Thursday

Female Middle-Class Angst in "The Case Against Breast-Feeding."



Hanna Rosin's article in The Atlantic has raised a furor among breastfeeding advocates. I read her article and was amused and delighted with her writing. But unimpressed with her understanding regarding the science of "human milk." The article, while quoting studies on human milk, was essentially about mothering in a culture in which breastfeeding is just another competitive game of one-up-man-ship. Women educated in the shark-infested waters of a culture gone mad for competition, feel they have been sold the wrong bill of goods when it comes to breastfeeding. University-educated, career-minded women feel trapped by the need to give the "best" to their babies. American society seems transfixed in the dance and drama of outshining your neighbor.
Rosin highlights the paradox of being a feminist but also being a breastfeeding mommy. How can any woman do both? Do we lose our souls because we breastfeed? Where is the equality when mommy is the only one who can feed the baby? All these issues swirl into our minds, as the masks and mirrors of a warped society distort the reality. Did this article pin down reality or has it created its own agenda, its own propaganda to distort what we know about breastfeeding?
How can Hanna Rosin's article be so very wrong and right at the same time? Is this sophisticated spin, a disinformation campaign brought to us from media man, David Bradley, owner of The Atlantic? Bradley founded a company called Advisory Board Company in the 70's, which directed "business intelligence to improve operational and financial performance" (Wikipedia-Advisory Board Company) to healthcare executives. How much of our media reflects the business goals and values of industries? Why do certain articles get published and others are untouched by the media? Why is patenting of human milk components mostly unknown and undiscussed, even among breastfeeding advocates?
Rosin writes about a 2001 JAMA article she found in her pediatrician's office. I am amazed because the pediatricians offices I have visited had only magazines like Parenting, Baby Talk, Highlights for Children not medical journals. Obviously, big city pediatrician's cater to a more sophisticated group of mothers. The JAMA article was the PROBIT study by Michael S. Kramer et al. One of the problems with this study and many other studies on infant feeding is that breastfeeding or exclusive breastfeeding is not defined. The definition of breastfeeding is critical to a scientific understanding of the impact of feeding methods upon infants. If mothers are breastfeeding and also using infant formula, or foods, or drinks, how do we know the effect of breastfeeding? Wouldn't mixed feeding cause less observable health benefits? We know that human milk has a dose related response in infants, meaning that the more human milk an infant receives the greater the benefits. Not defining breastfeeding or what we mean by exclusive breastfeeding in studies, means that we fail to get a real understanding of the health benefits of breastfeeding or the risks of infant formula. Very few women exclusively breastfeed their infants (by exclusive I mean, only breastmilk-no water, no formula, no foods, no drinks, no drugs, no vitamins).
Most studies on infant feeding are done by the infant formula industry. Most are slanted to a degree. Most human milk researchers are funded by the infant formula industry. Thus, the reality of health effects in breastfed infants is distorted. Distorted by the secrecy of patenting of human milk components and the need of industries to have women believe that breastfeeding does not really matter. Let's look at obesity and what researchers are patenting at the Nemours Foundation. Two patents called "Administraiton of leptin," in which the real component-human milk fat globule will be used to regulate the size of adipose tissue. It will be used in the production of infant formula, foods, and drugs. patent #6475984, #7354896 at the US Patent & Trademark Office. I would suppose that Nemours Foundation would be a reputable organization, not given to fantasy or investment in far-fetched outlandish schemes. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe this is all magical thinking.
How about patent #6258383 called "Dietary supplement combining colostrum & lactoferrin in a mucosal delivery format by Gohlke, et al? The purpose of this patent is to stimulate the immune system to inhibit infection, create healing. Based on human milk, it is a dietary supplement in the marketplace. Another version of magical thinking I suppose, only these men are making money off their magical thinking. Agennix, a biotech pharm company in Texas, has 60-70 patents on the human milk component, lactoferrin. It is genetically engineered and perceived to be identical to the real human milk component. The US Government has funded this company in clinical trials regarding wound healing. They call their drug, a new antibiotic. Heck more magical thinking by industry and the government, too. We can't beat the patent owned by the Department of Health on lactoferrin as a diagnostic but also to be used in treating and inactivating hiv/aids. The magic of human milk brought forth into paper reality at the US Patent & Trademark Office. We have magical thinking at John Hopkins, who owns two patents on Human Milk Fat Globule to controll diarhhea in infants and in immune deficient persons like hiv/aids patients.
Rosin writes, "Given what we know so far, it seems reasonable to put breast-feeding's health benefits on the plus side of the ledger and other things--modesty, independence, career, sanity-on the minus side...."
Confusing, I thought she believed that breastfeeding offered very little in health benefits? Modesty--this from a feminist? This is the real nitty-gritty. Sanity resides on the side of bottlefeeding? Yes, I knew it all along that breastfeeding made us insane, immodest, dependent, and career-less. The IQ points I added to my children (questionable according to Rosin) were directly sucked out of my brain while I immodestly nursed them because I was careerless and dependent on the "man" for a life. We seem to have a younger generation who believes that the center of the universe is middle class virtues. Is this feminism or masochism?
Ms. Rosin writes, "Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental." Who is the magical thinker?
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain

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