Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Two Tidbits Courtesy of Midwifery Today

I subscribe to Midwifery Today's weekly E-News, and found a couple of things in today's email worth mentioning.

Induction and Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Part of this issue of E-News contained an excerpt from a Midwifery Today article entitled, "The Problem Is Induction, Not Meconium," by Gail Hart. Meconium is the fetus's thick, dark-colored first bowel movement, and, when found in the amniotic fluid, it is a sign of fetal distress. Meconium itself is not generally a problem unless it gets into the fetus's lungs--meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS). It is generally accepted that meconium is more common the longer the pregnancy goes, but that may be simply because those pregnancies are most likely to be induced. Gail Hart shares the findings of a study indicating that the factor most strongly associated with MAS was induction, not being postdates. This makes sense when you remember that drug-induced contractions can be abnormally intense and long, restricting oxygen supply to the fetus. It follows that fetuses being born by induction would experience more distress. Just one more strike against pitocin/induction in my book, as if I needed any more. Check out the actual excerpt from Gail Hart's article here.

Infant Formula and DHA/ARA

The other tidbit I wanted to share was especially disturbing. I have for the past few years been a big proponent of everyone making sure they get their omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, but this issue of E-News shared the dark side of the omega-3 craze as it applies to infant formula.

Based on a report presented by the Cornucopia Institute (a corporate watch-dog group), the DHA/ARA added to many infant formulas is created from fermented algae and fungus and is structurally different than the DHA/ARA found in breast milk. The FDA isn't even convinced of the safety of these algal and fungal DHA/ARA additives! Apparently some infants fed DHA/ARA formula have even suffered from severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and seizures until being switched to a non-DHA/ARA-supplemented formula. Some infants even suffered death. Despite the FDA's reservations, these additives were somehow still approved for infant/human consumption.

Formulas supplemented with DHA/ARA are marketed as being "more like breastmilk," suggesting to consumers that they are somehow healthier than other formulas. In fact, scientific studies are inconclusive regarding the benefits of these DHA/ARA additives. Martek Biosciences Corporation, a manufacturer of these additives even acknowledges: "Even if [DHA/ARA] has no benefit, we think it would be widely incorporated into formulas, as a marketing tool and to allow companies to promote their formula as 'closest to human milk'"(source). Here's what the Cornucopia Institute concludes about the motives of infant formula manufacturers: "Given the safety concerns and doubts within the scientific community, it is clear that the infant formula manufacturers’ claims are marketing tools designed to sell more formula, and sell it at a higher price"(source). So what it really comes down to is money. Are we really surprised? Of course not. They're corporations and it's their job to make money. Adding DHA/ARA sells more formula, regardless of the fact that it's very different from the DHA/ARA in breastmilk and may actually be dangerous.

Unfortunately, parents are too busy or too trusting to ask any questions about it. I know for a fact that, if I had needed to feed my infants formula, I would have gone with the DHA/ARA version because I would have believed it was better. Get this... just yesterday I bought some Yoplait drinkable yogurt. Which kind did I pick? The one that said "with DHA" on it, of course! I looked at the label this morning, and, sure enough, it has "omega-3 DHA algal oil"--the very stuff implicated the Cornucopia Institute's report! Marketers certainly aren't stupid. They know omega-3 DHA is all the rage. I'm especially prone to buy into the notion that anything with DHA is better, regardless of where that DHA came from. Oops.

Included in the Cornucopia Institute's report is the following disturbing tidbit (evidence that infant formula marketers have done their job very well): "According to the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, mothers have contacted health care providers asking the following: 'I want the breast milk formula,' or 'I want the formula with breast milk in it,' and asking questions such as 'whose breast milk is in the formula?'"(source). Oh my.

While I do find all of this disturbing, I also recognize and accept that infant formula is a life-saver for infants who are unable to breastfeed. And, given this fact, I do believe that formula manufacturers should do everything they can to create a product as close as possible to breastmilk. Unfortunately, in the end, it's just a sort of lost cause because breastmilk is something technology, no matter how advanced, cannot duplicate. While formula saves some lives, it will never be ideal. I'll end with this quotation from the International Baby Feeding Action Network:
"While researchers fiddle with the balance of fatty acids in infant formula, and deal with the additional uncertainties of the complex cascade of interactions that each adjustment provokes within the omega families, breast milk will always be the simple, perfectly balanced source of each essential nutrient."(source)
For more info, see...
Midwifery Today, Volume 10, Issue 11
"Replacing Mother — Imitating Human Breast Milk in the Laboratory"
"C-sections, breastfeeding, and bugs for your baby," by Jeff Leach

4 comments: said...

Very interesting information!

Fig said...

Love this! Freaked out by it, but love it all the same.

AzĂșcar said...

Thanks, L, as you probably figured, I'm a little hot under the collar about this one. It's like when Flintstones vitamins released a version "With Choline, a nutrient found in breast milk to support brain function." Yeah, I know, that's kind of why I choose to let my babies nurse until they wean themselves--because it builds their brains! DUH!

It both flusters and amuses me to see the marketing of breast milk components.

jennyzm said...

I'm a first-timer to your blog & love it! I just think that we don't need better formulas; we need more moms breastfeeding, and more milk banks to supply those babies whose moms can't or won't breastfeed. Heck, even Brazil has 118 milk banks, and the US has 13 or 14. See

Jenny in WV