Do I really have to write this post?
Apparently I do. Today, a children’s charity, in its wisdom, has declared that Formula milk should be plastered with “cigarette-style” warnings that “breast is best”. It must be true – it says so in the Daily Mail.
I cannot imagine how devastated I would have been to have seen such a thing when I was desperately trying to feed a hungry newborn and had no breast milk worth writing home about. And I’m sure all the anxious parents pacing the corridors of the Neonatal Intensive Care Units around the world would feel amazing too about seeing that being given to their tiny little ones as they clung to life.
And what form should these “warnings” take? The report is a little, um, vague. Are we talking photos? Of what? Take your pick – some people will have you believe Formula is responsible for every single ill imaginable.
Here’s Dr Sue Battersby, a retired midwife and lecturer, specifically on the subject of childhood diabetes, in my book (what do you mean you haven’t bought it yet? 😉 )
“We know that the number of young children getting diabetes has increased. Diabetes is an auto-immune disease and exposure to cow’s milk (on which most formulas are based) can contribute to the body getting auto-immune failure… but you need pre-disposition too. You can’t say being breastfed will stop you from getting it or being formula fed will give it to you.”
And here’s another quote, from an academic called Dr Joan B Wolf, also in my book:
“We know there are antibodies in (breast) milk, we know they line the baby’s gut and fight bacteria. But we don’t have any evidence that they go anywhere else in the body. Are they ultimately excreted along with everything else?”
According to Cancer Research UK, smoking is the cause of 86% of lung cancer deaths in the UK and 25% of cancer deaths over all. Did anyone think to check whether or not these poor people also had the so-called “misfortune” to be bottle fed? Ah but what if you were breastfed and your parents smoked? Or you were bottle-fed and you smoked but lived to be 102? Did you grow up in an urban or rural environment? Were you exposed to asbestos? What’s in your DNA? You see – there are a million and one factors that come into play when you start to think about it.
I hope it goes without saying by the way that I am not anti-breastfeeding. I am just fed up with the demonisation of mothers who, for whatever reason, opt out. I’d be interested to see some properly researched statistics on the number of babies who are admitted to hospital dehydrated and under-nourished (I know of dozens, anecdotally) because of the incredible pressure to breastfeed in cases when anybody with half a brain cell can see that it isn’t actually working.
And plastering disapproval all over the one product available to avoid all that is not, in my view, particularly helpful.
UPDATE: Thanks to mssres on Twitter for sending me this interesting breakdown of the headline figure in the report which is that “95 babies an hour” could be saved by colostrum (the very early milk).
Obviously as the report itself claims, newborn mortality varies from country to country. But check Fullfact.org’s final paragraph:
Even in terms of these neonatal deaths, data from the Office for National Statistics show that in the UK 85.9% in 2011 were related to events occurring before the actual birth like congenital anomalies, antepartum infections and immaturity related conditions. None of these could have been prevented by breastfeeding.