No, Kimberly Seals Allers, formula is not McDonald’s

Fast food and unhealthy eating concept - close up of fast food snacks and cold drink on yellow background

It’s almost as if lactivists can’t help themselves.

The mainstream media is suddenly full of mothers sharing the guilt of not being able to breastfeed and their anguish over nearly starving their babies. Over and over again new mothers have shared their stories about being wounded by the shaming language favored by lactation consultants: “artificial” baby milk, “risks” of formula feeding, comparisons of formula to tobacco.

Seals Allers and her colleagues appear to believe that everyone (millions of mothers, tens of thousands of doctors) is an ignorant dupe but themselves.

I’ve learned that it is too much to expect lactation consultants to apologize as any healthcare professional would be ethically obligated to do, but is it really too much to expect them to stop using shaming language? Apparently it is.

Three days ago lactation consultant Kimberly Seals Allers posted this gem on Twitter:

9AD90464-67D5-480B-8057-9229CF848012

No one would accept a nutritionist trained at a’McDonalds Health Institute’ but every day mamas face pediatricians only trained in breastfeeding by infant formula industry. The ones who financially benefit from failure of breastfeeding. We deserve better!

When called on it, Seals Allers resorted to that favorite lactivist tactic, gaslighting.

I speak facts. Shaming is your language not mine. My tweet is about where and how pediatricians receive training and who is best to do it. Commercial industry or non partisan medical authorities. All other assumptions about derision are made up and are your own.

BB4BDB83-BE35-4893-A63F-19F500ABC01A

So few words, so much lying and shaming.

1. The comparison of formula to McDonald’s is grossly irresponsible. Whereas certain McDonald’s products have lots of calories and little nutrition, infant formula is the PERFECT food for infants with the perfect amount of calories and the perfect amount of nutrients, indeed more nutrients than breastmilk.

2. It is meant to be vicious. The tweet not so subtly implies that women who choose to formula feed are knowingly and willfully choosing a nutritionally empty food for their babies.

3. It is a lie. Pediaticians are not trained by formula manufacturers. Indeed, I challenge Ms. Seals Allers to name 5 pediatrics residency programs where formula manufacturers are in charge of breastfeeding education.

4. It implies that pediatricians who value infant health over ideological purity are dupes of the formula industry. A growing body of research shows that the aggressive breastfeeding promotion campaigns favored by lactation consultants are injuring and even killing babies. Exclusive breastfeeding doubles the rate of neonatal hospital readmission, leading to tens of thousands of babies who are readmitted to the hospital and hundreds of millions of dollars of healthcare spending each year. Babies are being brain injured and are dying from dehydration, hypoglycemia, kernicterus and smothering in or falling from their mothers hospital beds because well baby nurseries have been closed.

5. It implies that women who don’t breastfeed are selfish idiots. This is not merely an insult to women who choose formula, but it is a denial of their moral agency. This is how lactivists justify ignoring the reasons women give for choosing formula since those women “didn’t choose” to use formula, they were tricked into it.

This is not the first time that Seals Allers has struck out aggressively and viciously against women who use formula to feed their babies and the health professionals who support them.

Why?

I suspect it reflects extreme frustration with the ongoing failure of lactivist efforts. While breastfeeding initiation rates have gone up dramatically, rates of extended breastfeeding have not followed suit. Lactation professionals could look at the situation and ask, “What are we doing wrong?,” but that involves introspection and taking responsibility, both apparently too uncomfortable to contemplate. Instead lactation professionals ask, “Who is doing this to us?,” and embrace the conspiracy theory that formula manufacturers are behind lactivist failures.

What are lactation professionals doing wrong?

  • They value ideological purity (exclusive breastfeeding) over combination feeding.
  • They demonize formula to a ridiculous extent, making themselves look foolish.
  • They lie about the fact that insufficient breastmilk is common.
  • They recommend barbaric regimens of feed/pump/supplement without any evidence of efficacy.
  • They ignore the harms (sometimes deadly harms) to both babies and mothers.

Instead of acknowledging their own mistakes they prefer to blame the formula industry:

They claimed easy access to formula in hospitals the prevented breastfeeding so they banned formula; breastfeeding rates didn’t change appreciably.

They claimed formula gifts given to new mothers prevented breastfeeding so they banned gifts; breastfeeding rates didn’t change appreciably.

They decried lack of hospital based lactation support so they created the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative; breastfeeding rates didn’t change appreciably but readmissions and injuries rose.

Now, as neonatologists and pediatricians scramble to save the brains and lives of babies harmed by aggressive breastfeeding promotion, Seals Allers has the unmitigated gall to float a monstrous lie, that pediatricians are trained by formula companies.

It’s almost as if Seals Allers and her colleagues believe that everyone (millions of mothers, tens of thousands of doctors) is an ignorant dupe but themselves.

Of course there’s an alternate possibility: mothers and doctors are caring individuals who have discovered through experience or scientific evidence that breast isn’t best for every baby or every mother and a few thousand lactation consultants are the ones who are dupes. They’ve been duped by a philosophy that values ideological purity over infant and maternal health.

