Protect your baby from toxins … unless the toxins are in breastmilk, then don’t worry about them

F76E7F99-6026-48D5-8D76-F9B12DA02B9D

Natural mothering advocates have a problem. They live in terrible fear that their babies and children will be exposed to “toxins” and go to great lengths to prevent exposure.

But toxins — real, not imaginary — can be transmitted through breastmilk the purported elixir of life. What to do? Ignore the toxins, of course!

Lactivists value breastfeeding more highly than a baby’s exposure to toxins, no matter how dangerous those toxins may be.

Meg Nagle of The Milk Meg offered this message on New Year’s Eve:

Breastmilk with a small amount of alcohol is a better option than formula.

Today she explained further:

This statement is take directly from the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s PDF, Alcohol and Breastfeeding: A Guide for Mothers.

Indeed it does … without any attribution or citations. In other words, the lactivists at the ABA appear to have simply made it up.

691A1318-FDCE-4EA8-B6EF-778C85CA22A6

The hypocrisy of lactivists is truly remarkable given the critical role that “toxins” play in natural mothering ideology and exhortations.

In The Polluted Child and Maternal Responsibility in the US Environmental Health Movement, a new paper in the Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Norah MacKendrick and Kate Cairnes explain that the idea of women’s bodies as the appropriate target of medical and moral anxiety has a long history.

The result is a culture that holds women responsible for protecting their children from toxins:

As disease risk is located in the maternal body, medical surveillance has extended in both temporal directions to include not only the pregnant body but also the pre-conception body, the breastfeeding body, and the feeding of young children. As women’s bodies come under greater scrutiny, so too do their actions and choices that might affect the fetus, infant, and child. This scrutiny corresponds to a culture of mother-blame that holds mothers accountable for their child’s health or behavioral problems…

Women’s desires are framed as dangerous:

Women are implored to eschew self-interest for the sake of the future child, whether by forgoing butter, skipping nail polish, or making homemade personal care products. These directives add to the long list of “rules” for controlling indulgences during pregnancy, where cigarettes, alcohol, unpasteurized milk, and raw fish are entirely forbidden, and balanced diets are a must, along with regular exercise (but not too much).

In Healthy Child Healthy World, women are warned against laziness:

The language of the “lab experiment” implies that mothers who fail to practice necessary vigilance are “experimenting” with the health of their baby. The guide presents fatigue as no excuse for lax control over the pregnant appetite:

“You’re tired and the last thing you want to do is cook. We get it. But consider this: When you dine out, order in, or consume processed packaged foods, you can never be entirely sure what you’re eating. Pre- paring your own meals at home using fresh, whole ingredients, on the other hand, gives you maximum control over what ends up on your plate. It’s the best way to ensure an optimally safe and healthy diet for both you and your baby. Besides, cooking tired is a necessary parenting skill…

Sound familiar? It should because it’s the language of the natural mothering movement, depicting women who choose epidurals, C-sections and formula feeding as weak and selfish.

… By taming cravings and “bad” habits during pregnancy, a woman begins her socialization into “good” motherhood, as she has perfected the careful, toxic-free habits of caregiving. The postpartum period puts this hard work to the test, as women are exhausted by breastfeeding and sleepless nights…

I found this statement particularly striking:

…[I]t is the pregnant woman’s desire to treat herself that puts her baby at risk.

The same goes for new mothers … unless the toxins are in breastmilk.

In the overwrought literature of lactivism, breastmilk is portrayed as perfect in every way: always available, always the right temperature, always the right amount and imbued with the power to improve health, prevent obesity and maximize intelligence. But breastmilk, like the pregnant mother’s blood, can transmit toxins and even concentrate them into higher amounts than in the maternal bloodstream.

Lactivists face a terrible quandary. They could eschew toxins altogether as they do in pregnancy. They could employ the same attitude to maternal indulgence in pregnancy and make it forbidden altogether. No smoking, no alcohol, no drugs and no medications (including pain relief for labor) can be countenanced during pregnancy. But whereas women cannot discontinue pregnancy in order to indulge their desires and still end up with a healthy baby, women can easily discontinue breastfeeding in order to indulge their desires and still end up with a health, formula fed baby. So lactivists have decided to take a laissez-faire attitude to substances in breastfeeding bodies that they would never countenance in pregnant bodies.

Professional lactivist Dr. Jack Newman helpfully lists the many toxins that would otherwise be verboten but are perfectly okay when found in breastmilk:

Tobacco smoking

A mother who cannot stop smoking should breastfeed. Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the negative effects of cigarette smoke on the baby’s lungs …

Alcohol

…The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for breastfeeding mothers.

