The breastfeeding articles in Wise Traditions (Fall 2001) have generated many letters.
LA LECHE LEAGUE
As a mother of three breastfed children and a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation, the article Successful Breastfeeding (Fall 2001) initially intrigued me. But the more I read, the more I vacillated between anger and shock.
I firmly believe that breastfeeding is still the number one choice for new mothers. I agree that improving nutrition should be a primary concern for pregnant women and nursing mothers (and may I point out that La Leche League has always promoted this). Your guidelines are very helpful; however, the article doesn’t seem to focus on improving nutrition enough. Rather, it seems to make a strong case for breastfeeding substitutes and alternatives. But there is no way breast milk substitutes can imitate breast milk. What about immune factors, antibodies and live cells that help protect the baby from diseases, not to mention the enzymes and hormones that support baby’s physiological development? Are you saying that American mothers’ diets are so poor that they should not breastfeed? A mother should be empowered to change her eating habits, not given reasons to feel guilty about her nutrition, and thereby choose not to breastfeed.
It is also important to point out to your readers that the breastfeeding relationship is more than just about nutrition. There are equally important emotional aspects of breastfeeding to the baby and mother that are overlooked.
Also, I would strongly argue that insufficient milk supply is rare. Most often it is the management of breastfeeding that affects a mother’s milk supply, not a physiological problem.
Your comments on La Leche League seem vindictive. Why slander an organization that has been so instrumental in helping mothers and babies and promoting good nutrition? Perhaps this organization does need to take a stronger position, but your comments go too far. This article makes it difficult for me to believe what the Weston A. Price Foundation publishes to be true.
The Weston A. Price Foundation replies:
Since we frequently receive calls from desperate mothers whose babies are not gaining weight, in spite of almost constant breastfeeding, we do not believe the problem of insufficient milk is rare. But even if it is, these mothers deserve to have access to information that allows them to give their babies healthy alternatives. Recognizing that there are unique components to human milk, we advocate giving a homemade formula using the Lact-Aid device, so that the baby also receives as much as possible of his or her mother’s milk. For comments on the validity of La Leche League’s nutrition advice, see our book review of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. For another point of view on La Leche League, please read on.
I feel most grateful for the observations on breastfeeding and nutrition in Wise Traditions, Fall 2001. Having participated at leadership levels in La Leche organization, I have often felt frustrated with my observations on the typical diets of nursing mothers. I have many times witnessed nursing mothers on very low-nutrient diets. Usually they had fussy babies and I knew intuitively that the problem was dietary. However, for fear women would stop breast-feeding, I often did not know how to express my observations that the child (as well as the mother) was not getting enough nourishment. This was observable through simple signs–pale babies lacking glowing rosy cheeks, exhausted mothers, frequent colds, runny noses and ear infections, and all of these considered normal.
In fact I was one of those “normal” mothers. During the time I was nursing my last child, I was sick a lot and my son was thin. Yet I thought I was eating well. When my son was three and the nursing had finished, I became very ill. I was sick for over two years and needed over $15,000 worth of dental work. My immune system crashed and burned and I almost did not make it, all because of my “good” nutritional diet–lowfat, high carbs.
Now I understand full well that the problem was nutritional. Had I known about how traditional cultures provided pregnant and nursing mothers with nutrient-dense, high-fat “sacred foods,” my health and that of my child’s and all the other mothers like me would not have been sacrificed.
My work as a mother now entails connecting with many different community organizations that interact with mothers and children–La Leche being one of many–sharing my story about how I healed myself with “sacred foods.” I now speak out about my observations on how the diets of cultures a century ago contrasted with diets of today. I share how frustrated and sad I feel about the state of health of our families now–and yet I also feel excited and hopeful given my rapid turnaround and that of the mothers and children who have interacted with me and begun eating “sacred foods.”
I have spoken with doulas and midwives around the country and shared my story and the knowledge I have gained through the Foundation. Many of them are in turn very excited about your work. They have had similar observations of babies not flourishing on mothers’ milk–and mothers whose bodies become very depleted, especially after the nursing relationship is completed. They are seeing increasing problems with tooth decay, chronic fatigue and frequent illness, all now accepted as “normal.”. We all agree that what is required is not to become polarized over whether “breastfeeding is best” but instead to focus on the nutritional needs of mothers and children. The question to ask is, are those needs being met and if not how do we strategize to meet them? It is only then, through a diet of “sacred foods” for mothers, that babies and moms can truly thrive, and only then that we can say that “breastfeeding is best.”
I am a huge supporter of La Leche League. I believe strongly in the organization’s values and principles. And yet for La Leche to be authentic and trustworthy as an organization, and to avoid falling into dogma, La Leche needs to be open and willing to ask the crucial question: are the health needs of mothers and children being met? We are in a major chronic health crisis in this country. Twenty million American children have allergies, ear infections, asthma, dermatitis, eczema. Ninety percent of children get ear infections. And not all of these children are bottle-fed. Thus the answer is no–mothers’ and children’s health needs are not being met despite breastfeeding.
I believe that the work of the Weston Price Foundation provides a generous, fresh and exciting potential for getting the health of our breastfeeding mothers and their babies back on track. As I do my work as a mother in my community, I have seen the health of so many mothers and children turn around on a dime, just by implementing “sacred foods.”
It is an exciting time to be alive, especially when you feel fabulous . Today I look and feel like a million bucks, brimming with vitality and hardy as an ox. Thank you, Weston A. Price Foundation, for the courageous work you have done, and for the many lives you are affecting–most importantly, our children’s!
Ph.D. in Motherhood
The Heartland of America