Kimberly Seals Allers and the breastfeeding industry try to silence the whistleblower

47448460 - whistleblower word highlighted on the white background

According to Wikipedia, a whistleblower:

is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization … [A]whistleblower can bring allegations to light by contacting a third party outside of an accused organization such as the media, government, law enforcement, or those who are concerned.

What typically happens to whistleblowers?

Like a drug company hiding the risks of its product, the breastfeeding industry is smearing the whistleblower.

Whistleblowers, however, take the risk of facing stiff reprisal and retaliation from those who are accused or alleged of wrongdoing.

That’s just what has happened to the Fed Is Best Foundation and its creators, Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, MD and Jody Segrave-Daly, RN, IBCLC. The latest example is a piece by lactation consultant Kimberly Seals Allers that is notable for two reasons: it fails to address the serious risks of breastfeeding that the Fed Is Best Foundation has brought to light; and it is a transparent attempt to smear the Foundation.

To understand what the Fed Is Best Foundation has done and the furious response in return, it helps to consider a similar example, the behavior of Merck and the FDA in response to whistleblowing about Vioxx.

Why are they similar?

Vioxx is a non-narcotic medication that had dramatic benefits for a certain population of pain sufferers and, as a result, was a reliable money maker for Merck. But it also had serious side effects that Merck tried to hide in an effort to maintain market share. The FDA was aware of those side effects but ignored them.

Breastfeeding is a biological process with small benefits from most babies, but because of exaggeration it has become a reliable money maker for the breastfeeding industry of lactation consultants, La Leche League and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative among others. But it also has serious side effects that the breastfeeding industry is trying to hide to maintain market share.

What happened with Vioxx? According to Forbes:

On Nov. 18, [2004] an unassuming safety researcher from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sat down before a Senate committee and tore his bosses to shreds.

The FDA, he said, had ignored warnings that the pain pill Vioxx was killing people by causing heart attacks and strokes–and he said the agency was incapable of defending the public against another drug disaster…

Without Graham, the Vioxx debacle might have been seen as an isolated event. But because he was willing to step into the spotlight, the withdrawal of Vioxx from the market looks like part of a systemic failure to properly weigh the risks and benefits of drugs…

What has happened with Fed Is Best?

Through personal experience (Dr. Del Castillo-Hegyi’s son suffered a serious brain injury and many of Ms. Segrave-Daly’s patients have been harmed), the founders of Fed Is Best became convinced that the breastfeeding industry was injuring and killing babies by refusing to acknowledge both the high incidence (up to 15% of first time mothers) and serious risks of insufficient breastmilk.

Deaths like that of newborn Landon Johnson (If I Had Given Him Just One Bottle, He Would Still Be Alive) could have been seen as an isolated event, but in part because the Fed Is Best Foundation has been willing to step into the spotlight, a re-examination of the serious risks and side effects of breastfeeding is now underway.

How was FDA whistleblower Graham treated by the FDA? According to an expose by CBS’ Sixty Minutes:

But just a week before the hearing began, a series of anonymous phone calls were made in an attempt to discredit him. Graham’s attorney, Tom Devine, who represents government whistleblowers, says the callers argued it would be a mistake for him to represent Graham.

“They said that he was a demagogue, he was a bully, that he had engaged in questionable scientific tactics,” says Devine. “They said he was a dangerous man and he had to be stopped.”

Devine says he asked for proof, but the callers couldn’t provide it: “And by that point, I’d used the caller ID to trace back who was talking to me, and it turned out they were high-level members of FDA management.”

“These are people – senior managers within the FDA – calling you, pretending to be whistleblowers,” asks Stewart.

In an attempt to silence Dr. Graham, they called him a demagogue, a bully and accused him of engaging in questionable scientific practices.

How is the Fed Is Best Foundation being treated by the breastfeeding industry? Here’s what Seals Allers has written:

… Is Fed is Best more interested in saving lives or stoking fear and anger among women? …

Perhaps FIB is only interested in speaking into their own echo chamber and putting out reports. And telling inflammatory stories designed to incite emotions but they are short on actions with others…

Those who are serious about this work are beyond writing click bait headline newsletters and blog posts that seem more designed to frighten and provoke doubt in a woman’s biological abilities than to educate.

