Breastmilk linked to autism?

Pigs have flown, Fearless Formula Feeders!

My husband (a reformed Nursing Nazi who is now a champion factivist) found this article from the University of California San Francisco, suggesting there may be a link between breastfeeding and autism.

Once I stopped slapping myself to ensure I was, indeed, awake, I had to decide whether to blog about this issue. Because let’s be honest – I don’t think any of us really believe breastmilk can be bad for babies (unless your kid is allergic to something you’re eating, or if you are a carrier of certain diseases like untreated HIV, but those are very specific cases). I’m afraid that by discussing this, we’ll immediately be dismissed as bitter formula zealots. It’s a slippery slope. Just because I want to defend formula feeding doesn’t mean I want to disregard the numerous benefits of breastfeeding. And being on the wrong side of public opinion, I think it’s important to stay as infallible and moderate as possible.

However.

I just read an infuriating book called The Baby Bond (please spare yourself and don’t even google it. The more attention this crazy author gets – a chiropractor who holds herself up as a physician- the more it will encourage her. Kind of like how my mom used to tell me to deal with bullies. Ignore them and they will go away) which claims several times that formula feeding causes autism. So if she’s gonna go there, I think I can go there too. All’s fair in love and war.

Anyway. This reasearcher at UCSF, Michael Merzenich (who, incidentally, is a PhD, M.D., Chair in Otolaryngology, member of UCSF’s W.M. Keck Foundation Center for Integrative Neuroscience, and “a scientist who pioneered the concept of brain plasticity” – a bit more qualified than a chiropractor to weigh in on such subject matter, in my opinion) found that “a specific class of PCB causes significant developmental abnormalities in rat pups whose mothers were exposed to the toxicant in their food during pregnancy and during the early weeks when the pups were nursing.”

What do rats have to do with us? The UCSF article explains the main question:

“In short, should some women with a genetic history that includes family developmental disorders such as language impairment or dyslexia — or with male partners who have a similar genetic background — breastfeed their babies?”

Merzenich is clear that he doesn’t want to make any extreme claims at this point (“for a scientist to inject a disruptive theory into a maternal bonding experience is, he admits, presumptuous.”), which is refreshing, considering the hysteria so many researchers have caused by overstating their study results. But he does say that his findings should at least initiate some further investigation:

“I’ve been trying to encourage the Autism Foundation and others to pursue correlative studies in humans. The Centers for Disease Control have been worried about these chemicals and their potential effects in the development of babies for a long time… our study adds to the worry and it really indicates that it’s in the great public interest to determine quickly whether or not these chemical poisons which are very widespread in the American environment, in the world environments, are adding to the risk of onset of these developmental disorders…we know that the PBDEs have been growing and increasing in concentration in American females and in their milk ,doubling every two to five years.”

It is interesting to me that the media, usually jumping on a sensational headline like a rat on cheese (some rodent humor in honor of the poor little buggers sacrificed for this study), has overlooked this story. How many news bytes have we been subjected to making us doubt our choice to formula feed? It might be nice for the other side to get a little taste of what that feels like. But apparently, this study isn’t worth mentioning.

Now, maybe if Merzenich was a chiropractor

Of Boobs and Bonding

Fearless Formula Feeder Brooke sent me an interesting article from Oregon’s Bend Bulletin this weekend.

Entitled “Breast is best, but it’s not always easy“, the article focuses on a variety of common breastfeeding problems, told through the words of some local moms. Insufficient milk supply, dairy allergies, latching issues, weight loss… nothing new here, but I’m glad to see that this topic is once again filtering through the media machine.

The article does a decent job of explaining the challenges many women face – challenges that lactivists tend to gloss over:

“Although breast-feeding is natural, that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally. Some new moms, who are excited to breast-feed, are shocked to discover how difficult it can be. They sometimes struggle with intense pain, difficulty latching, low milk production and other issues that, in turn, can lead to feelings of frustration, guilt and sadness.”

The reporter goes on to reassure us that “many women, however, do not experience problems breast-feeding their babies, or their issues are quickly solved. More than 90 percent of the women who deliver at St. Charles Bend try to initiate breast-feeding, according to registered nurse and lactation consultant Becky McColl.”

This is where I start to get itchy.

I do not question the truth of McColl’s statement. It makes sense that 90% of women she sees “try to initiate breastfeeding”. Still, all that tells us is that most women intend to nurse. Considering what we are told as expectant mothers – breast is best; it is the most important thing you can do for your child’s health; it is natural and maternal and the angels will sing every time you put babe to breast – it makes perfect sense that most new moms will intend to breastfeed.

But what happens after those women leave the hospital? A La Leche League representative who was interviewed for the Bend article claims that “the most common challenges are sore nipples and sleeping babies.” She also says that “women with issues are the minority“.

Hmm.

In my new mommy-filled world, I’ve come across a myriad of women, most of whom are nursing. Almost every one had problems at first. And yes, many of these women worked through the problems and are still happily breastfeeding 9, 10, even 15 months in.

But many speak of the pain, depression, anxiety and frustration they felt in those first 2-3 months of motherhood, trying to figure out the whole feeding thing. One mom told me that breastfeeding ruined her first 3 months as a mom – and yet she still stuck with it. While she is successfully nursing now, at what cost?

Emotional attachment experts claim that the relationship between mother and infant in those first months is integral to the infant’s future emotional health. (No pressure, moms.) If a baby is feeding from your body, but you are tense, exhausted, or in pain, does the “superior” bonding from breastfeeding still factor in?

Since almost every woman I talk to has had nursing horror stories in the first few months, I have to wonder – at least when it comes to bonding, is it better to breastfeed miserably or formula feed happily?

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