Quick thoughts on the Similac Recall

In light of the Similac recall, I debated breaking into Guest Post week to blog about these current events. I was torn – on one hand, I would love to be conspicuously silent on this, out of respect for the parents and children affected by this recall, and as a peaceful protest against those who are blowing this out of proportion in order to add fuel to the anti-formula fire. On the other hand, it’s important to make sure people do not panic. And I feel like if I ignored these events altogether, it would be unfair to any readers affected by the recall.

I hope that Similac is handling the recall in the most responsible way possible. So far, I think they have been doing a fair job. (Although I just heard that their site crashed last night, making it difficult for parents to get the answers they so craved – I hope that this has been resolved.)  For my part, I just want to point out a few things to try and alleviate some of the understandable terror that formula feeding parents are experiencing – and then we will get back to Guest Post Week, I swear!

1. While the thought of beetle larvae in our children’s food is utterly pukeworthy, it may help to realize that bugs aren’t arsenic. I’m in no way excusing what happened, just trying to provide a bit of perspective. Obviously, you don’t want to feed your child the tainted formula, but at the same time, if you did unknowingly offer Junior some Beetlejuice in a bottle, he will be okay. As Similac stated on their website, there is a risk of some gastrointestinal problems or a “refusal to eat”. (Um, yeah. If my mom gave me food with ground up beetles in it, I’d probably want to avoid her cooking for awhile…) But with these recalls, legal departments make sure that companies mention any possibility of worse-case scenarios to avoid litigation. I don’t believe that the tainted formula is life-threatening. Just gross and disturbing.

2. I don’t blame anyone who wants to switch brands after this disgusting development, but I also think we need to remember that ALL formulas are subject to recalls, just like any man-made or man-handled product (and this includes banked breastmilk, for the record… just because it comes from a human does not mean damage or tampering can occur in the transfer process. That milk still needs to be stored, transported, and delivered). Recently, some cans of Nestle’s Good Start Formula were found to have been tampered with. This is an unfortunate aspect of formula feeding, and while I think it’s inappropriate, immature and just plain rude for people to be gleefully yelling “breastmilk doesn’t have beetles” from the rooftops, the fact is, they are right. For most of us, though, our decision not to breastfeed did not come lightly, and we have already performed endless risk-benefit analyses. It’s kind of a moot point. Companies should be held accountable and pressured to uphold the strictest of quality standards… but other than that, you have to take a leap of faith. They will never be able to control everything. At risk of perpetuating the fear mongering atmosphere of the past 36 hours, I have to bring up the fact that tampering can happen long after a product leaves the auspices of the company that produced it. (Think of the razor-blades-in-Halloween-candy scare that happened in our childhoods. I bet most of us still eat Snickers bars though…) Raging against formula companies is only attacking part of the problem here, unfortunately. But I’m taking a step back, and reminding myself that millions of babies (including mine, who was raised entirely on Similac after his first month of life), over several decades, have been nourished perfectly safely by these products. Statistically, we’re in pretty good shape.

3. If you don’t feel comfortable using the same old Similac you’ve been using, it’s perfectly okay to switch to a comparable version made by another brand. In my completely unprofessional opinion, I’d choose one of the “sensitive” formulas as a temporary replacement, simply because they are gentler on the stomach, and sometimes when you switch brands there can be a little adjustment period. Another option might be to switch to the liquid version of your usual Similac formula, as these were not affected by the recall. I think this goes without saying for the readers of this blog, but just in case – do NOT give cow’s milk, any other kind of milk, or Pedialyte as a replacement for formula. That would be far more hazardous to your baby’s health than a few bug limbs.

I’m not going to go too far into my feelings about how the mommy-blogosphere has used the Similac recall to demonstrate its ugliest side. At best, we’ve seen pity towards formula feeders; at worst, unrestrained gloating about yet another benefit of breastfeeding. Interestingly, when the recent Tylenol/Motrin recall happened,  I didn’t notice anyone posting about how proud they were of letting their child burn up with fever rather than allowing them to have potentially tainted medication.