I believe in educating mothers, not inciting fear about their bodies or weaponizing exclusive breastfeeding.

I believe in making sure physicians are properly trained in lactation, not from infant formula “Institutes” but from unbiased physician organizations such as the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine …

Sears Allers implies that Dr. del Castillo-Hegyi and Ms. Segrave-Daly are demagogues, bullies and engaging in questionable practices, just like the FDA claimed about whistleblower Dr. Graham. What an amazing coincidence!

What are Sears Allers and the breastfeeding industry (“85 organizations”) afraid of? Unlike Merck, they aren’t merely afraid of losing market share; unlike the FDA they aren’t merely afraid of being revealed as more interested in promoting their product than promoting safety. They are most afraid of cognitive dissonance.

Seals Allers and the rest of the breastfeeding industry have built their self esteem on the notion that women who breastfeed are better mothers than those who don’t. It is important to them to be able to demonize women who formula feed as lazy, selfish, uneducated and under the sway of the formula industry. It is absolutely critical to them to lie to themselves and new mothers about the fact breastfeeding has serious risks as well as benefits.

The Fed Is Best Foundation has blown the whistle and they’re receiving the same treatment as whistleblowers in any industry. The Foundation is being smeared, the ethics and scientific acumen of the founders are being questioned, and vigorous efforts are being made to silence them.

Tragically these accusations are being used as a smoke screen to avoid addressing the problem that the Fed Is Best Foundation has brought to light: the preventable injuries and deaths of babies due to the very real and very serious risks of breastfeeding.

  • Emilie Bishop

    I’m glad your daughter got the help she needed. My son mostly has too. He’s had speech therapy for the past year,which has helped a lot. He eventually learned to eat from a bottle and then solids, but he talked late and still is pretty hard to understand. His upper lip frenulum comes pretty low like his dad’s, which probably didn’t help,but no one checked it until long after our nursing days. It’s been a struggle, but I’m grateful it’s not been much worse.

  • Dr Kitty

    It is telling that the only threads that get locked on my local private GP group are about breastfeeding.
    Not abortion, not euthanasia, not privatising the NHS. Breastfeeding.
    Between the “support breastfeeding at all costs” and “for the love of Christ, a bit of formula never did a bit of harm” there is no common ground.
    None.

    TBH it is mostly male GPs saying “BF sucked for my wife, we used formula for my kids, they’re fine, I don’t get the big deal” vs female GPs with a”I absolutely killed myself pumping and having mastitis and never sleeping for more than 2 hours in eight months- and if I can do it, anyone can”.

    Me saying things like “I breastfed 2 kids exclusively for more than six months and for over a year total because I make lots of milk and didn’t find it that hard, but it’s not a big enough deal to get upset about- if it isn’t working, cut your losses. Combo feeding is perfectly fine and absolutely works for some people and pre-lacteal supplemental feeds are more likely to increase rather than decrease long term breastfeeding ” is apparently confusing and unhelpful.

    I have never yet been able to look at a toddler or school age child and been able to tell how they were fed.
    Do what works for you and your family.
    Change your plans if it gets too hard.
    As long as your child is being fed an appropriate food, using safe water and clean equipment in appropriate quantities, it won’t matter.

    I thank all the dieties I stopped breastfeeding my son at 15 months.
    At 26 months he’s still drinking about 750ml (25oz )of cows milk a day because he will not drink water or juice. He eats everything you put in front of him and is in no way picky about food, but he will NOT drink anything but milk. I can’t imagine if I had tried to breast feed him for the full WHO prescribed 2 yrs. Hard pass.
    This child will ask for broccoli, brioche, banana, meatballs, pasta, pancakes, peanut butter and peas but refuses to drink anything that isn’t milk.

    He’s not picky whether it is warm, room temperature or cold; formula, cow’s milk or soy, but it better be white or he’s not drinking it.

