Breastfeeding advocate is anti-vaccine activist?

Of all the public health interventions the world has ever known, very few compare to breastfeeding… Wait, is breastfeeding a public health intervention? Yes and no. It isn’t because it’s something that is natural, and something that almost all women can do for their babies. Then again, it is because we have to remind women that breastfeeding is natural, and that they need to breastfeed their children.

Yes, there are women who cannot breastfeed for a variety of reasons. They either do not produce the right amount of milk, have an infection that could be passed to the child, or are taking a medication that could affect the child if it goes into the breastmilk. Sadly, there are women who are shamed away from breastfeeding, or they are somehow convinced that they shouldn’t breastfeed. In all of these situations, there are professionals out there who coach women on the right way to breastfeed and the necessity of breastmilk for the developing child.

So it should not come as a surprise that certain state and local governments issue handbooks on breastfeeding. For example, here is the one from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. The history of this handbook is found within it:

“Nikki Lee, RN, BSN, Mother of 2, MS, IBCLC, CCE, CIMI, ANLC, CKC and Marjorie Scharf, RD, Mother of 3, MPH, created the original Philadelphia Breastfeeding Resource Handbook in 1992, inspired by Holly Lucard, BA, Mother of 3, IBCLC, who organized information about breastfeeding resources in the Philadelphia area for the Nursing Mothers’ Advisory Council. Thanks go to Kay Hoover, M.Ed, Mother of 3, IBCLC, FILCA, who, for nearly 13 years as lactation consultant for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, served (and continues to serve) breastfeeding dyads and healthcare professionals with love and the highest level of professional practice.”

Pay attention to the name “Nikki Lee.” She’s going to be important in a little bit. (And I bet you know where this is going, right?)

Maryland also had a 2005 version of the breastfeeding handbook. In it, the authors thank the original handbook:

“This handbook used the original Philadelphia Breastfeeding Resource Handbook (9th edition 1999) as a model. Many thanks to Nikki Lee, RN, MSN, IBCLC, ICCE and Marjorie Scharf, RD, MPH who created the original Philadelphia Breastfeeding Resource Handbook. Special thanks to Kay Hoover, M Ed, IBCLC for sharing the innumerable resources and her support of this project.”

Again, Nikki Lee, RN, MSN, IBCLC, ICCE is thanked. Have you guessed what I’m on about?

Nikki Lee has a website and a Facebook page. You can google her site. I’m not going to drive traffic to it. Her Facebook page, on the other hand, caught my attention because of some of the postings on it. In one posting, Nikki Lee, breastmilk expert, states this:

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Craniosacral therapy? What the heck is that? Let’s read from the Quackwatch entry on it:

Craniosacral therapy (CST) is one of many terms used to describe a various methods based on fanciful claims that:

  • The human brain makes rhythmic movements at a rate of 10 to 14 cycles per minute, a periodicity unrelated to breathing or heart rate.
  • Small cranial pulsations can be felt with the fingertips.
  • Restriction of movement of the cranial sutures (where the skull bones meet) interfere with the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord) and cause disease.
  • Diseases can be diagnosed by detecting aberrations in this rhythm.
  • Pain (especially of the jaw joint) and many other ailments can be remedied by pressing on the skull bones.Most practitioners are osteopaths, massage therapists, chiropractors, dentists, or physical therapists. The other terms used to describe what they do include cranial osteopathy, cranial therapy, bio cranial therapy, and two chiropractic variants called craniopathy and sacro occipital technique (SOT).

In other words, it’s bullshit, but Nikki Lee promotes it on her Facebook page as something that could be helpful. It’s not. The page that she links to from Facebook says this about this quackery:

“Craniosacral therapy works on three levels. First, it stimulates the parasympathetic system, our relaxation system. This is very important, as so many of us are in a hypersympathetic state that we never allow ourselves to rest. Second, it assists the body to normalize function in any system in the body, based on the idea that the body knows best how to heal itself. Third, craniosacral therapy can tap into what can be called ‘connective tissue memory.’ Basically, any trauma that we experience in life, whether physical, mental or emotional, gets stored in our tissues. In a sense, we freeze during trauma and never shake it off.”

You could be asking yourself what the harm is in this. In the next paragraph, we are told that a “Dr. Lisa M. Chavez” showed that craniosacral therapy helped a group of Tibetan political exiles deal with their post-traumatic stress disorder. “Dr. Lisa M. Chavez” is not a naturopath. She’s as much a doctor a chiropractor.

