Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Folly of Follow-on Formula

My enjoyment of Popstar to Opera Star was rudely interrupted by an advertisement I hadn't seen before for a brand of Follow-on formula which had me seething.

Follow-on milk is to my mind an invention of the Prince of Darkness himself. Babies simply don't need their systems assaulted by loads of iron that they can't deal with efficently.

The main point of the advert was to make us think that our babies desperately need iron. How in the name of the wee man we manaaged to survive successfully as a species for thousands of years without artificial baby milk containing iron supplements is beyond me!

The idea that babies need iron supplements, whether they are fed human or formula milk is ridiculous. Most full term healthy babies will get enough iron from their normal diet. What is particularly scurrilous about follow on milk is that it gives parents a false impression that their baby is somehow going to need extra iron that their milk can't give.

Sure, there's not a lot of iron in human milk, but, nature, being clever like it is, provides it in a form which is easily absorbed by the baby's system. In fact, around half of the iron in human milk is easily and unobtrusively absorbed by the baby. Follow on formula is the equivalent of weeding your window box with a bulldozer. It marches in with its tackety boots into the baby's system, and only around 4% of the iron it contains is actually absorbed. If a baby is receiving human milk as well as the follow on formula milk, the good work the human milk does is undermined by the onslaught of the formula. The proteins which bind iron in the baby's gut are overwhelmed and can't work as well.

Generations of babies have survived without this stuff, and a hundred or two hundred years ago, their lives were a lot more physically active than our's.

So what's the attraction to the manufacturers of this stuff? Well, the strict rules on the marketing of breast milk substitutes don't apply to them. That's why you see the adverts with the rosy cheeked happy looking babies which are banned for first stage formula milks. That's why you see follow on milk on promotions in the supermarket.

I think that follow on milk is nothing more than a blatant ploy by artificial baby milk producers to get round the marketing code. I've been concerned to hear health professionals advocating its use and even recommending that it replaces breastfeeding. I would say to any mum who is told this and is worried by it to ask for her baby's iron levels to be tested and not to give iron supplments of any kind unless there is a clinical reason for doing so. Don't be fooled by clever marketing.

If you're interested in any of the issues around the marketing of infant formulas, have a look at the Baby Milk Action website. It has a specific section on follow on milk here.

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