Recreational drugs

These drugs, for example, marijuana and cocaine, have the same negative associations as does alcohol … But what I said about alcohol is true of these drugs as well…

Medications

Almost no medication taken by the mother requires her to stop or interrupt breastfeeding.

Anesthesia

Mothers are usually told that they will have to interrupt breastfeeding for 24 to 48 hours after surgery under general anesthetic… This is completely unnecessary. After all, we frequently give babies having surgery the very same medication.

What about the fact that these toxins can be easily avoided by using formula instead? Here Newman comes to the heart of the matter:

…[W]hy do so many physicians assume that any and every drug is contraindicated during breastfeeding? Basically, because they don’t believe that it matters if the mother breastfeeds or not. Formula=breastmilk, bottle feeding=breastfeeding, it’s all the same. But it’s not all the same.

In other words, Newman and other lactivists value breastfeeding more highly than a baby’s exposure to toxins, no matter how dangerous those toxins may be.

  • Heidi

    I did a double take on that general anesthetic one. If I’m getting surgery, I expect to be monitored closely for any interactions with the drugs and I expect to be in an operating room with resuscitation equipment and a code team to be called if the poo hit the fan. Same goes for my infant if they required surgery. But still I would not want my infant administered anesthesia drugs just cause even if the drugs won’t kill them.

    • ChickyDee

      When I was breastfeeding and needed a general anaesthetic due to appendicitis, the potential risks of the anaesthetic for me was a no-brainer because, you know, exploding appendix… But the the risk-benefit of exposing my kid to those drugs (plus the narcotic pain medication) was a different matter – I didn’t see any potential benefit to him at all, certainly not enough befit to warrant the risk. So I did what the anaesthesiologist suggested: pump and dump for a few days.

  • rosewater1

    OT update: Back with the latest news on my nephew’s fiancee. And sadly, the news isn’t good. Initially, she was making baby steps forward, She was even able to speak a few words at a time. But now….

    She had a second surgery Tuesday to remove a piece of her skull due to brain swelling. That has gone down post op. However , the surgeon stated that if she survives, she won’t have use of her left side. It’s too soon to tell what else she will-or will not-be able to do.

    As my brother says, they are taking this day by day and sometimes hour by hour.

    After the initial stroke and surgery, I pretty much stayed off the internet in terms of researching her condition. I’m not a medical professional, and I didn’t/don’t want to scare myself. But I did have a feeling that the proverbial other shoe was yet to drop.

    I’m not a frequent poster here by any means. If this comes across as attention seeking, I apologize. It’s not in my nature to sit on my hands and do nothing. I’m asking for prayers and support from all sources. Thank you.

    • Heidi

      I’m so sorry and you and your family will definitely be in my thoughts.

    • FormerPhysicist

      More prayers.

    • fiftyfifty1

      Sending hopeful thoughts! I have had young patients recover much better than expected from even very large strokes, so don’t lose hope. And don’t worry about seeming attention seeking, it is quite the opposite. Please keep us updated.

    • Mel

      Sending prayers your way! Seconding fiftyfifty1’s statement that it’s really hard to estimate the severity of damage in the immediate aftermath of a stroke. My family has seen similar issues with the predictions of neonatologists and preemie outcomes as well as surgeons/strokes. Surgeons – and neonatologists – are highly skilled in their field – but they aren’t the professionals who are working on the frontlines of correcting defects with outpatient clients.

    • rational thinker

      Don’t worry the we all know you are not an attention seeker. I hope she will be ok. Thoughts are with you and family.

    • B.E. Miller

      Sending hugs and good vibes.

  • namaste

    I knew a young woman. She was a Cystic Fibrosis patient 3 years post double lung transplant, so she was on some pretty potent anti-rejection meds that were WAY incompatible with breastfeeding. Anyway, against all odds (CF patients are often infertile), she had a son. The lactation consultant at the hospital actually encouraged her to stop taking her anti-rejection meds in order to breastfeed him. You know, the meds that were KEEPING HER ASS ALIVE! Thankfully she saw right through it, and told them where to go and how to get there. It just goes to prove that these people are zealots. They’re devoted to the cause to the point that reason, logic, and just plain common sense have been thrown straight out the window to be replaced by an irrational worship of the Almighty Boob.

    P.S. Keena ultimately did reject her new lungs and passed away four years later. She was listed for a second set, but they didn’t get them in time. However, she had seven great years and a kid that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. PSA: All it takes is checking a box on a driver’s license application. Just sayin’

    • MaineJen

      Check that box for sure, but also talk to your family and let them know your wishes!! Organ donation requires consent from the next of kin, even if it says ‘organ donor’ on your license.

