When it comes to determining the kinds of foods we eat, there are many factors that come into play. we think about our preferences, psychological factors, cultural influences, beliefs, knowledge and education, income, location, accessibility, availability, to mention a few. There are many factors that we cannot control by ourselves, for instance, the food industry to a large extent also determines what choices are available to us and what we should eat. Suffice to say that the matter of food is very political.
Now, when you think about breastfeeding, you would expect that since mothers are the main producers and suppliers, they are to a large extent in control of this commodity; that their decision to breastfeed or not to breastfeed solely depends on their own choice. This is not so. Suffice to say also that Breastfeeding has long since been politicized.
There is growing support for the use of infant formulas and bottle feeding even with the restriction of marketing these products. Infant formula producing companies usually have their representatives in many of our hospitals also ‘supporting the cause of breastfeeding’. They even sponsor research on breastfeeding. This would naturally make mothers ask, “if breastfeeding is so great, why are you marketing breastmilk substitute?” and of course there is the subtle message being passed that seem to undermine mothers’ confidence in their ability to breastfeed successfully.
These days, some companies imitate the breast milk such that they write things like “DHA’ on the product showing you how closely related it is to the gold standard -the breast milk. Also, many mothers who have successfully used formula feeding will tell you that their babies are just as healthy as the breastfed ones thereby trying to equalize the two products too.
Statistics show that rate of breastfeeding at birth in the first few months of birth is high but there is a sharp decline afterwards for a huge number of reasons including challenges in breastfeeding, poor education, convenience, work to mention a few.
An example is that a woman who formula feeds her child can drop the child at a crèche easily without worry and return to work, she can get support from family members in terms of feeding the infant. She can get the formula in almost any supermarket carrying baby products and anyone can also purchase it for her.
There are women who feel guilty that they chose not to breastfeed and then fight back at those who are pro-breastfeeding saying that they have a right to choose and no one should be forced to breastfeed. We even find women who oppress those who decide to practice exclusive breastfeeding and taunt them into giving up. You hear statements like “your child is not fat, better start formula” because a perception is that a chubby baby is a healthy baby and a lean baby, not so much. Those who deal with child care know that the weight, height of the baby and a few other parameters help to judge objectively whether the child is healthy or not. Besides, Infant formula industries have contributed to the rise in Obesity.
There is clearly poor infrastructure in place in support of breastfeeding. All these issues make the breast milk seem more ‘expensive’ than the substitute.
However, whether Breastfeeding is politicized or not, remember that children die every few seconds from infection; a problem that breastfeeding can help to alleviate.
Also, remember that the current burden of chronic diseases in the world is huge. Breast cancer, in particular, is one of the major cancers that cause a lot of problems for women. Statistics have long since shown that breastfeeding can help to reduce this risk. The value of breastfeeding can also be felt in the fight against overweight and obesity in women and children. It has also been associated with reduced risks of ovarian cancer, type II diabetes and postpartum depression.
The truth is that the breast milk will always be better than commercial formulas in terms of composition, safety, cost and other health benefits. The science is clear on this. It is also clear that the infant formula industries are for profit and would fight the cause of breastfeeding albeit subtly.
Women, men, governments, and the world must see the value of breastfeeding and support it. This support must reflect in the system. A few policies or code will not solve the problem. Breast milk also needs to break the stereotype of being associated with just domestication and tradition and must ascend as women fight for and rise to their political space/professional prominence in the world. Women need to get their power back and breastfeed their babies for a solid foundation.
Lastly, now that people are becoming more focused on healthy foods that do not contain chemicals like additives, pesticides, genetically modified organisms and other things people don’t want to see in their foods, remember that Breast milk is the healthiest and safest food for your infant. Breast milk is not “milk for the poor” or those who cannot afford formula milk, it is milk designed for babies and it contains all the nutrients your infant needs in the first 6 months of life.
Babies too need to eat better so that they can live better. Let us make this happen for them.