Monday, November 24, 2014

Guilt-free Bottle Feeding: Expert Interview with Madeleine Morris

Today I'm excited to introduce Madeleine Morris, author of the recently published Guilt-free Bottle Feeding who will grace us with her insights and honesty on infant feeding including the neglected bottle. An award-winning former BBC reporter and presenter, Morris has written for the Times, the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald amongst others. Currently she is an investigative journalist for the Australian ABC's flagship current affairs show, 7.30. Fortunately for us she and her co-author, paediatrician Dr. Sasha Howard, joined forces to challenge the Breast Is Beast (typo, and it’s staying) ideology and offer ample evidence children who are bottle-fed (even with formula!) can grow up happy, health and smart too. They also offer practical advice for bottle-feeding but make no mistake, this book offers valuable knowledge for all parents such as infant feeding research, the culture of parenting and yes, the media. I’m a big fan of the book and should also note Madeleine Morris interviewed me for the book.

She also agreed to answer some questions for Momma Data. Enjoy...

MD: What’s the biggest misconception about breastfeeding?

MM: Without a doubt that because it’s ‘natural’ it will come naturally to everyone.  The idealization of breastfeeding has done all of us a great disservice.  We all believe it’s the ultimate expression of motherhood, yet we’re unprepared for the intense learning, adjusting, and sometimes ultimately failing that is the standard trajectory of breastfeeding in our thoroughly modern, unnatural lives.  

MD: What’s the biggest misconception about formula-feeding?

MM: Hmm… a tie for this one.  1) That formula-feeding is easy, and that you just ‘have to do what it says on the tin’.  FF isn’t rocket science, but there are important techniques you need to know to FF safely, and to promote health and bonding to its maximum.  Sadly, because of the conspiracy of silence around formula-feeding (as though if we don’t talk about it it will just go away) families don’t get told the information that could potentially make a difference to their baby’s health, and their own bonding experience.  2) That people formula-feed because they are too lazy, or just can’t be bothered to breastfeed.  Most mothers I know came to early formula-feeding through a traumatic breastfeeding experience OR they made an informed choice to do so, after seriously considering their personal circumstances, and what will be better holistically for their whole family.

MD: As a journalist, how do you think the media can improve the status quo in terms of breastfeeding/infant feeding news and advice?

MM: I wish journalists would be more transparent about important caveats.  If a sample is small, we need to know, right at the top of the story.  If it didn’t allow for important confounders, let us know (or better still, don’t report the study, because it’s less reliable anyway.)  And I wish there was a law that reporters had to read the whole study, not just the abstract, or even worse, only the press release.  This happens more than we realize, and it results in shoddy, misrepresentative stories.  

MD: Do you see any positive developments?  Negative?

MM: I actually think there has been a positive shift towards understanding the complex culture of formula-feeding, and reducing the shame FFing mothers feel, led by a number of important thinkers and advocates, such as Suzanne Barston, Joan Wolf, and any number of female journalists who are writing about their experiences of FFing in a positive way.  However, I don’t see much of a shift amongst the wider ‘baby industry’ - by that I mean baby media, public health bodies and the medical establishment.  We recently had a leading baby magazine in Australia say it couldn’t review my book because it is a breastfeeding friendly magazine, as though even discussing formula was anti-breastfeeding.  It is a very big tide to turn.  

MD: How has the media responded to your book?

MM: Much more positively than I expected!  Generally it’s been really warmly received.  I did a phone-in show on Australian radio where women were calling up saying they had never phoned in in ten years of listening, but wanted to say how grateful they were for the book. Amazing!  I think it really speaks to the huge need of so many families out there who are formula feeding for whatever reason, and need help, understanding and to not feel bad about it. That’s what we’ve tried to do.  

Thanks, Madeleine. 

Later this week I'll share more of Madeleine’s insightful answers in the debut of the official Momma Data Expert Q&A. I'll leave you today with more details about the book and Madeleine: 

Madeleine Morris on Twitter: @Mad_Morris

Watch the video: Madeleine Morris answers Is Breast Best?

Read another media interview with Madeleine.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Apply To Be An Expert Today, Please!

SheKnows, the giant digital media company has gobbled up BlogHer, the giant women’s blogging community in hopes of luring more female visitors, more brands and more advertising dollars to their lifestyle fiefdom that specializes in fashion, food, gardening and naturally – parenting!

