Breastfeeding Medicine

Physicians blogging about breastfeeding

The Lancet Launches Breastfeeding Publication

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The Lancet has boldly stepped onto center stage to launch its new publication, Breastfeeding in the 21st Century. They state that “every mother and child no matter their location or circumstance, benefits from optimal breastfeeding practices.” They hosted the launch on January 29, 2016 in the Barbara Jordan Conference Center in the Kaiser Family Foundation building in Washington, D.C. The Conference Center symbolically honors Barbara Jordan, first African-American woman member of the Texas State Senate and then congresswoman from Texas starting in 1972. She was committed to fairness and to legislation that protects the underserved and the underrepresented.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine was invited, and Karla Shepard Rubinger was named. I, too, received an invitation to attend. Imagine going to Washington, staying overnight at a hotel to attend a two hour meeting! But I had to be there. I had to hear the discussion with my own ears and see the members of the program from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, USAID, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, to mention a few.
The Lancet began as an independent international weekly general medical journal with its first issue on October 5, 1823. Their objectives have always been to inform and to reform. The first editor, Thomas Wakley said, “A lancet can be an arched window to let in the light or it can be a sharp surgical instrument to cut out the dross and I intend to use it in both senses.” Over the years there has been progress and controversy. Medical research, clinical practice, global health and news commentary have been its weapons. It has not been without controversy, as The Lancet published a paper on autism and vaccine which proved to be untrue and unethically derived. The Lancet stirred a tobacco ban into a fury in 2003 and cancer data fabrication in 2006, both also requiring withdrawal of the original papers.
The Lancet has an impact factor of 45, second only to the New England Journal of Medicine. Breastfeeding could not be better positioned to have renewed global impact. In true Lancet policy, it started with the facts. Its support of breastfeeding is based on a thorough examination of the world literature. A Lancet Breastfeeding Series launch planning team was put together.
Several hundred packed the Conference Center and a camera man balanced on a boom to provide the best view of the event for the electronic attendees. Karla and I were down front, right behind the special guests and speakers. Roger Thurow of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs was an excellent moderator, keeping the program on schedule while controlling the eager audience. An opening video presentation was given by Melinda Gates supporting breastfeeding for all mothers and urging a program of global support especially for the underserved and underrepresented. It was eloquent and charming. The scientific papers were presented by Simon Murch of the University of Warwick, followed by Nigel Rolling from WHO.
It is noteworthy that the statement, “Breastfeeding makes the child smarter,” was perpetuated, but Dr. Rollins graciously accepted the suggestion that the more appropriate expression was: “Breastfeeding allows an infant to reach his full potential.” The substance of the talks is presented in the first publication of the Breastfeeding in the 21st Century. The papers have multiple authors and extensive bibliographies. They report the data we all know well and support. Check them out on the website.
A panel discussion involved leadership from USAID and UNICEF, representative from Vietnam Institute for Legislative Studies and author, economist Sue Horton. Truong Quoc Hung, of Vietnam Institute spoke passionately about conditions in Vietnam. The war of the formula companies against breastfeeding in his country is reprehensible. Vietnam needs help.
The closing remarks were offered by Susan Desmond-Hellmann of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was concluded that breastfeeding is a global public health issue that needs supportive measures at many levels, from legal and policy directives to social attitudes and values. The global impact was enlarged to 302 billion dollars annually, or 0.49% of the world national income. The World Bank, represented by Keith Hansen, states that the evidence on breastfeeding leaves no doubt that it is smart and a cost-effective investment in a more prosperous future. Let’s ensure that every child – every nation – can reap the benefits of breastfeeding, he said.
The breastfeeding project by The Lancet is described as a series. They pronounced that “Success in breastfeeding is not the sole responsibility of a woman – the promotion of breastfeeding is a collective societal responsibility.”
Find the works from this launch at, Vol. 387 January 30, 2016.
This is just the beginning of a great voyage. The Ark is loading. Don’t be left behind.
Ruth A. Lawrence, MD Is Distinguished Alumna Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology and.Northumberland Trust Chair in Pediatrics at University of Rochester School of Medicine. She is a founder of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and editor of the textbook, “Breastfeeding Medicine.”

Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.

Written by ruthlawrence

February 4, 2016 at 1:53 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I’m sorry if some moms feel bullied when they don’t breastfeed, and I’m sorry that has distracted the discussion in the United States away from the clear evidence that worldwide infant health depends on mothers’ milk. Lancet and WHO have the prestige to lead the way on this issue.

    Marguerite Herman

    February 5, 2016 at 2:24 pm

  2. Below is a quote from “Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect”,

    “We did not find associations with allergic disorders such as asthma or with blood pressure or cholesterol, and we noted an increase in tooth decay with longer periods of breastfeeding” There were also only “probable reductions in overweight and diabetes”.

    Would the ABM be willing to update its 2008 position statement which reads:
    “…. but long-term consequences of not breastfeeding have become
    apparent, such as a higher risk of sudden infant death syn-
    drome, necrotizing enterocolitis, elevated blood pressure
    and cholesterol, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, ”

    Many other organization such as the AAP also include information that make it look as though breastmilk is able to prevent these conditions and with a dose response.

    I hope that the members of the academy will use their voices to advocate for accurate, evidence based up-to date information for new mothers, as well as healthcare professionals and the general public.

    Although I feel that many breastfeeding advocates (I could be wrong–don’t hesitate to correct me) feel that exaggerating the benefits in order to increase the breastfeeding rates fine, but I feel that it is incredibly unethical, and can be harmful.

    Do we really want women to feel as if they caused their child’s diabetes (or asthma, or food allergies) because they failed at breastfeeding, or chose not to breastfeed?

    Do we want women to forgo antidepressants to breastfeed in order to prevent obesity? .

    I could go on and on –Would it be okay to tell new mothers that the MMR prevented diabetes to increase vaccination rates?

    Anne Risch

    February 6, 2016 at 1:51 pm

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