Despite its many lifesaving benefits breastfeeding still struggles to compete with the marketing used by the multi-billion dollar baby formula industry, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN.) Considering the multitude of benefits associated with breastfeeding it is confusing to find that the rates of breastfeeding worldwide are worryingly low.
“Aggressive and inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes, and other food products that compete with breastfeeding, continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates,” it explained. “Globally, nearly two out of three infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended 6 months – a rate that has not improved in two decades.” Global sales of breast-milk substitutes total US $44.8 billion, and are expected to rise to US $70.6 billion by 2019
An increase in breastfeeding rates could save 800,000 child lives every year, according to a major Lancet study published earlier this year. Breastfeeding can protect babies in developing countries from being underweight, or suffering from life threatening diarrhoea. Being breastfed also reduces the risk of diabetes and obesity later in the life, the study also found. Breastfeeding also benefits mothers. An increase in breastfeeding could prevent 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year, the study also found. The Lancet concluded that breastfed babies grow up to be smarter, gaining an additional three IQ points.
Infant formula can be particularly dangerous when mixed with dirty drinking water or not mixed exactly according to instructions and it also lacks the important immune boosting properties of breast milk. Infant formula is also more expensive and creates more waste than breast milk due to its packaging. 135 countries now have some form of legal measure related to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. However “the quality and substance of specific Code-related provisions varies significantly,” and there are still 59 countries that have no regulations under the code.
“…there are still far too many places where mothers are inundated with incorrect and biased information through advertising and unsubstantiated health claims,” said Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development in a statement. “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,” he said.
“When we trust the makers of baby formula more than we do our own ability to nourish our babies, we lose a chance to claim an aspect of our power as women. Thinking that baby formula is as good as breast milk is believing that thirty years of technology is superior to three million years of nature's evolution. Countless women have regained trust in their bodies through nursing their children, even if they weren't sure at first that they could do it. It is an act of female power, and I think of it as feminism in its purest form.” - Dr. Christine Northrup, obstetrician and gynecologist.
“If a multinational company developed a product that was a nutritionally balanced and delicious food, a wonder drug that both prevented and treated disease, cost almost nothing to produce and could be delivered in quantities controlled by the consumers' needs, the very announcement of their find would send their shares rocketing to the top of the stock market. The scientists who developed the product would win prizes and the wealth and influence of everyone involved would increase dramatically. Women have been producing such a miraculous substance, breastmilk, since the beginning of human existence.” - Gabrielle Palmer, nutritionist