When it comes to feeding newborns, the World Health Organization’s message is loud and clear: breast is best. Yet as every new mother will testify, breastfeeding isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It’s stressful, demanding, even painful. Throw in problems with supply, especially during growth spurts, add a good dose of sleep deprivation and it becomes a rather emotive issue for many mothers.
Breastfeeding is not always easy, nor is it always possible. The decision to use infant formula, either exclusively or as a supplement, is never a light-hearted one. Yet an Australian breastfeeding expert recently inflamed the debate by calling for infant formula to be available by prescription only, in an effort to boost breastfeeding rates.
Dr Jennifer James, a doctor of midwifery, wants formula removed from the supermarket shelves in a move she says is not designed to make mothers feel guilty, but rather to help them by ensuring that they see health professionals when problems arise. She says the majority of women want to breastfeed but many give up too early because they encounter problems like pain, lack of milk or when their baby fails to properly attach.
Dr James’ statements were met by a barrage of comments, from the medical fraternity concerned about the psychological damage and sense of failure such a policy may cause new mothers, to parents who want freedom of choice.
The debate over breast versus bottle is further complicated in China after the deaths of babies in 2008 from kidney failure, which was linked to melamine in infant milk powder. For those who missed it, melamine is an industrial chemical that was added to milk products to make their protein content appear richer.While statistics of those affected vary, it seems at least six babies died as a result of drinking contaminated formula, while 300,000 became ill. China has cracked down on illegal dairy production in the wake of this scandal, with a number of those responsible dealt with harshly, but tainted milk powder resurfaced as recently as 10 months ago.