Gisele Bundchen, Nutrition Expert?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

Here is my recent article, published in The Huffington Post about breastfeeding.
A lively discussion is taking place at the bottom of the page over there.

Gisele Bundchen, Nutrition Expert?


In a recent magazine article, Ms. Bundchen was quoted saying that breastfeeding should be the legal norm for all babies for the first six months of life.

Of course, this generated a storm of protest about “feeding choices” and whether or not we should listen to someone with her lack of credentials. Lost in the fabricated drama and controversy is the fact the we must listen if her advice and high profile can save babies’ lives. I’m sure that this one famous mother’s words will be heard and heeded by more mothers than we pediatricians can possibly reach. (Ms. Bundchen’s statement that post partum weight loss is faster because of breastfeeding is very much in line with current medical literature and will certainly appeal to most new mothers.)

It’s easy to misinterpret a forceful metaphorical statement about “chemical food”–infant formula–and the crucial lifesaving value of breastfeeding for six months. And, that’s exactly what pundits did to turn this into an “us against them” issue. “How dare she . . . ”

While it is tragic that a supermodel-mom dispenses better advice than many doctors and most governmental agencies, it’s impossible to misinterpret what the World Health Organization says about these artificial (chemical) feeding options:

The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding rank among the most effective interventions to improve child survival. It is estimated that high coverage of optimal breastfeeding practices could avert 13 percent of the 10.6 million deaths of children under five years occurring globally every year. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life is particularly beneficial, and infants who are not breastfed in the first month of life may be as much as 25 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed.”…

There is a common misconception that in emergencies, many mothers can no longer breastfeed adequately due to stress or inadequate nutrition, and hence the need to provide infant formula and other milk products. Stress can temporarily interfere with the flow of breast milk; however, it is not likely to inhibit breast-milk production, provided mothers and infants remain together and are adequately supported to initiate and continue breastfeeding. Mothers who lack food or who are malnourished can still breastfeed adequately, hence extra fluids and foods for them will help to protect their health and well-being.

If supplies of infant formula and/or powdered milks are widely available, mothers who might otherwise breastfeed might needlessly start giving artificial feeds. This exposes many infants and young children to increased risk of disease and death, especially from diarrhea when clean water is scarce. The use of feeding bottles only adds further to the risk of infection as they are difficult to clean properly.”

Moreover, not breastfeeding has been found to double the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

Read just one sentence above aloud:

“Infants who are not breastfed in the first month of life may be as much as 25 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed.”

No parent in America is allowed to let their infant travel in a car in the “second best” way possible: Car seats are the law in all 50 states. A breastfeeding law will not be passed soon, but there is a moral, ethical and medical imperative to get this nutrition information to mothers and families any way we can. Hyperbole is easy to ridicule but, in this case, the hyperbole will prevent the deaths of many, many babies worldwide.

The World Health Organization estimates that one-and-a-half million babies die from lack of breast milk each year. 1,500,000.

If Gisele Bundchen’s magazine interview, comments and the resultant furor cause more mothers in developing nations to breastfeed, thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of babies will be alive a year, two years or five years from now who might otherwise have succumbed to diseases caused or fatally exacerbated by lack of mother’s milk.

I certainly wish that this legal proposal/metaphor had been issued by the government, health insurers or the American Academy of Pediatrics. In lieu of those recommendations, the very intelligent suggestion of a really smart mom will have to do.


  1. Heather

    Regardless of what Gisele meant, she has no business preaching to women. Gisele is not a doctor, nor nutritionist, nor lactation consultant. She sells her body for money as a model. Secondly, while there are very real proven benefits of breastfeeding (I breastfed myself), you should not make women to feel inadequate or bad mothers because they cannot do so.

    With my first son, I tried desperately to breastfeed. I visited lactation consultants almost daily and had someone live with us for a few days, just so my son could breast feed. But to no avail. My son was losing weight and it became dangerous. I had to give him formula, until I was able to express enough milk to provide him with adequate nutrition. I was very distraught and ended up expressing for eight months straight…the most stressful thing ever, as I was doing double the work of expressing and then bottle feeding.