If you don’t sit around checking your Twitter feed or care about digital media news don’t stop reading just yet. The #1 top women's media empire has experts too, thank you very much:

SheKnows might not carry the same weight among fashionistas or moms as a Vogue, Refinery29 or Parenting magazine, but it does have about 500 writers it calls experts on a range of topics, part of a program called "Experts Among Us." One woman, for instance, writes about untangling jewelry. The BlogHer network broadens this base of writers. via Advertising Age

Seriously. Untangling jewelry. Maybe this help explains it.

Philippe Guelton, SheKnows Media CEO, explained the partnership fit because both have the same vision for high-quality branded content. The two publishers served a total 1.76 billion ad impressions this past September. And together, they'll have 147.4 million social media followers. Ad Week

Same vision for high-quality branded content....

(*High-quality content by SheKnows expert: Thanks 

Of course, high-quality content, high-quality experts, high-quality influencers or should I say InfluenceHers:

Importantly, SheKnows will gain access to the InfluenceHer 360 platform, which allows bloggers to create native content and provides brands with valuable metrics that show how well the content performs. Guelton said SheKnows will combine InfluenceHer 360 with its current Experts Among Us offering, a group of influencers who are available to create branded content. SheKnows has about 500 experts, while BlogHer's reach includes 3,000 blogs and 17,000 social media accounts. Ad Week

Native content? Branded content? We’ll get to that paid mess another time. For now, let’s check out those experts. What does it take to become an expert and deliver expert knowledge and advice branded content at SheKnows? Internet access and not much else.

Believe it or not, there are experts everywhere. Maybe you have a fancy degree. Maybe it's a hardcore hobby. Maybe it's both. The true qualifier for an expert is whether you dare to share your passion. Roll that up with an amazing personality. Sprinkle on some social influence. Top off with a sprig of talent — and boom. You might just be our next rock star. SheKnows

SheKnows knows experts, clearly. Please, someone apply, I dare you. Please, I’ll help you find your passion and personality. I would love nothing better than to spawn more experts in my spare time. Plus I’ll also need someone to go on stage when I win one of the Top Voices of The Year awards in absentia at the BlogHer Conference in New York City this summer. As a SheKnows Expert you will need something to do at #BlogHer15 in between snapping up the swag, throwing back the free vodka shots and mingling with brands. 

*Thirteen people having a worse holiday than you (in GIFs). 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Breast Milk Speaks: Science Writer Carl Zimmer Listens

You know breastfeeding is sacred and beyond the lens of scientific objectivity when one of our most respected science writers doesn't seriously critique a study purported to show further “benefits” of breastfeeding. Even Carl Zimmer cannot resist the lure of lactation. At the risk of once again losing out on the annual award for Best Female Science Writer, I must ask whether Zimmer's recent article in the New York Times strikes anyone else as less than a probing, unbiased perspective on empirical evidence - check it out, Mother's Milk, Nutrients, and A Message, Too. 

Is he referring to breast milk or manna from heaven? 

Milk is not just food. The more closely scientists examine it, the more complexity they find. 

Along with nutrients like protein and calcium, milk contains immune factors that protect infants from disease. It hosts a menagerie of microbes, too, some of which may colonize the guts of babies and help them digest food. Milk even contains a special sugar that can fertilize that microbial garden. 

[Forget for a second that formula too has protein and calcium. Forget those "diseases", because most, whatever they are, haven't been linked to breastfeeding, only such terrible diseases as ear infections and diarrhea. Forget too that babies all learn to digest food...these issues are the least of our problems today.]

Scratch that religious analogy, breast milk is not so much manna from heaven as a prophet:

Now, it turns out, milk also contains messages. 

Breast milk hasn't been just food for some time but now it speaks, foretelling the infant's future. It tells babies how to behave:

A new study of monkeys, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, demonstrates that a hormone present in milk, cortisol, can have profound effects on how babies develop. Infant monkeys rely on cortisol to detect the condition of their mothers, the authors suggest, then adjust their growth and even shift their temperaments. 

