Tuesday, September 28, 2010

(Yet another) Study shows breastfeeding prevents baby infections

Another day,another study showing that breastfeeding babies with the milk they were meant to have is better for them.

A study by Greek researchers shows that if babies are exclusively breastfed for 6 months, then they will have fewer infections and if they do pick them up,they're likely to be less severe.

I would theorise that this benefit goes on well beyond the six months - after all, antibodies from the mother continue to find their way into her milk for as long as that milk is being made so it's clear that there will be some protective benefit.

It seems to me very strange that women naturally produce a bug busting, nutritious substance that meets all their baby's needs, yet lack of practical support and cultural obstacles means only 1 in 5 babies are still nursing at 6 months.

This article from the Ecologist outlines the case for much stronger measures to support breastfeeding and restrict the activities of formula companies. Written in 2006, it cites that formula companies spend £20 per newborn on advertising while the NHS spends just 14 pence per baby on promoting breastfeeding.

It' calls for the same sorts of measures that were introduced across Scandinavia in the 70s and which have since achieved much higher breastfeeding rates from the same sort of base as our's;


"We must also stop making compromises. Government health policies such as, say, in the UK and US, which aim for 75 per cent of women to be breastfeeding on hospital discharge, are little more than paying lip service to the importance of breastfeeding.
Most of these women will stop breastfeeding within a few weeks, and such policies benefit no one except the formula manufacturers, who will start making money the moment breastfeeding stops.
To get all mothers breastfeeding, we must be prepared to:


  • Ban all advertising of formula including follow-on milks

  • Ban all free samples of formula, even those given for educational or study purposes

  • Require truthful and prominent health warnings on all tins and cartons of infant formula

  • Put substantial funding into promoting breastfeeding in every community, especially among the socially disadvantaged, with a view to achieving 100-per-cent exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life

  • Fund advertising and education campaigns that target fathers, mother sin-law, schoolchildren, doctors, midwives and the general public

  • Give women who wish to breastfeed in public the necessary encouragement and approval

  • Make provisions for all women who are in employment to take at least six months paid leave after birth, without fear of losing their jobs.


Such strategies have already proven their worth elsewhere. In 1970, breastfeeding rates in Scandinavia were as low as those in Britain. Then, one by one, the Scandinavian countries banned all advertising of artificial formula milk, offered a year’s maternity leave with 80 per cent of pay and, on the mother’s return to work, an hour’s breastfeeding break every day. Today, 98 per cent of Scandinavian women initiate breastfeeding, and 94 per cent are still breastfeeding at one month, 81 per cent at two months, 69 per cent at four months and 42 per cent at six months. These rates, albeit still not optimal, are nevertheless the highest in the world, and the result of a concerted, multifaceted approach to promoting breastfeeding.


What we are doing at the moment is failing women and their babies. Of those who give up breastfeeding within the first six weeks, 90% did so because of  problems rather than because they wanted to. With appropriate support, the overwhelming majority of them could continue. Generations of women feel guilty because for some reason they weren't able to feed their babies themselves when in fact it was the information they were given by the health professionals - for example that babies needed to eat every 4 hours and no more - that led to them not producing enough milk. We've moved on from that now a bit, but we have not made nearly enough progress. It's time to take more radical action.

There is a group on Facebook called "I make milk,what's your superpower?"  It has a point, yet we prefer to allow commercial interests to market almost unfettered a much inferior alternative.

Professor Stewart Forsyth, one of the doctors behind the Dundee infant feeding study concluded that
"Breastfed children from lower socio-economic groups had better outcomes than formula fed children from more affluent families"
Study after study confirms the benefits of breastfeeding and still we don't take the radical action necessary to support it in a meaningful way. That makes me very angry.

8 comments:

Pamela said...

Whilst I was aware of many benefits of breastfeeding, your last example, with the Dundee study, blew me away. To think the decision to breastfeed could mitigate some of the disadvantages of low socio-economic backgrounds - amazing.

There are a couple of things I would add. Many woman 'try' breastfeeding and find themselves unable to do so. I wonder if more support with some of the difficulties of breastfeeding - pain, feeding frequency, etc. at that stage might help. I don't have personal experience myself, but from what I have read, in the beginning breastfeeding can be uncomfortable, but it gets easier - if women expect it to be blissful they might think they are doing something wrong or that it might remain so. I don't know what prenatal and postnatal support is available for breastfeeding as standard.

For those who really are unable to breastfeed I wonder whether forumla should be available for free on prescription. This would put it on a financial par with breastfeeding (for those unable to feed their babies naturally) it would remove the advertising misinformation and it would medicalise the use of formula as for medical problems rather than a lifestyle choice. (You would need to make sure that mothers who feel financially pushed into working do not have that pressure as you've suggested)

I've been particuarly concerned by some of the programmes about teenage mums recently which have shown young mums apparently choosing to bottle feed as if there was no other option, though to be fair they rarely said why they did and there may have been reasons. It seems to be shown as the convient option, but I can't think of anything more convienent and naturally nutricious, at the correct temperature and available anywhere than breastmilk.