    But some people can't produce any milk or have other issues. You are so high on your horse about breastfeeding, that you refuse to acknowledge the realities for many women out there, including the need to go back to work before six months…that is, unless you and Gisele are willing to provide every woman with enough money so that we don't have to work, and can stay home to breast feed.

    While I am proud to have given both my boys breast milk, you shouldn't make anyone feel bad for not being able to breastfeed.

    And by the way, I breast fed my other son for 12 months, yet both boys were sick quite often, despite the claims that breast milk builds immunity. It simply had to do with the fact that I started my oldest son in school at 18 months, and he was exposed to a lot more, and hence my younger son was exposed to a lot more. But the fact that they had these illnesses is what will build their immunity.

    1. Cheryl Taylor

      I've always found it interesting when the argument is used that no one has the "right" to "make" someone else feel guilty. No one "makes" someone else feel guilty. Guilt is a personal choice. People may attempt to make others feel guilty all the time…that's what they call a "guilt trip"…but a person makes a choice whether to accept delivery on that package of guilt. Just my personal opinion.

      I agree that exclusive pumping can be very stressful and is very hard to do. It's takes away so many of the wonderful things about nursing and leaves you with all the work. You obviously were very committed to the value of breastfeeding to continue to express breastmilk for eight months. Definitely worth it, but still very hard to do.

      It is a rare mother that cannot produce milk and it is a rare instance when the difficulties tha cant arise with breastfeeding cannot be solved with accurate advice and support. You are right if you get the picture that I am very passionate about helping mothers breastfeed and overcome any difficulties that may arise and/or offer the accurate information and support that they are looking for. Moms that need to return to work can certainly exclusively breastfeed or use a combination of breastfeeding and Expressed Breastmilk. There are many ways to make it work!

      There are many factors that contribute to an infant or child's illnesses. Breastfeeding does provide optimal development of the immune system, but many other factors figure into the strength of a child's immune system. A breastfed baby will be healthier than that same child, in the same situation, would be on formula. It is well documented that formula feeding increases illness and hospitalization:

    2. Angela Gallant

      Excuse me, but I went back to work before my baby was 6 months old…and she has never received a drop of formula and is very strong and large and healthy. It’s called planning and organization. I got a good manual pump and made it my business to express at my breaks at work.

      It is actually only a small 3% of women who can not medically breastfeed. 97% of women can breastfeed IF given the proper support by properly trained and experienced professionals. Adoptive moms can do it, women who have never been pregnant in their lives.

      It’s not about making women feel bad if they “can’t”. It’s about making our society feel bad about making formula seem like a safe, reasonable thing to do for all children. Do all children live in wheelchairs? No. Should they feel bad about having to do so if they do? No. Wheelchairs are only for necessity and the same for formula. Who should feel bad are the manufacturing companies that do not apply high enough standards to formulas and then advertise them in horrible, unethical fashions to make it seem like formula isn’t that far below breastmilk on a nutritional scale.

      Children *die* from complications due to formula mix ups at the plant…infants getting adult “meal supplements” because of a mislabelling, nutrients listed are not what’s in the container (either too little or too much), contaminants entering the machinery and making vulnerable infants sick. We have companies that create separate plants to remove nut contaminations, why not make separate plants for baby formula that reaches to higher standards? There are maximum allowable nutrients for standards, why aren’t there any minimums? If a company is going to be allowed to make baby food, there needs to be a certain minimum standard applied.

  2. Heather

    I left a comment here yesterday, but it got deleted. Is it because only people who leave supportive comments can post here??? Your refusal to leave my comment just tells me and the rest of the world that if we disagree with you in any way, we aren't welcome to have a dialogue. Free speech so long as we agree with you. Might as well be in China.

