How Those “Breast Milk Junk Food” Ads Could Be Better

Brazil’s Paediatric Society of Rio Grande do Sul (SPRS) targets breastfeeding moms in a new ad campaign that warns how a diet that includes processed foods can harm their nurslings. While not the first offensive-for-shock-value ad of its kind (read my other post on “The 7 Grossest Breastfeeding Ads“), it has recently provoked much confusion, defensiveness, and resistance from breastfeeding women.

Not surprising, as we’re all pretty sensitive… hormonal… sometimes already feeling like slovenly, frumpy new moms, even without the help of ads that highlight our so judge-worthy maternal insufficiencies…

And us breastfeeders like to eat (everything, as many of us will testify on the book).



The ad says below the slogan that the choices moms make in the first 1,000 days can seriously impact a child’s future health (but isn’t that why mothers are encouraged to breastfeed in the first place?).

This idea is based on a report published by Robert Waterland in the journal Genome Biology which showed a mother’s healthy diet during the pregnancy and newborn eras can result in her child’s development of a cancer-growth suppressing gene. It’s implied that a hamburger cannot be part of the kind of healthy diet needed to activate the tumor-preventing gene.

It’s claimed that the ads were meant to show the effects of a pregnant woman’s poor eating habits on an unborn fetus, but in that case an image of a baby in the womb would’ve been more likely, logical and appropriate. Also, the way nutrition transfer works in a pregnant woman is not the same or comparable to the way it works in breastfeeding (more on that in a bit).

What can a new mother take away from these ads? If she didn’t know better, she might think an occasional burger will cause her baby to succumb to cancer. Or that formula is safer and healthier to feed her baby after she drinks a Coke. Or if she takes the slogan too literally, she might even assume people are eating children these days (bad grammar accomplishment).

Apparently Nestle, a company boasting an abysmal track record with breastfeeding issues, sponsors the company that created this ad series. According to Baby Milk Action IBFAN UK:

“Nestlé sponsors events organised by SPRS, including the Rio Grande do Sul paediatric congress 2015.  A full page advertisement for Nestlé’s infant formula appears in the society’s current journal (June 2015), claiming Nestlé’s infant formula is ‘THE BEST FOUNDATION FOR A HEALTHIER FUTURE.'”

Interestingly, as of Sept. 21st SPRS attempted to publicly distance itself from Nestle in the wake of launching this “1,000 days” campaign, which includes these ads. One wonders if it’s not so much about nutrition as it is about Nestle product promotion? I mean, product “solutions”…

How Breast Milk Nutrition Actually Works

Breast milk isn’t stewing with particles of cheeseburger or laced with the carbonated fountain drink its maker consumed for lunch. Breast milk is always just breast milk; neither will it magically turn into doughnut icing nor suddenly decrease in calories if the mother eats a raw salad.

Science has proven time and time again (despite decades of fad diet rages and tenuously trending proclamations of new “danger foods” and “miracle foods”) that moderation and balance is key to the ideal diet for promoting physical and emotional health. As a consistent supply of perfect, abundant, and whole nourishment has never been realistic for humans, it’s widely understood by lactation experts and nutritional scientists that a mother does not need to maintain a perfect diet for successful breastfeeding.

“As an evolutionary development, milk composition and volume represent a compromise between the maintenance of optimal nutrient intake for the offspring and the need to minimize the nutritional drain on the lactating female. Nutrient levels in milk, therefore, are likely to meet, but not greatly exceed, the requirements of the offspring.” – pg. 97, Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology of Human Development

Anne Smith, IBCLC explains how even especially imperfect eating habits shouldn’t affect milk quantity or quality:

“Mothers whose diets are poor deplete their own energy levels, and may become anemic, but their bodies will continue to produce the milk their baby needs by pulling from the mother’s energy stores at her expense, but not her baby’s.”

Vitamins & Minerals in Breast Milk

Breast milk is a one-stop nutrition shop (with a pretty good-looking window display, of course). It’s stocked with calories, carbs, fats, hormones and enzymes, natural flavors, proteins, vitamins and minerals (read more about each of those here). You’ll notice that cheeseburger, soda, and doughnut are not listed as ingredients found in breast milk.

The vitamins and minerals in breast milk are highly bioavailable, meaning that most of them can be both absorbed and used maximally. Breast milk has special facilitating factors that help nutrients go, as Dr. Sears says, “where they belong – in baby’s blood, not in baby’s bowels.”

