Nurturing care is critical to improving health outcomes

Photo by Greta Hoffman

A friend recently told me, “I vowed to never use the word ‘diet’ in front of my daughter.” She explained how as she was growing up, her mother was fixated on dieting, and how that affected her relationship with food and her body image. I sympathized. My grandmother was a model, and I grew up in a ballet school, so body image was always at the forefront of my existence. My friend and I discussed the challenge of modeling healthy eating for our kids when we ourselves have been inflicted with such detrimental habits; things like eating in secrecy and restricting calories. 

Our conversation segued, soon chatting about convenience and ultra processed foods, what exactly are healthy choices?, and this incessant feeling of being rushed. We lamented about the after-school pace: hurry-up homework, hurry-up mealtime, hurry-up extra-curriculars, hurry-up bedtime.

Photo by August de Richelieu

The time to model healthy eating and the ability to engage socially over a meal is so condensed, families often forgo the art of dining and sharing meals entirely. Many of us have fallen to “the packet apocalypse”, propped bottles, hurled yogurt tubes to the back of the van, and scarfed- down burgers from the drive-thru.

Checking my email later this day, I was pleased to find Global Health Media’s recent announcement of their Nurturing Care Series.  While the 10-video collection is intended for health workers and not necessarily for direct family use, the resource felt like the perfect reminder of the importance of prioritizing responsive, nurturing and reciprocal interactions in all of our behavior, including meal time. 

Photo by Keira Burton

Global Health Media’s series is in partnership with USAID’s Responsive Care and Early Learning (RCEL) project which focuses on “good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving, and opportunities for early learning” as critical components to improving early childhood development (ECD) outcomes. 

“Integrating responsive care and early learning messages into existing nutrition counseling has significant potential to improve both nutrition and ECD outcomes,” the organization’s Advancing Nutrition page states. 

Over the years, Our Milky Way has produced quite a collection highlighting responsive feeding and interactive relationships. Stewed in a bit of irony, as I write to you from the glow of my computer, I’d like to spend this week resurfacing these pieces. 

 

 

 

  • Photo by Luiza Braun

    Mother and bab(ies) attend and respond to one another facilitating nourishment, the flow of hormones, immunity, learning and bonding, comfort, fun, an all-encompassing sensory experience that has generational impacts on social, emotional and physical health. Breastfeeding is collaborative covers the intimacy of the breastfeeding dyad up to breastfeeding as a collaborative global food security system. 

 

 

  • Cindy Turner-Maffei’s coverage of the “Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Bio-Cultural Perspectives” conference… well, it’s really all in the title. 

 

  • Humans are carry mammals, not nest or cache animals. Baby-wearing facilities things like  the development of healthy physiological functions to providing a interactive social interactions for infants and young children, where they are included in the “action” rather than strapped into devices with little stimulation. Babywearing as a public health initiative  highlights Rebecca Morse’s work and further explores the importance of baby wearing.

 

 

  • Finally, we couldn’t close out without noting skin-to-skin, where connections are first fused outside of the womb. Find Our Milky Way’s collection on skin-to-skin and kangaroo mother care here and here

Breastfeeding is mammalian.

–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…”

Breastfeeding is mammalian.

(Okay, there are also the non-mammals who “produce nutrient-rich elixirs” to feed their young, including flamingos, cockroaches and male emperor penguins, and a species of jumping spider.)

A mammal is an animal of the class Mammalia, an animal that suckles its young. Mammal is the  1800’s Englished form of the Latin “Mammalia” (1773). Dissecting the word further, it was coined in 1758 by Linnaeus for the class of animals from the neuter (things that have no gender) plural of Late Latin mammalis “of the breast.” [https://www.etymonline.com/word/mammal]

Predating language, milk and lactation are ancient; in fact, the origins may date as far back as 300 million years ago, according to scientist Mike Power, who curates and maintains the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s milk repository, as reported by Catherine Zuckerman. That makes mother’s milk older than dinosaurs!

Since those many, many million years ago, mother’s milk, the “magic potion”, has been shaped by natural selection and has diversified among the thousands of mammals that are living today, Katie Hinde has explained. Species specific milk has allowed mammals to live in environments in which the young could not otherwise survive and to cope with unreliable food sources.  This evolution to support infants while they’re developing has led to important mammalian adaptations like complex social relationships, Hinde goes on. The first social (and sometimes the only) encounter for mammals, is with their mothers.

Juan Brines and Claude Billeaud so graciously offer “a testimony of gratitude and respect to women who have assumed the responsibility of breastfeeding their infants because without them the human species would not have existed” in Breast-Feeding from an Evolutionary Perspective.

