Fran Drescher courted controversy last week during a radio interview in which she said that breastfeeding "poisons" infants and recommended that nursing mothers get their breast milk tested for toxins. And although the stance might make headlines for the actress and her Cancer Schmancer organization, breastfeeding advocates are up in arms.
Drescher's stance is that most breast milk now contains flame retardants, which are known carcinogens. And on that point, I agree with her: Americans now record flame retardant blood levels as much as 100 times higher than Europeans, and the chemicals -- which are transmitted through dust to our lungs, blood and even breast milk -- are linked to cancer, as well as neurological, developmental and fertility problems.
But recommending a ban on breastfeeding is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Experts like Sandra Steingraber have already taken on the subject. In a blog written for Healthy Child Healthy World, Steingraber wrote, "Breast milk is not just food. It is also medicine. It swarms with antibodies and white blood cells drawn from your own body. By drinking it, your infant comes to share your immune system."
Breastfed infants have lower rates of infection, SIDS and a whole host of other problems. According to Steingraber, studies show that breastfed infants actually have lower rates of cancer as adults. As for moms, the benefits are tremendous: Less bleeding after childbirth and lower rates of ovarian and breast cancer, among others.
Not to mention an amazing bonding experience between mother and baby that is more convenient and less expensive than any bottle.
Yes, we all now have chemicals in our bodies. In fact, babies are now born with more than 200 industrial chemicals in their blood. But there are things you can do to lower the amount in your breast milk: Eat and use organic products, stay away from pesticides and eat lower on the food chain, among others.
Sadly, most of us still don't breastfeed long enough. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breastfeed for a minimum of six months, only 26% of black women, 43% of Hispanic women, 45% of white women and 50% of Asian women follow that practice, according to the CDC.
That's why the last thing we need is a public figure like Drescher giving her opinion as fact and scaring women off the practice entirely.
Follow Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rachellsarnoff