Breastmilk cocktails all around!

Breastmilk cocktails all around!

Speaking of chiropractors…

A mommy blog had an interview with Nikki Lee, and this is what she had to say about chiropractic:

“Chiropractors are licensed health care providers who work on the spine, the vertebrae and the joints in a signature strategy called an adjustment. The purpose of adjustment is to restore joint mobility and reduce nerve compression. Adjustment is done by manually applying a controlled force into joints that have become misaligned or dislocated. Restrictions and misalignments can be caused by a single traumatic event, such as improper lifting of a heavy object, an automobile accident, a difficult birth, or by prolonged repetitive movement. Such trauma affects joints, causing inflammation, pain, and diminished function. Adjustment of the affected joint and tissues moves the joint into alignment, and restores mobility, alleviates pain and muscle tightness, and allows tissues to heal. The controlled force, from light fingertip manipulation to directed high velocity touch, varies with the style of practitioner, and the situation.”

It is a very, very, very, very bad idea to practice chiropractic manipulation in children.

Reading the rest of that interview, I became convinced that Nikki Lee believes in all of these scientifically unproven “therapies” and recommends them loudly and proudly. Just read her thing on acupuncture. Acupuncture!

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What’s next? She’s anti-vaccine? Well…

This is what Nikki Lee had to say about vaccines:

“The immunization decision is a complex one to make. How can mothers trust a healthcare provider when situations occur as with the rotavirus vaccine? That vaccine was approved in July 2001 and taken off the market November 2001, as it was implicated in a number of infant deaths. As some news reports indicated, data from certain international clinical trials was not considered during the approval process for this vaccine. How can one trust when egregious errors like that occur?

I remember the major reason for development of the chickenpox vaccine was to decrease the amount of time women had to take away from work to care for sick children, not for any health benefit.

When literature from around world repeatedly concludes that artificial feeding leads to the most death and morbidity in infants and children, it makes more sense for the US government to put a significant portion of the money spent on vaccines towards breastfeeding support and protection. Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, then continuing after the introduction of complementary foods for at least a year, and thereafter as long as mother and baby are content with the relationship would do more and cost less to reduce the costs of infant illness.”

The whole thing with the failed rotavirus vaccine comes up time and time again in the anti-vaccine playbook because it is one of very few examples where a vaccine was proven to cause harm. Even then, it was also proven to prevent a ton of rotavirus. (We since then have a much better and safer vaccine.) And that’s not counting the dozens of other vaccines that are very safe and very effective.

So then I went to her website and looked up the term “Vaccine,” and, oh boy!

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In a post titled ““Trust me” said the doctor. “It’s perfectly safe.””, Nikki gives us a laundry list of things that were once thought to be safe but weren’t. Sure, many of them are things that were thought safe because they were never tested for safety. (And she doesn’t mention what quacks have said is safe but has been proven to be less than.) There was no rigorous science behind the stuff she complains about, but that doesn’t stop her from then saying this about vaccines:

“There are more examples than these of how medical recommendations about new devices, drugs, and practices have turned out to be not only wrong, but terribly injurious and even fatal decades later.
Now the public is asked to believe that 49 doses of vaccines given to babies before starting school is perfectly safe. And, that it is a good idea to give more vaccines to everybody, children and adults alike.
How can they know that this is safe? Where are the studies showing that giving babies 8 different types of vaccinations will be safe when those babies are in their 50s and 60s? Where are the studies looking at the impact of vaccinations on the gut microbiome? Or the developing immune system? Where are the studies showing that it is safe to inject aluminum salts into our babies, along with formaldehyde, mercury compounds (still in the flu vaccines), and human proteins from aborted fetuses? Pregnant women are now advised to be vaccinated to protect their infants, despite the package insert saying that there is no research showing this practice to be safe.”

You have to remember that this is a nurse writing this, Nurse Nikki Lee, breastfeeding consultant, someone to whom health departments go for guidance on how to keep babies safe and healthy.

