It is said that it is more productive to teach a man how to fish than to provide
him with fish.
To paraphrase this I would suggest that it is healthier as
well as more productive to teach a mother to breastfeed than provide her with
formula for a week.
During the pre-holiday season, as in previous years,
I received many phone calls from charities asking for funds to feed the needy. I
do not understand why these non-profit organizations do not work together under
one roof, saving hard-earned donations on staff salaries and administrative
However, the issue which prompted me to take action over the
past years was the fact that these charities make deals with manufactures of
baby formula, to the extent of including their logos on their fund-raising
The Health Ministry is making a concentrated effort to prevent
the unethical promotion of formula in light of all the evidence that
breastfeeding is healthier for babies and for mothers. This is a bit late in the
day because the World Health Organization published their Code of Ethics on the
marketing of Artificial Baby Milks in 1979, and the Innocenti Declaration, with
its guidelines on the promotion and support of breastfeeding, was signed in
Florence in 1990.
Year after year studies show that babies who are
breastfed are healthier not only in their first year and their IQ increased in
infancy, but that the boost to their immune systems protects them in later life
from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and hypertension compared to their
peers who were not breastfed.
Mothers too benefit from the natural
hormonal conclusion to pregnancy and birth and are also less vulnerable in later
life to diabetes, breast and genital cancers.
Every child is precious,
but infants born to disadvantaged families are more at risk of infection and
Bottle-feeding increases the risk if kitchen facilities
are less than ideal or if there are errors in the mixing and preparation of the
milk. Add to that the risk of contamination of formula either through
inappropriate storage or through external sources, such as was the case in the
Remedia scandal in 2003, or with the silicone found in formula made in
Bottle-feeding is also more stressful for the parent who needs to
prepare and store the formula in a healthy and appropriate way. How much easier
it is to provide the baby with milk that is “pre-packed” at the right
temperature any time of the day or night. And how much easier to care for a baby
who is more contented and less vulnerable to gas pains and digestive problems
caused by formula.
The presence of formula agents in maternity wards and
the presentation of gift packs of formula to new mothers leaving the hospital
have been banned by the ministry because they encourage a bottle- feeding
culture, sending the message that if health institutions endorse these gifts
then it is a healthy alternative to breastfeeding.
There are still
contraventions of these rules. Glossy brochures promoting maternity departments
are distributed during hospital tours during pregnancy. There may be token
articles about breastfeeding, but the brochures are paid for by full-page
advertisements for formula. When challenged the heads of department claim that
indeed over the years donations from the formula manufacturers have paid for
many essentials in the neonatal nurseries which are under-funded by the
Every woman has the right to make choices on how she feeds
her baby. There is a small percentage of women who cannot breastfeed however
much they want to, either because they are dependant on medications that are
contraindicated for breastfeeding or because of a physiological
And some women do not want to breastfeed and they have the right
to make that decision provided they have been given all the information about
the benefits of breastfeeding and the support and help they need if they change
So bearing in mind that the deals with the formula
manufacturers by the charities who distribute food to the needy will provide
perhaps enough bottle-feeds for a month, what happens when that month is over?
Those donations may just have tipped the balance so that the mother did not
breastfeed or has stopped; her milk has almost dried up and she doesn’t have the
money to continue to buy the formula.
The WHO Code was written after the
disaster in the Third World where after the donations stopped and the mothers
had no milk, they would over-dilute the bottles (with contaminated water) to
make the tins of formula last longer.
So not only did babies die of
dysentery because of the lack of hygiene and the dirty water used to mix the
bottle, but they also died of malnutrition because of incorrectly prepared
Frustrated by the constant promotion of formula by the food
charities, I contacted my list of professional breastfeeding counselors. Within
a few weeks I had 70 volunteers prepared to run an open telephone line to give
emergency breastfeeding advice. This may not compare with oneto- one counseling
given by counselors in hospitals or on home visits, but was a viable competitor
to the formula companies who provide a free telephone information service,
staffed incidentally by licensed pediatricians who are paid for this service and
who should know better.
I took this proposal to all of the known food
charities, suggesting that our team of volunteers would provide the service and
that all we needed was funding for the infrastructure and telephone line. Not
one of those charities accepted the idea.
So the system
Contrary to the all the recommendations of Israeli and world
health authorities they are promoting the manufacturers of artificial baby
Providing fish for a day instead of teaching a man to
fish.The writer is a UK-trained childbirth educator and breastfeeding
counselor and founder and former president of the Israel Childbirth Education
Center, which closed down in 2011 for lack of funding.
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