Some monkey moms serve breast milk with lots of cortisol (i.e. the stress hormone). Some whip up the low-cortisol version. Newer moms (younger moms and/or those with fewer offspring) had the highest levels. Baby monkeys who drank breast milk with high levels of cortisol got the message to be fearful and less confident. Those who sipped low-cortisol milk got the message to be more outgoing and confident. Breast milk also told the high-cortisol babies to drink more or at least put on more weight (the exact message is unclear). 

Let me repeat that one bit. 

 Drinking breast milk appeared to make some infants more nervous and less confident.

How would you interpret that? 

Certainly not as a potential downside to breastfeeding. Oh no. Not that.

It's a benefit of breastfeeding if you're a breastfeeding researcher or reporter. Lots of cortisol prepares babies, it gets their cortisol receptors ready for exposure to future cortisol but more crucially it helps them cope with their negligent mothers (bad, bad mommy):

The babies fed high-cortisol milk develop a nervous temperament, focusing their limited energy on putting on weight. As a result, they grow faster, despite getting less energy from their inexperienced mothers.

Breast milk is so smart and benevolent it tells some baby monkeys they mustn't be too confident and out-going because they have to stick to mom and nurse as much as possible because mom is still young and small or because she's gonna be birthing other babies and kick you to the curb of the primate lab. 

Or as lead researcher Katie Hinde, PhD, head of Harvard's Comparative Lactation Lab told the New York Times: 

“Prioritize growth, kiddo. You can’t really afford to be exploratory and playful. Once you spend a calorie on that, it’s a calorie you can’t use to grow."

Science Daily did no better at explaining than Zimmer at describing the message or "signal."

Scientists are using this natural variation in breast milk quality and quantity to show that a mother's milk sends a reliable signal to infants about their environment. Science Daily

Enough with the monkeys. What about those other primates. What can humans take-away from the monkey talk? It’s not totally clear.

To his credit, Zimmer found an expert who thinks it's difficult to draw conclusions about how cortisol in breast milk might affect human babies. He also found an expert who said "it's important to explore the implications for humans" and either the guy didn't elaborate or CZ didn't think it important to follow up.

He did mention a study of cortisol in breast milk correlated with negative human infant temperament (as reported by moms). But again, he didn’t elaborate. So I checked it out. The speculative study found mothers with elevated cortisol in their breast milk reported their babies had more negative temperaments. Maternal depression or stress was also assessed via self-report survey (at 3 months) and no, it didn't predict levels of cortisol in breast milk (at 3 months). So mom’s emotional state didn’t predict cortisol levels in the milk – this seems strange but I’m no biochemist. Still, it would have been nice to know more about how cortisol levels relate to those in breast milk.

Of course it’s silly to talk about predictors of a child’s temperament (i.e. fearful/anxious) without mention of a possible direct connection to mom’s temperament. I only have the abstract of the human study but assume researchers checked whether a mother’s self-reported stress or depression also predicted infant temperament – and that a mother’s mood per say didn’t predict infant mood because it's not reported in the abstract (but this would contradict a fair bit of research). I could be wrong. I assume also that maternal cortisol levels also were not assessed because they're not reported in the abstract. The issue of a mother's cortisol levels (aside from breast milk levels) seems critical and yet, it's omitted from this discussion.

These are important questions surrounding elevated cortisol, in humans. But Carl didn't get into it. Readers are left to wonder and draw conclusions. Is there much if any evidence on how maternal stress impacts cortisol levels in general and in breast milk? I don't know because he didn't broach the topic. The issue of maternal mental health, anxiety and stress didn't figure into the miracles of breast milk. No, I couldn't voice my concerns at the New York Times because the article had no online comment section. 

I know, it's just about rhesus monkeys. 

Cue The Stones...I hope I'm not too messianic

Nobody is meant to act on this new discovery. 

Well, I am just a monkey man 

Especially not new, anxious moms under stress to breastfeed for a year.

I'm glad you are a monkey, monkey woman too...

UPDATE: I heard from lead researcher, Katie Hinde, see her comments below. I'm thrilled to report she supports a woman's choice to feed her baby breast milk or formula. As an advocate of more researchers writing for regular folk, I’m happy to see she pens the Mammals Suck...Milk blog, and one post alone contains a gif of Stephen Colbert and Big Bird. What do her results mean for human babies? She explains on her blog:

Human milk contains cortisol and has been linked to temperament. Breast-fed human babies have increased expression of cortisol receptors in their intestinal tract (kickass work by Sharon Donovan & colleagues). And in humans cortisol concentrations in milk are correlated with circulating cortisol in the mother’s bloodstream....

