Breast is best
To mark Breastfeeding Awareness Week, the Breastfeeding Manifesto has been re-launched. Research shows that breastfed babies are less likely to suffer poor health from infections and allergies and have a reduced risk of developing diabetes. Breastfeeding also reduces a woman's risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
The seriousness of the issue was bought to my attention after a meeting with the Royal College of Nursing in 2003. Since then I have used every opportunity to support breastfeeding initiatives and ensure that the law surrounding the marketing of Breast milk Substitutes is enforced locally and in Parliament. I have also worked on the matter within the Council of Europe. The local Breastfeeding initiative has done some extremely valuable work and I will continue to support them and breastfeeding in the future.
The Government and the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, yet less than 2% of British babies are exclusively breastfed for this length of time. For years breastfeeding mothers have been placed under immense pressure with claims that their babies are underdeveloped. For many this has led to guilt and feelings of failure - hardly the recipe to encourage breastfeeding. However the WHO publicly announced that the weight targets used to measure a baby’s' development were wrong. Formula fed babies were used to compile the chart, however these children are likely to be heavier. Breast fed babies gain weight more slowly and this has been shown to lead to better regulation of energy intake, and fewer long term health problems, including lower rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.
It is vital that we promote cultural change to allow mothers to breastfeed, from support in the health care system to more tolerance in the community. Wales, which has one of the lowest breastfeeding numbers in Europe, has a scheme that businesses can sign up to as breastfeeding friendly environments; mothers won’t be directed to the toilets or told to stop if they wish to feed their child.
Not only does breast milk have many health benefits for mother and baby, it is free.
Thankfully Newport has taken a lead with a dedicated team (Breastfeeding Promotion Group) who have run breast feeding promotion initiatives to encourage breast feeding as well as supporting mothers practically and emotionally. Hopefully the Government will move to support breast feeding mothers by providing accurate information to G.Ps and health visitors.
Encouraging more women to breastfeed is a global issue. Save the Children says around 1.4 million children die each year of illnesses that could have been prevented if they were being breastfed.
Baby formula manufacturers are still failing in their responsibilities towards the world's poorest mothers and babies. 30 years ago, a boycott of Nestlé products was launched to highlight its unethical marketing of baby formula in developing countries. Despite the dangers of mixing infant formula with dirty water and using unsterile bottles - food companies continue to use aggressive marketing techniques to keep their share of a multi-million pound market.
A Guardian investigation in Bangladesh found widespread use of "prescription pads", where Nestlé reps give health workers tear-off pads, with pictures of their products, for them to pass on to mothers. Nestlé spokesman Robin Tickle said he did not believe the pads equated to promotion of the company's formula milks. The device was "a safety measure", to help mothers to be sure the milk they were buying was the right kind for their baby.