But lactation professionals never, ever consider the possibility that THEY are the ones who are wrong. Far easier to lie and shame others than to take responsibility for their own misconceptions, misinterpretations and mistakes in promoting breastfeeding above all else.

  • Charlotte

    I had a nurse at my Baby Friendly hospital tell me she would never give formula to her own child for similar reasons. This was after a neonatologist said my baby was severely dehydrated and needed immediate formula supplementation in order to save her life. Even IF formula were the nutritional equivalent of fast food, I’d feed it to my child without guilt and without hesitation when the alternative is starvation.

    • Sarah

      Gosh, imagine being her being willing to advertise what a shit, ideological purity obsessed parent she is. Most people would at least try and cover it up a bit.

      • Charlotte

        Enough parents complained that by the time I had my last kid, all of the BFHI stuff at my hospital had been rolled back. She knows better than to say that out loud now, or she’ll probably be asked to look for employment elsewhere.

  • Anna

    I always thought the “McDonalds Institute” was made up but heres a so called public health expert mentioning it, maybe thats where they train IBCLCs? Do you want a tongue tie with that? Upsize to a MTHFR meal? For a limited time only triple feeding comes with a free ticket to PND Land!

  • demodocus

    Very OT, but since I kept giving people here cravings for Indian food a couple years ago, I figure you guys would be amused. The fetal cause, now a newly minted 2 yo, is scarfing cheese crackers with Tabasco sauce baked in. She also still likes Indian food.

  • Allie

    Seals Allers needs to look up the definition of “facts” in the dictionary. She clearly has no idea what it means.

  • HailieJade

    I wonder how the aggressive lactivist propaganda of today will be looked back on 50 years from now. My guess is not favourably at all!

    • demodocus

      From your fingertips to the gods’ ears

  • Megan

    Guess what, Kimberly Seals Allers? I chose to formula feed my baby because, for us, breastfeeding is a terrible option! My baby would starve with how little milk I make.

    Also, I am a physician and I have received literally ZERO breastfeeding education from formula companies. In fact, all of my breastfeeding education was from lactation consultants and most of them were zealots and had no idea about how to interpret the science they spoke of. I currently teach at a residency and our residents were getting ZERO formula feeding education at all so I took it upon myself to do a lecture on it yearly. They get their formula feeding education from a physician and their breastfeeding education from LC’s.

    • Sue

      Thank you. So much misinformation about “what is taught in medical school” comes from people who never went near one.

      The main thing I remember from medical school was “breast is best”.

  • Who?

    The judgment is in the words ‘No one would accept…’.

    What would she think of a breastfeeding woman who ate McDonalds?

    And frankly, if the choice is dead or eating McDonalds, no one would accept death-amiright?

    • FormerPhysicist

      I SO want an Egg McMuffin now. But I’m not breastfeeding, so I suppose it’s all right.

      • momofone

        Maybe while you’re getting it you can train some doctors!

    • Amazed

      I’m not so sure. They seem awfully good at accepting death as a possible solution – let the soul pass alone peacefully and stuff. And even if they don’t say it outright, they’re experts at accepting that a nursing baby with all symptoms of starvation has something else and not starvation and explaining the symptoms away, instead of turning to McDonalds even for a single meal.

      Better Dead Than Formula-Fed is a thing with some of them, I think. Of course, they do it from the safety of knowing that their own kids are alive. It’s always these other people’s kids who should be saved from evil formula at all costs. Just look at what the mother from yesterday’s post wrote!

      • Who?

        You’re probably right re a baby who can’t advocate in words-but I wonder if they would allow a starving child who was complaining of hunger continue to go hungry, with no sensible prospects of food, if there was a maccas on the corner.

        That said, my friend has quite a line in offering food to starved teenagers in our very affluent little pocket of the world. The kids she feeds come from elegant spacious homes run by vegan/clean eating/blood type diet parents (usually with mum as the enforcer). The kids cheerfully consume the meat pies, pizzas etc she provides when she feeds her own teenagers, along with non organic cow’s milk (the horror), non organic eggs and fruit and veg etc, etc, etc. That is, a normal diet for busy, active, growing kids. I ran into her at the supermarket the other day stocking up on oven-ready meatlovers pizzas to keep up with the weekend/school holiday onslaught.

  • demodocus

    Idjit.
    A) McD’s has been selling salad for decades. The salad dressing comes on the side.
    B) Her idea of the contents of formula is seriously ludicrous.

    C) Her idea of how to properly deal with those of us who need to formula feed is contributing to someone’s depression. Probably several someones. That kind of sh*t can be the final straw for someone with suicidal ideation.

  • Mel

    Seals-Allers is also making a strangely classist argument for someone who was touting her work in Detroit and Philly the last time we heard from her here.