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In another post, this one titled “A new view of germs”, Nikki Lee has this to say about antibiotics and vaccines:

“Now the scientific journals are full of amazing new ideas.The amniotic fluid, the placenta, and the mamma’s milk are all full of germs that are good for the baby and the mamma. I still find it difficult to visualize this new idea. This is the nature of things. Humans are only now discovering this, Humans have been, since the time of Descartes, working to control and manipulate their environment. Learning about the importance of germs is a completely 180-degree turn, and a shock.
We thought, that by using antibiotics and vaccines, we would get rid of old germs like polio and rheumatic fever. Not only have we not, there are now new deadly germs like community acquired MRSA and HIV. Reports tell us that polio is re-emerging because the resources ( refrigeration) are not sustainable, so vaccines can’t be kept cold. Figuring out how to solve this problem is a new challenge. Seems as though we have yet to be successful. Humans have yet to discover that as we are colonies of germs, the planet is colonies of its living citizens. Humans are as varied as any collections of germs. As germs are to us, we are like germs to the Earth. I want to be a helpful germ, like a mold that turns leaves back into soil. I wish all humans thought this.”

Did Nurse Nikki Lee tell us that HIV came about because we couldn’t control Polio? I’m sure I’m just reading her wrong. Maybe HIV came about because we use antibiotics? No, that can’t possibly be it. That’s too stupid a thought to even run it by my head. Yeah, I must be reading wrong.

But here’s the coup d’ grace:

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In it, Nikki Lee falls for the anti-vaccine tropes of “too many too soon,” “sick children everywhere!” and “the immune system can’t take it!”:

“When I was little, I hated going to the doctor for a “shot”; my parents took me anyway. By the time I was 6, I had received 7 vaccines. Today’s child, if following the recommended schedule, would receive at least 36 vaccines by age 6. So, are today’s children healthier? Is giving more vaccinations better than giving less?
In 1972, when I was in college studying nursing, a child with maturity-onset diabetes was an extremely rare occurrence. Today, according to the CDC, “Health care providers are finding more and more children with type 2 diabetes, a disease usually diagnosed in adults aged 40 years or older.”
When I was growing up in the 1950s, none of my peers was overweight or obese. Today, according to the CDC, “Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.””

We’re fat because vaccines, people! Open your eyes! It’s not that we’ve gotten better at diagnosing children with diabetes so that they don’t up and die of unknown causes. It’s not that we have more sedentary lifestyles and high-calorie foods. No, it’s the vaccines. It’s always the vaccines.

The rest of that post goes on to talk about this journal article as evidence that the immune system gets “overloaded” by vaccines. In that paper, the authors shot up mice with a variety of different antigens at very close time intervals. And I’m talking a lot of antigens from different sources:

“Mice (8 weeks-old) were immunized with 25 µg SEB (Toxin Technologies, Sarasota, FL), 500 µg OVA (grade V; Sigma, St. Louis, MO), 100 µg KLH (Sigma) or PBS by means of i.p. injection every 5 d…

For adoptive cell transfer, B, T, CD4+ T and CD8+ T cells were isolated from spleens to >90% purity using MACS beads (Miltenyi Biotec, Germany). The cells were transferred into naïve BALB/c or β2m-deficient mice via i.p. (5×106/mouse) or i.v. (2.5×107/mouse) injection. The recipients received a single i.p. injection of 25 µg SEB or 500 µg OVA 24 h after cell transfer, and sera, urine and organ of recipients were studied 2 weeks afterwards.

BALB/c mice were injected i.p. with 200 µg anti-CD4 antibody (GK1.5; BioLegend) to deplete CD4+ T cell 24 h after immunization 8× with OVA. Four days later, CD4+ T cells from mice immunized 12× with KLH were transferred to the CD4+ T-depleted mice. The recipient mice received a single i.p. injection of 100 µg KLH 24 h after the cell transfer.”

So, because genetically modified mice reacted in a certain way to an overloading of injected antigens, we humans must react the same way to vaccines. Makes sense since humans are so much like humans. I mean, I have an enormous craving for cheese right now.

All joking aside, mice models are a good starting point for biomedical studies, but you are a fool if you draw conclusions on human physiology from what you see in mice models. Primate models are a whole other thing. Phase I or II clinical trials, yeah, okay, you can draw a ton from that. But mice models? Hardly. It’s only a place to start and move forward, not a place to draw conclusions.

But, if you want to talk about antigen overload, just look at any child who scrapes their knee on the ground. Have you ever seen soil under the microscope? There are bacteria, viruses, and insects. The child who scrapes their knee on the ground and gets dirt in it need only reasonably wash it with soap and water. What about babies?

