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Breastfeeding and Health: Breast Better than Bottle?

Breastfeeding mom1It's breastfeeding’s time to shine . . . especially with the World Health Organization (WHO) strongly recommending it, and the World Breastfeeding Week campaign pushing heavily for more widespread use.  As we take part in the observance of the upcoming World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, let’s take a look at a few different facets of the breastfeeding arena, and some of the amazing benefits that can result.

Fewer and Fewer Moms Breastfeed Today

If you live in America, you may or may not have noticed the steady decline of breastfeeding moms, especially publicly.  When just a decade ago it was common to stroll through a park or other public venue and see a mom nursing her baby, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone doing that in public view today.  But why? Study upon study agrees that breast is indeed best for babies to develop into healthy children.  Despite this, fewer women are breastfeeding as long as they used to in previous years, and some aren’t even breastfeeding their newborn after birth.  Why do so few American women breastfeed? And is this trend just in America, or is the rest of the world along the same path?  

It’s not a legal matter holding anyone back from publicly breastfeeding. In fact, 45 states have laws in place that allow nursing mothers to breastfeed in any location, public or private, without legal complications. And 24 states have laws that allow breastfeeding in the workplace.  No, the dwindling rate of breastfeeding mothers stems from something deeper.  So deep, in fact, that it’s occurring all over the world.

The Research, the Facts, the Stats

The World Health Organization strongly recommends mothers feed their infants breast milk exclusively, from the time they are born until they are at least six months old, and then for two years or longer after that. This is done in order to ensure the strongest growth, health, and development – not only in the infant, but in the child, teen, and eventually adult that newborn is to become.  Recently completed studies – ones that have taken decades to research - are now showing that colostrum, which is the yellowish, sticky breast milk that’s produced at the end of pregnancy, is the best possible food for any newborn.  

One of the most revealing studies shows that children who were exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months of their lives had a significantly reduced chance of becoming obese in later life.  Specifically, by the time they reach 16 years old, those who were breastfed are less likely to develop weight problems and their risk of becoming obese is reduced by nearly 50 percent.  Children who stop breastfeeding earlier, and are switched to formulas, tend to become overweight in later years. Not only that, but the lack of colostrum can lead to a weaker immune system compared to a child who was breastfed.  

As mentioned earlier, even though breastfeeding has its short- and long-term benefits, it’s losing popularity all across the world.  On a global scale, less than 40 percent of all infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months.  In less developed countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and India, infants are often switched to baby formula much earlier than six months.  However, other countries, such as Poland, recognize the health benefits of breastfeeding and strongly encourage all mothers to do so.  Because of this, they have one of the highest rates of breastfeeding in the world.  

Where does the United States stand among other countries on a global scale?  Even with the laws allowing for public breastfeeding almost anywhere, only 33 percent of infants are breastfed by the time they reach four months, and the figure continues to decrease after that.  By the time they are six months old, only 14 percent of infants have been breastfed exclusively.  Given the research mentioned previously, might this be one of the reasons we are now facing a growing obesity epidemic?

Big Pharma for Babies?

The WHO and other organizations are campaigning hard to “bring back breastfeeding,” but there’s another player in the breastfeeding “industry” that we haven’t talked about yet: the infant formula companies.  Does the fact that many of these companies sponsor hospitals have anything to do with why doctors (almost too eagerly) recommend switching to formulas if your child is even the slightest bit reluctant to try breastfeeding?  

Again, switching to formula too early can lead to health problems and complications for the child; and because of this, more and more restrictions are being put in place to prevent these giant formula companies from influencing too many mothers to just skip breastfeeding entirely.  But could this be the “Big Pharma” for babies?  Stay tuned for the second part of this article to find out exactly why formulas should be avoided for young infants, and just how much pull the baby formula companies have on mothers in America and the rest of the world.

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Cited Sources

Barranco, Caroline. "Nutrition: Breast Is Best for Avoiding Obesity." Nature.com. N.p., July 2012. Web. 18 July 2012.

WorldBreastfeedingWeek.org. N.d. 20th World Breastfeeding Week: Understanding the Past, Planning the Future. Celebrating 10 years of WHO/UNICEF's Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding.

"Breastfeeding." WHO.int. The World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 17 July 2012. <http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/>.

Pearson, Helen. "Children of the 90s: Coming of Age." Nature.com. Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science, 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 July 2012. <http://www.nature.com/news/children-of-the-90s-coming-of-age-1.10396>.

Neu, Josef, and Sandra Sullivan. "Baby and Breast: A Dynamic Interaction." Nature.com. Nature: Pediatric Research, 2012. Web. 17 July 2012. <http://www.nature.com/pr/journal/v71/n2/full/pr201135a.html>.

Davey, Melissa. "Breastfed Babies Have Better Chance of Avoiding Obesity." SMH.com.au. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 July 2012. <http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/breastfed-babies-have-better-chance-of-avoiding-obesity-20120212-1szsg.html>.

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