 What does it mean when cortisol is missing (formula) or cortisol in milk is turned to 11 with the knob broken off? We don’t know. Do we expect it to necessarily be catastrophic in typically developing kiddos? No, we don’t… because this one hormone, in one aspect of parenting, is just one of the rivets holding the plane wing on. One rivet can break, and the plane still flies… even two or three and the plane can get off the ground. Development is a multi-factorial system, and rarely is any one single aspect the linchpinSo moms, don’t let these findings stress you out. 

Did you hear that moms? And Carl Zimmer? 

Her stand on human feeding choice:  "Mammals Suck systematically supports moms, advocating for them to have ALL the options, be respected for whichever options fit their lives, and that ALL the options be better; better breast-feeding support, better formula, and the best breast milk science."  

Note her support for Momma Data friend and advocate for mothers, Suzie Barston, the Fearless Formula Feeder. (see her post, Manufactured Mommy Wars. Le Sigh. that mentions a FFF HuffPo article at the end). 

Friday, November 07, 2014

Why Science is Better Than Love and Sex

Science news amuses me more than the Daily Mail, the Daily Beast, Babble, Jezebel, CafeMom, Gawker and Huffington Post combined, even including HuffPo’s Love & Sex with its BDSM section (bondage, meh). Just as I was finishing typing out Love & Sex, I swear to you, the pop-up box on my screen announced the latest Love & Sex update had arrived in my inbox, and no, I never signed up for them – Couples Ask Each Other, ‘Am I the Best Sex You Ever Had?’

Guess what, I didn’t click on that tantalizing sociological exploration into human sexual behavior. Why? I could write that article in my head while driving the soccer carpool and holding on Verizon. Not that I would, mind you, but after enough The Most Erotic Fantasies I’ve Had While Breastfeeding, a person could come up with a story on sex positions or infidelity pretty quick and HuffPo might even post it.

We’re supposed to titter and giggle while reading the latest in bondage but I have the same reaction to experiments and empirical evidence and I doubt this is the intended reaction. I take perverse pleasure in that.

Such as these Children’s Health News Updates (Science Daily, Nov. 6):

Betting on brain research: Experts review challenges of translational neuroscience

Research suggests high-fat diets during pregnancy could [negatively] influence brain functioning, behavior of children

High-fat diet postpones brain aging in mice

Brain changes linked to prematurity may explain risk of neurodevelopmental disorders

Oxytocin levels in blood, cerebrospinal fluid are linked, study finds
Holy cranium! Neuroscientists must be making incredibly strides in curing and preventing brain disease:
Despite great advances in understanding how the human brain works, psychiatric conditions, neurodegenerative disorders, and brain injuries are on the rise. Progress in the development of new diagnostic and treatment approaches appears to have stalled [see first study above for more].
Brain research has been such a dud Science Daily followed up this disappointing news with more brain research! Thus we learn a high-fat diet harms brains. Then, a high-fat diet protects brains. I wonder if the Science Daily intern compiling these updates is intentionally messing with readers. The New York Times might agree.

Then there's this evidence that scientific behavior trumps sex. Check it out:

Participants in brain study: Stretching limits of scientific research and human dignity (credit: Univ of Wash)
Soft-porn doesn’t have a thing on science. The latter, it’s much harder to fake. I couldn’t make up half of it up, in part because it’s just too absurd, too twisted:

Direct Brain Interface Between Humans
Researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team's initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person's brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

You read it right. Someone might be controlling your brain in the near future. And it’s not the shirtless zombie-hunter hunk or the dominatrix with a whip. Get used to it. Love might be the universal language but it no longer has the monopoly on non-verbal communication. Bodies, speech, words, so last century:

“Sometimes, words just complicate things. What if our brains could communicate directly with each other, bypassing the need for language?”

I couldn’t make any of this up. Truly. Who says that? Who thinks that?

Better yet, who agrees to this stuff? Who volunteers for that kind of torture? Getting strapped into all that? The harness, the chin holder, the discomfort, the indignity. Look at the volunteer on the left, clearly The Submissive. 

The things people do in the name of love lust science.