miles of corpses.”

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova: https://www.pexels.com/photo/anonymous-little-kid-touching-tree-with-hand-3932861/

In all of the pieces and years past that we have covered the connections between infant feeding and planetary health, it never actually occurred to me that there might be a scenario where Mother Earth outlives us. This will surely strike some of you as naive, absurd, delusional, or something else considering what has happened and continues to happen on our planet. Even so, I envisioned humans dying alongside our planet, our self-destruction agonizing and inevitable, as we claw, infect, and deplete Mother Earth with our beastly antics, taking down the innocent in our path to complete decimation. 

On a recent trip to The Museum of Modern Art, I was shaken out of this sense of Doom and flurry of eco-emotions. Victor Grippo’s lead containers with beans first spoke to me, metaphors “for the force and persistence of life”. This display coupled with Niki de Saint Phalle’s phrase “What is now known was once only imagined” infused me with a little glint of hope that I’ve been craving. 

Then on a Throughline episode about consumer protections and trust in and accountability from companies and elected leaders, I heard the voice of Ralph Nader. He offered: Cynicism is “a cop-out. That’s an indulgence. That’s an indulgence of quitters that makes them feel good. Because when you’re cynical, you’re obviously smart, aren’t you? You think you’re smart. No, you’re not smart. You’re playing into the hands of the corporate supremacists. You’re playing into the hands of the few who want to control the many who could easily outvote the few and make the corporations our servants, not our masters.” This offered me a shift in perspective too.

Source: https://www.gifa.org/en/international-2/green-feeding/

Among the hopeful is coverage of the Green Feeding Tool by Kristi Eaton. Eaton quotes Julie Smith, co-creator of the tool: “…with the Green Feeding Tool—designed to provide policymakers, climate scientists, advocates and others with clear data about how increasing support for breastfeeding can help save the planet—we have the evidence to support action.”

Now, consider this headline: Breast milk can expose babies to toxic ‘forever chemicals’

“For decades, physicians and scientists have touted breast milk as liquid gold for its immunological benefits.

But nursing parents with considerable exposure to cancer-linked ‘forever chemicals,’ or PFAS, may unwittingly be exposing their babies to these compounds as well…” the author begins. 

The article acknowledges contaminated water could be a potential source of PFAS which infant formula is often mixed with. The author also includes that “the benefits of nursing likely outweigh the potential risk of PFAS exposure through breast milk.” [Note the language used here. There are generally no benefits to breastfeeding. Instead, there are risks associated with not breastfeeding.] 

Nikki Lee asks some important questions: “Why doesn’t formula get tested for these chemicals?  Do folks believe that somehow cows are protected against pollution?”

As with anything, there will be risks associated with any variation of infant feeding. 

Healthy Children Project’s Karin Cadwell points out that if toxins are being detected in human milk, it means we need to reconsider the products being used in industry.

Photo by willsantt: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-breastfeeding-her-toddler-under-the-tree-2714618/

The author of Study Finds High Levels of Toxic Chemicals in Mothers’ Breast Milk quotes Erika Schreder, science director at Toxic-Free Future who shares a similar sentiment: “’If we want to make pregnancy and breastfeeding safe and free from PFAS, we really need to eliminate the use of these chemicals and products, so that we can have clean food, clean air, and clean water… We really don’t believe that responsibility should be placed on individuals when we need regulations to end the use of these chemicals.’”

In the predicament(s) we find ourselves in, I’d like to leave you with a few more of McClain’s words: “A mother cannot control events such as: wars, sieges, shortages of infant formula and pitocin, fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes; but she has a semblance of control in her and her baby’s world through breastfeeding. Dependency on always having access to infant formula, health care, freedom from human or environmental violence, should be tempered with the reality that there may be times, when all the civility of life vanishes.” 

More for Earth Month 

Industry lies and the Code

Infant feeding and planetary health go hand in hand 

Breastfeeding is eco-friendly 

Goats and Soda’s How do you keep calm and carry on in a world full of crises?