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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dr. Zorba Paster: Reader takes issue with breastfeeding stance

By Dr. Zorba Paster For The Spokesman-Review

Dear Doc: Not everyone can and not everyone wants to breast feed. Please stop with your hawkish advice. It is a choice. My choice. Until you have struggled with this – which biologically is impossible for you – you can’t empathize.

Please stop preaching about what you do not know. Thank you. – A.Y., from New York

Dear A.Y.: Point taken. I bet “thank you” wasn’t really first on your mind when you wrote your salutation. But I’ll take the thanks anyway.

First off, you are right. I’ve heard some people call the lactation specialists the “lactation Nazis” because they are so strident on breast feeding. We’ve come a long way since the dark ages when I was in medical school. In those days, we were told that bottle-fed babies gained weight faster (true) and thus were healthier (false). Every mom was given a wonderful kit filled with goodies – among them different formulas.

As of now, 89 percent of women who give birth have tried breast feeding, with 50 percent still doing so to some degree at 6 months. If you look at exclusively breast fed babies, the number is lower at 6 months, 26 percent. That is so much better than it used to be.

Now, on to your point. Yes, it is your choice. Absolutely. And we have gone to the extreme of implying that moms who don’t want to or cannot breast feed are somehow “bad moms.” That is absolutely not the case.

Have we gone to the extreme? Perhaps in some ways, but not in others. If you want to encourage breast feeding because you think it’s better for the baby, then you have to take a stand, even if that stand bothers some people. This is not a wishy-washy thing.

As for your comment on being able to “empathize,” that goes for lots of things I talk about – lung cancer, stroke, having a child with autism. I don’t have personal knowledge with any of those things, including end-of-life issues. I’ve helped my mom and dad and Penny’s mom through the end stage of life, but that isn’t the same as being on death’s doorstep myself.

Still, even with those caveats, I think we humans can, with the right compassionate attitude, empathize with others. Empathy is a basic human emotion – it doesn’t require you to have the same problem, it just requires you to talk from your heart. If I offended you with my stand, then please take this as a deep heartfelt apology.

Dear Doc: Is it possible to be allergic to chocolate? It stinks. – D.J. from Jacksonville, Florida

Dear D.J.: Yes, being allergic to chocolate does stink. But before you decide you can’t eat anything of the sweet stuff, you might experiment. All candies, all cakes, all cookies are not the same. It might not be the chocolate but the other stuff that’s in these confections. I’ve had patients who can consume some candies and pastries but not others. They can wolf down fudge brownies but not chocolate eclairs.

So before you go to an allergist, experiment yourself. But a caveat first: If you’ve had a full-blow reaction – hives, shortness of breath, a feeling in your chest, sweats and fainting – don’t try experimentation. See an allergist. With a bit of luck, you might find you can eat that “death by chocolate” cake, but maybe not a Snickers (which, by the way, contains peanuts, a common allergen). Stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician and host of the public radio program “Zorba Paster on Your Health.” He can be reached at askzorba@

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