Guest Column: Article promoting infant formula denies value of breastfeeding

By Dawn Russell, RN, BSN, IBCLC

This column is being written in response to an article in the March 7-13 Rock River Times titled “New infant formula ingredients boost babies’ immunity by feeding their gut bacteria.” The article cites two studies done at the University of Illinois about adding prebiotics and probiotics to infant formula. Both studies were clearly funded by Nestlé, which is a company that manufactures infant formula.

In the article, they minimize the benefits of breastfeeding by stating that adding these substances makes the formula more like breast milk. Formula is not like breast milk. It is, in fact, a far inferior substitute for breast milk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, World Health Organization, among other groups, and the Surgeon General of the United States, recommend breastfeeding as the normal and first choice for feeding infants. There is abundant scientific evidence supporting breastfeeding as the healthful norm for mothers and babies.

In our culture, the idea that formula is “almost the same” as breast milk is false. Breast milk is an ever-changing substance that contains more than 400 ingredients that cannot be duplicated in a factory. Breast milk is easier to digest than formula, and provides the perfect nutrition for the baby’s ever-changing needs. It contains active antibodies to protect the baby from germs, and it is never contaminated. Breast milk contains growth factors to promote proper growth.

Babies who are fed only breast milk have less risk of pneumonia, ear infections and diarrhea. They also have a lower risk of obesity, asthma, some cancers and several intestinal diseases. Babies who get breast milk have a decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They have fewer cavities and better oral and speech development. They have documented increased IQ with higher reading, math and overall scholastic ability. The health effects last into adulthood.

There are many benefits to mothers who breastfeed as well. Studies show mothers who breastfeed have fewer female cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis and anemia. Parents get more sleep when babies are breastfed. Breastfeeding is truly easier than mixing formula, washing bottles, and the milk is free! Formula is very expensive, costing taxpayers, who pay for “free” formula from government programs, millions of dollars each year.

Breastfeeding is more than just nutrition, it is comforting the baby at the same time. Breast milk is human milk for human babies. It has the correct balance of nutrients as well as vitamins and minerals that are more easily absorbed.

“Good bacteria” in the stomach and intestines is established by infants receiving colostrums, the milk that is present in the first few days of life. This early breast milk contains oligosaccarides and immune-boosting factors that prepare the baby’s system for future feedings and set up the proper balance of good bacteria. A baby’s immune system is compromised at one week of age if the baby does not get this vital first breast milk. Studies show formula, even one bottle, leads to an inflammatory response. In the studies cited in the article, they fed the formula with prebiotics and probiotics to infants at age six weeks, well past the critical first week.

This article is simply an advertisement for the formula company. Artificial baby milk (a.k.a. formula) has become the way many people view as the normal way to feed infants. But in fact, breastfeeding has been the normal way to feed infants for thousands of years. Most women are able to breastfeed successfully with the support of Board Certified Lactation Consultants, La Leche League and other trained professionals.

We at the Northern Illinois Breastfeeding Task Force, promote, support and defend breastfeeding as the best choice of infant feeding. For further information, we can be found on Facebook.

Dawn Russell, RN, BSN, IBCLC is a member of the Northern Illinois Breastfeeding Task Force.

From the May 9-15, 2012, issue

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