Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Is Breast Really Best?

Let's take a stick to the hornet's nest, shall we? Let's call into question the tenet, the slogan, the moral high ground. Could formula be okay? Might it not really matter to babies if they are breast fed or not?

One academic thinks so. Joan Wolf is going head to head with La Leche League on the website Opposing Views (a neat concept in itself).

Before villifying Wolf, read what she has to say. She raises excellent questions about biases and omissions in the studies that have been used to label breastmilk the preferred baby food.

Better yet, read her complete article, "Is Breast Really Best? Risk and Total Motherhood in the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign." It will likely make you uncomfortable. It will challenge your fundamental assumptions about breastmilk, mothers, and public health campaigns.

The author and I were randomly assigned college roommates. She was a feminist, an honors student, a spitfire. I was not at all surprised she became an academic.

I read and commented to her on an early draft of the breastfeeding article. It shook me. I was surprised to learn how little is really known about the benefits of breastmilk over formula. So many of the studies that compare groups of babies who are breast or formula fed cannot control for other confounding factors.

I do not think Wolf is trying to undermine breastfeeding. Rather, she is saying that before we launch a national health campaign, we should make sure there is sound science to support it.

Obviously, I am a breastfeeding supporter. In part this is because of the very research Wolf questions. But it is also because I have a fundamental faith in the superiority of evolution over chemical engineering. I do not believe a feeding system that has sustained mammals for hundreds of thousands of years could be improved upon or even equalled by a few decades of tinkering in the lab.

I also find it more cosmically "right" to have mothers feeding babies from their bodies than from bottles.

But these things are arguments of faith, not reason.

Read for yourselves. Keep an open mind. Whether you end up persuaded or not, it is good to know the rational and scientific arguments for and against.

Even if in the end you return to faith.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Does Vaginal Birth Help Hardwire the Maternal Brain?

According to this article, the brains of women who birth vaginally show more activity in response to their baby's cries than those of women whose babies were born surgically. Says one of the investigators,

Our results support the theory that variations in delivery conditions such as with caesarean section, which alters the neurohormonal experiences of childbirth, might decrease the responsiveness.
Yes, perhaps. But empirically, do we really see this? I would be curious what demonstrated behaviors, if any, correlate to the increased or decreased brain activity?

Obviously, I like any research that supports caution in using Cesarean sections. But this one seems especially primed to make women who have a C-section, including those true emergency C-sections, feel guilty. And that is the last thing any new mother needs.

update: Interestingly, a list of headlines related to this research, all cast it in negative terms (e.g. "C-Section Poses Risk to Bonding"), except one: "Natural Childbirth Makes Mothers More Reponsive to Own Baby Cry." This is my concern. The latter headline affirms vaginal* birth, while the others criticize surgical birth -- and, indirectly, the women who experience it.

*note: I, too, share the pet peeve of labeling all vaginal birth, "natural!"


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Further Clarification on the Role of the Doula

A few weeks ago I posted a link to an article about a local couple whose baby was born in their front yard. It was a great birth story, but worried me because the couple's doula reverted to her midwife training when the baby came early. What if the article made people think all doulas check for dilation?

Apparently I wasn't the only person who heard alarm bells. Local midwife and doula trainer extrordinaire Patty Brennan wrote a to-the-point editorial in the same paper last Friday. I couldn't have said it better myself.


Damn Creepy Guys

I was greeted by this in my e-mail this morning:

Department of Public Safety

BULLETIN DATE: Sept. 1, 2008

OFFENSE: Attempted abduction

LOCATION: South of campus near Packard Road and Independence Street (near Fraser’s Pub)

An unknown man reportedly approached two young women in separate incidents after dark Aug. 31 and attempted to push each one into a nearby minivan, the women told the Police Dept. One woman reported she was jogging in the area about 9:40 pm when she was approached and the second female reported an incident one hour later. In each case, the woman fought off the man and succeeded in escaping without injuries.
Just last night I was complaining how I hate it that I can't run where and when I want without fear. As any road runner (or cyclist) knows, traffic lights are a pain in the rear. Your rhythm is thrown off, not to mention any consistent measure of your time. And every intersection bears the risk of a collision, flesh with metal.

But traffic lights are at intersections of major roads. This runner keeps to major roads because of visibility. It's going to be harder to pull me into a van if you have to put on your hazards to pull over, and cars are regularly passing in both directions.

I run on major roads.

Now I see that a major road, in a "good" part of town, was the site of two attempted abductions last night, an hour after I was out running. And these were bold attempts. Dragging a woman off the street into a van!

I already avoid the public bus in the afternoon, to no small personal inconvenience, because of one particular creepy guy. I'm starting to think I may need to become a gym rat for the same reason.

It really is enough to make one want to carry a concealed weapon. This from Ms. Peace and Love.

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