March 30, 2006

Slate Dr.: Breast Is Best? Or Just So-So?

So, Dr. Sydney Spiesel, of Yale, Connecticut, Slate, and NPR, you're saying that breastfeeding's probably still better than formula, but that the ecstatic health benefits of breastfeeding are not actually based on definitive research--because rigorous studies of humans, much less infants, is kind of problematic, see?--but on much more subjective, multivariant statistical studies?

AND all that stuff about newborns absorbing their mother's antibodies from her anti-body rich colostrum is true of almost all mammals EXCEPT humans [and monkeys], so it really doesn't boost their immune systems? And that's been proved and published research for 40+ years, but the medical/scientific community doesn't read back that far, especially now that "Breast Is Best" has replaced the "Only Commie Hippies Don't Use Formula" as the orthodoxy of the day?

BUT those anti-bodies are still helpful in preventing gastro-intestinal diseases by boosting the babies' local immune protection--inside their GI tracts--which saves millions of lives in countries where clean water and refrigeration are not common?

My only question to you is this: Who do you hate more: breasts, babies, or America?

Tales from The Nursery: The health benefits of breast-feeding may not be what you think. [slate]
Slate's Medical Examiner: Breast vs. the Bottle[npr.org]

6 Comments

What about that article on NPR this morning about the rising rate of cesarian births in the US and elective C-sections?

Well, I guess if Britney is doing it ...

Great post. This is the first time I've seen this blog. It's nice to see a blog about breastfeeding and parenting written by a Dad.

I think this dr. was trying to make a good point--that women who just can't bear the idea of breastfeeding should just formula feed. But it was buried under so much garbage he actually looks like he's saying it simply doesn't matter what you do. Call me a brest nazi, but how can formula ever be *better*. It can be a substitute sure, but better? I don't think you need scientific studies to tell you which is really superior.

[good thing, since definitive scientific studies on this issue are ethically and logistically impossible at the moment. I think he was equivocating a lot because of overzealous 'breast nazism', actually, that makes claims beyond what science can currently prove. But since no one is waiting to make, feed, and raise babies until "science" can get its act together, we all just make the best decisions we can with what evidence and experience is out there. -ed.]

"...human babies are born with all the maternal antibodies they will ever have. That's why we don't need to absorb maternal antibodies..." Absolute hogwash.

Holy cow- it boggles my mind that Dr. Spiesel published such a load of BS! As an HIV researcher studying infections in developing countries, I've had plenty of experience testing babies' blood for HIV antibodies. So you can imagine my surprise at Dr. Spiesel's statement that "human babies are NEVER able to absorb maternal antibodies from milk or colostrum into the bloodstream" (caps mine). Um, no. They are there, they are there aplenty, and the article he cites describes it well.

Even if they weren't there in the bloodstream (and it's true that the function of bloodstream antibodies in protecting babies' health is less significant than that of mucosal antibodies), the point of the review article the doc cites (without apparent understanding) is NOT that docs are "wrong" when they describe how maternal antibodies protect babies. What a ridiculous, inflammatory statement. Plenty of docs have a perfectly reasonable understanding of the final sentence of the abstract of the article cited: "In humans, milk excreted antibodies play a major role in protecting infants from infection by pathogens having a mucosal portal of entry." It's not a mystery into which Spiesel alone has some magical insight. I suspect that HE was the one who did not understand this until recently, and he's projecting his knowledge gap onto others.

Sorry for the ramble, but I feel he's irresponsibly diminishing the role of breastfeeding in maintaining infants' health with the simple goal of tweaking breastfeeding activists, those who would "come after [him] with pitchforks". And his agenda is simply not supported by the evidence he himself provides.

It burns me up that he concedes the role of mucosal antibodies from breastmilk as being, "a huge boon in parts of the world where sanitation is poor and refrigeration nonexistent." Where has the good doc been for the past several decades, when we have come to understand that we here in the developed world are NOT in fact omnipotent against infectious diseases? And why does he not point out the strong indications that infectious agents at mucosal barriers may play important roles in chronic disease development- the "cancer, allergic diseases, Crohn's disease" he himself lists?

I must again apologize for this ramble, but thank you for providing this link. Frankly, I would love to get Dr. Spiesel's email addy, to ask him a few questions. Although, I'm sure he would construe a request for clarification of his reasoning as coming after him with a pitchfork.

[very interesting. I, too, saw a contradiction in his argument that the antibodies didn't transfer--and hence weren't beneficial as claimed--except that they're vital BECAUSE they don't transfer. But I didn't recognize it as being as factually incorrect as you discuss. -ed.]

He is just a dumb ass.

"My only question to you is this: Who do you hate more: breasts, babies, or America?"

The answer is all of the above, of course. He refuses to embrace an ascending popular opinion regarding breast feeding, and you can always spot a liberal when they turn up their nose at common sense.

Actually, Dr. Spiesel may not have a problem with breasts. I never hard of a commie saying no to breasts.

[? meta-sarcasm? -ed.]

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