 

Additional resources

Healthy Child Manitoba put together “Mammals: Feeding their babies since the beginning of time” which can be used as a breastfeeding lesson in a variety of settings.

Check out Hinde’s March Mammal Madness inspired by the NCAA College Basketball March Madness Championship Tournament. This year’s fun and results can be found here.

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As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:

Email info@ourmilkyway.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.

This week, in the body of the email, please share with us: What is one of your earliest memories of infant feeding?

Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.

We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period.  Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag, and this week we have made it to our tenth week celebrating Our Milky Way!

Physicians as breastfeeding supporters

Photo retrieved from: https://tobacco.stanford.edu/cigarette/img0079/

“More doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette,” claims the ad from 1950. Today, it’s preposterous to imagine that any physician would align themselves with the tobacco industry. Starting  in the 1920s and continuing well into the 1950s though, tobacco companies used doctors to help them sell their products. Stanford’s Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising has a collection of over 1,000 advertisements that feature doctors endorsing tobacco products. 

In an eerie parallel, WHO’s February 2022 report, How the marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding, states that “Recommendations from health professionals are a key channel of formula milk marketing. Health professionals spoke of receiving commissions from sales, funding for research, promotional gifts, samples of infant and specialized formula milk products, or invitations to seminars, conferences and events.” (p. 7) 

Last week, Nikki Lee, RN, BSN, MS, Mother of 2, IBCLC,RLC, CCE, CIMI, CST (cert.appl.), ANLC, RYT500 and I shared our reflection on the forces that shape physicians’ personal infant feeding experiences. In this second installment, we explore how physicians as professionals can support breastfeeding despite being targeted by the breastmilk substitute (BMS) industry and despite generally being woefully equipped with proper lactation education, training and counseling skills. These predicaments can lead physicians to “explicitly or inadvertently, introduce doubts around the ability of women to breastfeed and the value and quality of their breast milk.” (WHO, p. 12) 

 

Pervasive industry influence for generations

Because “health professionals are among the most respected and trusted members of society…[their] advice…is highly influential for pregnant women and parents of infants and young children, including around infant feeding decisions.”  Formula milk companies exploit this relationship of trust. (WHO, p. 12)

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

BMS representatives target physicians “with a range of incentives, including funding for research, commissions from sales, ambassadorial roles, merchandise, gifts and all expenses paid promotional trips.” (WHO, p.13) 

The psychology behind gift-giving, both big and small is that “ it imposes…a sense of indebtedness…. The…rule of reciprocity imposes…an obligation to repay for favors, gifts and invitations…” (Katz 2003) Instead of supporting infant feeding purely through a health and wellness lens, physicians feel obliged to a company muddying their relationships with their patients. 

Interestingly, most physicians feel immune to marketing’s influence, despite clear evidence to the contrary, Frederick S. Sierles, MD lays out in The Gift-Giving Influence

Curious consumers can search their doctors’ names through ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs project to learn about gifts they have accepted. 

 

Mechanical culture 

Our culture fails to acknowledge the mother baby unit as a dyad, and this influences the way physicians can support breastfeeding too.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

“We are never taught, in our fragmented system, that the mother and baby are a unit,” Lee reiterates. “OB/GYN/midwife sees mama; peds sees babies. There are even different places for them in the hospital: nursery, postpartum unit. What a struggle we had with the BFHI to keep mother and baby together.” 

[As a side, Attorney Leah Margulies recently shared in Protecting Breastfeeding in the United States: Time for Action on The Code that formula companies provide architectural designs to maternity care facilities in a deliberate attempt to separate dyads.] 

The Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health’s (AIM) Patient Safety Bundles offer models for how health professionals can use task force approaches that break down silos of care and open channels of communication. The strategies used in these bundles aim to ultimately shift from fractured care to continuity of care where the dyad is protected.  

We must also consider how physicians are compensated for their work. In the current U.S. healthcare system, physicians find themselves paid in Relative Value Units (RVUs), which bluntly put, is a pretty mechanical way to value providing care to other humans, as we mentioned in our first installment. In short, the more RVUs a physician racks up, the more they’re paid. Breastfeeding counseling takes time.

 

Inadequate education 

How are physicians to spend time with their patients, educating and supporting breastfeeding when they’ve had little to no breastfeeding education invested in them? Dr. Nigel Campbell Rollins pointed out in WHO’s How the marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding webinar that faculty in medical schools themselves sometimes believe that formula products are inevitable or necessary. 

A cross-sectional study in the UK suggests that UK medical schools are not adequately preparing students to support breastfeeding patients.  

