Breast is Best
A substantial body of evidence shows that breastfeeding has important advantages for both infant and mother. Babies receive an important boost to their immune system in the first few days of breastfeeding as important antibodies are passed from the mother to the infant in the colostrum (the fluid expressed before the so-called true milk). These antibodies protect the baby from infection. But that is just the start of it; breastfed babies may have better neurological development than artificially fed infants. They may have better cholesterol and blood pressure levels. More research is needed, but breastfeeding may also provide protection against: multiple sclerosis, acute appendicitis and tonsillectomy. Numerous studies show that the risk of obesity in later life is reduced in people who breastfed as infants (Harder et al., 2005; Arenz et al., 2004; Owen et al., 2005). Women who were breastfed as infants are at lower risk of: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, hip fractures and reduced bone density. Mothers who breastfeed their infants may have a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes and postnatal depression (UNICEF, 2013). On the other hand, artificially fed babies are at greater risk of: gastrointestinal infection, respiratory infections, necrotising enterocolitis, urinary tract infections, ear infections, allergies (eczema and wheezing), type 1 and type 2 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome and childhood leukaemia (UNICEF, 2013).
UNICEF state that:
Formula is not an acceptable substitute for breast milk because formula, at its best, only replaces most of the nutritional components of breast milk: it is just a food, whereas breast milk is a complex living nutritional fluid containing anti-bodies, enzymes, long chain fatty acids and hormones, many of which simply cannot be included in formula. Furthermore, in the first few months, it is hard for the baby’s gut to absorb anything other than breast milk. Even one feeding of formula or other foods can cause injuries to the gut, taking weeks for the baby to recover.
Furthermore, breastfeeding is free. You do not need to wash and sterilise an endless number of bottles. You will not be up in the night mixing and testing the milk to see if it is cool enough; breast milk comes ready mixed at the perfect temperature. The act of breastfeeding is also important for bonding the mother and baby relationship.
In 2013, figures from the Department of Health revealed that the number of new mothers attempting to breastfeed fell in England for the first time since it began collecting the statistics in 2004. The figures showed that 5,700 fewer women initiated breastfeeding with their child in 2012- 2013 than did the year before. During this period, 327,048 women (just under half of all maternities) were not breastfeeding their baby at all by the time of their eight week checkup (Royal College of Paediatrics and Health, 2013). This prompted the Royal College of Midwives to express concern over a lack of promotion of breastfeeding under the current Government, which scrapped funding for National Breastfeeding Awareness Week in 2011. The Royal College of Midwives said there is a shortage of 5,000 midwives and criticised the scrapping of infant feeding coordinators, who encouraged breastfeeding in parts of the country with the lowest uptake.
UNICEF states that the major problems are the societal and commercial pressure to stop breastfeeding, including aggressive marketing and promotion by formula producers (UNICEF, 2013a). In addition, many mothers have to return to work soon after giving birth and they face a number of challenges and pressures which often lead them to stop exclusive breastfeeding early. Clearly, mothers (including working mothers) need support, including legislative measures, to enable them to continue breastfeeding. Strategies to promote breastfeeding could confer important and widespread health benefits.