Just how much does milk matter? A Medela interview

Maureen MinchinAppearances elsewhere, breastmilk, Child Health, Infant Health, Microbiome, Milk Hypothesis, Milk Matters, Pregnancy

This 4 minute interview came after doing a talk at a Medela conference.  I asked to speak at the conference, and the speaker fee was donated to charity, as Medela makes infant-feeding related goods, and is a commercial entity. However, the talk enabled me to reach a wider audience than those who usually come for local breastfeeding conferences. My message was one that even some breastfeeding organisations including WABA have always found too radical to support openly, or even to share within their own circles: the idea that infant formula has created compounding intergenerational damage on an population scale, and is the greatest single postnatal factor in WEIRD nations’ inflammatory disease epidemics; that mothers today are dealing with the consequences of that harm, so that maternal guilt is utterly undeserved, and maternal anger justified.

To get that message out to new brains, I thought it worth putting up with the predictable tedious criticism of a minority who see breast pump companies as being almost as much of a concern as infant formula companies, because they commercialise lactation. I agree that maternal breastfeeding without technological aids is optimal from the infant’s point of view, though not always the mother’s. But in a society where this is not possible for many overriding reasons, I see a role for companies making quality products that enable women to express and store and use their milk in different ways. Breast pump companies have a vested interest in seeing that women lactate. Formula companies have a vested interest in seeing that babies get a little breastfeeding – to increase the likelihood of them tolerating alien foods – and are then moved on to formula asap thereafter, for some years; or, if they are to be breastfed, seeing that they are exposed to formula soon after birth so as to ensure their gut microbiome is not TOO different from a formula fed baby’s. Or, if those strategies fail, getting pregnant mothers to consume bacterial strains tindentical to those in formula, as yet another way of making formula-fed microbiomes ‘closer’ to breastfed ones – in fact by making the breastfed ones closer to the formula fed, as mothers transmit those formula strains to breastfed infants.

Breast pumps are not an unmixed blessing, and we need them to be as good as technology can make them. I want breast pump companies to make the best pumps and bottles and teats they can, because in the real world those objects help many babies get breastmilk they otherwise would not. Which is what I have spent a lifetime trying to get done. Companies that make pumps need to be sponsoring research. That research needs to be critically evaluated just as all research should be. No research should be dismissed unread simply because of its funding. The interpretation of results often is influenced by funding, but there can still be valuable information in the research. To say I support the research being done is not to say I validate all aspects of the research, the company or any of its marketing strategies, as Medela understands perfectly well.

I had never seen this interview online. I post it today because the link was retrieved by one of that minority, and posted in a closed FB page with the implication that because I have collaborated with Medela via my talk, I should always disclose in any context or conversation that I have done so, insinuating that disclosure is always necessary to evaluating what I say. Well, here you go.  If I put this link on my Facebook page and website, no one can be in any doubt that I am disclosing a connection THAT HAS IN NO WAY INFLUENCED WHAT I WOULD SAY OR DO about ANYTHING. And if you take the the 4 minutes to listen, or read any of my books, you’ll understand that.

This post will stay up online for as long as I think it necessary. Which is to say, for as long as there are veiled allusions and sly inferences, and requests for disclosure of possible conflict of interest, and other such unsubtle forms of harassment, to me or to anyone online that is doing good work, whether scientific or societal. So those of you in that sly judgmental minority, congratulate yourself on giving Medela free publicity. Well done you!