This spring hundreds of delegates from member states gathered in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Organization Assembly. A resolution to encourage breastfeeding was expected to be approved without hiccups; however, the United States shocked officials with its opposition to resolve.
The importance of breastmilk in the first two years of a baby’s life is not new information; in fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) believes breastfeeding is such an integral element of growth and development that it has urged countries to ban the advertisement of infant formula, bottles, and nipples, to prohibit distribution of cheap or free samples to hospitals and clinics; and since 1981, to refrain from making certain health claims on packaging. In a nation with such a strong focus on childhood development, health, and wellness, it is shocking that the U.S. has no laws enforcing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes; furthermore, the US. has been slow to comply with the recommendations set forth.
Recently I shared an article on Facebook that discussed the United States opposition to the breastfeeding resolution set forth by the WHO, and one woman replied:
“I was happy when I saw this article. I chose not to breastfeed. It simply was not something I was interested in. Though, while pregnant, all I saw was information pushing “breast is best”. The AAP pushes breastfeeding with force. They try to instill guilt in women who cannot, or don’t want to breastfeed. I felt like this move by our government was a positive move in allowing women to choose how they want to feed their children. These are our bodies, our children, and we have the opportunity to feed them how we want to. I applaud women who breastfeed. I also applaud women who formula feed. As long as your child is fed, happy and healthy, I don’t feel like it matters what their eating. I’m happy the government has chosen to let women continue to choose how they feed their children.”
Her response and naivete are a by-product of mass marketing efforts flooding women with misinformation ultimately contributing to the false perception that “fed is best.” Fed is not best - fed breast milk is best. Francesco Branca, director of the WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, said in a statement:
“There are still far too many places where mothers are inundated with incorrect and biased information conveyed through advertising and unsubstantiated health claims. This can distort parents’ perceptions and undermine their confidence in breastfeeding, with the result that far too many children miss out on its many benefits.” This is confirmation of what I assumed, in the United States, infant formula marketing is strategically created to confuse new parents. All you have to do is type in ‘baby formula’ on a google search and phrases such as; thoughtfully formulated, nourish the brain first, and exclusive comfort proteins appear. As a new mom, it’s easy to feel like your baby isn’t getting the proper nourishment when you walk past an aisle of formula at Walmart touting a multitude of added benefits, which are all inherent to breastmilk to begin with.”
I attend a Breastfeeding Support Group in Sandy Springs, Georgia where milk supply is a commonly discussed topic. Why is it that so many mothers question their ability to provide enough milk for their babies to thrive? As I sit around the group and wonder why women think they aren’t producing enough, I remember what one of my girlfriends told me shortly after delivery. For the purpose of this post, we will call her Sadie. Sadie had been exclusively breastfeeding her son; in fact, she told me, “If you don’t believe in God, you’ve never breastfed.” At her appointment, she was told her son wasn’t growing as quickly as most babies and suggested she might have a low milk supply. She was urged to supplement with formula and left the appointment with the belief that she had been starving her baby. We live in a world where seemingly nothing is free and its disappointing that nourishing babies has become an opportunity for capitalistic gains.
Take a peek at the standard CDC growth chart, isn’t it a bit fishy that there are advertisements for Abbott Nutrition, the parent company of Similac, all over it? Formula companies provide both funds and resources to the very hospitals we deliver our babies in, which creates a dichotomy of power where power should not exist. The nursery your baby sleeps in post-delivery was probably funded by a formula company, creating distance between you and your baby. These companies act strategically and insidiously.
If you want to learn more about the upsetting truths behind malnutrition and infant mortality, and the crafty role corporations play in perpetuating these problems, tune in to the eye-opening documentary called Milk, written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Noemí Weis. Additionally, check out the documentary exposé, Milky Way, which focuses on breastfeeding as a woman’s birthright, a capability that is inherent to every woman.
Over the past 6 months, I have experienced almost every breastfeeding struggle possible. Channing's prematurity made it very challenging for her to latch on; thus, I pumped around the clock for the first three and a half months of her life. When Channing hit 44 weeks gestational age, she latched on, I was so happy I could have cried. Appointments and phone calls with lactation consultants, nipple shields, nipple confusion, bottle refusal, breast refusal, I felt like we had experienced it all. When Channing finally latched on, I understood. The bottle fuss was over; cleaning, sanitizing, warming, keeping, freezing, labeling, they were all a thing of the past. Part of the luxury of breastfeeding is the convenience factor, and until Channing was almost four months old 'convenience' felt like a daydream. Now that I have the daydream and a healthy baby to boot, I understand why breastfeeding is the best feeding.
This part of my story doesn't even touch on the isolation or sleep-deprivation (due to pumping around the clock) I underwent in a very confusing 3 and 1/2 months. Most breastfeeding stories are not as complicated as mine; nevertheless, no mama wants to feed a baby in isolation every 2.5 hours all day long. Breastfeeding in public should not even be a topic of discussion, it should be part of life. Take five minutes of your time and listen to the poet Hollie McNish discuss the taboo subject, breastfeeding in public, in an epic rap titled Embarrassed.