Breast-feeding Wars, Exhibit 798

Breast-feeding Wars, Exhibit 798

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
May 13 2009 10:40 AM

Breast-feeding Wars, Exhibit 798

Hanna, I was just catching up on your bloggingheads video when into my inbox popped new recommendations on breastfeeding and swine flu , urging doctors to advise women not to stop nursing even if they become infected with the H1N1 virus...

The argument, from a group called the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, is that

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"the infant would likely have been exposed to the virus before the mother’s symptoms appeared. Continued breastfeeding may help limit the severity of respiratory symptoms in infants that become infected… Breastfeeding should also continue if an infant becomes ill with suspected H1N1 flu."

In its full text , the group acknowledges that " information specific to this influenza is currently unavailable ," but runs with the suggestion that breastmilk is so powerful an elixir, it verges on a vaccine. It also assumes that this protection ought to trump concerns about infecting an asymptomatic child. But as you’ve shown, the evidence for milk as medicine is less than airtight.

Mostly, though, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect amalgam of anxieties – between breastfeeding and international pandemic. Hats off to the ABM for this odd mix of militancy and accidental parody.

Amanda Schaffer is a science and medical columnist for Slate.

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