I hope there is a correlation between formula feeding and developing a good bullshit meter, because guys – you all need one to survive what’s going on in the world of infant feeding.
Someone emailed me today about emergency preparedness. She was in the process of weaning, after an extremely difficult struggle with breastfeeding and an emotionally draining decision to stop the madness. There were storms where she lived, and she got to thinking that in the case of emergency, she’d need formula. So she did what any educated, concerned, modern mother would do: she googled. And instead of finding practical information on what should be in a formula feeding parent’s emergency preparedness kit, she found endless supplies of breast-is-best admonishments.
Her email could not have come at a more opportune time, because later in the day, I came across a series of Tweets about a “new study” outlining the specifics of emergency preparedness for both breastfeeding and formula feeding moms. The tweets linked to articles alluding to this paper from the International Breastfeeding Journal (surprising, isn’t it?), which the media presented as a “study” about how dangerous it is to be a formula fed baby in a disaster, even in a developed country.
The “study” is actually a paper talking about the stuff mothers should have in stock in case of emergency. Now, it’s perfectly understandable that breastfeeding is far more ideal than formula feeding in emergency situations. Formula feeding in times of disaster, especially when water and supplies are scarce, is terribly difficult. But the way that this paper presents these facts is highly offensive, as it reads like a bad joke: What do formula feeding moms need in disasters? $500 worth of gasoline, formula, bottled water, cleaning supplies, a tool kit, knife, and Davy Crockett. What do breastfeeding moms need? Diapers and wipes.
There’s truth to this, of course. The abstract states that “Emergency management authorities should provide those who care for infants with accurate and detailed information on the supplies necessary to care for them in an emergency, distinguishing between the needs of breastfed infants and the needs of formula fed infants.” Fair enough… I agree that it is vitally important that parents and emergency workers know how to prepare and provide safe formula to babies.
Going back to that bullshit meter, though, mine was registering a 9/10 for this “study”. As early on as the introduction, the authors reveal their bias:
“In an emergency situation, infants who are exclusively breastfed have their health and well being protected by the food, water and immune factors provided by breast milk. Breastfeeding also mitigates physiological responses to stress in both infants and their mothers, helping them to cope with the stress of being caught up in an emergency situation… mothers who are exclusively breastfeeding are able to continue to provide food to their infants regardless of the stress they might be experiencing and their own access to food.”
Based on WHAT? They do not cite any studies for the latter claim; as for the one about breastfeeding mitigating stress, the only citation is an e-pub by one of the same authors as this study, in a journal called “Disasters.” I’ll have to track it down, because I’m curious what evidence they have for this dubious statement. Frankly, knowing the trouble most American women have initiating breastfeeding successfully, I kind of doubt a mom with a 5-week-old would find breastfeeding less stressful than trying to prepare formula safely (even if she had to use a knife and liquid petroleum gas, as this paper suggests).
As for the assertion that a mom can produce adequate milk no matter if her own food supply is insufficient or if she is under extreme stress, I again cry bullshit. What about this study, which shows that stress hinders letdown? Or this one, which talks about the effect of dehydration on lactating mothers? (Let me not the scarcity of studies on maternal stores… lots of them on goats, but not so much on human females. Doesn’t seem to matter if the mom drops dead from malnutrition or dehydration as long as the baby is getting enough, apparently.)
Then, the authors begin to delve into what appears to be their real agenda – discouraging formula donations, even from the formula companies themselves. They claim it’s because breastfeeding moms may receive the samples and sabotage their breastfeeding abilities (okay, I will concede that point, but what about the moms who are having trouble keeping up supply for the reasons above?), and also because it might be distributed to those who don’t know how to properly store and prepare it. Bullshit. If it’s between a baby starving to death or taking the risk that the parents don’t know you’re supposed to slice the top of the formula jar with a knife cooked to 100 degrees celsius, well, I think the answer is pretty obvious. A parent will either know this stuff because the message has been adequately imparted, or they won’t. Not having enough formula is not going to change that. The authors recommend that money be given to the “proper” organizations instead, who can correctly distribute the formula. No offense, but UNICEF has not impressed me with their knowledge or concern for formula feeding or non-breastfeeding Western women.
Speaking of non-breastfeeding Western women, I also wanted to know – especially in light of that Tweet about the Japan earthquake I talked about yesterday – what all of this hullabaloo was based on. The authors of this study cite a case (no citation, so I can assume this was something the authors heard word-of-mouth) from Katrina where a 3-week-old baby starved to death after being stranded on a roof with its mother and no formula. Apparently, the woman’s breasts were full of milk, but “initiating breastfeeding had not occured to her.”
Maybe that happened. If it did, that is horribly tragic. But we’re talking about disasters. Disasters. People do not think straight. That woman was stuck on a roof with a baby. Even if she had been successfully breastfeeding, god knows what would have happened. It seems really inhumane to me to take stories like this and turn them into cautionary tales against formula feeding.
The authors claim that “(t)he purpose of this paper is to detail the supplies needed by the caregivers of breastfed and formula fed infants in an emergency situation where essential services such as electricity and clean water supplies are unavailable and to discuss some of the practicalities of caring for infants in emergencies. The amounts provided for each emergency item are based on the clinical experience of the authors’, the author’s trial of the procedures, and the manufacturer’s instructions.” So again, I’m not convinced that any of this is based on actual empirical evidence, but rather assumptions and vague reasoning from people with an obvious axe to grind against formula feeding. Bullshit.
As for practical advice on what should be in your own emergency preparedness kit, I’ll work on it, peeps. Besides the normal emergency stuff (tons of bottled water, etc) I personally have a week’s worth of bottles of RTF formula, a few packs of disposable bottle liners and the bottles you use with them (you know, from that company that rhymes with Shmaytex), and about 10 nipples. I also have antibacterial wipes, in spades. That’s probably not the safest way to go about things, so I will look into the realities of what this paper recommends. Somehow, I don’t think it would cost $550 Australian dollars (about $569 USD) to ensure a formula fed baby’s safety for a week. But I’ll have to look at it more closely, because I seriously know nothing about disaster prep.
Until then, I’d be more concerned with honing your bullshit meter than worrying about a natural disaster. Statistically, it’s a fair assumption that you’ll be needing the former way more than the latter.