Breastfeeding advocacy: Not an attack on formula feeding moms

MANILA, Philippines - Coming on the heels of a successful "Hakab Na! Breastfeeding Mob" event in Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, and Bacolod was news about a milk company giant recalling infant milk in New Zealand.

The news, and similar links, went viral on social networking sites. Some naturally worried for formula feeding moms who must have been scared by the recall.

Unfortunately, this was also taken by some formula feeders as a direct attack on them: reviving old hurts about not being successful in their breastfeeding attempts before and experiences of being judged for having failed or choosing differently.

While I, a self-confessed breastfeeding advocate, would not deny the fact and possibility of some of my kind being quite aggressive in our campaign, I also wish to remind formula feeders that the advocacy is not to make them feel inadequate and/or bullied.

Rather, we aim for changes to happen so that breastfeeding can be supported for what it really is: a public health issue with great impact on the economy and environment.

To say breastfeeding is just a question of what to feed your child is like saying that smoking is just a kind of vapor, and pollution is just a matter of garbage collection.

First of all, breast milk is a living organism, much like blood, containing not just good bacteria (around 600 types) but antibodies and the right amount of nourishment for a baby as well.

Imagine not promoting, nay, pushing this product and supporting its manufacturers (the mothers) when it is practically for free?

And then there is the act of breastfeeding that offers benefits to the mother which formula feeding can never provide.

How else do you minimize risks for post-partum depression, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart diseases, and breast/ovarian/uterine cancer in one go?

How about reducing Alzheimer’s risks by two-thirds?

Aren’t those odds worth our protection from milk commercials that promise things like increased intelligence (when it has been proven that breastfeeding makes for smarter kids) and good health?

Despite advances in the promotion of breastfeeding, particularly by legislation, the Philippine government still spends P2-3 billion to import formula milk; also around the same figure for lost wages, due to caring for sick children, hospitalization, and funeral expenses for the 16,000 children who die each year from illnesses otherwise directly addressed by breastfeeding.

Add to that the cost to maternal health among marginalized women unaware of lactation amenorrhea as a natural family-planning method.

Furthermore, add the cost of overall malnutrition in households where income is spent on formula instead of food for the entire family.

The truth is, breastfeeding is a public health issue and much remains to be done.

Formula-feeding moms should be respected for this choice, despite knowing the risks they are saying YES to, and the benefits they are saying NO to.

Yet they also need to know we are still on the same side.

By exposing the facts about the manufacture and distribution of formula, we help them by keeping milk companies on their toes and challenging them to deliver better goods and safer products.

Formula feeders who made the switch because of physiological limitations, lack of knowledge, and support should be reassured that breastfeeding advocates are fighting tooth and nail to:

1. Exact better laws from government and monitor the implementation of laws

This is why we say FOUL to milk commercials targeting children below 3 years of age or promoting infant formula distribution in hospitals.

2. Change Western indoctrination that formula is better, or that children over a year old still need formula

What toddlers need are the probiotics and antibodies in their mother’s milk that will defend them from germs and ailments they might pick up as they learn to explore, and vital nutrients that can be supplied by healthy food.

3. Educate medical practitioners on breastfeeding benefits and empower them to give proper support

Breastfeeding is not even a subject in med school and this limits physicians’ prescriptions and advice to patients who are breastfeeding. Many pediatricians also prescribe formula in consideration of weight gain instead of the other signs indicating an infant's development.

4. Build support for mothers by appealing to paternal involvement

More breastfeeding classes appeal to fathers to help their wives stay committed to breastfeeding by being made aware of the savings and health benefits achieved by their cooperation.

5. Sustain breastfeeding initiatives by providing the right information, references and expertise

In partnership with the Department of Health and different LGUs, Arugaan trained hundreds of community health workers last year to provide the abovementioned support in the grassroots level.

Again, it is unfortunate that some breastfeeders may have made some formula feeders feel persecuted.

And yet, apart from those who can argue the price difference and components of formula milk and change brands at will, the families whom the advocacy is trying to save and give a voice to are those who dilute evaporated milk in lieu of formula, or prepare formula using rainwater (this is very common in emergency situations), or give coffee, rice water, etc., all because they are unaware that breast milk is more than enough for their babies.

So next time there is news of contaminated milk, or yet another breast-milk component discovered to be beneficial, we hope they will be taken as facts or reports, not as assaults to one’s judgment or sense of security.

We are all on the same side. While we do not necessarily want formula-feeding moms to walk with us (well, we do, but that is their choice), we do expect them to believe that the reforms we seek will also benefit them and their progeny.

And we do expect them to step aside and let us do our work for the greater good. - Rappler.com

Happy mom with her infant photo from Shutterstock