Friday, January 12, 2007

What's the public attitude towards breastfeeding?

I often say that until breastfeeding is valued and normalized in our culture, breastfeeding rates will continue to be low and have sharp drop off rates. Let's face it, breastfeeding is expendable. Child is gaining too slow - stop breastfeeding. Baby is fussy, must be your milk - stop breastfeeding. Child won't eat many solids - stop breastfeeding. It's raining today - stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is often easily dismissed when developing care plans for children and their mothers. In American culture the thought of a baby who doesn't take bottles or receive some formula is foreign to most people.

After all, formula is just as good. Especially the new formulas that are "patterned after breastmilk" (Bright Beginnings Formulas) or have "special nutrients found in breastmilk" (Similac Formulas) and "provide nutrients found naturally in mother's milk" (Parent's Choice Formulas), RIGHT? How could they make these claims if they aren't true? The truth is, the formula companies aka pharmaceutical companies are excellent at marketing. The have convinced many, like a mother who once called me asking which formula had the "breastmilk ingredients in it" in case she needed to supplement her baby. The marketing had gotten to her. Has it gotten to you or those you know too?

I am glad that formulas are now being made with organic ingredients and EFAs - they should have been from the start. They also still contain corn syrup and synthetic ingredients and things with names normal people can't pronounce. It is not a living fluid, it is not custom made for each baby and subject to human error in mixing and water contaminates among other issues. I do not desire to see infant formula disappear, for it serves a medical purpose. I just want to see it put in its place.

I say all this to bring your attention to a recent article int the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. A study found that attitudes toward breastfeeding and formula are changing and not for the better. More people in 2003 (25.7%) agree that "infant formula is just as good as breastmilk" than did in 1999 (14.3%). The study found the biggest gain (or loss from my perspective) in those believing the lie were of low socioeconomic status. (Which by the way are the people the government should be reaching through public health messages, right? What messages are really being sent and received?) More people are uncomfortable with a breastfeeding woman sitting next to them as well. Is it any wonder this is the case when infant formula companies have raised marketing funding from $29 million in 1999 to $46 million in 2004. Many now have celebrity endorsers as well.

The lesson here is simple. Formula company marketing is working. It is powerful and effective. The half-hearted U.S. National Breastfeeding Campaign DID NOT WORK. The WHO International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes needs to be adopted and enforced in America to show a serious commitment to the health of our youngest most vulnerable citizens and the women who care for them. Public health departments need to make a real commitment to breastfeeding instead of firing lactation consultants (like in my area)and giving lip service to breastfeeding support. Doctors should receive breastfeeding education and hands on support training in medical school and residency. This is a wake up call, ladies and gentlemen. We have miles to go before we sleep.


tanya@motherwearblog said...

Really glad you posted on this. I was so upset when I saw that study. I'm going to post on it, too, and I wrote on similar topic today. So discouraging.

NapiSoul said...

I'm soooooooooo happy to find this blog! I'm an African-American breastfeeding mom of a beautiful 5 month old boy, Amiri. For MONTHS I've been looking for a support group for AA new moms in my area. I had troubles breastfeeding my son when he was born and eventually had to see a lactation consultant to get it right. While I still haven't found a group, I'm glad to come across this site.

I recently designed a shirt for Black breastfeeding mothers. Check it out at:

Karen said...

I live in Egypt and have had no trouble breastfeeding in public. In fact, I've had many strangers tell me I need to breastfeed including the male building guard. I just got back from a Nile cruise where I encountered a lot of tourists from all over the world. I received pro-breastfeeding lectures in Arabic, Japanese and Italian on this trip. All of these women were very happy to hear that I breastfeed. The US needs to catch up!

I am glad that I had my baby in the States and I had access to a lactation consultant because I did have problems, but now that my son and I have the hang of it, it is nice to be here in Cairo.