So, here is what happened. Last week I wrote about breastfeeding. On one level I was addressing the possible connection between most babies’ first food and the increased incidence of weight issues in children. On another, I was speaking to the very low rates of breastfeeding in this country and the implications of that as well.
Right after I posted, my friend who is a wonderful adoptive new father responded that breastfeeding was not a viable option for his baby. I felt bad. I know a lot of adoptive parents. And, having worked in maternal and child health for many years, I know there are some real situations that make breastfeeding not possible for some. There are many women who have really tried but for different reasons have not been able to nurse. I hope I did not appear insensitive. As a health counselor, I am very sympathetic to one’s personal experience– but I also know that our low breastfeeding rates are not caused by these exceptional types of cases.
In my discussion, I had decided to not make apologies or to outline the contraindications to nursing in the limited words I afford my writings. Most materials related to breastfeeding already do so. I had wanted to challenge the oft-repeated message that breastfeeding is challenging, but mainly I wanted to bring the topic of breastfeeding to the table. As a nutritionist, I consider breast milk a quintessential component of the human diet. Once I did, I thought I was ready to move on–but as I lingered in the post post aftermath and received some thoughtful responses, I considered that how we feed our babies is a way too overlooked issue in this huge conversation about food, culture, and weight. Breastfeeding is discussed in breastfeeding circles among women who are nursing. Beyond that, not many people ever think about this very important topic–even some parents to be. Most people in our culture have never really seen a baby nursing at the breast. I am highly attuned to watching for nursing babies–and I rarely get a sighting (except for my multi-cultural workplace that offers pre and postnatal care.)
I worry about what a world would look like that really no longer knew how to instinctually nurse its young. So, during the past week, I thought a lot about recent natural disasters where water and food supplies are not available–what happened to the formula-fed babies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; I considered the tragedy of the melamine-tainted formula in China that affected 300,000 babies; I wondered about the plastics that every formula feed involves through either bottle or artificial nipple; and, I lingered on antibiotic resistance and even genetic modification of formula. As I was doing all this a few things happened.
Firstly, quite coincidentally, I came upon an article called Cows Genetically Modified to Produce Human Milk. Writer Erika Nicole Kendall in her blog, the Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss does not seem to miss much regarding our confusing cultural cuisine–and one need be neither black, young, female or overweight to appreciate the topics she very thoughtfully explores and exposes. Here, she tells about a recent exhibition in China where technical achievements are touted as part of the country’s five-year plan. Fascinatingly, in ancient China, emperors and empresses drank human milk throughout their lives. Apparently, presented at the exhibition were a herd of cows that have been genetically modified to produce human milk–which apparently contains the anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory agents and the hormones and digestive enzymes particular to the real stuff. The milk purportedly will preserve and improve the immune systems and central nervous systems of children and will address decreasing breastfeeding rates in that country. Must I explain the irony here? http://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/news-feed/cows-genetically-modified-to-produce-human-milk/
Then, mon cher French ami who is always on topic in spite of mothering three young children–who she nursed in succession–sent me an article on breastfeeding in France. I learned that France has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the Western world. Mon Dieu. I was shocked and rather nauseated by the story. The nationwide gist is that breasts are for your husband–not your baby. French doctors apparently are in collusion with this imperative of preserving the sexual function of its countrywomen rather than supporting their maternal inclinations. Accompanying comments mocked those who promote breastfeeding as the breast police. Really? Does fighting tobacco advertising and helping people to quit smoking make one the lung police? http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/01/france-breast-breastfed-baby-death
And, lastly, just Tuesday night, I watched the first episode of Jamie Oliver‘s second season of the Food Revolution. As he was stymied by the Los Angeles City School District to get into their schools for filming, he invited the public to bring him samples of the foods that the kids are being served there. In the opening scene, he is shown surrounded by a group of people who are presenting to him all types of horrific-looking junk that is splayed out on a table. A woman in the group is carrying a few month old beautiful baby girl. He reaches for the baby who gently accepts his arms. He reminds us how totally pure and perfect our babies come into this life. Seeing this gorgeous little being surrounded by this landscape of low-quality food was a powerful juxtaposition–it is the way I also see the situation.
Before school food, infant formula is the ingredient template that constitutes most of a child’s diet for most of its first year. Aside from added vitamins and minerals, the following are what milk and soy formulas are made of in some variation: non-fat milk, lactose, vegetable oil, whey protein, high oleic safflower oil, soy oil, corn syrup solids, soy protein isolate, sugar, and coconut oil. Interestingly, as most formulas now try to mimic the beneficial lipid profile naturally found in breastmilk–mortierella alpina oil and crythecodimium coluni oil are what are used to make them closer than ever to breast milk.
So, I decided, it was a worthwhile effort to pursue this conversation a little more–in the name of restoring, reviving, encouraging a resurgence–a redux of what I consider to be our natural birthright. The right of babies under most circumstances to be sustained on the foodstuff designed for their biology, presented in a form supportive of their neurological wiring and physiologically and hormonally consistent with that of the other member of the feeding dyad–their mother. The rest of the population may benefit as well–even the men.
And, in case some shared wisdom on this motherly art is sought, please check out this very thorough Breastfeeding Tips and Guide lovingly prepared by Sara Spencer. It contains some nice videos including a great one on feeding twins.
I am just wondering, were you breastfed?
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In health, Elyn