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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Infant Formula: It's not "Good Enough"

Before the  formula lynch mob hangs me for the following comment, I just want to say something:  This is not about guilt.  This is not about trying to make mothers who've used formula feel guilty.  If you want to debate the "Guilt Issue" go read my article "Breastfeeding: guilt, statistics, support, and making a choice"   and then we'll talk.  This is not about feeling guilty for using infant formula. This is about not having to "choose" to use infant formula. This is about actually having a choice and making the best choice for your baby and your family.

When breastfeeding is difficult, or when it goes terribly wrong, it can be absolutely devastating for mother and baby.  Mothers who have done their research and made the choice to exclusively breastfeed their babies already know that "breast is best", they know that breastfeeding is NORMAL.  More importantly they know about the risks associated with feeding your baby infant formulas. So when nature throws moms a curve and forces them to have to rely on something other than their own breasts to nourish their child, it can be completely overwhelming.

The first thing moms need to do is to get professional help.  See a certified  Lactation Consultant/IBCLC to try to work through the problem:  Is it a poor latch?  Why is baby's latch not good enough?  Is baby tongue tied?  Does mother simply need help with positioning?  For most situations if you fix the latch you fix the supply problems.

But what if the problem isn't so easily fixed?  What if the problem is one that is unfixable?  What then?  Babies need to be fed and when the mother is not able to produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed, then they have to turn to another source of nutrition. Up until the last 60 or 70 years, the natural thing to do would be to use donor milk or a wet nurse- whether it was your sister, cousin, aunt, mother, friend or another local mother who was already breastfeeding her own baby.  Mother to Mother milk sharing and tribal nursing was so common that is was the accepted method of feeding babies who needed milk.

Now of course we are living in the era of commercially prepared infant formulas.  "Wet nursing" is a word that's fallen out of fashion and tribal nursing, if done at all, is done behind closed doors.  Now if a mother is unable to produce enough breastmilk the medical machine automatically hands her a can of formula and sends her on her way. WHY? Why formula instead of donated breastmilk?  Because infant formula is a huge industry and pays out millions of dollars in advertising and promotions, sponsors medical associations and medical schools, buys doctors fancy briefcases and sports cars, sends hospital executives on Caribbean cruises and gives maternity wards thousands of cans of their product to use and give away.  Money talks, and "Breastmilk" doesn't have any executives to pay off government officials to use their products.

Up until the 1980's there were breastmilk banks scattered all over North America to facilitate the feeding of preterm and fragile infants in hospital NICUs.  Then came the AIDs scare and the vast majority of milk banks closed their doors- leaving just 10 banks in the US and one lonely milk bank in Canada. I plan on doing some investigating into the closure of these milk banks because I'm a firm believer that money talks and if doors were closed, then someone somewhere told them to close and paid for them to stay that way. There is only one industry that stood to gain anything from the closure of breastmilk banks.  Call me a conspiracy theorist, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, I'm going to call it a duck.

Recently the Canadian (and US) governments have been talking about the need for Breastmilk Banks, about how vitally necessary breastmilk is to our most fragile citizens.  Dr. Sharon Unger was quoted in The Toronto Star in November as saying:
“We’ve long, long, long wanted a milk bank in Ontario,” says Dr. Sharon Unger, a Mount Sinai neonatologist.
“Our hope is that we would supply milk to all of Ontario, so we’d have depot sites or collection sites throughout the province and we’d be a central processing plant,” says Unger, who is medical director of Toronto’s Milk Bank Initiative.
The group is currently in negotiations with the provincial health ministry to fund the project. Unger says a final price tag has not been determined, but that it would be a multi-million-dollar venture.
“It does of course cost more to process human milk than cow’s milk,” she says.
...and as I said at the time:
Applause, yes applause.  It's a wonderful thing that the media has jumped on the band wagon and is making public announcements like this, I mean,  any publicity is good publicity KWIM? Horray for Breastmilk!
But I have to admit that it irks me.  Mothers and Doctors, like Dr. Jack Newman, have been crying out for Milk Banks for Years- YEARS!!!! Not only that, but Canada does have a Milk Bank in Vancouver BC... a milk bank that they have been trying to close down for years!!  I wrote an article on the topic just a couple of months ago: Canada Needs Milk Banks!!!
And I still agree, We NEED milk banks!!!  But you know what? If we wait around for the government to get off their bureaucratic asses to build even ONE milk bank.... I'll probably already be a grandmother!!!  And when we get milk banks, will they help the babies that are healthy but need milk?  Will they give milk to mothers with low supply?  Adoptive mothers?  Mothers with babies that have special needs like Anaya? NO, they won't.

So we return to the original topic:  What if the mother isn't able to exclusively breastfeed?  What if she has low supply? What if the problem isn't so easily fixed?  What if the problem is one that is unfixable?  What then? Up until recently your only choice would of been feeding your baby infant formula.  Not much of a choice is it?

Now  you can choose to feed your baby donated human milk.  Mothers have had enough of waiting for the bureaucrats and money grubbers to build milk banks.  Now mothers have taken back their autonomy and are supporting other women and families.  Milk Sharing is the wave of the future.  Milk sharing is making a difference and helping families and babies.  And Human Milk 4 Human Babies is leading the way!!!

Here is another amazing story of one mothers struggle to breastfeed her baby and how milk sharing made a huge difference in her life!!!

Ruby's  Story
By Kim Parent

"I can’t remember when I made the decision to breastfeed my daughter – I just know that not breastfeeding never occurred to me. There were many compelling reasons to nurse, including cost, health benefits, and convenience. My partner and I collected books about breastfeeding during pregnancy and we educated ourselves about the subject. I learned what myths and traps to look out for, and prepared myself to stand up against the well-meaning medical staff who might want to supplement my baby with formula. Fortunately I had a trouble-free birthing experience.

However, within the first week it became obvious that something wasn’t right. Ruby would not keep her latch for more than a minute or two. She would unlatch, crying and screaming, over and over again. After several tearful days, we called an IBCLC. She was finally able to tell me why my daughter was so upset: I have breast hypoplasia, also known as IGT (insufficient glandular tissue). Hypoplastic breasts never fully develop, and they lack an adequate amount of milk-producing mammary glands. I was heartbroken.

My lactation consultant wrote a plan of action that would hopefully allow me to increase my supply while supplementing my daughter. With great effort, I was able to approximately double my milk production, to a maximum of a few ounces per day - not nearly enough to meet Ruby’s needs. We were supplementing with approximately 20 ounces of formula per day. We were not prepared to accept that formula was “good enough”,  being fully aware of the risks associated with artificial feeding. We could see that her little body was having trouble digesting the formula. She was very constipated, and she would scream and cry for hours. We tried many different brands, but her symptoms were always the same. I turned to my lactation consultant for advice on donated breast milk.

In all of Canada, there is only one milk bank, located in Vancouver, BC. Currently they cannot keep up with the demands of their own NICU. Even if there was enough milk available, the cost can easily be prohibitive. At $1.25 per ounce (which is much less than the cost of banked milk in the U.S.), it would cost us at least $750 per month to feed Ruby exclusively breast milk.

For our family, the answer was informed, mother-to-mother milk donation, not unlike wet nursing. We found several online resources to facilitate this, including the Human Milk 4 Human Babies Global Network on Facebook. Thanks to fifteen generous women, my daughter has received thousands of ounces of breast milk. She has not had a drop of formula in over three months! She is a different baby now – no more colic, spitting up, or constipation. She is hitting all of her developmental milestones and is just a radiantly beautiful and happy little girl. I still grieve the exclusive breastfeeding relationship that I had planned to have with her. However, I finally feel confident that she is receiving the best nutrition that I can possibly provide for her. I am eternally grateful to the amazing families who have helped us and for the support I have received from those around me.

Ruby at 3 weeks old

Ruby at 3 weeks old - at this point she had been supplemented with formula for over 2 weeks

Ruby at 3 months
Ruby at 3 months old, exclusively breastfed!

At 6 months old- exclusively breastfed!

A beautiful healthy Ruby at 6 months old!!