Feeding babies formula comes with a high cost
Lately, there has been quite a bit of reporting in the news about artificial baby milk (formula) feeding. The costs of our mothers choosing to feed their babies formula is tremendous. According to one recent study, if mothers breastfed their babies for six months we would save staggering amounts of money each year. “The United States incurs $13 billion in excess costs annually and suffers 911 preventable deaths per year because our breastfeeding rates fall far below medical recommendations.” (Bartick, Reinhold Pediatrics, 2009)
That’s a lot of cash and more importantly, a lot of babies dying unnecessarily.
The author of the study, Dr. Melissa Bartick, makes it clear the mothers themselves are not to blame. Parents receive many mixed messages about infant feeding and then lack support for breastfeeding from the moment their babies are born. I feel this undermining of breastfeeding begins even before that. Our culture is not a breastfeeding culture.
Many mothers do not come from breastfeeding families. They have to become pioneers in their communities in order to participate in biologically appropriate infant feeding practices. They get flack from their families and friends, stares in public, and pressure to wean from the first day of their baby’s life. Often, their health care practitioners make it seem like an even choice. Breastfeed, formula feed, eh, about the same. It is not an even choice. Mothers whom I've met in the area, from low income to wealthy, all want the same thing for their babies: what is best. It is not a lifestyle choice; it is a health choice and your “choice” can save your baby’s life.
In a recent blog by “thefeministbreeder” breastfeeding as a health issue was presented in this way: “You know what else saves lives? Car seats. So, why aren’t people spitting mad at the NHTSA for saying that? Why aren’t they leaving thousands of comments on car seat articles saying “But I just couldn’t afford a car seat, why are you trying to make me feel guilty?!?!” Well, maybe it’s because our society will admit that car seats save lives, and we’re willing to give them out free at fire stations and hospitals if we have to because it is that important.” She maintains that breastfeeding is that important to our baby’s health. The medical evidence seems to be backing her up. Recently, the lack of car seats caused 400-plus deaths in three years. And yet, according to Dr. Bartick, we have more than 900 babies dying in one year from lack of breast milk.
I was just at our “Community Baby Shower” which is held every year at St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Women’s Health Center. Pregnant or early postpartum mothers can come and talk with vendors about anything that might impact their baby. A mother came up to me and said her milk supply was dropping. Her baby was in an isolette at the NICU (a special hospital nursery for sick babies) so she couldn’t put her baby to breast. She was just able to pump her valuable milk for her little baby. She had never intended to breastfeed her baby, but her Neonatologist, her baby’s doctor, had told her it was critical for her baby’s health to have her breast milk, and by god, she started pumping! Now her baby is getting the most appropriate nutrition possible. Breast milk was a health concern, not a lifestyle choice. And breast milk is healthiest for all babies.
Is breastfeeding the car seat of health for babies? If so, let’s help mothers buckle up their babies. Let’s send a consistent message of support for the fabulous protection she is giving her baby, her milk.
Barbara Robertson is a local International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She is the Owner and Operator of the Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor, which offers comprehensive breastfeeding services. Visit her website bfcaa.com for more information. This blog is not meant for medical advice. If you have breastfeeding questions or concerns please contact your health care professional or local IBCLC.