What about them? Babies have a remarkable immune system of their own. They go from a sterile environment in the womb to our dirty world in a matter of minutes, and they fight it all off very well. They do so because they get antibodies from mom in the womb, and they also get antibodies from breastmilk. But Nikki Lee should know that, right?

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Of course, Nikki Lee also seems to subscribe to the idea that a vaccine that works only some of the time must not work any of the time. She even makes fun of gambling addicts when talking about the flu vaccine. Yeah, the flu vaccine is not the best thing we have, but it still is the best thing we have. I wonder if Nikki Lee would say that no women should breastfeed if not all women can breastfeed?

Anti-Vaccine Bingo!

Anti-Vaccine Bingo!

As far as I can tell, Nikki Lee works for a Department of Public Health. You can use Google to find her email and phone number at the office. I’m not going to publish it here. I’m also not going to call for her to lose her job. That’s not my style and it is something that I detest.

Instead, I wrote this post to show to you that people like Nikki Lee are out there. They have all the right credentials and do all sorts of “good” work. They get recognized by others in public health. However, some of these people have a darker side to them, from a public health point of view. In Nikki Lee’s case, she is anti-vaccine. (If she is not, she has fooled me.) She believes RFK Jr. that vaccines with thimerosal cause autism. She believes that Dr. Paul Offit is still getting money from his rotavirus vaccine. (He isn’t. He’s donated the patent.) She posts on her Facebook page, website, and on Twitter all sorts of anti-vaccine articles, and other articles promoting “alternative medicine” (which isn’t medicine at all), and she does so with the authority of someone who should know better.

Be careful when you encounter these people. Don’t be afraid to counter their bullshit, even if they throw their CV and/or resumé at you. Having all those letters after your name doesn’t save you from being taken in by the dark side of the healing arts.

How sad that the Department of Public Health where she is listed as working hasn’t caught on to the likely damage she’s doing in promoting anti-vaccine views.

21 thoughts on “Breastfeeding advocate is anti-vaccine activist?

  1. “this is about a registered nurse who works at a health department being anti-vaccine.” Yes it is, and the health dept that employs her needs to come down like a ton of bricks. If any of our lactation counselors spouted this stuff, they’d be doing some fast talking to the community health services supervisor.

  2. Don’t forget that anti-vaccine pediatrician Jay Gordon is also an IBCLC. On a brighter note, at least one of the most commonly used textbooks for breast feeding “Breastfeeding and Human Lactation” 5th ed, by Wambach and Riordan, is resoundingly pro-vaccine and explicitly states that studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. Clearly Gordon didn’t read that part of the book.

  3. Not surprised by this at all. Many lay midwives and lactation consultants are woomeisters at heart.

    Raptor, I’d encourage you to revisit your views on the benefits of breastfeeding. It’s still a bit heretical at the moment to suggest that formula feeding could be the act of a loving mother and that QUITE A LOT of women cannot, in fact, breastfeed successfully. But I think that is where the evidence leads and toeing the pro-breastfeeding line isn’t a feminist stance, it’s a controlling, judging one.

    • True enough, neither my wife or our eldest daughter could breastfeed, antibiotics and other medications for my wife, latching problems for the eldest. She pumped for the children and later, supplemented formula, advancing as the child grew to baby food and now, regular food for the all three.
      One does what one can, there is no shame for being incapable for any reason to not breast feed.

      As for woo, as far as I’m concerned, anyone peddling woo should lose any medical license that they possess and be prohibited from interacting with any patient, even to the point of giving bad advice. The welfare of the populace is a Constitutional duty of every level of government, mentioned more than once in the Constitution and long before any amendments came along.

    • I don’t understand. Revisit my views on the benefits of breastfeeding? Maybe I didn’t make that clear. Here’s “take two”:
      Breastfeeding is good for a child. It provides tons of healthy stuff for them. However, if the mother cannot or chooses not to breastfeed for whatever reason, then formula is an acceptable substitute.

      • I agree, to a point. (I don’t think it’s well established that the “tons of healthy stuff” result in outcomes that are so much better than formula-feeding that it’s worth the public health resources and mother-shaming that go into the promotion of breastfeeding. Studies are skewed by the demographics of those who do vs. don’t breastfeed in the US.) The post took a different tone:

        “something that almost all women can do for their babies”
        “we have to remind women that…they need to breastfeed their children”
        “there are professionals out there who coach women on…the necessity of breastmilk “

        • Thanks, Lisa. Do you mind if I email you privately… No, not to discuss this but to run our future posts by you, make sure we don’t mention the words “natural” or any other trigger words that might make you feel like you need to derail the conversation from the intended purpose. I mean, Jesus Christ, this is about a registered nurse who works at a health department being anti-vaccine, but here we are arguing whether or not breastmilk is better than formula.
          So do you want to be an editor?

