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New mums: East or West – Is breast best? | My Metro

My Metro


New mums: East or West – Is breast best?

dreamstimefree_198038“Please stop starving the poor child. Mix some formula and get some sleep”. I had just had a baby, and my twice-experienced, fellow new mum couldn’t understand why I was being obstinate about exclusively breastfeeding my offspring. “After all,” she had reasoned, “isn’t formula manufactured to fill a need?”.

Fair argument, but so are womens breasts. Womens breasts are created to respond to a need, even before the need arises. My ante-natal classes incorporated a significant amount of breastfeeding advice and encouragement. I was even offered a lactation consultant – a perfectly legitimate role, I soon found –  a person paid to offer advice and help mums get the best out of breastfeeding. Such is the gravity of the task, and rightfully so, as the health and wellbeing of the future generation depends on it.

The benefits of breastfeeding are evident from day one. For the first 3 days following childbirth, the body produces colostrum

Colostrum is the first form of milk produced in late pregnancy, and a few days after giving birth. While it is small in quantity (about a teaspoon), it is high in nutrients and antibodies for the baby’s protection. It also has a laxative effect, and encourages the baby to pass his/her first stool called meconium. Studies show that premature babies tend to fare better on human colostrum than commercially-produced formulas.

By day three to five, colostrum has changed into mature breast milk which is packed with the perfect balance of fat, sugar, protein and water to help babies grow. Breast milk is custom made for a baby’s digestive system. While formula is a welcome replacement for mothers with decreased milk supply, one of its drawbacks is that most formula products contain cow’s milk which is difficult for babies to digest. Breast milk provides babies with the antibodies needed to protect against illness, which is impossible to replicate in formula. Employers who make a business case for providing breastfeeding mums with adequate milk storage and extraction conditions, rely on the argument that breastfeeding mums transfer immunity to their babies. This immunity protects babies from catching common colds and contagious diseases, and also protects the mothers in turn from catching colds from their babies, resulting in fewer sick days for working mothers.

In addition, in the event of medical emergencies or disaster situations, infant formula has to be mixed with clean water. If contaminated,  the water used to make the formula may give babies diarrhoea, which can be fatal.  This includes water used to clean/sterilise  the babies bottles also. Breastfeeding babies in emergency situations provides adequate nutrition at the right temperature, thus preventing hypothermia.


Breastfeeding does require practice, and can be exceptionally sore at the beginning, however, the soreness is short lived. Once mastered,  the benefits become evident. Breastfeeding allows for a close bond between mother and child, and also eliminates the need to sterilise and heat bottles in the middle of the night. It is also the cheaper alternative.

Studies have also shown that mothers who breastfeed lose their baby weight much quicker than those who don’t, as breastfeeding uses up an average of 500 calories a day.  It has also been suggested that breastfeeding is beneficial to the mother’s health and reduces the risk of postpartum depression, diabetes 2 and breast and ovarian cancer. Several studies have shown that after weaning, the mother’s bone density actually increases and there are fewer incidences of hip fractures in post menopausal women who have breast fed their babies.

How breastfeeding works


From as early as 1950, infant formula companies have been pushing their products all over the world. In the early 1970’s there were many protests in the USA and some European countries over the marketing campaigns being conducted in West Africa, and many other third world countries. This was all revealed with the publication of The Baby Killer” in 1974, published by War on Want. The publication blamed the increasing mortality rate and malnutrition of babies in third world countries, on the fact that women were choosing infant formula over breast milk. They put the blame firmly at Nestlé’s door.


The New York Times  in 1981, published a sensational story on the unethical tactics being used by Nestle to sell their infant formula in third world countries. Hospitals were an obvious target and they were given free bottles and sterilising equipment in return for pushing their products. Hospitals and clinics were filled with brochures praising the benefits of formula. Sales women, dressed as nurses, would wait outside hospitals and clinics and give expectant mothers and new mothers formula samples. In the Philippines these pseudo nurses went into the poor areas looking for washing lines full of nappies and then pounced on their victims, giving them free samples. In many cases, once the free samples had been used, the mother’s milk had dried up. This consequence was not explained to the mothers.

Nestlé’s advertising also took advantage of the third world’s ignorance and yearning for Westernisation, by showing women in their ultra modern kitchens making bottles for their babies. As women in third world countries began to go out to work, they wanted to do what was being lauded as sophisticated – feed your baby formula. However, cost often meant that the formula was over diluted, leaving many a baby suffering from malnutrition. Another problem was understanding the instructions on the tin – many women either could not read, or the instructions were not in their home language.

The boycott began in the USA and spread to 19 different countries. It lasted for seven years and then there was a brief gap before it began again in the late 80’s. Conditions were laid down regarding advertising practices but Nestle, and other companies, tend to ignore them. It is awfully difficult to police the world. However, this worldwide campaign has had great success and more and more women now know that breastfeeding is the right thing to do.

About Zima Meli

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