Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why Do We Still Have to Prove Breast is Better?

It's time for another breastfeeding rant. Oh yes. I am totally behind the curve here, but it came to my attention that The Times and The Mail printed some poisonous anti-breastfeeding articles last week. God, how this annoys me. Newspapers are not exactly well known for their accurate reporting of scientific studies but they have really excelled themselves here. Breastfeeding not really any better then formula feeding? Pull the other one. Thankfully, UNICEF has issued a statement explaining why the negative reports on breastfeeding are guff. Only they won't print an article on that, will they?

I could go on and on about the proven risks of formula feeding: higher chances of respiratory tract infections, stomach upsets and ear infections; higher incidences of type II diabetes, leukaemia, eczema and asthma. And I could stress the benefits to a woman of breastfeeding: lower probabilities of getting breast and ovarian cancers. But that is enough about the proven benefits. Let's explain very simply why we know formula milk is not as good for babies as breastmilk.

What is formula milk made from? That's right, cows' milk. Milk that was lovingly crafted by mother nature to be perfect for a baby cow. We take the milk from the cows' udders, take it to a factory where we mess about with the proportions of proteins in it, add some vitamins and minerals, and hey presto! Formula milk. FORMULA MILK IS COWS' MILK. Picture a baby suckling from a cow. Is that really an acceptable alternative to breastfeeding?

And that omega 3 that formula companies are so keen to tell us about? That comes from fish scales and fish eyes. Yum!

Now, why do formula companies spend time and effort to improve their formula milks? Well it's really to get an edge over the competition. But to get an edge, they spend all that money trying to make their products more like breastmilk. Implicit in their advertising is the admission that breastmilk is the ideal. And why would you want to give your child second best if the ideal is sitting, literally, right in front of you, hanging off your chest?

I'm not upset at mothers who feed their babies formula. A few have to, and for their babies it is a life saver. Most are simply the victims of a culture that drip-feeds us the message that breastfeeding is weird from the moment we are born. It is the formula companies, and the media that print and broadcast their propoganda, that I hate.

If you are pregnant and reading this, think about whether you really want to gve hundreds of pounds of your own money to some greedy executives who are laughing because they have managed to convince you that chemically altered cows' milk is just as good as your own, free, human milk.

I might have strong views on this topic but I am entitled to my opinions and, as Noble Savage recently pointed out, those of us who breastfeed sometimes feel we have to defend our choices just like formula feeding mothers do.


willow81 said...

I like it when people like you put just the right words to the feelings I get when I read cr*p such as what has been printed in the last week or two. I think I am going to do a peer supporter breastfeeding training, at least then I might feel like I am *doing* something, supporting someone to do the most natural thing in the world.

Cave Mother said...

Yes, do it! I have done it and we are setting up a new support group very soon.

Kat said...

I feel so demoralised by those articles. The research it is based on seems to be a statistical study of BF reaserch results but does it take into account (and discard) research funded by formula companies? What of the new discoveries such as BM containing stem cells?

I BF both of my children and will do so as long as they need it, negative reporting and media coverage will not stop me.

Joe said...

Love the way you point out the irony in the formula company advertising campaigns, that they are striving to be more and more like breast milk. Really, it is ironic!

I had to do some formula feeding due to a multitude of issues, but I hated spending my money on it - in a way, it's also helping them print more misleading ads. Grr. Breast milk is free, HUMAN, and convenient - where's the debate?

Lisa C said...

I think feeding one's baby breastmilk is a no-brainer. I mean, seriously? Why does there even need to be a debate about it? Our bodies were designed to feed our young. Period. Would we take human milk, mess around with it, and then give it to baby cows, claiming it is better for them? It's amazing to me how far from nature our culture has gotten--so arrogant to think we can do things better than God/nature can.

Bonnie said...

I don't think any of these companies are claiming their formula milk is BETTER than breast milk - they're just trying to make their formula as near to breast milk as possible.

The benefits of breast milk are well known to everyone - of course the formula milk companies will try their hardest to replicate it!

I had premature twins - one of them severely disabled. Due to a number of reasons I had no choice but to formula feed, so I for one am grateful to the formula companies for their efforts to replicate breast milk.

Incidentally - apart from the physical disability, my children are markedly less prone to illness than all my friends' breast fed children. But as the Times article suggests, that may well be down to upbringing rather than the type of milk they were fed as babies...

Jessica said...

Do you ever get the sense that there also seems to be an unsaid message in all those "formula is just as good as breastmilk" articles?: that those of us who are activists for breastfeding are, in fact, hippie radicals who don't support mothers who formula feed. Which, of course, is totally NOT true.

I dunno - the formula industry makes me want to cry out in frustration. BUT they're simply a product of our society, right? They're answering a need we put out there. Like @Bonnie, sometimes formula is critical. I just wish that somehow its use could be limited to those situations that are life-threatening instead of based on decisions reliant on societal pressures to stop breastfeeding.

I dunno - I don't think I just made much sense :) I'm still climbing out of my fog.

Cave Mother said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cave Mother said...

Bonnie and Jessica - yeah, I kind of wish formula was treated like medicine. Necessary for some, indeed life saving, and it should be well researched, but it should be reserved for those people who really need it.

And Bonnie - I know donor breast milk is actually used as medicine for some preemies as it prevents that gut wasting thing they get (can't remember what they call it). And I know some mothers of preemies who have worked sooo hard expressing their milk for weeks before their babies are strong enough to latch on. Obviously I don't know your individual circumstances, but it IS possible to breastfeed preemies. If they can't latch on, you can pump. Where there's a will, there's usually a way.

Laura McIntyre said...

I almost have to laugh at some peoples attitudes. I had an online "friend" i guess you call her , she said she formula fed her son as she was formula fed and it never done her any harm BUT she has so many health problems from obesity, diabetes to asthma and skin issues. She is hardly fit and healthy , maybe being breast fed would of made no difference but she cannot prove that.

Bonnie said...

I think that a baby should ideally be breast-fed. I also think that mothers who have no choice but to formula feed should not be made to feel bad by those other mothers who were lucky enough to birth perfect children.

And yes, of course I know about pumping breast milk - do you not think I would have done so if I could? But my little boy's condition requires far, far more calories than breast milk can provide, so we had no choice.

I think what I'm trying to say is, consider how blessed you actually are, before you start attacking other people who really have no choice...and who are grateful for the companies who pile so much research into replicating breast milk...that keeps so many babies, toddlers and children alive. One of my little boys (aged 6) would not be alive now if it weren't for manufactured milk 4 times a day every single day.

Cave Mother said...

Bonnie - I repeat, "Necessary for some, indeed life saving, and it should be well researched, but it should be reserved for those people who really need it."

I know I'm blessed, and I also know that lots of people feel very defensive about feeding formula. Why? If it is necessary and unavoidable, why would you feel attacked? I can assure you, I would not attack anyone about their feeding choices. But I do have personal beliefs about what is best. I also know that formula companies do not do research out of the kindness of their hearts! They do it to improve their product, to make more money. We must not mix formula companies up with medical researchers.

I hope your boys keep thriving.

clareybabble said...

Loved this post. Whilst I believe in free choice for everyone, and if formula feeding works for you then fine, there are all too few posts sticking up for us breastfeeding mummies. I've had to put up with questions such as, 'what? you're still breastfeeding at 12 months?!' but if I'd said, 'how could you formula feed your baby?' I'd probably have to put up with severe backlash!