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

Samantha A Chuisano and  Olivia S Anderson’s findings in Assessing Application-Based Breastfeeding Education for Physicians and Nurses: A Scoping Review “… align with existing literature in finding a dearth of high-quality studies assessing breastfeeding education among physicians and nurses. The variability in teaching and evaluation methods indicates a lack of standardization in breastfeeding education between institutions.”

Elizabeth Esselmont and colleagues’ piece Residents’ breastfeeding knowledge, comfort, practices, and perceptions: results of the Breastfeeding Resident Education Study (BRESt) concludes: “Pediatric residents in Canada recognize that they play an important role in supporting breastfeeding. Most residents lack the knowledge and training to manage breastfeeding difficulties but are motivated to learn more about breastfeeding. Pediatric program directors recognize the lack of breastfeeding education.” 

 

A collection of physicians’ stories 

Often, it is a physician’s own struggle to breastfeed that seems to spur advocacy and change. Our Milky Way’s repository includes a breadth of physicians’ stories of personal struggles that have inspired them to become breastfeeding champions for their patients and communities. 

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee (Photo by Sara D. Davis)

Some of those stories are linked below: 

Sarah Jacobitz-Kizzier, MD, MS, in Resident physician advances breastfeeding support,  shares that her lactation education in medical school included a one hour lecture about the anatomy of the breast and a brief discussion in physiology about lactogenesis.

“There was no training about [breastfeeding] technique, no discussion about common problems before discharge, no training about clinical problems as far as in the first few months postpartum…when to introduce complementary food,” she continues.

Physician calls for peer breastfeeding support features the work of Colette Wiseman, MD, CLC. 

In Breastfeeding in the healthiest county in Virginia, Janine A. Rethy, MD, MPH, FAAP, FABM, IBCLC, a general pediatrician in Loudoun County, Va. describes her dedication to improving breastfeeding outcomes. In it, she shares a resource she and her colleagues created –the Breastfeeding Support Implementation Guide for the Outpatient Setting which includes information on how to bill insurance for lactation services.

Skin to skin in the OR showcases Rebecca Rudesill’s, MD, CLC quest for more breastfeeding education. 

Kristina Lehman’s, MD, CLC work is featured in Internist looks to augment breastfeeding education

James Thomas Dean III, DO and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas San Antonio Dr. Perla N. Soni, MD share their perspectives in Lack of breastfeeding education in med school harms families

Alison Stuebe, MD, MSc tackles big topics in OB/GYN sheds light on breastfeeding culture.

We are honored to have been able to feature the work of the late Audrey Naylor in Commendable contributions to the field of lactation. ​​With a lifetime interest in illness prevention, Naylor said she was quickly convinced of the power of breastfeeding after only attending a few hours of a breastfeeding seminar in 1976.

“Neither medical school nor pediatric residency taught me anything about breastfeeding,” Naylor said.  

Elizabeth Sahlie’s, MD, FAAP and Jesanna Cooper’s, MD work is featured in Birmingham Mother-to-mother support helps moms reach feeding goals. Cooper says that before she became a mother, she had no idea that her medical training and education had been so lacking.

“It is easy to become frustrated with nurses and physicians who – often inadvertently sabotage breastfeeding mothers and babies, but I also sympathize,” she explains. “We are in a position where we are supposed to have answers, but no one has taught us the skills necessary to provide those answers.”

Other stories and models for care 

Lori Feldman-Winter’s, et al  Residency curriculum improves breastfeeding care showed that “a targeted breastfeeding curriculum for residents in pediatrics, family medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology improves knowledge, practice patterns, and confidence in breastfeeding management in residents and increases exclusive breastfeeding in their patients. Implementation of this curriculum may similarly benefit other institutions.

 As part of their work to build a cohort of breastfeeding-friendly pediatricians, the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Georgia Breastfeeding Coalition launched a “Breastfeeding-Friendly Pediatrician Interest Form.” Georgia pediatricians who are interested in becoming certified as a “Breastfeeding-Friendly Pediatrician” are invited to fill out the form.

 

Further reading and resources

Physicians, Formula Companies, and Advertising: A Historical Perspective

Inspire Health, CHAMPS,  and the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Breastfeeding, Human Medicine,  Interprofessional Education training   

CDC Physician Breastfeeding Education  

What Every Physician Needs to Know About Breastfeeding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The Institute for the Advancement of Breastfeeding & Lactation Education (IABLE) is a nonprofit membership organization whose mission is to optimize the promotion and support of breastfeeding for families in the outpatient sector. IABLE is dedicated to building Breastfeeding Knowledgeable Medical Systems and Communities. 

Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) Breastfeeding-friendly Physicians protocol 

 

Physician group position papers and recommendations on breastfeeding 

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG)