You may have heard that breastfeeding saves lives but wondered: How can this be? We all know mothers who don’t breastfeed, and would we say that their children are at risk of death. Of course not, their babies thrive on formula. So, are babies’ lives at risk when they are bottle fed rather than breastfed? You better believe it!
Some children who are bottle fed suffer a reaction to the formula they are given. This is mainly due to an allergic reaction to cows’ milk, which is what nearly all formula sold is based on. If a child is allergic then the solution is usually to transfer them to soy based formula or another specialist formula. The allergy is hardly ever life threatening and the switch to another type of formula usually fixes the problem. It is also worth noting that some babies are allergic to their own mother’s breast milk.
So exactly who is at risk from feeding babies formula milk rather than breast milk. The answer, as always, is the poor and vulnerable. And exactly how are they putting their children’s lives at risk? The answer doesn’t lie in the formula itself, but rather the water used in the preparation of powdered formula. We, in the industrialized West, take clean water for granted; for the desperately poor who live in the developing world, this is not so.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed. This figure has been stated in this and other forms by WHO and UNICEF many times over the years. The main reason being the lack of clean safe drinking water.
There are also other factors that contribute to child mortality and ill-health. Some studies are now linking the feeding of milk formula to conditions such as obesity in later life, premature sexual development and tooth decay.
Why is that these mothers put their child’s life at risk? The answer is simple: commercial pressure. They, like us, are subjected to intense marketing campaigns from the world’s leading multi-nationals. They are lead to believe that formula, rather than breast, is best. They believe that as it is so popular in the West, it must provide their child with the best start in life. The advertising campaigns show happy, pink-cheeked babies smiling that are healthy when being fed with formula.
Don’t misunderstand: there is nothing wrong with formula milk when prepared and fed correctly. However, it is a food-stuff invented in the industrialized West for use in the West. Formula milk came to prominence after the Second-World-War just at the same time that our drinking water was made safe to drink. But this Western product is not suitable to those parts of the world where safe drinking is not available. Can you imagine the outcry if milk formula had been wide spread in the days before our drinking water was safe and millions of babies died each year from being fed formula?
So, as a mother, what can you do to prevent this?
Firstly, by breastfeeding your own child and by encouraging other pregnant women to follow suit. Abstaining from milk formula will send a message to the manufacturers. However, you can go one step further: write or email the manufacturers and let them know that you think it is wrong to ‘dump’ milk formula on the poorer people of our planet. The women of the developing world don’t have the tools to hand to change things, you do!
It is time for the mothers of this world to stand together and preach the message that breast is best.
Robin O’Brien is founder of the website breast-feeding-information.com which is devoted to the benefits of breastfeeding