Monday, September 27, 2010

beetle juice?

After reading about the voluntary recall by Abbott Laboratories for the 5 million units of Similac baby formula contaminated with beetle parts and larvae, I was not surprised in the least. Formula recalls are a constant and regular occurrence, with 17 major baby formula recalls since 2000, and countless more in the two decades before that, according to NABA. However, the recall is voluntary, as the FDA determined that the presence of the beetles poses "no immediate health risks," aside from"symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort and refusal to eat."

Nor I am not surprised in the FDA's stand on this issue. Actually, many of the processed foods that are regularly consumed in the United States contain more than only traces of bacteria and microscopic insects and are considered by the FDA to be safe for human consumption. Bacteria and small insects are regularly present in all forms of baby formula sold in the US, especially as there is no way to produce a perfectly sterilized product, which, according to the FDA, there is an expected allowance, and the number of beetles in the Similac formula recall falls into that allowance.

Then I read this article, Similac Recall Outrages Parents: Are Beetles Bad? from Time Magazine. I have some knee-jerk reactions, not to the formula recall, but to the article itself.

One particular aspect of the article, the statement, "It may be extremely difficult to determine whether beetles are responsible for a baby's symptoms. Inconsolable crying might simply be, well, inconsolable crying, which is sometimes just what babies do," was a jaw-dropper for me. Inconsolable crying is not normal. It is a sign that something is wrong. I know my babies. If they ever cried inconsolably (which was very, very seldom, as their needs were met directly, and in most cases, before it came to crying), then I knew that there was something seriously wrong. Inconsolable crying is a very direct cue for the mother or father to find out what is wrong and fix it promptly.

Another statement that then floored me was the closing of the article:

Not surprisingly, news of the recall rekindled bottle vs. breast animosities, if only online. One woman predicted breastfeeding advocates would wax triumphant. "Very upsetting, and here comes the ‘breast is best!' brigade to add to the anxiety by telling us all we asked for it." Sure enough, another poster wrote, "Yea, breastfeeding is the best. My breastmilk has never ha(d) beetle parts in it." [...] As millions of parents are reeling from the thought that their babies have chowed on bugs, it's a time for support, not gloating.
First of all the Breast is Best 'brigade' (or campaign) exists primarily to promote awareness of the true dangers of formula feeding. Breast IS the best provider of nutrition and immunity for baby, and formula is inferior in that babies who are fed formula as their sole source of nutrition tend to, on average, have lower IQs, suffer from more ailments and infections, and cry more than their breastfed counterparts. When a mother chooses formula, as with anything processed, she takes a risk with the health and nutrition of her baby.

However, for the Breast is Best campaign to be considered successful, facts and information must be available and presented to ALL mothers up front in order for a mother to make an informed decision on how she chooses to feed her infant. Furthermore, informed consent is only valid if the mother who tried (and failed) to breastfeed received TRUE assistance and diagnoses in regards to the problems she faced. How many women do I know who state they "could not" breastfeed for reasons that I, as a birth and postpartum professional, realize are fairly easy fixes had the mother actually had true, trained and knowledgeable assistance? The number is countless. And growing at a steady rate. Many times, it is hard for a mother to know which advice is sound and informed, and which advice is unintentionally misinformed or just plain ignorant.

As a mother who once was faced with the option of breastmilk or formula, I would rather have the facts--the other course is to sugar-coat everything and leave out what is legitimately important information to a major decision of parenting. That this article yet again plays the "guilt" card, comparing any pro-breastfeeding statements to "gloating," irks me. After hearing about this recall, I am thankful that I breastfeed. I am glad I had the foresight, resources and ability to seek out true, factual information regarding the risks of formula when I was pregnant with my first child. And I consider it a true disservice not to pass on my knowledge and the facts to other mothers. Every mother deserves truth and knowledge to lead her to an informed decision. I am glad I did not have to face any of the severe gastrointestional problems many babies are currently recovering from. My heart goes out, yet I continue to remain thankful.