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Keeping Up-to-Date: Breastfeeding Abstracts

Cindy Harmon Jones, CPM
College Station TX USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 4, August-September 2005, pp. 82-83.

When I became editor of BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS in August of 2004, I received the BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS "master set," which contained every issue of the journal all the way back to autumn of 1980. As I have been reading through this treasure trove of information, I have become fascinated by its evolution.

BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS was created to compile summaries of breastfeeding research. Originally, its targeted readership was the LLLI Professional Advisory Board, Medical Associates, and special friends of LLL. Today, approximately 1,200 busy physicians, other clinicians, and Leaders subscribe, making it easier for them to stay informed about advances in breastfeeding research.

I began abstracting articles for BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS in February of 2003. I am ashamed to admit that prior to becoming an abstractor, I did not subscribe to the journal and rarely read it. "It's too theoretical," I thought. "I'm interested in the practical aspects of helping mothers to breastfeed, not 'ivory tower' research. I'm glad someone's doing it, but it's not relevant to what I do as a Leader."

Not true! Once I began to read BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS regularly, I realized that it often contains practical, current information about breastfeeding, addressing hot topics that have become important so recently that the information cannot yet be found in books. I have been amazed by the quantity of research being done on breastfeeding. I am constantly reminded that science has only scratched the surface of understanding breastfeeding and how it benefits mothers and babies. Every issue of BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS lists references for approximately 40 recent research articles that relate to breastfeeding.

Each issue begins with a lead article, which addresses a timely breastfeeding issue. The lead articles are written by experts, helping to make sense of some of the most complex issues in breastfeeding. Recently, Anna Coutsoudis, PhD, wrote "Current Status of HIV and Breastfeeding Research," which describes the most recent research examining the confusing issue of mother to child HIV transmission (February 2005). Another of my favorite lead articles was "Sunlight Deficiency and Breastfeeding," an article by Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, IBCLC, published soon after the American Academy of Pediatrics released its recommendations for vitamin D supplementation of breastfed infants. Her article summarized relevant research on vitamin D deficiency and presented evidence that routine supplementation of all breastfed babies may not be warranted (see LEAVEN Aug-Sept 2003). Selected lead articles, including these, are available on the LLLI Web site, at www.lalecheleague.org/ba/ba.html.

Every issue of BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS also includes eight to 10 summaries of research articles (the abstracts). When preparing the issue, I search Medline to select a few of the many recently published breastfeeding articles in medical, nursing, dietetic, and psychological journals. I try to select articles that will interest a wide variety of readers, including physicians, lactation consultants, nurses, and LLL Leaders. I look for articles that seem immediately relevant to breastfeeding helping, that seem new and innovative, or especially well done. I even look for articles that appear to show something negative about breastfeeding because negative articles tend to get a lot of publicity; I believe it is important for breastfeeding advocates to be fully informed whenever bad press is likely to appear. The original articles are then sent to the abstract writers, who condense the research in each article to about 500 words. The abstracts are then reviewed by me, Associate Editor Gwen Gotsch, and the Editorial Review Board (Carrie Magill, MD, and Martha O'Donnell, PhD) before being published. Thorough review helps ensure that the information published is accurate.

When reading BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS, it's important to exercise critical thinking skills. No single article can present an ultimate truth on any breastfeeding issue. Each study gives a hint of the truth, but many studies considered together give a more complete picture. Sometimes, studies appear to contradict one another because different researchers use different subject populations, different definitions of breastfeeding, and different methodologies. The vast majority of studies demonstrate the benefits of breastfeeding, but an occasional study will appear to show a negative result. Leaders need to use their own judgments in evaluating research in light of their own experiences, intuition, and prior knowledge, and to watch for further research that provides clarification. We try to include enough information about each study so that readers can make their own judgments.

The abstracts have been condensed from the original articles: while we strive to present the findings accurately, the originals contain much more information. For Leaders who read an article in BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS and want to know more about the subject, the LLLI Center for Breastfeeding Information (CBI) can guide you to a source where you can read the full text of the article. Some sources are free, and some require a fee. Contact CBI Manager, Katy Lebbing, at klebbing at llli dot org or 847-592-7557 for more information.

I have also begun a discussion in the online Community Network to discuss the articles and research abstracts that appear in Breastfeeding Abstracts. This forum is for Leaders who would like to discuss articles that they have found interesting, surprising, or confusing with other Leaders who also have an interest in breastfeeding research. Please join us at www.community.org/llli. Once signed into the Community Network, search for the BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS Forum. This discussion is open for anyone on the Community Network.

Cindy Harmon Jones, CPM, is an LLL Leader who lives with her husband and two children (9 and 5) in College Station, Texas, USA. She is also a freelance writer and editor, a psychology researcher, and a certified professional midwife (currently not practicing). Send ideas and articles for "Keeping Up-to-Date" to Contributing Editor Norma Ritter at 58 Antler Road, Big Flats, New York 14814 USA or email LLLnormaR at gmail dot com.

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