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Wake Up! For your child's sake

I want to share a great video with you. This Wake-Up Story by Healthy Child, Healthy World has a very important message for all parents and the video is really well done too. Please watch it, take its suggestions to heart, and share it with your friends.  After you're done watching it...read below.

Okay, you're done?

Great message right?

But one thing bothered me, so as part of my vow to tell a friend, I'm going to share what I know about the issue.

If you're a regular reader of this blog and if those same words jumped out at you like they did at me, you probably know what I'm talking about. The information in the video is not wrong. There are toxins in breast milk. But I wish the video had said that there are toxins in breast milk and toxins in infant formula. At least with breast milk, we have some control over the supply chain. With formula, you don't know what toxins the cows (in the case of dairy formula) or the plants (in the case of soy formula) have been exposed to or what else has been introduced (on purpose or by mistake) in the manufacturing process.  In addition, breastfeeding has many benefits that infant formula cannot replicate and infant formula has risks to the child and negative environmental consequences that breast milk does not. I worry about the harm that will be done to breastfeeding rates by telling women that there are toxins in breast milk without explaining that it doesn't mean formula is a safer option.

As women, there are things we can do to reduce the toxins in our bodies and our breast milk. As activists, we can encourage governments to more strictly regulate the release of harmful toxins into the environment, our food, and our consumer products.

I hope to do a more detailed article on this in the future and have been collecting research and links for a while. In the meantime, please read:
« Nestle online charm offensive = lipstick on a pig | Main | Gerber Graduates: If the staple doesn't kill your child, the salt just might »

Reader Comments (26)

Okay, so we're not friends ... I'm just someone who reads your blog, but this is what I think of that video: Blah, blah, blah. The airy-fairy music? All the rhetoric about how perfect it was in the good ol' days? Come on. Things weren't perfect then either. Homes were insulated with asbestos, the paint on the walls was full of lead, pots and pans leeched lead too, and many children suffered from polio or other serious illness before vaccines. My two cents (for what they're worth!).

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercoffeewithjulie

@coffeewithjulie makes a good point about the "good ol' days" and I totally didn't like the toxic breastmilk thing, but the website does offer some simple, quality ideas for changes a family can make around their home. Not all of them are feasible (Get rid of ALL my particleboard furniture?!? But I can't AFFORD new hardwood furniture b/c I would have gotten that in the first place if I could), but many are (I aired out my house today despite it being January).

Thanks for posting this. I'm going to check out their book from the library and start discussions with friends and more knowledgeable connections to see what they think.


February 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter@sweetbabboo

I had a knee-jerk reaction to the video because it felt like fear-mongering. And although I am not a breast feeding advocate per se, the breast milk element of the video was especially irksome. "Breast Milk" was presented in enormous font (the largest font in the whole video if I'm not mistaken) and the music was building up to it.

However, I totally take your point that the actual website might be helpful. I do try to control what toxins my children are exposed to -- like aspartame, BPA and whatnot -- I just take offence to the whole "good ol' days" notion and the ever-present fear-mongering that seems so prevalent in today's media.

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercoffeewithjulie

Wow, coffeewithjulie, really?...blah, blah, blah? I will go with you on the "things weren't perfect then either" - and things will never be perfect but rather than improving things since the days of lead paint and asbestos we have replaced it with 1000's more chemicals in every thing imaginable.
But aren't we missing the point? Whether it's bad now or it has always been bad, the point is we need to do something about it. Parents need to be aware of what their children are exposed to and how it affects their health.

I was about to make the same good ole days comments. Like when people drank and smoked while pregnant and around their kids. Also they are a bit alarmist when they use the word "chemical." I am drinking a chemical right now... water. We are made of chemicals. Yes there are toxic chemicals but to say your child is eating chemicals is silly because yes even natural foods have chemicals (vitamins etc). Just one of those things that bothers me. Also, some of us are allergic to wool so that warm once upon a time wool bed just makes me itch for one!

Don't get me wrong. I am tired of reports about heavy metals and toxic additives in toys and jewelry and toothpaste etc. It is ridiculous and I don't want my family exposed to that! I am just not sure how we turn the tide when we want everything as cheap as possible and manufacturers want big fat margins.

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I had the same reaction to 'The Story of Stuff', which I enjoyed. I enjoyed this video, too. What I found in my research, though, that neither of these videos mention is that:
(1) Toxins are also passed from mother to child in pregnancy in significant quantities, so it's not like not breastfeeding allows you to avoid the issue.
(2) While breastfed babies are, on average, exposed to more toxins breast milk also provides a protective effect. This is why cancer rates are reduces for breastfed infants, for example.

