Pediatrician shares the danger of promoting formula in poorer nations

I am ashamed. This past spring, the Trump administration opposed a breastfeeding resolution during a World Health Assembly meeting that was widely considered noncontroversial. Instead, the United States delegation promoted the interests of baby formula makers, the New York Times recently reported. The resolution suggested that formula making companies should not be allowed to advertise that formula is better than breast feeding.

In addition, the U.S. delegation threatened poor counties such as Ecuador that had introduced the measure to withdraw support of the resolution or the U.S. would withdraw its financial support of these poor nations. Eventually, Russia introduced the resolution unchallenged by the U.S.

Formula in poor nations is simply dangerous. Breast milk is essentially free, formula is expensive. Formula requires clean water to be safe and clean water is rare in the Third World. Breast milk is usually safe even in severely infected mothers with tuberculous or HIV.  My son, Isaac, is a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia.  He is giving two years of his life to promote improved access to clean water and to decrease the high death rate of mothers and children from water borne infections after delivery. And now the U.S. is promoting formula over breast feeding to protect the formula companies from losing sales!

Unfortunately, this is not a new problem. About 30 years ago, Nestle had a major advertisement program in Africa encouraging using formula over breast feeding.  Nestle said the formula was “modern and healthier” and implied using formula made mothers seem classier.  Since some mothers did not have the money to buy enough formula, they would over dilute it and these children would not grow properly—sometimes suffering from developmental delays and most tragically, some died from the malnutrition.

I support breast feeding over formula in new babies in the U.S., but I understand if a baby of moderate means needs to go on formula WIC (The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). WIC supplies plenty of formula and food to almost every needy mother and child.

No matter how much the current administration in Washington feels companies are more important than people, we as a country should never value profits over the health of babies. We should promote breastfeeding with the understanding not all mothers will be able to breastfeed and breastfeeding isn’t right for every mother based on her circumstances.

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