UPDATE: The ABA counsellor at the centre of the “formula is a little bit like AIDS” controversy has refused to back down insisting that babies on formula are at serious risk of death.
When we ran this story yesterday, a number of readers accused Sunday Mail journalist David Murray and Mamamia of deliberately misquoting the Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor who had been accused of telling classes that “baby formula is a little bit like AIDS”.
We can now reveal investigative journalist David Murray spoke to the counsellor (who has allegedly now been stood down). You’ll see for yourselves that the woman in question is far from apologetic for her remarks and insteadrefused to back down.
In a story entitled “Counsellor won’t budge on formula”, The Courier Mail reported:
Doctors blasted the counsellor for “wrong” and inappropriate comments in a breastfeeding education class at the association’s Brisbane office. But the defiant counsellor maintains mothers must be told they are putting babies at risk if they use formula.
“To me babies are important and one death is too many if it can be prevented,” she told The Courier-Mail.
“When we promote breastfeeding you are saving babies’ lives. Every negative word you say about breastfeeding you are condemning babies to death.”
The stance raises questions about the level of training, supervision and control the association has over its counsellors.
The association has received millions of dollars in federal and state government funding and its patron is the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce.
Association president Rachel Fuller said on Friday the statements in the breastfeeding class “in no way represent” the body’s views and she was “following this matter up internally today”.
But when The Courier-Mail spoke to the counsellor late on Saturday, she had received only a brief call warning there “might be a bit of publicity”.
She said she probably would not refer to AIDS again but would instead tell mums that premature babies were dying because the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital lacked a milkbank.
“There is no point in me telling them there is not a death rate, that it’s not a serious thing to formula feed,” said the counsellor, who took 900 calls to the association’s breastfeeding helpline in 2010.
During the class earlier this month she told couples: “AIDS destroys your immune system and then you just die of anything and that’s what happens with formula. It provides no antibodies.
“Every 30 seconds a baby dies from infections due to a lack of breastfeeding.”
Are there significant benefits in breastfeeding. Yes. One hundred times yes. There is no question. But it is vital that ABA counsellors are educated in evidence-based only facts and statistics, rather than being permitted to engage in propaganda and scaremongering.
The ABA website talks of breastfeeding increasing a baby’s resistence to infection and disease and we have no doubt that is true. But we think it’s time these sweeping statements were qualified. By how much? Does breastfeeding mean your baby is 50% less likely to get an infection? 70% less likely? 5% less likely?
The claims about allergies and higher IQs also need to be qualified. It is time parents were given the full picture so they can truly weigh up the pros and cons of breastfeeding and make the best decision possible for their child.
As Murray points out, this issue raises a red flag to the ongoing supervision, training and knowledge of the volunteers permitted to educate the general public. And if that is too much to expect of a volunteer organisation – that its volunteers are able to convey the benefits of breastfeeding without resorting to myths and exaggerations - then perhaps more questions need to be asked. — Mamamia
If you didn’t read yesterday’s papers, get ready to have your jaw hit the floor.
Yesterday the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) were accused of using ‘scaremongering’ tactics following revelations one of their most popular counsellors told a class that, “Baby formula is a little bit like AIDS’ and that a baby dies ‘every 30 seconds” from formula feeding.
Following a tip-off from a concerned expectant parent who had attended an ABA class, News Limited investigative journalist David Murray sent an undercover reporter to a class by the counsellor in question to witness the comments first hand.
EXPECTANT mums and their partners were told baby formula was “like AIDS” during an Australian Breastfeeding Association class.
Couples were also repeatedly told a baby died “every 30 seconds” from formula feeding, prompting a rebuke from doctors.
“Formula is a little bit like AIDS,” one of the association’s leading counsellors told couples in the breastfeeding education class.
“Nobody actually dies from AIDS; what happens is AIDS destroys your immune system and then you just die of anything and that’s what happens with formula. It provides no antibodies.
“Every 30 seconds a baby dies from infections due to a lack of breastfeeding and the use of bottles, artificial milks and other risky products. Every 30 seconds.”
The association has received $4.3 million from the Federal Government during the past five years and its patron is Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
The counsellor is commended in the ABA’s latest annual report for taking the highest number of calls to the body’s taxpayer-subsidised National Breastfeeding Helpline.
Other documents show she helped more than 900 callers in 2010 and was honoured at a branch conference last year.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians said the baby mortality cited was “certainly not true in Australia” and could be “highly frightening” for new parents.
This post isn’t designed to demonize the ABA. They are a volunteer organisation who are a much-needed and valued resource for families. And they have a large number of warm, supportive, compassionate volunteers.
As an organisation that has received millions of dollars in government funding this story is about calling them to account.The training and supervision of their volunteers needs to be investigated. And it should go without saying that volunteers should be steeped in pro-breastfeeding facts that are evidence-based ONLY.
As an organisation who have and who can do so much good for women, it is time to acknowledge that there is a fanatical, zealous undercurrent to the ABA that is disturbing. And it is undermining all the good they do.
Frightening vulnerable parents into breastfeeding by using blatant lies and propoganda; intimating that formula is akin to AIDS and that babies are dying every thirty seconds is nothing short of a disgrace.
Because for every woman who is nurtured and encouraged and praised for exclusively breastfeeding, there are others, too many others, who are left humiliated, intimidated and ignored – yet whom are seen merely as collateral damage.
Well, sorry but that’s just not good enough.
What is without doubt is the fact the ABA counsellor in question is not alone. We know from past posts on Mamamia (which you can read here and here) that there are many more stories of ABA counsellors who are discrediting the name of the ABA and doing the organisation damage [update: according to the ABA, the counsellor in the story above has been stood down pending an investigation].
We have no doubt the ABA will read this post today. And what we want is for you to share your stories – both good and bad – about your experiences. They need to know the truth about the propaganda that is being spread and the unacceptable behaviour of some of their volunteers. But equally this is an opportunity to show the good that is done by those counsellors who have shown great empathy and compassion when dealing with you and your breastfeeding issues.
Over to you.