Mothers milk is the gold standard in infant nutrition. It provides absolutely everything a child needs in order to survive and thrive. It is food and drink. It continually adapts in order to pass on mothers antibodies and immunities. We know that it literally saves lives, reduces chances of illnesses such as gastroenteritis, ear infections and more. There is evidence to suggest that colostrum actually lines and seals the babies immature gut to help prevent infections. We know that it also reduces the incidence of obesity. We know that in mothers that it reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer, diabetes and helps you to lose weight as an added bonus.
These things are just the tip of the iceberg.
We know that artificial milk, or breastmilk substitute does not even come close. Try as they might, the manufacturers cannot perfectly imitate mothers milk. It is unable to support the babies immature immune system in the same way that mothers milk can.
However we (breastfeeding supporters) are often scared to lay out the benefits of breastfeeding because of the fear of causing guilt, and then we are then terrified about explaining the possible dangers of artificial formula feeding. We are afraid of being labelled breastfeeding nazis and the breastapo amongst others.
Our approach to breastfeeding counselling is a softly softly approach, we don't judge, we are mother centred. But I wonder if a change in tactics is required?
I heard recently about the Rush Mothers Milk Club. www.rushmothersmilkclub.com The idea behind the club is that mothers are provided with up to date research based evidence about the properties of colostrum and breastmilk and they literally treat the breastmilk like medicine, particularly in the case of pre-term babies. The results have been significant.
The counsellor in me does admittedly baulk at the concept of a medical model of breastfeeding promotion, but the more I think about it, the more I think why not? A colleague commented lately that the main reason that the NHS is hanging on to the promotion of breastfeeding is that there is the strong link to obesity, and obesity is the bane of the NHS. So what about a medical model?
If you are a parent, think for a moment about the infant vaccination program. How was it presented to you? Essential? Life saving? Good for society as a whole, not just the individual? (Please forgive me if you choose not to vaccinate, I hope you see this for the analagy it is!) There is little expectation that you would choose not to do something for your child that is considered life saving. (again, please bear with me!).
So why, when we know that breastfeeding is all of those things, do we not promote colostrum and breast milk with the same attitude? You would think that with obesity directly costing the NHS in the region of £4.2 billion (http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Obesity/DH_078098) they might consider taking a more direct approach.
Are we so afraid of hurting peoples feelings that we won't provide the information that can save lives? What kind of upside down world is that?