Commercial baby formula has been around for some time, with the first one being created in 1867. Over the years, however, those using formula went from the mothers who couldn’t breast feed for one reason or another, to anyone who had the means to afford formula, and eventually reaching everyone worldwide. These formulas helped to stigmatize breastfeeding and downplayed just how crucial breast milk was to the development of a healthy child. Now, over 150 years later, the fight to reclaim breastfeeding as perfectly natural and naturally perfect is still on.
Breastfeeding is Crucial for a Baby’s Health
A new report from Save the Children, called Superfood for Babies, indicates that breastfeeding newborns could save around 830,000 lives each and every year. The report is specifically focused on breastfeeding in those crucial days and even hours after a child is born.
It’s during the first hours after childbirth that a woman produces something called colostrum. Known as “first milk”, the colostrum contains powerful immune boosters that can help a child thrive throughout infancy and throughout their life. Still, many mothers put a bottle to their baby’s mouth soon after they enter the world.
Save the Children says breastfeeding rates are currently at only 40% globally (even less, depending on your source). This means the vast majority of our children are being raised on powdered, chemically processed formulas. While there are many reasons for this (including a push by some to stop early breastfeeding so that vaccines can work better), Superfood for Babies mentions four obstacles in particular:
- Community and cultural pressures
- A shortage of health workers
- Lack of maternity legislation
- Breast milk substitute makers and their powerful marketing machines
As Carolyn Miles of Save the Children pointed out, the real drama over breastfeeding shouldn’t be about “how long is too long” or where breastfeeding is appropriate, but the fact that mothers and children around the world are missing out on this life-giving experience.
“Last year, we saw a lot of handwringing in this country over how long is too long for moms to breastfeed. But the real scandal is that many moms around the world don’t get the support they need to start breastfeeding early – or even at all. It’s a choice all moms should have, and in the developing world it can literally be a matter of life and death for their babies.”
The push for even less breastfeeding is perpetuated by powerful corporations with money to spend on marketing. The answer to this problem is complex but includes public education and grassroots efforts.