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Breast Milk, Formula, Perinatal Mood Disorders: Individualized and Global Issues

I took a vacation from blogging. I’ve been getting treatment for my neck injury, and now I’m finishing up my e-book. I plan to up and running in the fall, but blogging is not my centerpiece business, it is an off-shoot business, my counseling practice is how I make my living. I need to run to work as I am writing this.

But I felt compelled to blog today. In Psychology Today, Darcia Narvaez, Ph. D. Published a blog post titled “Did You Get Last Week’s Message? Pushing* Formula Is Evil.” And, understandably, there’s a big backlash around the web about this.

I think that Dr. Narvaez meant well, but didn’t go about it in the right way. In her comments, she apologized for being brusque. She also took people’s criticisms and changed her blog post to read differently.

I mean, the information about attachment, or bonding, was inaccurate. But I notice she changed her information. That’s good.

The fact is that human attachment occurs over a long period of time and is not dependent on the feeding method. But there is a sensitive period right after birth when nature tries to set up a time for mother-baby to bond strongly. Just as in the 1950’s when Bowlby discovered the importance of child-parent for wellness in the 1950’s and hospital policies changed, so have birth practices have been modified over time to respectfully accommodate this sensitive period for mother-baby, whereas hospitals used to just ignore it.

Now I said nature tries, right?

If, for other reasons, such as illness, trauma emotional upsets, etc, mom and baby don’t get to be together during this sensitive period right after birth, then it does not mean that attachment will not occur or the mother is not a good mother. Secure attachment still takes place over a period of time.

Then again, Dr. Narvaez admitted she wasn’t a psychologist, but a researcher, and an advocate for public policy for children.

Her perspective is different than a therapist focused on woman-baby issues and perinatal mood disorders. But I think her perspective was widened by the reaction in the blogosphere.

Which is a good thing.

The issues of breast-feeding and formula feeding operate on different levels. The concerns of individuals, of clinicians and individual mothers, are going to be different than the concerns of public-health officials working on a global level. The two levels intersect, and both need consideration.

On a global level, formula feeding is responsible for death of infants every single day.

Every day, formula companies advertise to women around the globe. The result of this is women who are too poor to be able to buy enough formula to feed their babies long-term, begin using the free formula they get at the hospital. The women do not initiate breast-feeding. The free formula runs out, they don’t have money to buy more formula, and they don’t have any milk. So their baby starves to death. Another scenario is the water supply is tainted so when it is mixed with formula and fed to the baby, the baby dies.

I think that Dr. Narvaez meant to publish a blog post that was supportive of children’s health and family from a public health point of view, addressing the global issues above.

Unfortunately, her tone came across as harsh and as condemning individual women who choose to or had to, formula feed for personal reasons.

So, okay, so she deserved the backlash. She needed to consider the clinical issues of individual women who are dealing with their very real perinatal mood disorders and feelings/realities about breast-feeding and formula feeding.

To her credit, she listened to the responses, and modified her approach.

However, let’s face it, her information is valid and reliable.

Now I’m not trying to take away a woman’s right to choose, that is a personal issue.

AND there are numerous valid and reliable studies that show that breast milk has superior nutritional value for infants, attenuating effects on human physiology, contributes to psychosocial protective factors against stress, and other another positive outcomes that improve quality of life. And many formulas have corn syrup in them, which all nutritionists who don’t work for the corny syrup lobby, agree is junk food.

Some of the studies are listed here and here and here.

Of course there are the large long-term issues of genetics and environment. If a child is brought up in an abusive home, after having been breast-fed, breast-feeding is not going to protect him from the effects of abuse. And if there isn’t adequate nutrition available later on in life, breast-feeding can protect the child from that, either.

It’s just not a simple issue.

But to say that formula and breast-milk are equally nutritious is not scientifically valid.

Women are pretty DARN AMAZING! Our bodies have a wondrous capacity to carry a baby, give birth, and feed that baby! Hooray for us! We are amazing!

AND those statements aren’t meant to invalidate an individual woman’s right to choose.

AND I also believe that women are intelligent enough to be able to understand the facts. Every choice we make has pros and cons. Every choice we make opens some doors and closes some other doors. And every choice doesn’t need to be perfect.

AND women are pretty darn amazing.

None of us are perfect or should feel pressured to be perfect.

But women are smart enough to be able to understand the information. And formula companies have been hurting women and families for a long time. There have been 22 recalls of formula in 20 years. Formula has been known to have deficiencies, which companies are correcting over time. But at the expense of public health, in the form of infants.

AND on an individual level, there are healthy formula fed babies and healthy breast-fed babies.

AND breast-feeding versus formula feeding does not operate on just an individualized level.

It is a global issue.

How long can formula companies keep taking advantage of women and children all around the globe every day? The worldwide protest has been going on for years, for decades even.

And hey, I’m not saying that a woman who suffering from postpartum depression postpartum anxiety postpartum psychosis, any of the perinatal mood disorders, should be trying to get involved in a social cause.

When they are well, perhaps part of the healing might be getting involved in a larger community of women and families in their town, in their county, in this state, in their country, or may be looking at communities around the world.

I just want to state the following disclaimers below about how I practice as well. Read them if you feel like you have some extra time in your day.

When a client comes in to see me, I don’t press my opinions or personal choices upon him or her. I’m too well trained for that. In addition I took an ethical oath, which I take very seriously. It would be unethical to make any statements that would sway a person to change their personal choices, as long as they are in the range of legality and safety, to suit my purposes. I want to add that as a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in Maternal Mental Health and in helping developing families, I consider myself an advocate for women and families. I also advocate for US social climate to change so it is easier for women and families.

And let me also say that I attempt to the best of my ability to work in an evidence-based manner. What I mean by this is that I don’t give people information that’s basically just my personal opinion. I use techniques and information that are validated by replicated studies.


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