    At the moment it’s a battle we are choosing not to fight, in the hope that eventually he’ll want to try big boy cups and juice, but so far he’s not interested.

  • LaMont

    OT: Is anyone getting anything out of the ridiculous vaccine conversation on the other thread? Any lurkers out there being enlightened/swayed one way or the other? Because methinks almost definitely not, to say nothing of the actual religious anti-vaxx *players* involved who couldn’t be swayed with literally anything.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Is anyone getting anything out of the ridiculous vaccine conversation on the other thread?

      Cia Parker is always good for a laugh, if nothing else.

      • LaMont

        I’m sure, I just miss all the other more productive stuff that tends to happen in these comment sections! I feel like I need to start another Vorkosigan Saga thread just to balance things out 😉

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          Anti-vaxx threads are always way out of proportion. I mean, that thread is up to 900 comments or so. Won’t be long until it crashes.

          This is standard for anti-vaxx threads. The trolls come in and jump into some post that is months old, troll it until it crashes, and then leave, only to do it again a month later with another old post they did up

          • And we respond for two reasons. It’s fun sometimes, and we can’t let such absolute drivel stand unchallenged.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            It’s both. It’s fun challenging cia parker’s absolute drivel.

            And it’s also easy, so why not?

          • LaMont

            Oh I understand that we can’t let this be the last word, but given this platform, I just don’t know who exactly is meant to be absorbing that message. I feel like the vast majority of people here are either fully pro-sci or completely unreachable. This isn’t like Facebook where lots of normal/apolitical people might be susceptible? At least that is my sense of this platform, I could definitely be off base.

          • I think we have a high percentage of lurkers who are sort of on the fence about a lot of stuff. Maybe not vaccination per se, but I know a lot of current regulars were lurkers for a long time first, and the discussion threads changed some minds. There’s not apolitical people here, that’s for sure, but I do think there’s a lot of people who are trying to sort information from misinformation and having a hard time of it.

    • Heidi

      People like Cia and sabelmouse and that one with his many sockpuppets are never going to be swayed. Well, I still wonder if they even believe their own drivel but are just too stubborn and sociopathic to back down? But I hope someone on the fence, who really is just overwhelmed or confused, gains something when people point out the absurdity of Cia’s “how to raise a vaccine-free child” (no biggie, you just need a hospital-grade negative pressure room as your nursery, wear a surgical mask and gloves 24/7, breastfeed until school-age, have a husband who makes well over six figures so you can hire a nanny to raise your other children away from your infant, and find a home nurse willing to administer bogus “treatments” through an IV), or notice how sabelmouse has nothing to say but literally “blahblah,” when asked to clarify what she’s saying.

  • mabelcruet

    The ‘public apology’ from Lucy Sullivan of 1000 Days to the Fed Is Best Foundation is quite possibly the nastiest and most obvious non-apology that I’ve ever seen.

  • Sue

    “unbiased physician organizations such as the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine”.

  • Emilie Bishop

    If Christie hadn’t written her original open letter about her experience with her son and her research on brain injuries that followed, I might still, a couple months from my son’s third birthday, believe to my core that I failed him because I didn’t try hard enough to give him every drop of breast milk I could squeeze out. I might live in fear of the diseases he’d develop later in life because of the formula, or just feel like a selfish bitch for finally ditching the pump and then nursing because I wanted a life outside of triple-feeding. I might have attributed his speech delay to formula instead of the more likely possibility that his difficulty articulating words involves the same mouth movements and muscles that latching does, and he couldn’t do that either. Instead, Christie lifted a weight, then Dr. Amy lifted it further by showing how formula produces the same outcomes as breast milk, then further still by helping me learn I had IGT. God bless the whistle-blowers, who let me and countless others get on with the business of being mothers when our breasts didn’t get the memo that they were perfect.

    • Sue

      Thanks for sharing this insight – another example of how important and influential Dr Amy’s community is. So glad the message got to you.

