Better living through modern chemistry, that’s what we are taught. This concept offers a false promise whose consequences are only now showing its injurious results. There is no truer an example than with the advent of baby formula and the systematic dissuasion of woman from nursing their babies.
After World War II, when the baby boom began to occur, another boom was beginning... that of the baby formula industry. Unbelievably, that boom continues today, even in the face of overwhelming scientific and practical evidence that contradicts practically every possible reason to use the formula.
Women of my mother's generation (I was born in 1961) were actually discouraged from nursing their babies with breast milk. I'm not talking about Reader's Digest here, I'm talking about obstetricians and pediatricians and gynecologists and even the good old family doctor, all telling women that formula was better. How was a woman supposed to resist the new trend when inundated with information from her doctor like…
- "The formula is healthier for your baby," or
- "Your breasts are your breasts, not the babies," or
- "Only poor women breastfeed... if you can afford it, do what's best for your baby," or
- "Why should you be tied down to having to always feed your baby?" or
- "Only country people, farm people and savages breastfeed."
And, of course, there were many other messages from our modern culture that supported this trend. It was unacceptable to bare a breast in public, so the only option if you wanted to be "out in society" was to bottle feed. Our country "did the right thing" by helping starving people around the world by shipping them free baby formula. Our government made formula available, free, to the poor in this country through programs like WIC.
What's so special about breast milk anyway?
Nutritionally speaking, breast milk is the perfect food for the proper growth and development of the infant for the first year, at least. We are talking about every needed vitamin and mineral. In fact, after a woman has had a baby, the breast milk gets priority over the mother for essential nutrients. One category of those essential nutrients is that of the healthy fats. I can think of no more important nutrient than the fats that are needed for optimal brain and nerve tissue development.
But the benefits of breast milk go much further than the simple vitamins and minerals and even the healthy fats that we think about when someone mentions nutrition. The proper functioning of the immune system literally depends upon the consumption of mother's milk that can not be replicated through baby formula!!
Why is this? Because with breast milk comes immune factors that the mother has developed within her life that are intended to be passed down to her children. Immunoglobulins that Mom has developed from exposure to the environment (and ones that came from her mother, grandmother, etc.) are a large part of the protection that a baby was intended to get from day one. Ever wonder why it is that so many more people today suffer from allergies, autoimmune diseases and constant infections than 60 or 70 years ago? Ever wonder why few of us and our children have never tasted that "pink, bubble-gum medicine" for ear or sinus infections?
Don't expect the pharmaceutical industry to shed a tear because chronic illness is on the rise. And the cynical part of me thinks that our government really likes things just the way they are too. Sicker people are good for business, plain and simple. That is business for the medical industry, business for the government... that's what keeps the carousel turning.
Got allergies? Here, take Benadryl. Got a cold? Here, take Robitussin (that's what Dr. Mom uses, right?). Got Rheumatoid Arthritis or MS or Lupus? You are really hooked into the system now... not only do you get to take more and more drugs (read: more expensive and more expensive) but you also get to have lots of doctor visits and blood tests.
And to add salt to the wound, we inoculate our children with substances that further challenge a likely already inadequate immune system, which just furthers the complications later in life… more immune dysfunction related diseases. Has anyone else noticed that cancer keeps cropping up more and more? Don’t you think there may be a relationship here?
The science is there to support what I am contending. Studies have shown that babies who are breastfed end up with fewer infections and have higher IQs later in life. Those who wish to support the "formula industry" claim that it is the socio-economic and education status of the mother and baby that determines infections and IQs, not breast feeding vs. formula feeding, but a recent review of all of the major studies involving this issue conclusively shows that it is the breast milk that makes the difference, regardless of whether you are rich or poor, highly educated or not.
Breast milk also provides for the proper development of the digestive tract. Of course, dysfunctional gut issues are one of the leading reasons why one uses medicines; prescription or over-the-counter. Zantac, Tagamet, Pepcid, Axid, Prilosec, Prevacid, the list goes on and on, and so does the expense. Did we suffer from indigestion and heartburn 50 years ago like we do today? Boy, for a supposedly educated society, we certainly do seem to be going backwards here.
Do you want the most telling (and disturbing) facts about bottle feeding our babies? Formula fed babies are 5 times more likely to die of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) than breast fed babies. When looking at overall death rates of American babies for all causes, formula feeding ends up costing more than 4 additional lives per thousand born.
Proponents of breast feeding have been trying to get us to see the light for a long time now. Organizations like the Le Leche League, holistic nurses, mid-wives and lactation consultants have led the battle. My very first radio show, back in 1993, was about this very topic (much to the chagrin of station management who told me that no one cared about breast feeding).
There are other, less obvious ways that the availability of formula has affected our attitudes towards breast feeding. I have met many women who try to breastfeed their new babies, but at the first sign of soreness, trouble or inconvenience, they drop the idea with the thought they gave it the old college try and, really, formula is just as good anyway, isn’t it? What would have happened in days gone by? Either you fed your baby, found someone else to do it for you (wet-nurse) or likely the baby would have died.
And in all the time that I have researched this issue, I still have not seen serious mention of what I think is potentially the most important negative aspect of formula feeding...
The advent of baby formula allowed us, for the first time in the history of humankind, to actually raise a child without having to really touch that child.
Really think about this. With formula, all of a sudden we were able to hand the baby off to someone else to feed. The baby no longer got the close contact with Mom that it was intended to get. Bonding changed in a very fundamental way.
Of course, we tend to only look at the supposedly positive aspects of this... now Mom was free to do other things, be a more active part of our growing society. But wait a second... if Mom doesn't need to be there to feed the baby, maybe Mom doesn't need to be there to raise the baby either. Maybe we can use the television as the primary parenting tool. That way we can go out and earn more money to buy more things (like bigger T.V.s)! And, while watching T.V., our little ones will learn about all of the things they will need to in order to deal with the coughs and colds and heartburn it will get as it gets older.
Without baby formula, the idea of two working parents would never have occurred to anyone.
And I think the issue goes even deeper than that... I honestly feel that a large part of the negative, anti-social aspects of behavior of people that we see more and more today has a lot to do with the "left turn" that we took some 60 -70 years ago when we decided that we could live better using modern chemistry.