By Megan Pond
That’s the rumor that’s going around. Stop breastfeeding. Why? Because I read that the CDC says to. It’s supposed to make vaccines work better if I’m not breastfeeding. Sorry, but I’m going to call this bull. It’s not because I love the CDC or think it’s not corrupt. It’s because misinformation like this hurts us. It hurts you, it hurts me, and it hurts our future of educating others health.
These rumors look something like this:
“Scientists say that breastfeeding should be halted to improve vaccine effects.”
“What’s more is the fact that the researchers seem to indicate mothers should instead choose to give their children synthetic formula.”
“CDC researchers say mothers should stop breastfeeding.”
All of the above and much more are, yes, FALSE. Perhaps you’ve read one or two of these. Did you check the sources from where you read them? When I saw these rumors, I couldn’t help but get out my (red flag). So I decided to check the source of the commotion.
All of the sources are traced back to this study — Inhibitory effect of breast milk on infectivity of live oral rotavirus vaccines. — which can be found on PubMed.
- First note what the study is referencing: the live oral rotavirus vaccine. It is not a study on all vaccines, or even 2 specific vaccines. It’s a study done on ONE vaccine. By saying that “CDC researchers support stopping breastfeeding to improve vaccine effects” misleads the reader into thinking this pertains to ALL vaccines. It does not.
- Next, click on the link and read what the study is all about. In short, researchers have noticed that the oral rotavirus vaccine is particularly ineffective in poor and developing countries, versus developed countries like the United States. They studied breastfeeding women from India, Vietnam, South Korea, and the United States.
- Notice the numbers of women studied in each country: 40, 77, 35, 51, respectively. This is, by no means, a large study. This is considered an incredibly small study.
- And then note their findings. Women in India had the highest amount of titers in their breast milk, followed by Korean and Vietnamese women, and American women had the lowest titers. A titer test measures the level or presence of antibodies in the blood. [source] If a person’s titers are high enough towards a disease, in this case rotavirus, they have a lot of antibodies for that disease and can be considered “immune” to rotavirus. What puzzled these researchers was that the rotavirus vaccine fails more often in poor countries despite high titers for rotavirus.
- The most important part of this studies lies in the interpretation of the study. I will quote it in it’s entirety:
The lower immunogenicity and efficacy of rotavirus vaccines in poor developing countries could be explained, in part, by higher titers of IgA and neutralizing activity in breast milk consumed by their infants at the time of immunization that could effectively reduce the potency of the vaccine. Strategies to overcome this negative effect, such as delaying breast-feeding at the time of immunization, should be evaluated.
Notice how there’s no real definites in there. It’s basically a hypothesis. They’re offering a possible explanation to why the vaccine may be failing in developing countries, but they aren’t sure. They suggest possibly studying the benefit of delaying breastfeeding either at the time of immunization (so they’re suggesting to, perhaps, try seeing if vaccinating the baby on an empty stomach could be beneficial to the efficacy of the vaccine — so immunize inbetween feedings, NOT to stop breastfeeding altogether) or they are suggesting to delay breastfeeding for an hour or two immediately following immunization with the oral rotavirus vaccine. They suggest the idea of immunizing inbetween feedings or possibly before a feeding should be evaluated. Note that nowhere in the study does it say anything about formula or synthetic milk.
- Notice this also isn’t a statement or recommendation given by the CDC. It is a study that the CDC funded.
- There is also no reference or suggestion in regard to developed countries (so basically, you and I). It doesn’t reference any recommendation that should be followed by any person living in a developed country, and it doesn’t state that they are interested in evaluating this “delay in breastfeeding” in developed countries.
So, please, let’s not blow this out of proportion. It reminds me of a certain doctor that stated further evaluation should be done on the MMR vaccine because of his preliminary findings that indicated children with Autism also have gut problems. What happened to him? That statement was interpreted to mean he said the MMR caused Autism and a witch-hunt ensued.
There are many reasons this could be happening, and the researchers made note to say they were unsure. One of the reasons could be because the women and children in developing countries are, generally, malnourished and therefore, even if their bodies are teaming with antibodies, their immune systems don’t process those antibodies correctly for them to be able to fight off disease. It only takes a simple google search on malnutrition in India, South Korea, and Vietnam to see just how serious of a problem it is in those countries. There was another very small study done on Zairian breastfeeding women to determine if malnutrition effected the concentration of antibodies in breast milk. They found that there was no effect. The concentration of antibodies was the same in malnourished women as they were in healthy women, but the efficacy of the rotavirus vaccine was very low in women with malnourished babies. This means that malnourished, breastfed children were more likely to get rotavirus despite the concentration of antibodies being the same. However, they also found that malnourished women secreted 30% less milk than healthy women. So over-all, children of malnourished women will get a decreased number of antibodies as children of healthy women, and this decrease of milk secretion is likely tied to why the child is also malnourished.
Another reason could be that the rotavirus vaccine simply has a low effectiveness all around, and it’s just more common to contract rotavirus in developing countries because condition are worse (i.e. clean water is hard to find, sanitation is sub-par, living quarters are very close, etc). Americans don’t contract rotavirus as often, just as we don’t contract typhoid, typhus, yellow fever, and cholera as often as people in developing countries do. Rotavirus is spread via fecal-oral route. Developed countries have access to clean drinking water, their sanitation conditions are much better, and they have more of an understanding on how illness spreads. Health departments work hard to increase that kind of awareness. We learn from a young age how to cough into our elbows, to wash our hands after we go to the bathroom, and so forth. Disease doesn’t spread as quickly.
What Really IS the CDCs Stance on Breastfeeding?
If one were to search the CDCs website for information about breastfeeding, they would be bombarded with their support on that topic. Just see here. They would find topics like “How can states improve breastfeeding rates?” or “Research shows that breastfeeding can help to reduce childhood obesity and protects babies from several medical issues,” or, referring to jaundiced babies, “If you are breastfeeding, you should nurse the baby at least 8 to 12 times a day for the first few days.” There are over 4,000 related articles and websites pertaining to the CDC being in support of breastfeeding and it’s health benefits.
Why I Feel the Need to Dispel the Rumors
Those of us in this whole anti-vaccine/pro-information realm of the universe understand that, at times, we’re walking on egg shells. We have to choose our information, sources, and critiques carefully when educating the world about the dangers of vaccines and the level of corruption in the organizations where the “Big-Wigs” of health decisions sit. We’re very easily labeled “conspiracy theorists”, “anti-vaccine wackos,” or “health nuts.” Sometimes, I wear those titles proudly. But often times, those derogatory phrases are used to label people *because* they post or say incorrect information and the pro-vaccine realm can easily see through their info. They see that the anti-vaccinators’ “reliable sources” aren’t actually reliable. This misinformation needs to stop. Our mission should be about real, scientific information. Not fear-mongering (we’ll leave that up to the CDC, because they do a great job at fear-mongering parents into vaccinating). If we’re going to strike fear in the hearts of our readers, at least let it be about something they should really fear rather than nonsensical misinformation. We have enough to be afraid of, we don’t need more. We’re up against a huge machine of lies in this realm, and spouting information that isn’t correct is just going to delay the downfall of that machine.