  • fiftyfifty1

    “Unlike Merck, they aren’t merely afraid of losing market share”

    Although I would never underestimate their fear of losing market share! Think of what will happen once mothers find out that breastfeeding is just 1 of 2 great ways to feed a baby. When formula feeding moms are given as much respect as breastfeeding ones. Holy crap will the lactation professions lose market share!!! Women who are now torturing themselves and their babies to exclusively breastfeed will just feed formula instead. Why pay $$$ to a lactation consultant if formula is a healthy choice and not a dangerous one?

    • AnnaPDE

      Exactly. Breastfeeding is suddenly a lot less hard if it doesn’t have to be the only source of nutrition for a baby. When you have a backup plan, suddenly figuring it out yourself becomes a viable option. And if it doesn’t work, you’ll probably bail out after much less money spent on pro help, too.

    • Casual Verbosity

      I have said this on another thread, but it bears repeating. I rationally KNOW that formula is not only safe but a perfectly good way to feed a baby. But if I were to have a baby at this exact moment in time (not likely to happen), I would STILL push myself to breastfeed even if it wasn’t working for me or my hypothetical baby, because I still FEEL that failing to breastfeed would mean something bad about me (although I would never feel that way about other women).
      That’s how insidious this message is. ‘Breast is best’ is pushed so hard that someone well conversant in science and well aware of the parity between breastmilk and formula would still feel like a failure if she didn’t exclusively breastfeed. That’s messed up.

  • attitude devant

    Ah ‘fear-mongering’. The old home-birth response to anyone who voices concerns about safety in childbirth. A reliable excuse in service of yet another ‘natural motherhood’ sacred cow.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      MADD is nothing but a bunch of fear-mongerers….

  • Gene

    Another baby almost died again in my ED. Neonatal hypoglycemia is defined as a blood glucose less than 30 mg/dl in the first 24hrs and less than 45mg/dl once over 24 hours of life. Baby came in on day of life 3/4 after discharge. Mom’s milk not it yet. Baby was truly lethargic and blood glucose was 30. Needed an IV bolus of sugar and then was admitted for monitoring. Luckily, no seizures. Would have been completely prevented if parents had supplemented.

    • Heidi

      That makes me feel sick. My baby’s blood sugar was in the 30s the day after he was born and no one but a pediatric nurse practitioner seemed very concerned. Then they dicked around and foisted syringe feeding and SNS on us. Sugar didn’t improve until a night nurse essentially said here’s some nipples, this is insane, we are getting your baby’s glucose up!

      • guest

        And all these stories do is make women who are on the fence about breastfeeding decide not to try. If I can’t trust my healthcare providers to be honest with me about the health of my baby, why would I even take a chance?? I was unable to breastfeed my first, though no one bothered to clue me in that he was getting no food from me even though it was obvious. So with my second I didn’t even try because no way was I going to let another baby starve.

        • Heidi

          I would never tell a hospital I was planning on breastfeeding! Whether or not I’ll even have another baby or try it again, I couldn’t tell you. I’m afraid of falling down the same rabbit hole if I even tried again.

          • LaMont

            As someone who probably won’t be ready to have kids until we’ve gone full Gilead anyway: how do hospitals mess with parents who *bring their own formula*? Are there forms to sign, lectures to listen to, etc.? Or do they just withhold desired help with bf’ing if they know you’ve spoiled the baby with even a drop of formula? I’m curious as to how this plays out (I understand they should provide formula without games, but I wonder how far they’ll go.)

          • CSN0116

            At my formula feeding helpline I counsel women who want to breast feed but do not want the hospital to know for fear of negative outcomes/bullying tactics. I actually have them identify as 100% staunch EFF moms upon admission. That way they are a BFHI lost cause and left alone but with ready access to formula. Most don’t even get asked to sign a waiver or get any breast is best speech. They are just quickly written off. They nurse “secretly” and frequently while inpatient and supplement as much as they wish. Milk takes 3-4 days to come in anyway, so if they find they need lactation assistance, they seek it in a less stressful environment via their pediatrician’s offices afrer discharge, or pay for a private one if able/interested. Many women don’t learn much from in patient hospital LCs (not enough to go around) and want follow-up help anyway.