    1. Cheryl Taylor

      What it should tell you is that I am very busy and our website is also very busy. I cannot respond personally to all comments, but I do try to select comments that touch on aspects that may be helpful to many readers. Also, I wouldn't recommend assuming anything based on how many hours or days it takes for a comment to be reviewed. Our work schedule does not allow for them to be responded to every day.

  3. Heather

    Your post tells me that you are very far out of touch with the reality of many moms. For those moms that do work, finding any energy after coming home from work all day, in order to pump and spend time with your baby and spend time with husband is extremely difficult. It is not reality. Most moms I talked with (and I have to agree) stated that they would rather spend one-on-one quality time with their baby then sitting and pumping, not being able to devote their limited time pumping.

    Secondly I know many of my friends had difficulty with the latch. I was one of them. It wasn't that I initially wasn't producing milk. My son couldn't latch properly because of tongue tie. Hence, my milk supply dwindled, as days went by and he wasn't getting milk. I had to re-establish my milk supply. It is very stressful and exhausting, and I can tell you that if I had the same issue again with my second son, I would most definitely formula feed. I would rather spend my quality time bonding with my children in other ways, then not being able to bond with them while I pump.

    And for many other moms, I have encountered many moms who had significant difficulties, including extremely painful experiences nursing, and they made the appropriate choice for them to stop the pain, so they can enjoy their baby, instead of being in agony every time they feed. That isn't a joyous bonding experience for either baby or mom.

    And as far as illness goes, my second son, breastfed exclusively for six months) ended up in the hospital for a week at 2 1/2 months with bronchioliteis and pneumonia. Breast feeding didn't prevent the hospitalization. So while you may quote all the statistics available by your medical studies, medical studies aren't the real world.

    Finally, more to my first point, it is none of Gisele's business what any woman does with her own baby. She has no medical qualifications and is not a lactation consultant. She doesn't even have a high school diploma. So while her son may be a patient of Dr. G's, she should stop talking and just do the only thing she is qualified for…and that is posing nude/semi-nude for the camera. Even the LaLeche League thinks she has gone too far. Stop condoning her interview. She was completely out of line.

    1. Cheryl Taylor

      It works much better for working moms to pump only when they are at work and separated from baby, and to nurse frequently whenever they are together. It's the best way to build and maintain supply. They might find that they want to add in a couple of pumpings on their days off but should only do that if they need to add a little to the EBM they get every work day while pumping at work. Nursing is wonderful one on one time.

      I wish that every expecting mom would have prenatal visits with an IBCLC in the last couple of months of pregnancy and attend La Leche throughout their pregnancy. Being prepared is ultimately the best way to approach breastfeeding. Latching is not always easy to get established. There's a learning curve and it takes some babies a few weeks to really get it down well. Already having a relationship established with an IBCLC and/or La Leche League Leader can give you someone to contact immediately if there are latch problems and get help right away. Either one is trained and qualified to identify a tight frenulum. Getting the frenulum clipped is a simple office procedure and babies latch on and nurse well immediately after their tongue is released. It was because of what I learned while pregnant from attending La Leche League meetings, reading breastfeeding books from their library and having the support of our leaders that I exclusively breastfed twins. I have been helping moms nurse for 25 years and have seen countless moms successfully breastfed and many moms that worked fulltime and exclusively breastfed. It is absolutely a reality with the accurate information and support which is available in communities all over the United States as well as the rest of the world.

      I'm happy to see celebrities use their public platform to promote breastfeeding. It seems to me that Gisele was speaking to the importance of providing optimal growth and development to infants through breastfeeding. Over the last 25 years I have seen a lot of legislation that is supportive and promotive of breastfeeding passed throughout the United States…protecting mom's rights to breastfeed anywhere, against the marketing of formula, publicly promoting breastfeeding to a minimum of a year, etc…and I've been very glad to see that there is growing legal support of breastfeeding. Perhaps Gisele's wording was less than optimal, but her heart was in the right place, and maybe it made a difference for a generation of women and soon to be young moms that look up to this incredibly successful young woman with the smarts to climb to the top of the modeling industry. That's no small feat. And standing up to make a statement about breastfeeding that would bring some flack is no small thing to handle either.

