A formula for poverty

It is healthier as well as more productive to teach a mother to breastfeed than provide her with formula for a week.

Mother breastfeeds her 2 month-old daughter 370 (photo credit: Pilar Olivares / Reuters)
Mother breastfeeds her 2 month-old daughter 370
(photo credit: Pilar Olivares / Reuters)
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 expenses.
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 materials.
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 malnourishment.
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 China.
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 government.
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 problem.
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 their minds.
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 formula.
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 continues.
Contrary to the all the recommendations of Israeli and world health authorities they are promoting the manufacturers of artificial baby milks.
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.