Not good enough
After more than two decades, it is clear that a half-hearted advocacy of breastfeeding benefits multinational formula manufacturers, not mothers and babies, and that the baby-food industry has no intention of complying with UN recommendations on infant-feeding or with the principles of the International Code for Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes – unless they are forced to do so by law or consumer pressure or, more effectively, both.
Women do not fail to breastfeed. Health professionals, health agencies and governments fail to educate and support women who want to breastfeed.
Without support, many women will give up when they encounter even small difficulties. And yet, according to Mary Renfrew, ‘Giving up breastfeeding is not something that women do lightly. They don’t just stop breastfeeding and walk away from it. Many of them fight very hard to continue it and they fight with no support. These women are fighting society – a society that is not just bottle-friendly, but is deeply breastfeeding-unfriendly.’
To reverse this trend, governments all over the world must begin to take seriously the responsibility of ensuring the good health of future generations. To do this requires deep and profound social change. We must stop harassing mothers with simplistic ‘breast is best’ messages and put time, energy and money into re-educating health professionals and society at large.
We must also stop making compromises. Government health policies such as, say, in the UK and US, which aim for 75 per cent of women to be breastfeeding on hospital discharge, are little more than paying lip service to the importance of breastfeeding.
Most of these women will stop breastfeeding within a few weeks, and such policies benefit no one except the formula manufacturers, who will start making money the moment breastfeeding stops.
To get all mothers breastfeeding, we must be prepared to:
- Ban all advertising of formula including follow-on milks
- Ban all free samples of formula, even those given for educational or study purposes
- Require truthful and prominent health warnings on all tins and cartons of infant formula
- Put substantial funding into promoting breastfeeding in every community, especially among the socially disadvantaged, with a view to achieving 100-per-cent exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life
- Fund advertising and education campaigns that target fathers, mother sin-law, schoolchildren, doctors, midwives and the general public
- Give women who wish to breastfeed in public the necessary encouragement and approval
- Make provisions for all women who are in employment to take at least six months paid leave after birth, without fear of losing their jobs.
Such strategies have already proven their worth elsewhere. In 1970, breastfeeding rates in Scandinavia were as low as those in Britain. Then, one by one, the Scandinavian countries banned all advertising of artificial formula milk, offered a year’s maternity leave with 80 per cent of pay and, on the mother’s return to work, an hour’s breastfeeding break every day. Today, 98 per cent of Scandinavian women initiate breastfeeding, and 94 per cent are still breastfeeding at one month, 81 per cent at two months, 69 per cent at four months and 42 per cent at six months. These rates, albeit still not optimal, are nevertheless the highest in the world, and the result of a concerted, multifaceted approach to promoting breastfeeding.
Given all that we know of the benefits of breastfeeding and the dangers of formula milk, it is simply not acceptable that we have allowed breastfeeding rates in the UK and elsewhere in the world to decline so disastrously.
The goal is clear – 100 per cent of mothers should be exclusively breastfeeding for at least the first six months of their babies’ lives.