Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Breast vs bottle - must it always be one or t’other?

Make no mistake - I’m a passionate breastfeeding advocate, and particularly passionate about prolonged breast-feeding and infant-led weaning. I say “ask the experts, only 3 year olds need apply!”

But I’m also a pragmatist. In Australia, the baby-friendly initiative in hospitals has meant a big increase in the number of women who are confidently and securely breastfeeding on discharge.  But twelve months down the track, the number still breastfeeding remains static at around ten percent - despite the fact that WHO recommends a minimum period of at least two years. The number remains static despite better adherence by formula manufacturers to the MAIF Code. The number remains static despite the mass of material suggesting that there is no substitute for breastmilk, that breastfed babies are healthier, brighter, more secure and that their mothers enjoy a whole host of physical, mental and emotional benefits that continue long after the breastfeeding period is over. 

So as a very practical woman, with 45 years in both orthodox and complementary medicine, with a variety of educational roles and as a spokesperson for numerous health-promoting products and services, I’ve come to the conclusion that women need to hear a different message. We need to tell them that whatever their reason for initiating formula feeds and whatever their timing, they shouldn’t make it an either/or decision. The benefits of “nursing” (and I deliberately choose that instead of the more prescriptive “breastfeeding”) go far beyond the delivery of food and drink to a baby. 

But the reality? A Mexican stand-off between infant formula manufacturers and breastfeeding associations. Cowboy companies who capitalise on ignorance and fear in emerging markets. Mums who for a multitude of real or spurious reasons choose a supplemental product. The biggest loser in all of this is the baby. I believe that breastfeeding is a child’s birthright. Encouraging mothers to provide at least some of that birthright is better than providing none at all. Meanwhile formula manufacturers must work towards a product that is as close as possible to Nature's design. Some examples include strains of probiotic isolated from breastmilk (not from the gut), fatty acid content closer to breastmilk and staged levels of protein that is more akin to the real thing. Or human milk banks? Now there's an opportunity for an enterprising company...

On a slightly different note, this video is almost 30 years old, in about 5 minutes a good way to explain to children about breastfeeding. 

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