            The alternative to this is to say you’re EBF and bring in your own formula (you don’t really get hassled for this and nobody would even really need to know); however, you put yourself at extereme risk of lactivism bullying behavior whilrle inpatient. This is what these women are looking to avoid.

            Most prenatal moms who contact me looking to circumvent these scenarios have had a bad experience previously, or personally know someone who has, and harbor a lot of anxiety about it happening again. It’s very PTSD ish. As such, the first option I mentioned is the most popular tactic used. It works like a charm and gets the breastfeeding relationship off to a good, calm start.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            That is exactly what I would do in those circumstances, and I will say that when I point-blank refused to breastfeed or even to discuss the possibility at a BFHI hospital, they backed off damn quickly.
            A woman who has just had a baby is in an incredibly vulnerable emotional state, and should never, ever be subjected to the shit I went through at that same hospital with the prior kid who I did try to breastfeed.

          • Daleth

            I hate that such tactics are needed, but I’m so glad you’re doing that! What a godsend your helpline must be.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Well, in one friend’s case (sorry to tell the story again, folks who’ve heard it before), the pediatrician ordered that the kid get formula due to jaundice. Parents were cool with it. Despite that, the nurse refused to get them formula. When dad said he’d go out and get some, the nurse’s response was that she “wouldn’t allow” them to feed *their* baby a bottle of formula THAT THE PEDIATRICIAN ORDERED AND THEY HAD PURCHASED.
            Mom was exhausted and stressed out of her mind, and was worried that at the rate things were escalating with the nurse, the nurse might call CPS on her if she pushed the formula thing further*, so she opted to ask if she could get discharged early with (jaundiced) baby to “work on breastfeeding at home.” Got discharged a few hours later, rushed the kid to the ped’s office, kid was so jaundiced she had to be readmitted and put under bili lights for a few days. Ped raised holy hell with the hospital, but I’m sure that wasn’t the first, or, in all likelihood, the last family that nurse pulled that crap with.
            *Yes, one realizes in retrospect that that case would not have gone anywhere at all, but when you’ve been through labor and then had little-to-no sleep for 48 hours and have a nurse treating you like she just caught you beating your newborn when you ask for the formula the pediatrician told you to give the kid, you don’t always have the soundest judgment.

          • guest

            What makes it all worse is that most people immediately post-partum (both moms and dads) are unlikely to have the most sound judgment – sleep deprivation, huge emotional experience, hormones (in the case of the mother). I can totally see how your friends got to where they were. If I could afford it, I would change careers and be a post-partum doula – my whole job would be to make sure parents were being taken care of and given accurate information. I would love to tell off these nurses and doctors who try to mess with parents.

          • Casual Verbosity

            I wish lactivists would see that statement for the indictment it is. Women have such negative experiences when it comes to breastfeeding that they won’t try breastfeeding again for future babies. Surely that should raise a red flag for them. Surely that should tell them how badly the system is failing.
            Based on all I’ve read about the BFHI, it certainly seems safest to simply tell the hospital you have no intention to breastfeed, and then attempt to breastfeed on your own, supplementing with your own formula if necessary.

          • Heidi

            Yes. Right now I have a rough draft of a letter I plan to send to some higher ups of the hospital in regards to how they dealt with my son’s hypoglycemia. I should note they are not yet BFHI. It seems that might be their goal, though. Or the BFHI attitude is so pervasive, it’s bleeding into other hospitals. It’s almost 2 years after the fact, but it took me months to realize how I’d been strung along by staff.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          Ayup. I’ve considered the possibility of breastfeeding a future baby, or at least trying to, but it’s not worth risking getting on that bandwagon at the hospital, and knowing myself as I do, I’m not at all sure I could jump off of it once on, even if it was crucial for baby and me that I did.
          *Signs you maybe shouldn’t try breastfeeding again include when, in order to avoid going to a doctor’s office, thereby possibly separating yourself from baby for an hour or two which will obviously DESTROY YOUR SUPPLY* you, a totally non-medically-trained person, decide to treat your own breast abscess yourself. Like–warning, seriously gross TMI ahead–I even marked the boundaries with a pen, disinfected the surface, disinfected a razor blade, lanced/drained the damn thing, and loaded up the void with antibiotic ointment. Decided I would only go to a doctor if I saw red streaks or it got even bigger. Under no other circumstances would I have thought that was anything but a spectacularly stupid decision, but thanks to the Breastfeeding Uber Alles culture I’d swallowed hook, line, and sinker, I actually thought that breastfeeding was so important that my getting blood poisoning was an acceptable risk so long as I didn’t stop breastfeeding. Good Lord, I was an idiot!)
          *Not that you really had a supply to begin with, but details…