I lose more faith in humanity by the day, but especially in the portion of humanity that have vaginas. This is why I had so few female friends in high school. You don’t see fathers turning on each other like this. (Thank god for people like this, who help me think all is not lost.)

Speaking of which, check out this post – a dad’s point of view on the whole mess. It’s rad. Really, really rad. I think I have a crush on this “Christian” dude.

And now…back to Guest Post Week (considering how my hits have skyrocketed in the past few days, it’s clear that y’all would rather hear from other people than from me, so I better get back to it, huh?) Later tonight, I’ll put up an interesting piece on a study about the psychological health/infant attachment of breast and formula feeding moms, by a blogger from An Apple A Day.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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16 thoughts on “Quick thoughts on the Similac Recall

  1. This reminds me of the brouhaha over bisphenol-a in baby bottles, sippy cups, etc. Sure, bpa is potentially far more serious than a few bug parts, but nonetheless, still an opportunity scare and/or belittle “bottle-feeders”, a term, to my mind, far too similar to “bottom-feeders” for comfort. At least the celebrity health “expert” Giselle has remained silent on Similac so far.

    Seems there's always some suspect substance that facilitates the mommy bashing. Like the thimerosal in vaccines saga that continues to be ugly in the blogosphere. But so many more minor issues turn into fodder for this ugliness – bashing often “defended” in terms of children's health and safety. But so glad you're calling it out. Kudos!!

  2. Great post! I could see the lack of appetite being a big issue for kids who already have feeding issues though. I'd heard that the particular irritation caused by these beetles can make the child not want to eat for days. However, I'm not sure if this is true. Any idea if the effects last that long?

    My son is old enough to not need formula anymore so we're not directly impacted by the recall, but I have lots of friends who are either supplementing or using formula full time.

    The whole stupid drama has really bothered me, both as a mom who formula fed my son for months and as someone who identifies as a breastfeeding advocate (meaning, someone who wants to help women who choose to breastfeed be successful, NOT someone who thinks all women need to make the choice to breastfeed).

  3. Very thoughtful post. I think this issue provides a nice way to distinguish between well-meaning breastfeeding activists and those whose real aim, sadly, is to trumpet their own superiority as mothers at the expense of others. Mommy Melee is in the former group. Thank you for introducing me to her writing.

  4. While it's gross that it happened, it's nothing major in my opinion. I would have thought it had some toxic chemical or something.

    We used Similac for awhile, but had to stop when they change the composition of the the Sensitive one causing lots of tummy problems. Because of that, I don't know what I'd use next time. But if it hadn't had caused a problem, I'd use it regardless of a possible larva. It's just protein. I found one in my rice once and I went back to eating it after a short break…LOL!

  5. Every time I am exposed to over-the-top online lactivism, I have to wonder who these women are. I don't know anyone obnoxious enough to tweet gleefully about the recall, whether they BF or not.

    The on-line mommy world can be a pretty nasty place. I wonder what these mommies will be tweeting about in 10 years when they're children are too old for all of the mommy war things?

  6. Ugh…their not they're! Made a mistake that is one of my major pet peeves.

    I wanted to add that I think we give these idiots too much attention when we get offended by their obnoxious lactivism. I see a lot of dumb stuff on the internet written by mommies. This is just more of the same. These are the people who:

    1) write that if you're going to do CIO you should give your children up for adoption (seriously…I read this)

    2) believe that if you circumcise your son, you are a pedophile

    3) tell women they don't even know how to give birth over twitter

    4) tell women that if they get an epidural, they are transferring pain to their baby

    5) tell women that if they get an epidural, they won't bond with their baby

    6) dismiss the experience of women who had a bad homebirth outcome because it doesn't fit the dogma

    7) advise women they don't even know to dismiss the medical advice of their physicians

    I could go on and on with the kind of obnoxious idiocy one reads on the mommyblogs. But yet despite all of the online hysteria about these topics, the average American mother has her baby in a hospital with an epidural, formula feeds, circumcises her sons, puts her baby to sleep in a crib, does some kind of CIO and has her baby fully vaccinated.