Pamela
(wanabe mum)

Caron said...

Thanks for this, Pamela.

I could go on for days about the points you have raised. I was for a while a lay breastfeeding counsellor and I found that knowledge amongst health professionals was patchy - some midwives and health visitors didn't have knowledge that I would consider basic and all the training doctors get on breastfeeding is an afternoon on the benefits with nothing on how to deal with problems.

Many health professionals are fabulous and give excellent information and support, but it's very much the luck of the draw.

I think detailed ante natal breastfeeding classes help, especially if dads and extended family are involved. Mothers who were brought up in the era of the supremacy of formula can be quite unhelpful unless they're told that 4 hourly feeding just is not going to be enough for most breastfed babies.

One of the difficulties caused by the fact that mums and babies are chucked out of hospital within hours of giving birth is that mums don't get the chance to see others breastfeeding - that's where going along to a breastfeeding group like La Leche League in pregnancy can really help.

I think you're right about prescription for formula - it should be given to those who need it but there should be barriers in place. There must always be freedom of choice, but it's important to tell the truth to mothers - formula is the fourth best choice for their baby after milk taken from the breast, expressed milk of the mother, and the milk of another mother.

Jennie said...

I breastfed Holly and the best support I got was from my mum. Getting her to latch on initially was difficult, and the breastfeeding support midwife was so overstretched, and I was only in the hospital for 12 hours anyway... I think I only saw her once after Holly was born.

They tell you about it at antenatal classes, of course, but it's harder to learn without the baby THERE...

Caron said...

Jennie, the thing about dedicated ante-natal breastfeeding classes - and I'm talking about 3 or 4 covering about 4 hours worth of stuff, is that forwarned is forearmed - you get some idea of the problems that can arise and how to deal with them, how to tell if your baby is getting enough milk, what to expect from the baby, that sort of thing.

The good thing about actually going to a breastfeeding group, though, is that you get to see other mothers with their babies and get an idea of how to hold a little floppy thing in the right position.

My mother's opinion of breastfeeding was not in any way favourable so I had no help from her at all - if it hadn't been for Louise Wilson from La Leche League I'd have been sunk.

Caron said...

Jennie, the thing about dedicated ante-natal breastfeeding classes - and I'm talking about 3 or 4 covering about 4 hours worth of stuff, is that forwarned is forearmed - you get some idea of the problems that can arise and how to deal with them, how to tell if your baby is getting enough milk, what to expect from the baby, that sort of thing.

The good thing about actually going to a breastfeeding group, though, is that you get to see other mothers with their babies and get an idea of how to hold a little floppy thing in the right position.

My mother's opinion of breastfeeding was not in any way favourable so I had no help from her at all - if it hadn't been for Louise Wilson from La Leche League I'd have been sunk.

Jennie said...

We had six one hour antenatal classes to deal with everything. As I recall, breastfeeding was half of the last one...

I would have loved to go to a group.

BellgroveBelle said...

Thanks for posting that info. I was quite lucky in a way - the wee guy had lost more weight than he should've and I was finding feeding very hard, so they kept me in hospital a bit longer. I was in from Saturday to Wednesday, fairly unusual from what I hear!

I got a lot of encouragement from the staff, albeit a bit inconsistent at times. It would have been easy for them to have just sent me home or, as the only breastfeeder in a room of six, to try and tempt me with formula. They did neither, for which I'm very grateful.

It took a lot of tears and some time hooked up to an electronic breast pump, but things got better, Alexander put on the weight and we got home.

I find feeding so simple now, I can't imagine what it must be like to fouter around making up formula!

cartside said...

There's a real culture of not breastfeeding and it's hard to change such cultural perceptions. I'm German living in Scotland, and if I compare things with Germany - well, many more breastfeed in Germany initially, up to 5 or 6 months, but very few beyond that. Then I get my own father questioning if breastmilk can be enough, surely you need to supplement at some point? Many people think like that, and yes, it takes more than supporting the mother to make the right choice and continue even when there are difficulties. It needs education of fathers, partners, in-laws etc. As to deprived communities - it's important to reach a tipping point, where it's normal to breastfeed because as long as it's normal to formula feed, it's a hard decision for any mum to do it differently, a bit like smoking. Peer group pressure goes a long way!

I agree with Pamela that possible difficulties with breastfeeding should also be included in antenatal information. I doubted myself for months with first daughter, and only persisted because I'm stubborn and there was no way I would not breastfeed. I went and got support, but how many don't? I really don't think the first months were easier breastfeeding than formula feeding for me, and as for younger mums, I can understand how they want to occasionally go out which is more difficult if you're breastfeeding.

Personally, I'm appalled at the difference in breastfeeding rates between wealthier and deprived areas. It starts health inequalities which have a lasting impact and whatever the approach to increasing breastfeeding rates, it has to focus on where they are lowest, and take into account the effects of poverty and deprivation that CREATE low breast feeding rates (and vice versa, low breast feeding rates create health inequalities which contribute to the generational continuation of poverty through poor health)

Sorry for length of comment...

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails