So while most provinces provide seriously inadequate breastfeeding support, and even less funding for education and clinics, and the Government of Canada blathers on about the need to put milk banks in every province, it falls back onto the mothers to educate and support themselves and each other through this adventure in babyhood. And if that support includes sharing breastmilk with mothers that need it? So Be It.
It's time for the paradigm shift. It's time for breastfeeding to be normal and breast milk to be the norm, regardless of who's breastmilk it is.
There has been a rather seismic movement afoot (pun intended) in the online breastfeeding community, as it were, over the last few weeks. If you're not in the loop, the gist of the situation is that a breastfeeding advocate named Emma Kwasnica has galvanized a Facebook-centered milksharing network online: Eats on Feets. Such a thing isn't 100% new, as a site called MilkShare has been working at the same for a while now, and those in the know might be able to find donors on boards like Mothering.com (I've unloaded my freezer to several strangers on MDC myself). But this is taking flight like nothing has before, and I think it has everything to do with harnessing the power of Facebook and social networking in general, and how integral it has become to many of our lives.
Other bloggers have done a great job detailing the phenomenon that is Eats on Feets, such as The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog and One of Those Women. There's much to discuss, including the (over)reaction of the Canadian government - and I won't try to reinvent the wheel here; check out their posts! But this awesome recent development ties into something I've been struggling to write about recently anyway, which is the matter of supplementation, which, in our current Western society, is set by default to formula.
Some refer to the choice to supplement (often electively, but sometimes out of necessity) as "combination feeding" or "mix feeding". It sounds innocuous enough, right? I've heard it referred to as "the best of both worlds", and despite the crystal-clear recommendation from both the AAP and the WHO to breastfeed exclusively for a minimum* of six months, the number of women who breastfeed at all are combination feeders. By a huge majority....
Here's my loose hypothesis: the prevalence of combination feeding is yet another result of the well-intentioned but deeply flawed "Breast is Best!" message backfiring. How so? It's tricky, but think about statements like "Every little bit counts - it's liquid gold, after all!" and "Any breast milk is better than none!" Such sentiments abound. Are they true? Well . . . yes. But I think there's a perception out there that breast milk is so powerful that even one feeding a day is enough to confer its benefits. Breastmilk, an omnipotent panacea of mythical, even supernatural proportions - surely it will cut through all the well-documented risks of commercial, artificial infant milk. Right?HERE to read the entire article on Doula-la-la
IS some breast milk better than none? Well, I'd be hard-pressed to say no. Yes, it is. But saying "yes" is so far from saying that some breastfeeding is even close to the same as exclusive breastfeeding. The immunological benefits of breastmilk are some of its most powerful, the introduction of formula actually negates these very benefits. Look at this recent study from BMJ, examining the protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding on infections in infancy. It concluded that "Partial breastfeeding was not related to protective effect."
And here's another piece on a larger study released earlier this year:
Allow me to repeat that - I apologize for belaboring the point, but I want to make sure it's not missed: "The study showed no health benefits for infants who received formula along with breast milk, even when partial breastfeeding extended a full six months."...
"Significantly, the study showed no health benefits for infants who received formula along with breast milk, even when partial breastfeeding extended a full six months . . . . None of the antibodies found in breast milk are able to be duplicated in manufactured formula, resulting in a significant lack of protection for formula-fed babies against infectious diseases. Formula is unable to match the complexity of breast milk, the consistency of which adapts over the first few months of a baby's life, changing to fit the baby's needs as he or she grows."
Where does this leave us? Despite the overbearing harpy cliche, I'm coming to feel that breastfeeding advocates, including lactivists and educators as well as some medical professionals, ARE extremely sensitive about pressuring new moms, and want so badly to be reassuring and accepting and above all, non-judgmental . . . so much so that they/we end up understating the risks of formula feeding. Do what you can. Of course some breast milk is better than none. It's okay. You do what you can.
It's a conundrum. We DO need to be supportive. We DO need to be inclusive. We DO need to be non-judgmental. But we also need to make sure that mothers have all the relevant information, all the facts, in order to make empowered choices. Choice, yes, but informed choice. We need to not undermine parents right out of the gate by telling them that (as I witnessed from a professional firsthand) The breastfeeding bag they give you at the hospital has a bottle of formula in it, and that's there to tell you that hey! it's okay to do both! You don't have to choose!
As anyone reading this blog is likely aware, in addition to the risks for the infant, supplementation not done carefully leads to diminishing supply, and if the mother is not aware of how this works, mom's assumption is that something is wrong with her, that she "just couldn't make enough milk", and the slippery slope to total cessation of nursing has already begun. There has to be a way of being compassionate and inclusive without saying things like, as I have also heard with my very own ears from a pro, "If you want to nurse for 6 weeks and then start using formula, that's okay! Whatever works for you! If you want your husband to give a bottle of formula overnight so you can sleep, that's okay! Whatever works for you!"
But there ARE cases, as we know, where supplementation IS necessary. There is no denying that. We want to reduce these cases, but there absolutely are times when it is needed, such as moms with hypoplasia/IGT, or with some BFAR moms, for instance. And here's where the paradigm shift comes in.
It's time that donor milk becomes a real possibility for mothers.
Despite formula companies spending millions to convince you that their product is the "next best thing" to human milk, the WHO designates formula as fourth best - dead last, in other words. The first choice is simply mother breastfeeding her own child, and then pumped milk from the same mother to her own child. Then, third best, is donor milk from another mother, not formula. Yet when supplementation proves to be necessary (either temporarily or long-term), the default in our society is to go directly to formula. Then begins a cycle of figuring out which formula is less difficult for the baby's system. Do we try the "gentle" variety? What if milk is the problem - do we do soy? If that's not working, on to the hydrolyzed and painfully expensive kinds. What if donor milk was a viable option? What if it wasn't just a vague possibility - difficult to pull off in the short term and even harder to do over any substantial length of time - what if donor milk was, instead, the default?