Viewpoint: Breast milk is a formula for successClinical studies which draw a comparison between bottle-fed and breastfed babies demonstrate a huge advantage for the “breast is best” argument.
By: Leigh Ann Ahmad, Woodbury Bulletin
Clinical studies which draw a comparison between bottle-fed and breastfed babies demonstrate a huge advantage for the “breast is best” argument. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, then breastfed and provided complementary foods up to a year or more. In 2011, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin issued a “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding”
“For nearly all infants, breastfeeding is the best source of infant nutrition and immunologic protection, and it provides remarkable health benefits to mothers as well. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to become overweight and obese,” Benjamin opined.
The call to action cites a number of disproportionately higher health risk factors for those babies that are bottle-fed. For example, bottle-fed babies have: 250 percent more likely risk of being hospitalized for lower respiratory tract infections, 100 percent more likely risk of having acute ear infections, and 30 percent more likely to become an obese baby. The Surgeon General’s Office also draws a direct connection between bottle-feeding and later-in-life chronic disease such as diabetes (60 percent more likely).
The Minnesota Department of Health issued its own call to action, citing breastfeeding as a primary means of combating obesity and obesity-related illnesses. This has helped to spur the growth of groups like the Washington County Breastfeeding Coalition (WCBC). WCBC envisions “a community where breastfeeding is the norm and where families are supported and empowered to achieve their breastfeeding goals.” WCBC is a refreshingly passionate alliance of men and women representing Allina Medical, Fairview Lakes, Grace Medical Supply, La Leche League, Lakeview Health, Stillwater Medical Group, Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment, Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and Woodwinds.
Fairview Lakes Lactation Consultant and WCBC member Sheila Humphrey tirelessly advocates for both babies and mothers alike. She lights up a room when she gives her spiel: “Each mother’s milk is tailor-made for that particular baby in order to boost his/her immunological system. Breastfeeding sets the stage for that baby’s health path from infancy to adulthood, helping to prevent childhood cancers and later-in-life issues such as diabetes and high cholesterol.”
With support from Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) funds, the WCBC initial efforts were to: develop a lactation resource guide, offer professional training and support the local partners working on breastfeeding issues including the three hospital systems that initiated the Baby Friendly Hospital (BFHI) certification process.
BFHI supports those hospitals seeking a quality improvement program for their maternity services by providing policy and systems- change guidelines. To ensure best practices in support of breastfeeding, BFHI requires hospitals to stop the practice of accepting free or reduced-cost formula- a bold move considering that gifts of formula have historically presented a huge cost-savings for hospitals.
“By accepting free formula you are, in a sense, part of the formula marketing and endorsement plan,” explained Jeanette Schwartz, clinical director for the Maternity Care Center at Woodwinds.
In addition to training staff for participation in BFHI, Woodwinds also used SHIP funds to start up an in-house donor-milk system as a bridge for babies in need of breast milk, but unable to receive milk from their own mothers.
“It’s not that we won’t offer formula, but under BFHI guidelines, we have clear priorities: breastfeed first, use expressed milk second, utilize donor milk third, and if need be, use formula as a last effort,” said Schwartz. “We anticipate our families returning home feeling confident in their ability to continue with breastfeeding.”
With the goal of helping families and communities provide their children the best start in life in order become healthy and productive adults, WCBC is creating ripples of change in what may soon be a tidal wave.
Ahmad is a Woodbury resident