Fed is Best: The Silence Speaks Volumes

11/01/2017 07:40 pm ET

A few months ago, over 80 infant health organizations sent the Fed is Best Foundation an open letter asking to have a constructive dialogue regarding their concerns and vocal campaigns about the treatment of insufficient breastmilk supply—a legitimate issue that merits due attention. All mothers deserve accurate information about insufficient lactation and they deserve physicians and other health professionals who can properly diagnose and address the issue. No baby should suffer due to anyone's lack of education on lactation management.

The letter, signed by broad array of national organizations large and small, clearly stated “we believe that we can be most effective in serving moms and babies when we attack the root causes of a problem, rather than each other.” This seemed reasonable.

(You can read the letter and see the still growing list of organizations here.)

In the spirit of helping all mothers and babies, it would seem that finding common ground to achieve this very important goal would be advantageous to all. In fact, coming together for the greater good is often standard practice when a cause is bigger than the people involved.

In our politics, we expect Democrats and Republicans to put their differences aside and create bi-partisan solutions on key issues, such as healthcare for women and children, or in times of crisis. As parents, we expect teachers, unions, school boards and city administration officials to work reasonably together, remembering that a child's education is at stake. Adults are expected to work together. Full stop.

This is the spirit in which the letter was conceived and sent. 

I was hopeful. 

But Fed is Best’s response was telling on multiple levels and gives pause about their true intent.  Their first response was to attack the Executive Director of one of the 85 organizations (I repeat, 85) that signed on to the letter and demand an apology for a comment she made on the Fed is Best Facebook page back in February (yes, February!) from her personal account.  

Is this high school or are we talking about improving maternity care practices here? 

“I-don't-like-what-Susie-said-about me”-isms really have no place in the high stakes game of infant health. If the issue is as dire as the organization claims why drudge up a six-month old social media comment?

Regardless of the pettiness of this request, in the spirit of removing all barriers to a conversation, the ED complied—publicly apologizing (even posting it on the organization’s website) and offering to recuse herself from any meeting so as not to prevent the other 84 organizations ( I repeat, 84) involved from having a productive conversation. (You can see the public apology here.)

But that still was not enough.

Making petty personal demands of one person as a pre cursor to dialogue about millions of babies makes me wonder whose agenda is more important here. A personal one or the global effort for mothers and infants you claim to support. Is Fed is Best more interested in saving lives or stoking fear and anger among women?

When the open letter was resent by other organizations signed-on by the letter, there were crickets and tumbleweeds until this (below) —a letter that completely ignores the meeting request and never acknowledges a dialogue was even suggested.

What???

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.

At the end of the day, pettiness and divisiveness has never solved one social problem, ever. It has never saved one infant life. Or helped any mother navigate the early days of breastfeeding. Those who are serious about this work, make space for dissenting voices (at times I have been one of those voices) because it could actually reveal blind spots and/or create opportunities to propel the work forward. 

People who are serious about this work do not close doors to critical conversations, even uncomfortable ones, and the opportunity to learn from others. 

People who are serious about this work don't make it about them and their personal grievances. They seek common ground and collaboration even among “unusual” suspects.

Nor do they choose to exist only in their own “story,” rejecting, ignoring or silencing all other voices.

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, so lactation dysfunction can be properly diagnosed and addressed, which includes, at times, supplementing with breast milk substitutes.

We actually work on dismantling structural and socio-economic barriers for families and eradicating racial disparities right here in the U.S. Most importantly, we work directly in the community, listening to and serving mothers everyday—hearing the broad array of experiences—good and bad— not just sensationalizing the emails that suit our agenda.

So now I am extending my own invitation to the Fed is Best Foundation’s co-founders to join me in Detroit or Philadelphia where the infant mortality rates are double or triple the national average. If you care about infant deaths, I would appreciate the help.

Or we can meet where I grew up in Queens, New York to see hospitals were infant formula supplementation rates are as high as 98% and which also have high rates of low birthweight and pre-term births and then witness the impact of infant formula on their still developing guts.

In New York City, only two hospitals out of 36 report meeting the Healthy People 2020 goal of no more than 14.2% of breastfed infants receiving formula supplementation.

But I suspect my invitation will be ignored too. Perhaps they are too emotional about something I said.

Thank you for showing the world who you really are. Your silence on engaging in constructive dialogue speaks volumes.

And mothers all over the world heard you loud and clear.

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