Monday, January 25, 2016

The milk of human kindness

Finally, a voice of reason on breastfeeding.

I get that many women don't feel supported when they want to breastfeed, but I've seen just as many women feel shame about needing to bottle-feed. It's more wishful thinking and assumption than hard evidence that breastfeeding will magically make childhood obesity go away. It's long past time we stopped making women feel that they fail as parents if they can't or just don't feel like nursing.

I'll go even further, and say that the push to breastfeed by the public health community has turned many well-meaning nurses into members of a cult.

(you'll have to wait for the memoir to find out why I stand by that claim)

There were two principal drivers behind the resurgence of breastfeeding. The first was backlash against the heavy marketing by formula companies (that reached the point of malfeasance by Nestle in the developing world). That marketing is now regulated up the wazoo in North America, and this reasoning no longer applies.

The second driver? That's a bigger challenge. Suffice it to say, for a continent that can't seem to get enough porn, North America has a strange relationship with a woman's anatomy.


  1. Frank, you also need to comment on the media and health official's agenda or need to constantly promote cow's milk. Give 'er hell cowboy, can't wait to read it.

    1. What up, G? Thanks for the comment!

      At some point you'll get my thoughts on nutrition "guidelines". I get less up in arms about what health officials tell people to eat than I do about assuming they have any business doing so in the first place, at least past kindergarten.

      It's also impossible these days to tease out "official" health information about nutrition from pure marketing and paid opinion. Sign of the times.

      BUT: if someone from the Dairy Ad Council or whoever wants to drive a dump truck full of money up to my house, I'm not made of stone. does a body good.

  2. I will do some work for you, Franker:

    Some background, our second child is allergic to milk, and we quickly realized how limited options for formula were in the beginning. A conspiracy from the top, it's soylent green. Anyway, love the "dump truck" reference. Awesome. As far as the Dairy Ad Council, I too will accept said money loaded onto my driveway. And milk is just a natural fit to go with my Golden Grahams and glass shards called Cap'n Crunch. Acne, diabetes, MS, cancer and all.

    1. Interesting link you have there, although I'd approach it like anything with skepticism. I won't make specific comments without looking up the original papers cited, but a couple of observations:

      Some of the claims are overblown. The cancer one, in particular, is based on bench-lab studies. Rarely do these findings mean anything in real life.

      The MS study is old, from the early 90s, which means the data that went into it is even older. As I understand, one of the major hypotheses in recent years around MS is that lack of vitamin D might be a causal factor. While, yes, we get vitamin D in milk, that's in doses to prevent rickets. Most of our vitamin D still comes from what our skin does with sunlight. The incidence of MS follows a north-south gradient, with sunnier southern countries seeing less of the disease. Thus, drinking milk is really just a proxy for living in a northern country, hence the link with MS. I hope that makes sense.

      Having done public health work for a few years, I can assure you there's no active conspiracy. People in public health are way too hapless and constipated in their thinking to take part in a Machiavellian plot. I think it's more likely that dairy is so ingrained in our culture, and the producers so important to the economy and politically influential, that it's impossible to exclude milk from nutrition guidelines.

      You have my absolute sympathies about a child with a true milk allergy. Makes raising an infant that much harder. The alternatives are prohibitively expensive for people without a ton of money.

      Try the Minions banana-strawberry Golden Grahams. Delicious!

  3. The maternal microbiome and transfer to the newborn via breast milk is something (like the vaginal microbiome) that is catching alot of scientific support - it seems to be pretty important but without a mechanism as to why it's going to be a big debate

    1. Immunologic benefits of breastfeeding are well established. This is stuff that was accepted science when I was in medical school, almost 20 years ago. With respect to actual microbial transfer, I'd have to brush up on the research.

      I don't think we'll get back to the point that formula is promoted as healthier than breastmilk (never say never, though). My issue is that the public health community doesn't do a good job of thinking through unintended consequences of its messages. I've seen many women express shame or guilt around not nursing their babies. That is not something a state institution should be in the business of.