Macronutrients in breast milk are largely related to the amount present in the vitamin/mineral profile of the mother, according to some research. Alas, it’s recommended that a nursing mother continue to take her prenatal vitamin supplement throughout lactation and consider supplementing herself first before supplementing her baby in case of suspected deficiency.

Concentrations of vitamins per liter of breast milk per the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1991):

  • Calcium ranging from 254 to 306 mg/L (mothers mobilize bone to provide calcium in their milk; but don’t worry, nursing mothers’ bones re-mineralize even during lactation)
  • Cholesterol ranging from 100 to 150 mg/L
  • Iron may range from 0.2 to 0.9 mg/L, but this depends on several factors of which you can learn about here.
  • Magnesium in concentrations of about 35 mg/L
  • Phosphorous ranging from 188 to 262 mg/L
  • Sodium ranging from 140 to 220 mg/L
  • Vitamin C ranging from 50 to 60 mg/L so long as the mother consumes recommended daily minimum

In smaller amounts, breast milk also has zinc, molybdenum, manganese, chromium, selenium, pantothenic acid, nicotinic acid, iodine, and vitamin A and copper, plus traces of other minerals such as vitamins E, K, D and B vitamins.


If a Nursing Mother’s Diet Isn’t Ideal…

So like, this is for all of us basically…

From my section on the unnecessarily prohibitive “nursing diet” that seems automatically imposed by culture:

It’s easy to feel like breastfeeding is more cumbersome or complicated than it’s worth when all you hear is, “Can you really eat that?” … “Won’t your baby have a reaction?”…”I’ve heard that’s not healthy to eat while nursing.”

It can be draining, worrisome, and shameful being on the receiving end of such comments. Don’t let it be so! Fact is, unless a breastfeeding mother is already on a special diet for health reasons, she can eat just about anything she wants to eat. There’s no need for a mother to immediately impose restrictions upon her diet just because she’s nursing. The best diet for a nursing mother and her baby is almost always the best diet for that mother in her healthy state.

(Also read the “Restricted Diets” section for information about dairy-free, vegan/vegetarian, crash/fad, and fasting diets for breastfeeding mothers).

Guidelines for women who are restricting calories (which may thereby potentially limit nutrition), from “Nutrition During Lactation” by Institute of Medicine:

“Mothers who get 2200 calories per day may need extra calcium, zinc, magnesium, thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B-6 & vitamin E.

Mothers who get 1800 calories per day may need extra calcium, zinc, magnesium, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin E, folic acid, riboflavin (vitamin B2), phosphorus and iron.

Breastmilk levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and folic acid are fine even if your diet is deficient. If supplements are needed, they are for your benefit — not baby’s.

Levels of B vitamins in breastmilk are related to the mother’s intake, but a deficiency in the mother serious enough to affect her breastfed baby is very rare in the United States.”

When I wrote about environmental toxins in breast milk here, I included this quote by Tanya Lieberman, IBCLC which may also be found relevant to nutritional toxins such as synthetic additives, preservatives, and GMOs found in the types of junk food featured in SPRS’ ad campaign:

“Our bodies have several systems that regulate what gets into our milk, and it’s worth understanding how it works in this context.  In order for a substance to get into breastmilk, it must pass through a number of ‘screens.’  Some things we ingest are destroyed in our digestive system, eliminated from our bodies, or held in our livers before they even enter our bloodstream, which is where they may transfer into milk. 

And not everything that enters our bloodstream makes it into our milk, either.  Only substances that are small enough in molecular weight to squeeze in between our milk making cells, or fat-soluble enough to ‘hitchhike’ through the cell walls, make the cut.  And (in an act I consider to be just a little bit miraculous) once the level in our bloodstream declines, some substances that make it into milk actually move out of the milk, back into our bloodstream.

Even when something harmful does make it into your milk, your baby’s gut may destroy it or poop/pee it out before it can enter her bloodstream.  Of course, these systems are not foolproof, and it’s important to emphasize that some harmful substances can enter milk can pose a threat to your baby.

4 Ways To Make These Ads Better

1). Educate about good health practices without wagging a finger. To make it positive, show a breast transposed with health food (or lactation-boosters like oatmeal) instead of junk food.

2). Fix the grammatically erroneous wording that appears to have gotten lost in translation. We simply don’t eat children! How about “You are what your child eats”?

3). Where did all the nipples go? This is a good opportunity to release the heavy Photoshop trend from images of women’s bodies.

4). Instead of shaming, how about celebrating? And here we go:

By Sarah Doremus via Facebook

So now you know: Breastfeeding is not dangerous by nature. Not even after digesting a doughnut.

What do you think about these ads? Harmless, enlightening, shameful, manipulative, or…?