A tribute to Miriam H. Labbok
Dr. Miriam Harriet Labbok (1949-2016)
On behalf of ABM founders and as their representative on the ABM Board of Governors, I wish to celebrate the life and vitality of Miriam Harriet Labbok, MD, MPH, IBCLC and a co-founder of the ABM. On August 13, 2016 she lost a sudden and rapid battle, all the while showing great tenacity, fortitude, and sense of humor. These inspiring traits are reflected in her 40 years of supporting the mother-infant dyad as an internationally respected and influential expert on breastfeeding and maternal and child health.
Miriam Labbok’s personality was reflective of her New Jersey roots: outspoken, forthright and passionate. Her academic training reflected her integrative strengths and passion for preventive healthcare with a worldwide vision. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received her M.D. and M.P.H. degrees from Tulane University. Her medical training continued in Occupational Health and Preventive Health. Her initial academic focus was on international application of contraception technology as a process to improve the health of women and their families. Her mentorship with John Queenan, MD, a distinguished Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Georgetown University, rapidly clarified her life passion and focus on breastfeeding as the best primary preventive care intervention and the most important role in child spacing/contraception, especially in countries with fewer resources.
Miriam’s intellect, academic productivity (many chapters in textbooks on maternal and child health and an author of more than one hundred fifty scholarly articles), as well as, her persistent and firm advocacy for her beliefs, lead to her leadership positions supporting breastfeeding at UNICEF and USAID. Early in her career, she recognized the dangers and conflict of interest presented by makers of artificial milk, aka “formula”. One of her greatest successes was her role in galvanizing an international agreement for the Ten Steps to support breastfeeding and reduce the negative influences of the artificial milk manufacturers. Given her international successes and her outspoken beliefs, it is no surprise that Miriam was a co-Founder of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. In her subsequent leadership roles in the ABM and its Board, she always reminded us of WHO Code violations and conflicts of interest and the need for the ABM to be an international organization that compliments and networks with other organizations with similar support for breastfeeding. Until her retirement this spring, Miriam was a Professor of Maternal and Child Health at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health and Director of the School’s Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute. These titles and positions reflect Miriam’s vision and successes in supporting the breastfeeding mother and her family regardless of geography, culture, religion, or available resources.
As ABM members, we need to emulate her willingness to confront international challenges, collaborate with other supporting organizations, and scrutinize our behaviors and connections for potential “WHO Code” violations. Miriam, thank you for helping us grow.
Edward Newton, MD
Ed Newton, MD, FABM is a maternal-fetal medicine sub specialist and a founder of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.