          • Reuben, conversations here have meandered about from time to time here, are you feeling well or otherwise stressed?
            I don’t recall you having this short of a trigger until recently.

            • I’ve been very stressed. Traveling from one continent to another, writing reports and having to deal with self-righteous politicians who think that they are called upon by God to save the world in their own way. Traveling from city to city, driving around them at night, seeing their deplorable conditions while a bunch of bozos keep calling this country the best country in the world. As Bruce Wayne once said of Batman, I clearly have issues.

              • I suspected it was fatigue. You usually don’t snap like that when conversations go onto a tangent.
                Stress and fatigue can cause some serious medical problems, do try to catch up on your rest.

          • Usually, people with intellectual curiosity are grateful when their peers suggest that they may benefit from more closely examining the evidentiary underpinning of their opinions.

            Especially people whose blogs’ comment fields are headlined “Tell me what you think of what I just wrote. No, seriously, tell me.”

            You might want to consider revising that to “Here you may restate the thesis of my post.”

            • Lisa, had you actually tracked the thread, you’d note that Reuben has been traveling between three continents. He’s been working on a disease that has sickened 1227 people and killed 449 as of June, the numbers haven’t gone down since. Little is known as to how the virus is spread to cause infection in humans, two different species have been thus far known to host this virus and it is a really big deal, as there is an outbreak in a densely populated nation and the nation where it is endemic is heavily traveled in the tail end of September this year and if unchecked, could go global.
              Having traveled extensively internationally for other emergencies, I know what that kind of travel does to oneself and am happy to mention the out of character response, query why (although I did suspect why) and call it a day. We all have bad days, especially when stressed and traveling a great deal.
              Follow the threads.

        • Well, I’d say that breast milk usage would be preferrable, but not “the best”. The only reason I’d champion its use for is providing antibodies to help stave off some of the more common infections.
          So, perhaps preferred, but not required or heavily promoted to the point of the saming that goes on now.

            • See my above comment.
              I’m growing concerned for you.
              Yes, conversation has drifted, as it’s done before.
              I said my point a while ago, such professionals should have their license revoked.

                • I’d not go that far, Lisa. Traveling between continents is very, very taxing. That is especially true if one is studying and trying to help a novel pathogen that has jumped continents.
                  I have some experience with intercontinental travel and rapid response, although my experience is military, many of the problems are the same. Lack of rest, disrupted diurnal rhythm contributing to that, tracking thousands of things and events at once all take their toll.
                  Unlike you, I don’t abandon someone who is acting out of sorts, I inquire and mention the out of character behavior and frequently get a response.
                  I’m aware what Reuben has been working on and it’s a really, really big deal. The virus happens to be far too frequently lethal, spreads to caregivers in medical facilities and homes and only recently jumped the species barrier to be capable of infecting humans.
                  This virus is so severe in nature that a major change in a major social event that is multinational in nature has been ordered and will be enforced.

  4. I’ll not comment on the entirety of the drivel you’ve kindly shown us from this nurse, I will comment on odd things.
    Like MRSA and HIV are community associated diseases. Suddenly, HIV is fomite associated, which is an odd invention out of whole cloth.
    She then conflated juvenile diabetes with type 2 diabetes, which is saying that type 1 and type 2 diabetes is the same disease. It isn’t, type 1 is most often due to autoimmune damage to the islet cells, type 2 is typically insulin resistance related.
    She then goes off the deep end proclaiming that amniotic fluid has “germs” in it, which is bovine defecation. Bacteria or fungi in the amniotic fluid is signs of a severe infection that is endangering the life of the fetus, if it hasn’t already claimed the life of the fetus before detection.
    Regrettably, she’s not the first and I doubt she’ll be the last antivaxxer nurse. My daughter has a nursing school classmate who was and remains antivaxxer through and through.
    Ignorance can be treated with education, but willful ignorance is a permanent condition, as assholes are phenomenally stubborn and refuse to see truth and facts.

    Well, good news on my end, our eldest daughter is a BSN herself. She’s enrolled to gain her masters.

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