What Formula Is Not
Ah, the hot button issue. There has been a large kerfuffle of attention lately over the start-up of a new milk-sharing network on Facebook called Eats On Feets (http://www.eatsonfeets.org). The brainchild of Arizona midwife Shell Walker and fierce Montreal lactivist Emma Kwasnica, Eats On Feets is a network run by merit of individual state, province, and country pages where moms or families who are having difficulty with milk supply can turn to other lactating mothers for donated milk to supplement or feed their children. Moms with oversupply provide the milk, and Eats on Feets provides the space. It is a good setup, with Eats On Feets administrators and creators putting emphasis on the need for informed choice. The FAQ on their page is thorough and provides information on flash-pasteurization, disease transmission, and obtaining medical history from potential donors. Soon after Eats On Feets emerged as a major player (and a major threat to the formula industry), many medical groups jumped to issue vehement statements to the media, with their focus being less about informed choice and more on fear-mongering. The response from Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society has been extremely cautionary, focusing on the risks of breast-milk sharing and calling the practice "very dangerous". The Calgary Herald. Health Canada states that “unprocessed human milk should not be shared.” (see Health Canada’s statement HERE)
Considering the rapid rise of popularity for informed milk sharing, it should come as no surprise that this month Health Canada chose to revise and rewrite its existing infant feeding recommendations. What is shocking however, if that the new recommendations state that “Commercial infant formulas are the only acceptable alternative to breastmilk” (See full draft statement HERE). There is no mention of donor breastmilk, either through a milk bank or via less formal channels. In fact, not only is the option of donor breast milk completely ignored, but the make-up and risks of formula feeding are also completely absent. Instead a huge portion of the document focuses on what formula is, what it contains, what types are available, and how it should be prepared.
Not only are the risks of formula feeding skated over, but Health Canada spends more time discussing the benefits of bovine-based formula over soy-based formula than it does on the Ten Steps from the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, an Initiative that is essential to boost and maintain breastfeeding rates in maternity wards.
Come on Health Canada! Doctors receive little to no breastfeeding training during their time in med school. If you are lucky like me, you find a doctor who did his residency in a breastfeeding clinic (and still needs some of the finer points explained to him). Doctors and nurses in Canada turn to Health Canada for their information on infant nutrition, and aside from people in my lucky situation, most doctors still believe that formula is an equal alternative to mommy milk, and shoddy documents like this do nothing to inform them of risks and facts about formula, which can then be passed to new moms. So, in light of this ridiculous oversight of real formula facts, and the (very mild) explanation of what formula is, I will give you an exposition on what formula is NOT. Much of the credit for this list goes to several lovely ladies from the facebook page, “Hey Facebook, Breastfeeding Is Not Obscene!” (namely, Elizabeth Anthes, Stephanie Knapp Muir, Jo Slamen, Emma Locker, Karen Coffman, Murielle Bourbao, Jennifer Dunston Lane, Kasey-Louise Traynor, Nicky Lawrence, Cheryl Giovenco, Barbara Rail, Lucy Fensom, and the lovely Alison Kennedy. Thanks ladies!)
1. Formula is not sterile.
Ever heard E. Sakazakii? It’s a pathogen commonly found in infant formula that can cause major illness for the baby if formula is not prepared properly. It is essential that all bottles, nipples, and equipment be sterilized before every feed, and that boiling water is used to make the infant formula. It’s not enough that the water be “sterile”, like the companies who make those huge containers of sterile water would lead you to believe. The water needs to be hot enough at the time you prepare the bottle to kill off potential pathogens like E. Sakazakii. This leads us to point two.
2. Formula is not convenient
For those of us breastfeeding moms who have supplemented or used formula at any point, we fully understand the truth of this statement. It is a million times easier to NOT have to get up, walk to the kitchen, boil the water (to kill the E. Sakazakii), prepare the formula, and then rush back to the baby, while all the while he is shrieking at the top of his lungs to be fed. Nor is it easier to haul all the paraphernalia associated with formula-feeding. The bottles, the sterilizer, the container of powder (oh damn, it spilled AGAIN), not to mention where oh where in this stupid mall can I find a place to boil my water? Oh shoot, we’ve been here for 7 hours, and the pre-mixed formula I made is only good for 30 minutes at room temperature! I forgot my miniature cooler! (http://www.nestle.ca/en/FAQ/baby_nutrition_faqs.htm) It is so much easier, once the initial bumps of learning are past, to just roll over, pop out a breast, and go back to sleep, or to find a seat (or stand, if you are talented), lift your shirt slightly, and latch baby.