Anthropologist Underground

Anthropologist Underground
October 13
I'm Terrie Torgersen Peterson. I hold a BA in Anthropology from the University of Wyoming. I've done archeological field work at Haluzta in Israel, San Juan River cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, and in the Big Horn Canyon in Wyoming. I'm currently a writer and stay-home mom to two gorgeous, laughing children. I enjoy exploring the intersection of science and culture and my own life as ethnography. I also write for and You can email me: anthropologistunderground [at] gmail [dot] com.


JANUARY 24, 2011 9:06PM

Hey Look! Something Shiny!

Rate: 3 Flag
I'm completely distracted by logistics of moving to a new city (more on that in the future) in a few months, and I've had limited time to write.  So, here's something shiny to look at while I obsess over the real estate market here in Geographic Isolation.
I've talked about the social pressures to breastfeed in the past.  It's an issue that's on my radar because I have young children, and I breastfed, and I didn't care how other mothers fed their babies.   I tried not to turn my own breastfeeding into public philosophical (L)activism, but it's not uncommon for mothers to do so. 
NPR ran a story this morning about a mother who can't breastfeed and therefore uses donated milk.  Which is cool.  Hospitals and public health clinics sometimes have breastmilk donor banks where carefully-screened donors drop off milk to be tested, pasteurized, and redistributed.  The mom in the NPR story can't afford the prohibitive cost of donor milk and solicits donations online: 

"One night, she drove to a rest area on I-95 to meet a truck driver from West Virginia. His wife had a freezer full of breast milk, and the trucker had offered to make a milk run. "This is kind of awkward and not exactly safe," she remembers thinking. Then, she saw the big red truck with logs on the back pull in.

The trucker gave her a cooler with 706.5 ounces of human milk — more than 5 gallons. "I gave him a big ole hug because I was very thankful," Ward says." 
 Five gallons! Holy FSM!  On my best pumping days I maybe got ten...ounces.  
Obvious risk of unregulated human milk include uncertain freshness, risks inherent to unpasteurized milk, STD or other infectious agent transmission, and other contaminants.  
As I said in my breastfeeding article linked above, mothers are led to believe that infant formula is very dangerous.  In a parenting culture that fetishizes breastfeeding, unregulated bodily fluids from total strangers can seem like a safer choice than infant formula.  Here's the money shot in the comment section (I actually reported this comment to NPR as abusive for abuse of statistics):
"I'd much rather feed my baby donated breastmilk than give him formula. The stats for disease risks in formula fed infants are alarming:
Artificial/formula feeding increases a baby's risk of...
"Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): 56%
Type 1 Diabetes: 23-37%
Type 2 Diabetes: 64%
Leukemia (acute lymphocytic) : 23%
Leukemia (acute myelogenous): 18%
Asthma: 37%
Gastrointestinal infections: 178%
Lower respiratory tract diseases: 257%
Atopic dermatitis: 72%
Acute otitis media: 100%"

 WTH?  I'm no statistician, so I may be missing something important...
Does that really imply that 56% of formula-fed infants die of SIDS?!  Or does it mean that 56%  of the 2230 babies who died of SIDS in the US in 2005 were formula-fed?  According to this source, most babies in the US are NOT still breastfeeding at 12 months of age.  Could it be that more babies are formula-fed, and therefore more formula-fed babies suffer these diseases?
The last item is awesomely deceptive.  My read is that it either means that 100% of formula-fed babies get ear infections or that 100% of babies with ear infections are formula-fed.  Neither of which is true.  Anecdotally, both of my children were breastfed well past one (or even 2) years of age, and the one who breastfed longer tends to get ear infections.  The other child hasn't ever had an ear infection.  I also know children who were formula fed who have never had an ear infection.  
With no working link to anything resembling a credible source from the commenter, it's difficult to track these numbers down.  But it all sounds terrifying to new mothers.  This type of misleading information (and the attendant social pressure) is exactly why the mother in the NPR story is willing to expose her infant to potential biohazards from strangers. 

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There are few accurate statistics because breastfeeding is rarely done exclusively for extended periods of time, and no mention of the health of the mother, her supplementation or use of meds, or if children born c section, or vaccinated or what. As a naturopath, I find it frustrating how often I have to dispel myths on both sides of the evidence table. Anecdote is useful, but not definitive. Studies are useful but can't cover all variables. Ear infections often have to do with head position, ear canal disposition and content of the drink. Many babies are also bottle fed juice and soda, which proliferate bacteria in the throat due to high sugar content. Most mothers exaggerate what they do in favor of what they think they should be doing. And some kids allergic to formula, some react to something mom is eating. If your kid is constantly sick, or you are, try something new. That's a sign something not going well.
Yeah formula milk is the curse of the earth. I am so glad I was breast fed and this info is something everyone should read.