  4. Lee

    Wow- the fur is flying! I only hope to console and support the moms here who have had a variety of breastfeeding experiences and are trying to combine it with going back to work. If you have since weaned, and feel like "others" are putting guilt on you – don't accept it. As Cheryl said earlier, " a person makes a choice whether to accept delivery on that package of guilt."

    Repeat after me: "I did the best I could, with the resources, support and information I had at the time." Let yourself move on…

    The beauty of having more than one child is we can repeat what worked and tweak what didn't. Our methods of parenting, feeding choices included, continue to evolve with our experience and peer support.

    If more working women knew other successfully breastfeeding/breast-milk feeding moms, it would foster a community of support with benefits of sharing information about what works and what might not.

    Going back to work need not be the death knell of breastfeeding. We have options, like combining *at breast* feeding when home and pumping while away -or perhaps not even pumping while separated, combining formula feeding during the workday, with all breast evenings, nights and weekends. The mother's body will adapt to the demands of the situation.

    We all know human milk is optimal infant nutrition, however, it's not an all or nothing deal. Make it work for you and your family, knowing whatever amount of breastmilk your child gets is better than none. Be at peace ~ you're doing the best you can.

  5. Celina

    Came across this interesting exchange and am once again struck by the depth of a woman's feelings when things are extremely difficult with breastfeeding.

    If there was enough education and if the formula industry followed the WHO code everywhere and if women were given the support they need to breastfeed successfully (success to me being the ability to breastfeed as much as she is able with as much pleasure as the act can bring) by their health care providers and their employers as well as their families and friends, women would not feel sabotaged in their efforts or persecuted if the breastfeeding relationship does not work.

    I applaud anyone who speaks their truth knowing that there will be backlash. A person's educational level does not determine their intelligence and, as we have all seen, a person can be very well educated in our post secondary system and yet be lacking common sense integral to their survival. To denigrate a person because of their lack of formal education is unnecessary and insulting to intelligent people all over the world who did not have access or the aptitude for so called 'formal" education. From what I have read about Ms. Bundchen, she is working hard to raise awareness in this world about our children and our environment. I know a lot of "educated" people who are doing far less for our childrens' futures. And I can bet that Gisele's baby probably thinks the sun rises and sets on his mother.

    From what I keep reading, ALL babies should be assessed for Tongue Tie as soon after birth as possible. This would prevent a host of troubles and much anxiety and eventually much sadness.

    Yes, breastfed babies do get sick and yes, breastfed babies do die. I think that Heather should be very grateful that her son was breastfeeding when he did get sick. It is not so long ago that newborn premie babies were dying from simple bacterias until the standard of care became giving them human milk from birth. Breastfeeding will not protect our babies from every single thing, but it does give them a huge edge. Perhaps what needs to be acknowledged is the fact that her son may not have recovered so well had he not been a breastmilk fed baby and Heather should be applauded for her incredible efforts to keep her babies breastmilk fed. And we, as a society, will eventually learn to stop judging women whatever their choices need to be. Unfortunately, because of the societal lack of support for breastfeeding women these past 60 years, I suspect there will be much more controversy as we strive for all women to be given the support, encouragement and information they need to breastfeed their babies. Education is the beginning and sometimes it does come in the form of comments made by supermodels without formal post secondary education who love breastfeeding their babies. We do not need a medical degree to know what is good for our young. After all, women have been breastfeeding babies for thousands of years without medical degrees and when women couldn't breastfeed, there were wet nurses and milk sharing to give baby what was needed to survive.

    Give me a woman wise in the ways of womanhood and protecting our planet over book learning any day. And I am, again, impressed with the work that both these women have done to raise strong and healthy and loved children.

Comments are closed.