    Yeah, a lot of McDonald’s foods are way too high in calories for people who work office jobs or anything similar that requires a lot of time being stationary – but it’s a different story when you’re working on the floor of a factory or a grocery store. As long as people order sensibly, a hamburger and small fries with a diet soda is a workable choice that’s even better if you switch out the fries for a side salad.

    And – again – there have been days that I’ve been insanely grateful for McDonald’s carrot muffins when my son is teething hard and refuses to put anything except an ice-cold bottle in his mouth. He sees a carrot muffin, though, and he’s like “Give me the foods!”

    I suppose I could make a carrot muffin from scratch – but I’d have to make a whole batch and my husband and I would end up eating like 10 out of the 12 muffins – and we don’t need the extra calories. Also, Michigan is crazy hot this time of year and I don’t like turning on the stove.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      Also fast food “dollar” menu items are often less expensive and closer geographically than a healthier alternative that is harder to obtain (especially if you are walking or taking the bus everywhere).

  • maidmarian555

    They are all clearly really having problems with the amount of mums speaking out on Twitter right now. In the past week, I’ve been blocked by both Milli Hill and Amy Brown, despite not having any sort of run-in with either of them recently. And I’ve *had* full-blown arguments with both of them previously so why are they blocking mothers who disagree with them now? It’s not just me, loads of us have been blocked (which is the dumbest thing to do on Twitter bc unless you lock down your account *everything* you post there is public. Blocking only prevents other blocked users from interacting with you, it doesn’t hide your tweets from them if they log-in on another browser).

    Keep going Dr T. It’s clear to me that they *know* the tide is turning and they’re doing all they can to avoid confronting the fact that they are just fucking wrong (and a bunch of thoroughly unpleasant bullies too).

  • PeggySue

    In your numbered point number 2, there’s a typo–can you remove the word “no” before knowledge?

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Thanks! Fixed it.

  • PeggySue

    Well, given the number of RNs and young MDs who, happily uninformed, babble the “breast is best” line at every opportunity, I would say the evidence for formula manufacturers having ANY influence in training in the medical field is ZERO.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      I always want to ask them what they think people used before formula was invented. I know a lot of things were used because more than one woman in my family died in child birth. Everything from goat’s milk and cow’s milk with corn syrup to beef broth soaked bread. Unpasteurized cows milk, yummy TB with your milk…(one of my great-aunts died of TB)

      • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

        I also wanna smack anyone who extolls the idea of wet nurses back then, usually a wet nurse was someone whose baby either died or whose baby would be getting something other than their mother’s milk because their mother’s milk was for the baby whose parents were paying the wet nurse (who would probably be living away from her own family…)

      • Allie

        My grandma had her babies in the 40’s. They used a mixture of powdered and sweetened condensed milk. Not exactly ideal, but her babies were chubby and happy.

        • Allie

          BTW, I did not mean to come off as providing a definitive answer to what people used when they didn’t have formula. Just giving an example of what my grandma told me she used.

    • demodocus

      egads, this. My youngest therapist was doing the same thing, too. ergh.

    • Sue

      Exactly that, PeggySue. What I remember from medical school (admittedly a long time ago) is how formula manufacturers were unethically targeting impoverished countries and, like you say, “breast is best”.

      It’s only since becoming part of this community that I have read the original evidence in studies such as PROBIT.

      Incidentally, I was asked at a meeting of medical women for advice for an older first-time mother who is at 39 weeks, a medical specialist. I advised her not to worry about infant feeding. She reported that neither her nor her siblings were breast fed. Since she is a highly accomplished medical specialist who has worked internationally, set up remote clinics in Africa and worked in international public health in Geneva and in China, I can’t imagine how breast milk could possibly have made her a better person!

  • Cartman36

    Preach Dr. Amy, Preach. It pisses me off when I hear lacivists say women don’t breastfeed because they are uneducated about the benefits, due to a lack to support, or some other idiotic reason. I made the decision to combo feed purposefully because it works best for me and my family. I LOVE the convenience of doing both. My baby gets the limited short term benefits of breast milk and I can leave him with Daddy or grandma and go out to a movie or take my older kids somewhere. I also never worry about my baby getting enough. I made a very educated decision just not the one that lactivists would make.

    • HailieJade

      As if anyone under the age of 40 hasn’t heard “breast is best!!” *massive eyeroll* These people are seriously living on another planet.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        There’s a possibility here: it’s possible that there are women whi haven’t been beaten over the head with breast is best. However, it would be because they haven’t gotten any prenatal care. In which case, the biggest problem is not that they haven’t heard the breast is best message, it’s that they are not getting any prenatal care.

        • HailieJade

          This is true of course. Obviously I was referring to women who do receive prenatal care, but then again I have never had kids, nor do I intend to, and even I have heard the “Breast is best!” nonsense ad nauseum and it’s not even directed at me! It’s all over Facebook, it’s on posters in doctors’ waiting rooms, hell there’s even an ad on TV at the moment in my country where they have a little kid preaching about how important it is to “breastfeed as long as possible” *barf*
          So yeah.. It’s not limited solely to pregnant women inside the doctor’s office. It’s literally everywhere!