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

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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?

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Like a drug company hiding the risks of its product, the breastfeeding industry is smearing the whistleblower.[/pullquote]

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.