“I don’t see the difference really between breast-feeding and bottle-feeding. If bottle-feeding wasn’t good for a baby, no-one would have ever invented this formula we are feeding our children”.
Quote from a thesis which grossly misrepresents my writing as condemning women who formula feed.
What creates such naïve unwillingness to believe that modern infant formula could possibly be damaging to our children, even as the educated community accepts that previous formulas were? At a time when “fresh, natural and local’ are seen as the desirable characteristics of food, how can people make such a glaring exception in favour of ageing, heavily processed, and international industrial foodstuffs? Especially when these mixes are to be the sole diet for month after month of infants busily forming their brains and bodies and lifetime health trajectories?
The answers are complex, and recently well explored by writers such as Dr Amy Brown, Kimberley Sears Allers, and Jennifer Grayson, as well as outlined in my own writing from 1982 onwards, and the work of the members of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. It is because breastfeeding is difficult and abnormal in WEIRD nations that so many women fail, for lack of real professional help and societal support, while others feel put off by the very idea, and assume that formula must be safe enough and good enough because “they” wouldn’t let them sell it if it wasn’t. [Cue incredulous laughter from those aware of what can be legally marketed, and how well regulatory agencies enforce legal regulations.]
It is only a tiny (but vocal) minority of women that actively chooses to formula feed from birth, without the ‘choice’ being imposed on them by the need to pay the rent or mortgage, or maintain a family income by keeping a job. Children formula-fed from birth are at greatest risk of adverse consequences, now so common in WEIRD nations that they are defined as normal childhood problems. The experience of the fully exclusively breastfed child of a once fully exclusively breastfed mother barely exists as a marker of normalcy: it certainly wasn’t what was defined as normal by psychologists and paediatricians in 20th century America and the UK, where such breastfeeding had almost become extinct by 1970.
Yet the science of infant feeding has never been clearer, on two fronts.
Finally, the astonishing capacities of women’s milk and breastfeeding are being researched, albeit often by those keen to cash in on them for modifying infant formula. And it is clear that a living tissue can never be replaced by industrial powders.
Secondly, industry’s own research has revealed that all formulas up until now have been defective and still are. Industry labours to find new ways of tweaking their different, multitudinous products to achieve better outcomes, results more akin to the development of infants said to be exclusively breastfed (though most are not).
The differences that research reveals would be greater, were there to be careful delineation of feeding groups: exclusively-from-birth breastfed, currently fully breastfed; and by brand delineation of artificial foods fed from birth. And clearer still, if the intergenerational effects of the infant feeding of parents and grandparents were to be explored.
Breastfeeding is unequivocally, indisputably, best for mothers, and above all for infants and the generations to come. As the UK NHS-funded e-Learning for Health online course on infant formula states clearly,
“formula …supports bodily growth along parameters different from those of the breast-fed child, and provides no immunity against disease. Many of the health outcomes of breastfeeding compared to formula feeding are dose-related: that is, better outcomes are associated with longer duration and exclusive breastfeeding, or less exposure to infant formula. For infants, formula will always be an inferior choice to breast milk.”
That is not what health professionals tell parents. But it should be.
Just as professionals warn of lesser preventable risks, and support less fundamental vaccinations, they need to emphasize the primary role of breastmilk and breastfeeding in creating and sustaining normal infants. But alas, many health professionals also believe the myth. And spread it.
The myth of formula safety needs to be explored – and very publicly exploded.