Breastfeeding Roundup

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Politically and medically significant, it’s a public health issue and also a very personal and extremely emotional one. There is more to be said about breastfeeding, babies, and childhood obesity, so here are a few interesting items from around the Interweb.

Actor Charlie Sheen’s alleged misbehavior has been saturating the media. One of the legal documents filed by his ex, Denise Richards, claimed that he was very angry and abusive because she only nursed their daughter for a month. He believed that formula would damage the baby. This was in 2004, and Dr. Francis Crinella had recently publicized the harmfulness of manganese in soy formula. Then, there is the hormone question.

Dr. Bernard M. Presser writes,

Soy is a very complex food. Reviewing the pros and cons, there appears to be cause for confusion, leaving more questions than answers… The soy industry promotes soy products as estrogen substitutes for menopausal women, yet they sell infant formulas and claim there is no important estrogen effect.

The Lamron is a publication emanating from Geneseo, which is part of the State University of New York system. Julie Williams is Assistant Opinion Editor, and it certainly is a case of “the right person in the right job” because she has opinions galore. A professional compliment is on the way, but first, a digression.

The demographics of college have changed. Statistically, Williams is as likely to be a non-traditional student (i.e., older than the standard late teens to early 20s age range.) On the other hand, from a quick look at some of her articles, she is a youth, and that’s great. Sometimes it’s too easy to look around and think, “There is no hope.” But that’s not true. As long as some kids are still emerging from high school with minds as sharp and lively as the one possessed by Julie Williams, there is hope aplenty.

Although she admires First Lady Michelle Obama, Williams doubts the efficacy of breastfeeding to have much effect on childhood obesity. As far as she can tell, the science to back it up is just not there. What troubles her about the debate is why Rep. Michele Bachmann got all bothered when the IRS announced that breast pumps would be tax-deductible. The objection strikes Williams as purely reflexive. She says,

I know it’s Bachmann’s duty as a conservative politician to automatically act alarmed and irritated whenever something like this happens, but I really do not believe that her complaints have foundation. The expense of this adjustment isn’t going to be extreme, especially when compared to the cost of a few thousand missiles or even a couple months’ worth of monetary aid pumped into some undemocratic country. At this point, just add it to our tab.

And some, like Alexandra Petri, feel that because of attitude problems and authority issues, trying to promote breastfeeding is just plain futile:

Michelle and Barack Obama labor under the misguided notion that explaining to the American people that things are good for us is an effective way of getting things done! That’s ridiculous! You’d think they would have learned from having kids… Americans hate being told that others know best…

Obesity is of course related to appetite, and researchers have noticed a strange thing. Wet-nursing by the mother apparently enables a child to grow into a self-regulator of appetite later on. But the actual mother has to be there. If the mom’s milk is expressed, stored, and bottle-fed to the baby later, the benefit is lost.

Does the benefit come from the cuddle factor? That doesn’t make sense, because a bottle-fed baby is also held, at least in the youngest months. Does actual infant contact with the breast and intimate maternal contact with the infant augment the cuddle factor? Breast suckling stimulates release of certain maternal hormones as well. It’s nature’s built-in reward system, a flood of love chemical. It’s kind of like a hit of Mommy Ecstasy, preparing her to be the kind of mother whose children do not grow up so needy they have to stuff themselves with food.

Apparently, the benefit shows up only with a combination of mother’s own milk, directly from the source, plus mother’s embrace. It’s the whole package, or nothing. This is certainly worthy of more study.

Meanwhile, Paul Casciato reports from London that a sweets shop plans to sell ice cream made from human breast milk, available in a dozen flavors, at $23 per serving.

The publicity that Michelle Obama has brought to the breastfeeding issue is a positive thing, if it can encourage new mothers who might not otherwise have considered feeding their babies in the DIY tradition, and help remove barriers for mothers who must balance nursing with work outside the home. Everybody needs to realize and remember that it’s a personal choice.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Charlie Sheen Divorce Bombshell,” The Smoking Gun, 04/21/06
Source: “The Story of Soy Part 1,” All About Nutritional Healing, 02/13/11
Source: “Breast milk: not the obesity cure Obama hopes,” The Lamron, 02/24/11
Source: “Let us eat s’mores! Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, and desserts,” ComPost blog on The Washington Post, 12/21/10
Source: “Shop to make breast milk ice cream,” Yahoo! News, 02/24/11
Image by TimothyJ, used under its Creative Commons license.

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