Thursday

Not in My Backyard

I write this knowing that it may not post because my computer is not working correctly. Probably I have been hacked. But then again maybe not. Well, maybe? Who knows?
I have been following the crisis in Japan and feel a multitude of troubling thoughts. First, my prayers for all the people in Japan faced with the task of dealing with the unthinkable. My heartfelt sympathy for the huge loss of life. And gratitude for those who are trying to save lives and help in this monumental diaster.

My thoughts reflect my interest in breastfeeding and the properties of human milk. Should women breastfeed, if they have been exposed to significant amounts of radiation? Is it safer to bottlefeed? What are the known risks of formula feeding in emergency situation? We know that in the midst of a disaster that access to food and water is difficult. Stores maybe emptied of supplies. Thus a steady supply of artificial milks for babies may be inconsistent or limited. Electricity to warm the milks, refrigeration to store it, and water to clean bottles and nipples maybe nonexistent. Water may be contaminated, in a nuclear accident this is a strong possibility. Thus, putting the bottlefed infant at risk for bacterial/toxic contamination. Access to prompt medical care for anyone maybe limited or not available. Thus an infant on artificial milks in the midst of a disaster is placed at a higher risk of illness and death than an infant who is breastfed. What happens to people who are displaced whose resources are destroyed? Will they have money to buy infant formula, if there are stores open? These are issues that are critical to making decisions regarding artificial feeding of infants.

But what about the properties of human milk? We do know some things regarding radiactivity and breastfeeding. In a book called Breastfeeding Matters (an excellent book published in 1985) by Maureen Minchin she writes,

"All babies begin to accumulate radioactive strontium in their bones before birth. In the baby who is being breastfed, the body content of strontium diminishes (the baby excretes more than he or she takes in) but the bottlefed infant has increased strontium in his bones, as cows' milk may contain six times as much strontium as breastmilk, and the mineral balance of cows' milk ensures that it is depositied in baby's bones."

From the book, Milk, Money, & Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding by Naomi Baumslag and Dia L. Michels(published 1995),

"Information from Italy and Austria shows that breastmilk contained one/three-hundredth the amount of radioactive iodine and caesium that was found in cow's milk following the Chernobyl accident." (cow's milk in the region had to be discarded creating shortages of fresh milk and infant formula)

"Additionally, the radiation levels in breastmilk were much lower than were the levels in the mother's body, leading researchers to conclude that some mechanism exists that reduces the radioactive materials in the milk as it is produced."

A study entitled, "Strontium-89 and Strontium-90 levels in Breast Milk and in Mineral-Supplement Preparations," by Jarvis et al., Can Med Associ J. 1963 January 19; 88(3): 136-139 states in the abstract,

"Strontium-90, strontium-89 and S.U. values were determined in human milk before and after the resumption of atmospheric nuclear testings in 1961, and the levels were compared to cows' milk values reported during the same time. S.U. 90 levels in human milk were approximately one-fifth of those found in cows' milk."

In reading various patents over the years, I remember running across a patent on human lactoferrin to be used to treat people who had been contaminated with toxins (nerve gas in particular). Industry is using recombinant human lactoferrin to prevent food toxins, sprayed on foods. Perhaps the mechanism that lowers the amount of radiactivity in human milk is human lactoferrin. At the moment, my computer is rather unstable, so I am limited at this time in giving references or patent numbers.

In the midst of a disaster, choice of infant feeding may not be the issue because access to infant
formula is impossible. Breastfeeding will be essential for survival. Mothers who have been bottlefeeding need to know that relactation is a very real possibility. In a disaster situation supplies of infant formula may be available at shelters, but not always. We know from Hurricane Katrina that initially supplies of infant formula were very limited (when shelters were cut off from help).

"May all be fed, May all be healed, May all be loved." John Robbins, author. A prayer for our world, our community, and for those in times of trouble.
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

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