        • AnnaPDE

          Yep, and when you do ask because you suspect baby’s not getting any milk and seems hungry, they explain away the obvious and basically mislead you into starving your newborn. I still feel like an idiot 2 years on for falling for that.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      When this is one of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiatives 10 steps to successful breastfeeding (and supplemental formula is demonized/denigrated/equated with toxins), unfortunately this is not surprising:

      6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.

      Sure lets starve and dehydrate a newborn. What’s the worst that could happen…

  • Heidi

    When thousands of babies are killed or injured by pushing *exclusive* breastfeeding, ultimately the pendulum will swing the other way and people will feel insecure and unsafe in regards to breast feeding. The best way to encourage breastfeeding is to make it a positive experience! How would you do that? Don’t induce guilt, don’t fear-monger about the “dangers” of formula, listen when women are concerned about their supply and really do figure out if she’s producing because she may very well not be!, and support families with whatever choice is best for them, whether it’s combo feeding, a prelacteal feed followed by EBF, colostrum followed by EFF, EBF, or EFF.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      This x a million.

  • Roadstergal

    “unbiased physician organizations such as the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine”

    …yeah.

    • namaste

      Translation: I will return to my echo chamber

    • Young CC Prof

      The ABM says that jaundiced newborns should not be supplemented until bilirubin levels reach 20. Because being separated from their mothers for hours for phototherapy, along with a risk of kernicterus, is a better way to support breastfeeding?

      • yentavegan

        I will bravely try to explain the logic behind this recommendation. Please before you all lambast me for my ignorance, understand that what I am about to say has been passed down to me from educational sessions on early breastfeeding management classes. : Normal physiologic jaundice is what most infants who are jaundice at day 3/4 have. It is unrelated to a sick liver.( A sick liver is the cause for dangerous bilirubin levels.) Normal physiological jaundice never becomes dangerous enough to cause staining of the brain. Infants who have dangerous life threatening jaundice is unrelated to breastmilk/formula because it is due to a liver abnormality. So denying those infants breastmilk adds more injury to their already fragile health. Because formula does not cure a pathologic liver.. This is what passes for jaundice education in the lactation world.

        • MI Dawn

          Yikes! At least my midwifery books stressed that physiologic jaundice needs to be monitored as it can reach dangerous levels. (And, as the mother of 2 kids who had versions of ABO incompatibility, I know that’s so).

        • Young CC Prof

          That’s pretty scary. I mean, you came to lactation without medical training, but ABM is supposedly run by actual physicians.

          For the record, liver disease in newborns is pretty rare. It exists, but it is the least likely explanation for jaundice of the newborn. In fact, a large percentage of newborns with perfectly healthy livers are at risk of developing dangerously high levels of bilirubin, because birth triggers a change in the red blood cells, which releases tons of it. And the fastest way to get it out of the newborn’s body is through the gut, which requires the baby to drink and poop.

        • Mel

          *blinks*

          Breastmilk cannot cure a pathological liver condition in a newborn any more or less effectively than formula can.

          Inadequate fluid intake will worsen the jaundice, though, and it’s a hell of a lot harder to miss when a newborn isn’t drinking from a bottle than when they are trying to nurse from a breast that isn’t producing milk.

          I find that mind-boggling since my mom and aunts breastfed a huge crop of babies during the 80’s and 90’s and supplemented with formula during the first few days after birth as a matter of course. It was just what women did before their milk came in – and the vast majority of the kids were EBF once the moms were producing enough.