The reason that formula contains fewer toxins is that it uses vegetable fat, while breast milk obviously contains animal fat. There are generally more toxins that accumulate in animal fat, especially when that animal eats other animals, as we know from the mercury levels of fish like tuna. Well and good, except that human babies are not meant to consume vegetable oil. It doesn't have the 'good fats' or the CLAs or any of that stuff. Some of those things are added to formula, but are still perhaps not absorbed as well. I would far rather work to reduce my own exposure to toxins than make this particular compromise and feed my baby something that doesn't have any of the good stuff they really need and evolved to expect.

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

If anyone is interested in learning more about toxins in breastmilk, I suggest you read "Having Faith" By Sandra Steingraber. Steingraber is an ecologist and cancer survivor and this book contains her research and thoughts during her pregnancy about our environment's effects on the womb environment. It completely changed my perspective. Her research found that breast milk is the most toxin-filled substance in the world (being that humans are at the top of the food chain, and breast milk is concentrated even on top of that) but regardless, it is still the purest and best food for babies. (To Amber's point, the benefits protect from and outweigh the negativs.) In fact, many of the toxins in our bodies are passed down from generation to generation through our air, water and food, so even if you personally eat & live well today you are still pssing down generations of toxins to your children, and they will, in turn, pass a greater toxic burden on to their children.

I am nowhere near as eloquent or knowledgeable as her, so read the book! :)

That said, I read the book "Health Child, Healthy World" and found it full of incredibly useful steps one can take to make their environment healthier. My asthma has decreased markedly since putting many of the book's suggestions into practice. And I realize that no one can do everything, especially overnight (yeah, I can't afford new furniture, either!) but being well-educated about the subject means that I can make better decisions moving forward. After all, I hope to live at least another 50 or 60 years...that's plenty of time to make a lot more changes!

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Hi Karen -

"Blah, blah, blah" was my way of expressing what happens in my mind as soon as I am presented with something that smells like fear-mongering. Fear-mongering is not an effective way to get me to listen to a message. That was my point.

However, I can see how the "blah, blah, blah" might have sounded flippant to your (and others and mine) real concerns about today's environment. But that is not what it was referring to.

But back to the point of the video ... it seems to me, as its title indicates, to be encouraging parents to 'Wake up." Ah, hello? I'm awake, thanks.

If this organization would like to help me be more aware (and in turn help raise awareness of their website), then I think a more effective means might have been to have skipped the "good ol' days" red-herring, the fear-mongering tactics (like "breast milk" in enormous font) and the paternalistic tone.

Naturally, that's just my opinion. Others, like the author of this blog, found it effective.

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercoffeewithjulie

I rewatched it, and I agree with the breast-milk fearmongering being irritating. I had a different response to what the "good old days" were, though — I was thinking much, much longer ago than the 1950s or whenever, back before people lined their homes with asbestos. But I think that might just be my own bent toward thinking of tribal life rather than what the video's suggesting, since it does show a little 1950s-ish house and yards and wooden toys. The oldest the visuals could be referencing would be the 1800s, maybe, when coal fires were polluting the air everywhere. So, yes, hearkening back to the good old days is a little suspect.

That said, the book seems like a good start. http://www.hobomama.com/2009/12/healthy-child-healthy-world-taking.html" rel="nofollow">Molly Jarrell reviewed it at my site, and it sounds like a series of steps to take. Not that it's possible to do them all, but each step is one step closer to fewer toxins polluting our bodies and our homes.

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren @ Hobo Mama

This is fascinating. I have always tried to keep this in mind when dealing with people and this thread is an example of it. Everyone's brain has a filter. It's like the telephone game. Something is said and it can be interpreted many ways...for instance...

I was just enjoying the notion of the good ol days and not over-analyzing it.
I took the 'breastmilk' thing to be an "attention grabber" to make people say, "what do they mean breastmilk has chemicals???? I better learn more about this". Fear mongering never entered my mind. Although I will admit that if the government or a drug company was using fear mongering I would be equally pissed and put off like some here.
And nit-picking the word 'chemical' ? Really?

I wonder if the audience at this website is a little more enlightened and therefore offended by the video. I do a lot of research for my website and an e-book that I am writing and I tell ya...the majority of parents are clueless about this stuff, that don't think twice about the chemicals in household cleaners or baby bottles or baby shampoo, they just do what normal people do and they desperately need a smack upside the head like this video.
Is that harsh? I'm just passionate about my son's health and it amazes me how many people take a child's health for granted. It's sad really

I took the breast milk thing as a "look, even the most natural and pure of substances has toxic chemicals in it! This is HOW BAD things are!" I also took the omitting of formula to mean that breastmilk is clearly the best choice so won't even discuss the other alternative... But I definitely see the points about people seeing that and jumping to the conclusion that breastmilk must therefore not be so great or even be bad.

