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Sample - Chapter 3

Breastfeeding

PRIOR TO ABOUT 1880 MOST BABIES WERE NURSED either by their mothers or wet nurses. It was not until advances in sanitation, development of uncontaminated feeders, and significant alterations were made to cow's milk that artificial feeding became a possibility. Although most people assume that the ingredients used to make infant formula are selected based upon ingredients that provide superior nutrition, this is not the case.

You might find it alarming, but many of the ingredients in formulas are there because they're cheap and widely available. For instance, the fats most often used in formula are cottonseed oil, beef tallow, and coconut oil. When artificial feeding first took off, formulas were most often based upon cow's milk because a booming dairy industry had surplus milk and was looking for additional markets. When alternatives to cow's milk were needed for babies with allergies to dairy products, a growing soybean industry positioned itself to take advantage of this new market.

FORMULA FOR DISASTER

Although the initial impetus in developing artificial milks had been to save the lives of foundlings, by the 1900's formula companies were looking to the global market for profits. The companies worked to make bottle-feeding the norm and skillful marketing made mothers around the world (and particularly in developing countries) believe that bottle-feeding was superior and more modern than breastfeeding. The medical profession collaborated in this, lured by the desire to standardize and control infant feeding and gave bottle-feeding and air of legitimacy.

Television provided a powerful new medium to accompany the billboard and radio advertising that already bombarded the masses with pro-bottle-feeding messages. Doctors were offered research grants and gifts in exchange for distributing free formula samples to their patients. Formula companies hired professional nurses to visit new mothers. Wearing their nurses' uniforms and being paid commissions that exceeded the usual pay of nurses, these women were often mistaken for hospital personnel. They had liberal access to new mothers to promote artificial milk as superior to breast milk.

As formula sales grew and women abandoned breastfeeding, malnutrition and infant mortality increased. Undeveloped countries lacking sanitary water for mixing with the formula were hit especially hard. Women who couldn't read the instructions on formula bottles failed to mix the powdered formula properly or to boil the water first. This situation continues today. Poor families may spend up to half their income on formula, trying to stretch the formula further by over-diluting it with water. All of these factors increase the incidence of what has become known as "bottle-baby disease"--a combination of diarrhea, dehydration, and malnutrition resulting from unsafe bottle-feeding. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) one and a half million babies die each year because they are not breastfed.

Most fathers and mothers in our culture are dangerously unconscious of the forces influencing them in the choices they make for their children. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to feeding their babies. As I began to appreciate the benefits of breastfeeding through education and then practice, I also started to learn about the multitudes of insidious ways that formula companies have attempted to create larger and larger markets for their products. For example, some manufacturers of infant formula have donated money and free architectural services to hospitals building new maternity wings, and then have had their architects design the new wing with the new mothers' rooms and the nursery as far apart as possible--thus making it inconvenient for nurses to bring the babies to their mothers to nurse.

In the United States we are rightly proud of our freedom -- especially when it comes to a woman choosing how she will feed her baby. Yet most women have too little information regarding the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks of artificial feeding to make a sound judgement. By not understanding all the subtle ways bottle-feeding is encouraged today, women are hardly free to make a knowledgeable choice at all.

We in the United States are fortunate to have access to medicines and technologies that can save the lives of most babies who routinely develop diarrhea or become severely ill from common infections while being fed formula. Even so, according to a 1989 study conducted by the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, roughly four of every thousand infants born in the United States die each year because they are not breastfed. Diarrhea and other common infections are usually minor in a fully breastfed infant. Women in developing countries, however who succumb to slick advertising and abandon breastfeeding thinking they're doing what is best for their baby have no safety net if their child falls ill from bottle-feeding. Since formula-feeding costs well over $1,000 per year (not including the extra expense at the doctor's office to treat the more-likely-to-get-sick baby) this is a considerable expense in both health and money.

During my first pregnancy, I was inundated with propaganda from formula companies advocating their products. For my second pregnancy, I was careful to keep my name clear of every mailing list. I made one mistake when purchasing an outfit at a maternity store and gave them my due date (so they could notify me of sales), after they promised they wouldn't sell or rent my name. Exactly two weeks later, a barrage of advertising began appearing in my mailbox -- the overwhelming majority of which was formula advertising, full of free samples. Mysteriously, the samples were always for a formula product targeted exactly to my baby's age.

Every time one of these things arrived it would infuriate me. How many mothers and babies had their breastfeeding sabotaged by this? I asked myself. If a woman is not well informed, she won't know all the different things that can damage her ability to produce milk. For instance, until breastfeeding is well established, a woman needs to have her baby sucking every two hours for at least ten minutes on each breast. (Proper positioning of the baby is crucial to success too.) What happens if, however, a woman comes home from the hospital and is nursing but doesn't have much support? Her baby is crying, she may be tense and her nipples sore. Her husband tries to be helpful, "Here," he says showing her the free formula samples. "Why don't you get some rest and I'll feed our baby."

What this well-meaning couple doesn't realize is that, without the baby sucking, the woman's milk supply won't be adequately stimulated. The next time she tries to nurse, there may be less milk. The baby gets frustrated -- nursing takes work, compared to having a bottle just drip into their mouth! So the parents try one more bottle. This is the beginning of the end. Without someone knowledgeable to help the mother and father, they will believe that the mother doesn't have enough milk.

According to the book, Milk Money and Madness by Naomi Baumslag MD, formula sales have tripled over the past ten years and the industry is now bigger then ever, generating an astounding $22 million every day in revenues. Suddenly a new disease called Insufficient Milk Syndrome has been diagnosed as women increasingly come to believe that they aren't capable of producing adequate milk for their baby. Yet throughout the animal kingdom it is practically unknown for a mammal in her natural environment to give birth and not produce enough milk for her offspring. In fact in many traditional....

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