We’ve all been privy to the concept of “Breast is Best”, whether we purposely interjected ourselves into the crosshairs of this passionate and ongoing debate – or just watched from the sidelines as indifferent or unaffected observers.
The “Breast is Best” campaign came to the forefront of the national dialogue in 1999 as a concerted effort by the British government to encourage more mothers to breastfeed. It was partially in response to shockingly low rates of women that breastfed, in conjunction with efforts to promote a more healthy and natural lifestyle for the next generation of children.
What transpired as a result of this well-meaning campaign is STILL a heated debate, roused in mommy forums and parenting blogs across the world. And it’s literally one of the most absurd debates for two reasons:
First, it’s undebatable that breast milk is and will always be best for your child (save for some outliers due to allergic reactions or autoimmune disorders).
According to WebMD:
“Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea… and has also been shown to decrease the chance of SIDS.”
Breast milk, backed by irrefutable science, is unquestionably the best choice for your child.
The second reason this debate is so absurd is that people who choose NOT to breastfeed or CANNOT breastfeed are vilified, condemned, thought of as “lesser,” and ultimately end up either questioning their parenting abilities or resenting the entire feeding ritual. And that’s heart-breaking and ridiculous.
Regardless of where you stand on the Great Breast Milk Debate, what you may not realize is that – much like a lot of what we as a society consume – breastfeeding is very much tied up in politics and money.
In 1978, British authors, Penny and Andrew Stanley, wrote a best-selling book that admonished the baby formula industry for heavily marketing to consumers about the importance of “regulated food.” At that time, breastfeeding rates in the UK – and most western countries – were so low that breastfed babies were the minority. Decades later, there has been quite the turn around regarding how people view breastfeeding as a whole.
However, such aggressive endeavors to encourage natural feeding obviously has caused the formula and baby food industry to take a hit.
Recently, an aggressive effort by U.S. officials to weaken an international resolution to promote breastfeeding is a prime example of the government taking an industry’s side in global public health…at least, according to advocates who believe this sting is nothing more than baby food companies delving deep into the pockets of politicians.
According to the Washington Post, U.S. officials threatened negative trade deals with Ecuador if the country introduced a resolution to the World Health Assembly to encourage breastfeeding. The informant of said information also suggested that there had been significant lobbying of U.S. representatives in Switzerland by the infant-formula industry regarding negotiations. Ecuador’s Ministry of Health declined the opportunity to comment.
The initial story, reported by the New York Times, has created an understandable backlash from the “breast is best” community.
The U.S. delegation introduced a “draft decision” at the World Health Assembly in May that was far less binding and powerful than the resolution Ecuador had originally written. The effort proved unsuccessful because the assembly passed a version of the original resolution introduced by Russia, but THAT version lacked the specific linguistics of the earlier draft that targeted the marketing practices of the breast-milk-substitute industry.
Did you follow all of that? If not, the synopsis is that years of effort to make a global change on childhood health and development is actively being destroyed on an international level all for the sake of money.
On Monday, President Trump pushed back against the skepticism that this is a blatant attempt by the United States to support and profit off the formula industry, tweeting, “We don’t believe women should be denied access to formula.”
Which is actually a fair and totally reasonable thing to say IF it hadn’t come on the heels of a convoluted trade deal with other countries that had been unprecedented in recent years.
Unfortunately, what is occurring right now is reminiscent of a period in 1981, when the World Health Organization passed a code to combat the aggressive advertising of breast milk substitutes and provision of free formula to new mothers, after a rise in infant mortality, malnutrition and diarrhea thought to be related to the use of formula mixed with contaminated water.
The United States was the sole dissenting vote against 118 countries in favor – after an intense lobbying campaign by U.S. makers of infant formula to defeat the provision.
The bottom line: “Fed” is ultimately best, but don’t for a second doubt the motive nor the facade behind the baby food industry. Trust your gut, do your research, figure out what’s best for you, and go to sleep at night knowing you did the utmost you could to work out a system that does right by you and your baby.
On that same token, remember that behind all of these adorable Gerber commercials and Johnson Shampoo ads are a bunch of suits sitting in a boardroom, wondering how they are going to pander to the deceptive and vulnerable minds of new parents.