I also bristled a bit about the romanticizing of the "good ole days" partially b/c I just see it all. The. Time. Everywhere. And it gets old. Things were NOT perfect back then. And no, they're not perfect now. And I have a hard time seeing how, if EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE really is this contaminated, how making small changes within my small household will make that big of an effect.

But, the overall message is good, and I think this video on this particular blog probably is preaching to the choir for the most part.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

I think I have to agree with pretty much everyone else's statements even though wome vary greatly. It just goes to show you how different people perceive things differently.
But the 'breastmilk' part did stand out for me the most, too, since I am pationate about breastfeeding. The way I received the message was the same way Marcy did, that even the most pure and best option for feeding our babies has toxins. It still bothered me though.
I think the video had an overall good message.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenn-O

Wow! I love all of your honest analyses. Clearly - you're all "awake" and maybe having this video on this blog is preaching to the choir as Marcy said. But, we all know someone who still needs waking up - so that's why it's so important to share. To be fully transparent, I work for Healthy Child Healthy World, and I have to say that when the conceptual draft of this video was presented to me, I made the exact same comments - I didn't like harkening back to "better" days (I wanted us to start the story now and move toward a better future --- a future only possible if we all try to get there together). And, I was really upset by the breast milk contamination bit. As an organization, we advocate for breast feeding, and if you check out our site you'll find that we say breast feeding is healthiest (despite contaminants - as Amber said, the breast milk also has protective qualities.) As you can see, my opinions were over-ruled, and thus far for the most part, people are responding very positively to the video.

Coffeewithjulia - I'm sorry you feel so strongly that this is fear-mongering. It may be dramatic, but there's nothing falsely presented in this video. I don't feel it's fear-mongering if it's true. In fact, if you learn the facts and you feel afraid, it's because it's really scary. And the situation we are living in is scary. If you're not afraid, you're not awake. Now, I'm not saying we should all live in fear, but I am saying we need to wake-up and take action. And, in regards to harkening back to days when we used asbestos in insulation and lead in paint - sure, we don't use those toxic substances for those applications anymore, but you'd be surprised to learn how widely used they still are. Our regulatory system was unable to ban them despite overwhelming evidence of harm.

Since all of you clearly get the issue, I encourage you to sign-up for our newsletters. This year we need everyone we can get to help us pass a flurry of legislative bills to stop this nonsense. And, if you know parents who aren't aware, share the video with them. And, if you want to learn more, visit healthychild.org or pick up our book. We're a bit less dramatic in our day-to-day communications. We really try to make the science understandable and find a wide variety of solutions for parents. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Thanks, Annie, for sharing the video - and thank you everyone else for watching it. I believe mamas are going to be the muscle behind any significant changes, so I really appreciate the interest and the thoughtful dialogue.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJanelle Sorensen

I love the Healthy Child cause. I thought that the video did serve as a "wake up call." I, too, thought the toxins in breastmilk was a bit fear mongering... but I also think the point of a wake up call video is to invoke (evoke?) fear in people.

After watching the video, I went to their website to check out the organization. I searched their website for the word "breastfeeding." There were MANY mentions of it being the healthiest choice for babies, which I was happy to see.

All these mentions made the two contradictions I saw even more blatant. First, the mention of toxins in breastmilk in the video, which they want to go viral, does not inspire confidence in people that bfing is the healthiest choice. Perhaps, as Annie mentioned, they should have also said that formula contains toxins.

The second thing i took issue with was actually on their website. If you go to their website home page and click on the "Shop Healthy - Safer. Affordable. Non-Toxic." link on the right hand side, an image appears with a shopping cart. What I immediately noticed was the GIANT thinkbaby bottle in the front of the cart. This bottle appears disproportionately large compared to other items in the image. If bfing is best (as mentioned so many times on the website), then why the big ol' bottle imagery in that image on the homepage?! Of course, thinkbaby is one of their "trusted partners." I tweeted this sentiment to @Healthy_Child, and their response was "@semigranola I guess because we often get asked what bottles are safe (esp when the BPA issue first became well-known)." Maybe they could have made the bottle a bit smaller... or put it in the back of the cart... or, even better, put the sippy spout on it that thinkbaby makes??