      • Box of Salt

        Laws in your state may vary.

        In CA my checkbox is valid. No other consent is required.

        If you wait to track down my next of kin, my organs might not be worth donating.

        Also, my family knows my wishes. And vise versa.

  • rational thinker

    Im sorry but Mr Newman (I refuse to call him Doctor) but didn’t a breastfeeding mother go to prison a couple years ago because she was on a medication called morphine and her baby died from drinking her milk because asshole lactivists probably told her it was safe..

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    The dumb thing is that, Dr Jack is probably correct that these activities pose little risk to breastmilk (seriously, even the kids of smokers have much bigger risks than “toxins in the breastmilk).

    Where he is wrong is in totally overblowing the risks of other things, such as formula. Breastfeed after New Year’s Eve? No, not a problem. But then again, use formula instead? Also not a problem.

    These are also the same clowns who worry about the effects of an epidural, because, some might actually get to the baby…but pot and alcohol and anesthesia are ok?

  • andrea

    Mama gonna paaaartaay! We’ll snort some coke, smoke some dope, and life is good as long as we did “pump and dump.”

    • Russell Jones

      There ya go! Apparently, breast milk is some sort of holy elixir. It washes away any potentially harmful effects of booze, weed, meth, crack, heroine, etc. like the waters of Lourdes wash away sin and physical infirmity. Any breast-feeding moms out there who refrain from getting hammered on a regular basis out of concern for harming their children can therefore stop being prudes and LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL.

    • Is “Pump and Dump” not a thing? Like, that idea always did seem to make sense to me. Get rid of the milk that had the alcohol in it and wait for the fresh stuff to come in? I dunno… I haven’t had a kid yet but I remember a friend who was combo feeding doing “pump and dump” every time we had drinks (and using expressed milk/formula in the meantime.)

      • andrea

        Pump and dump is absolutely better than feeding your baby alcohol or illegal drug-laced breastmilk, and I’m sure a lot of ladies do it after a little ,ordinary outing with the girls. I would, too. But if mom partying hard enough to be smoking marijuana or snorting coke when her child is little enough to be breastfeeding, there’s probably some broader social/health/maturity/relationship issues going on that are far more dangerous to mom and baby than breastmilk vs. formula.

      • Allie

        I have no idea if this the case with drugs, but for alcohol, there is no need to pump and dump. The alcohol will clear from the milk the same as it does from the bloodstream. You can do it to relieve pressure, but it’s not necessary.

        • Daleth

          If alcohol clears from the milk the same as it does from the bloodstream, then isn’t there a period of time — potentially as long as several hours, depending on how much mom drank and how quickly her system metabolizes alcohol — where she does indeed need to pump and dump, and feed the baby something else in the meantime?

        • Any docs on here can correct me, but it seems there isn’t a terribly robust body of research on alcohol and breastfeeding best practices; given that women are supposed to lay off alcohol during pregnancy, then breastfeed for 2 years or more (according to the WHO), I wish they’d give a bit more guidance. I do not want to harm my children’s development, but I have spent most of the past 5 years pregnant or nursing, and I like alcohol.

          Now I’m still supposed to abstain although I’m not pregnant or nursing because I’m not on birth control; screw that. I drink small amounts (1 unit or less) a few times a week until 3 days after my estimated ovulation date, then abstain (except for a mouthful at church) until I get my period again.

          Anyway, I pumped and dumped if I had to express less than 3 hours after drinking when I was lactating, and I’m happy with that.

  • Mel

    I’m starting to read anything by Dr. Jack Newman in the same voice used for Dr. Nick (the quackiest doctor of them all) on the Simpsons.

    Isn’t he the same guy who was horrified that something like 7 or 9 women who came to get lactation support from him were using nipple shields?

    Nipple shields are evil – but breastfeeding an infant while Mom is still metabolizing general anesthetic drugs is totes good? Dr. Newman remembers that infants and children are not simply scaled-down versions of adults, right? I’m sure they covered that in medical school somewhere. Hell, doctors reached consensus on that crazy idea during WWI era….

    Maybe we should get Dr. Newman to voice Dr. Nick from now on.

    • StephanieJR

      Inflammable means flammable? What a country!

    • aurora

      He is the quack that i’m pretty sure wrote a whole article about how shields are evil because they were never depicted in paintings of Mary giving Jesus the boob…

      • Sarah

        There aren’t many paintings of Mary with Jesus in a sling either but you can bet he doesn’t use the same argument there.

    • MaineJen

      “Hi, everybody!”

  • EllenL

    “But it’s not all the same.”
    I actually agree. Sometimes formula is the superior choice!