  7. I think you bring up a very obvious point that this can happen to ANY man-made product. The fact that it is happening with formula in this case makes the issue all the more incendiary, because it involves children. But like a previous commenter said about her rice, this can happen with pretty much any food product. Bugs are in our world, and since most manufacturing of food is done by machines who cannot distinguish a beetle from a piece of grain, this is a consequence we must live with.
    And, LOL @ Beetlejuice in a bottle…that was hilarious!

  8. I've been so annoyed with the “boobs don't get recalled” comments I've seen. Most especially because, yes, yes they do. Anytime a product is recalled that a mother consumes or uses, her milk is potentially at risk. A Kroger brand broth was recently pointed out on Consumerist. On the front it says “A Gluten Free Food.” On the ingredients, it says “May contain wheat.” Guess what. Gluten passes READILY to breast milk.

    But such a realization would require critical thinking, something not utilized much by those who would make such a comment.

  9. I just want to add that as a mother of a son, it's likely beetle parts aren't the worst thing my son is going to consume over the course of his life. In fact, it's not the worst thing in his two year old life.

    And weren't we the people that took great pleasure in watching humans consume far worse on shows like Survivor and Fear Factor? I understand that infants aren't consenting adults, but I'm just trying to add a little bit of sane perspective.

  10. Fearless formula feeder, you give me so much food for thought (aargh – the pun was unintended). My automatic initial (mental) response on reading about the recall was much the same as those you described above. I gloated to myself that formula never passed any of my children's lips. Then I remembered the slug that my then 8 month-old son once started eating, and the red construction paper that was his older sister's first solid food, and the way my eldest son used to shovel soil into his mouth as a crawling baby.

    The assumption that breastmilk is perfectly safe (“breasts never get recalled”) that is being propagated in these comments also has the unintended effect of being a “booby trap” that trips up mothers who, for some reason or other (for instance insufficient milk, galactosemia, a milk or gluten allergy in their baby) suffer the shock of discovering that this doesn't apply to in their case and lose complete trust in their bodies' ability to feed those and any future babies, as well as developing a negative attitude to breastfeeding in general, even though their situation might not have precluded even partial breastfeeding.

  11. Just want to clear something up in this post….there has never been a recall or tampering of donor breast milk and there has never been one baby to get sick from drinking screened, pasteurized breast milk. The Milk Bank Association of America has ridiculously stringent standards to make sure this never happens. Formula has been recalled and tainted, donor milk never has.

  12. @Elita,

    You are 100% correct; thanks for clarifying. My point was that it has the potential to be tainted. The MBA is a great organization, but sites like Milkshare, and the fact that breastmilk is being sold on Craigslist, concerns me. These milks are not held up to the stringent standards of MBA.

    Considering these “informal” transactions are not monitored, I don't think we can fairly say that there has “never been one baby to get sick” from donated breastmilk. Since you said “screened, pasteurized” breastmilk, I would agree with that statement. But the people receiving “screened, pasteurized” breastmilk are few and far between. Masses and masses of people drink formula, and have for years, so the potential for problems are just far greater. It's like saying that people have been food poisoned at McDonalds but not the corner burger joint – it's an issue of sheer volume.

  13. One positive of the recall is that it lead to media attention for the midwife in Australia who wants to make formula available only by prescription. The average person has no idea how far out there hardcore lactivists can be. What I was pleased to see is that the idea that formula should only be available by prescription is being ridiculed and criticized everywhere.

  14. Even my boob nazi la leche league lactation consultant that I'm working with right now doesn't think this recall is a big deal. If people bothered to do the research on this and listen to all of the non industry doctors saying this is no big deal, the rabid foaming wouldn't be happening.

  15. So I read some of the comments on Mommy Melee's post, and overwhelmingly, they make me want to run around and scream this: “Yes, some women formula feed because they 'can't be bothered' to breastfeed. But that is their right to choose that, just as it's your right to choose to be a bitch on the internet. Shut the fuck up about education already!!!”

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