I do feel like they are working hard to promote a great cause... perhaps they just need a little counsel on eliminating mixed signals about bfing.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

I'm with Lauren and Karen. I saw the video, realized they couldn't be talking bout *those* good old days because they were much worse with the lead paint, asbestos, smoking, etc. Yes, they must be talking about the days before the industrial revolution. And I too, saw the breastfeeding message as an attention grabber. Wow! I need to learn more about that. Because most of these videos preach to the choir I think most of us know the things in this video but it acts as a reminder. Oh, right, yes, I should talk to someone about this while I remember! When a well meaning video sparks only controversy because it could have done things better (that would be called a movie everyone!) its message ends up getting lost I think. And what's the good of that?

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

That's how I saw it, too, Karen. As they went through all of the things in the home I felt like I knew all of this information already and I'm doing my best to move away from it. Obviously I'm not the target audience.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiriam

I also try to avoid all of those things already, but I still saw myself as part of the target audience. Maybe not for the start of the video because I didn't need to be woken up, I am already awake. But for the more important part - the part about asking a friend and telling a friend. Instead of feeling helpless, we can all help each other by sharing what we know and what we've learned about avoiding these types of toxins and finding alternative products for our homes.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I wasn't very impressed with this particular video (although I support what the organization is trying to do). I felt like the video was about to sell me something. I was waiting to be sold green cleaning products, in fact. :-) As @coffeewithjulie noted, there was a lot of fear-mongering; and the video talked down to parents. That's a non-starter for me.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Douglas

I'm another one not terribly impressed by the video, probably because I know that stuff pretty well already. Pretty hard to balance fear mongering with the call to action, I suppose, and getting a strong response is best if you want the video to go viral.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I have mixed reactions to this video.

On the one hand, I want to be flippant and sarcastic and go, "No shit, you mean I shouldn't have let my toddler eat half a Twinkie last night?" But I recognize that is a largely reactionary, defensive response and isn't going to be helpful to - well, anyone, except possibly Janelle since she may want a recollection of every reaction to this video for future use.

But a larger part of my reaction is - well, apathy. Part of that is probably rooted in the kind of class privilege that allows me to assume that most people already know that we as a society are inundated with way too many chemicals and additives etc. and that these are having a negative affect on our health. The other part of it is rooted in the lack of privilege that looks at the segment about advocating for safer products and sees brand names like Whole Foods, and thinks that there is no damn way I can afford to shop there, and sort of resents being told (again and again) that it's up to me to protect my family's health (if not the Fate of Our World) by being a better consumer when I can't afford to be the kind of consumer that videos like these seem to want me to be - hell, the kind of consumer that I'd like to be. (You think I don't want to shop at Whole Foods? I love it there!)

Are there things that I can do to help reduce my carbon footprint? To make healthier eating choices for myself and my family? Yes - and I do them, when the opportunity arises. I just think that having a more class-conscious approach to movements like these would do all of them, and all of us, a world of good.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlovepeaceohana

lovepeaceohana - I'm right there with you on the product placement. We tend to highlight products most people can't afford and I'm always trying to insert cheap or free tips for people. I'd love to buy all my groceries at whole foods - or, better yet - my local co-op, but no can do.

Before I worked for Healthy Child, I worked on the exact same issues, but with immigrant communities, inner city families, and Native Americans. I understand the injustice of a culture where only the wealthy can afford safer products. It's shameful.

That's why we also work on passing protective policies - so, hopefully someday we can go shopping and not have to worry about any products we buy (I know - wishful thinking maybe, but things could be a helluva lot better). I firmly believe we can do better as a society. We can have a free market and choice, and we can do it without making products that risk our children's health and development.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJanelle Sorensen

@Janelle - Thank you - that means a lot to folks like me. I can and will absolutely get behind legislation that makes it harder, if not impossible, to contaminate our goods with unnecessary and even harmful chemical substitutes for real vitamins, minerals, and materials. Not that everything synthetic is automatically evil, but everything has a price beyond the sticker on the shelf - I just wish more companies would pay heed to the human cost of their enterprises (hah, I'll add my wishful thinking to yours) and actively produce goods that are ethical in source, manufacture, and distribution.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlovepeaceohana

I found the same thing drove me nuts with the Story of Stuff....what really kills me here is the mention of toxins in breastmilk and the inclusion of a baby bottle feeding once the happy music comes on.

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLizette

I totally get what you are saying and unfortunately people will take it to mean that breastmilk is tainted. BUT I think the point was that EVEN breastmilk has toxins in it. My feeling was that it was obvious that formula had toxins and no one knew about breastmilk. But, yeah they needed to make it more clear. People only need a slight push to not breastfeed.

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemomof3

[...] This video gave me the heebey-jeebies. But, like PhD in Parenting, I’m also not a fan of how they presented the “toxins in [...]

It felt like fearmongering to me, too, even though I agree with the basic message. I am really surprised to see myself coming down on that side of things, but there you go.

December 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommentereB

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