A voice for women's health

I Am Not a Breast Nazi


By Sue Claridge
Am I a breast nazi†?
I’m sure that Nigel Latta, and others of his ilk who see nothing wrong with ‘formula feeding’ and believe it is simply a matter of choice between two equal options, would describe me thus.
I take comfort from the fact that in my staunch advocacy of breastfeeding I am not alone. I know many women who feel as I do about the value of breastfeeding. Unfortunately, although I am not alone, official figures show that I am in a distinct minority when it comes to the practice as opposed to the theory.
In a fantastic article published in the Journal of Human Lactation, lactation consultant Diane Wiessinger says:
"The truth is, breastfeeding is nothing more than normal. Artificial feeding, which is neither the same nor superior, is therefore deficient, incomplete, and inferior. These are difficult words, but they have an appropriate place in our vocabulary."
Using fake human milk is not just inferior to breastfeeding, it isn’t even second best. The World Health Organisation states in their Global strategy on infant and young child feeding that if a child can not be breastfed, the next best option is expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, then breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank. In last place they suggest a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup.
The World Health Organisation recommendations that babies be *exclusively breastfed to the age of six months and are breastfed to the age of two years are endorsed by the New Zealand Ministry of Health. In addition, in 1983 the NZ Government adopted the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, a code which states that fake human milk “products should not be advertised or otherwise promoted to the public” among a range of other points.
Despite this, in 2006, in this country only 66% of babies were exclusively breast feed at six weeks, 55% at three months and 25% at six months. I am moderately pleasantly surprised as the figures have gone up, but it is not good enough. And the MoH’s targets of 74%, 57% and 27% respectively for the year 2007/2008 are hardly aspirational, although given the social climate, probably realistic.
Women do not get enough support or education about breast feeding and the attitudes of many men and women – that breasts are first and foremost sexual playthings – proves too big a stumbling block for many new mothers. Add to that the desire of many women to throw off the shackles of motherhood as quickly as possible and “get their life back” and it is no wonder breastfeeding rates suffer.
Perhaps if women knew about the long-term benefits for them and their babies they would be more ready to make what they see as a sacrifice (but is really not a sacrifice, is easier and incredibly rewarding) and breastfeed for longer.
I have previously written about the costs to child health from sub-optimal rates of exclusive breastfeeding to six months. It is widely reported in the medical literature that breastfeeding is positively associated with better infant and child health and that babies that are not breastfed have a higher risk of infectious diseases and immunological vulnerability.
But the benefits of breastfeeding are increasingly being found to extend far beyond childhood.
In a paper published in Public Health Nutrition in July, Drs Julie Smith and Peta Harvey write that the Australian National Chronic Diseases Strategy concludes that breastfed infants are less likely to develop high blood pressure, some infectious diseases, and some diet related chronic diseases later in life.
In their own review of the medical literature on associations between chronic disease and feeding infants fake human milk, Drs Smith and Harvey found that:
  • the probability of being overweight or obese in later life was increased by 4% for each month of not being breastfed;
  • a lack of breast-feeding is associated with an increased risk of developing asthma, and that there is an increased risk of approximately 37% for asthma in children without a family history of asthma who are artificially fed as infants;
  • among infants who were not breast-feeding at the time when gluten was introduced, the risk of coeliac disease in later life was doubled;
  • infants who were not breastfed had an increased risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis ranging from 30% to 49%;
  • artificially fed infants had a 28% higher risk of all childhood cancers, and that infants breast-fed for less than six months  had a 25% higher risk of acute lymphocytic leukaemia;
  • non-breastfed babies went on to have an increased risk of hypertension (up to 17%), coronary heart disease events (6%), and strokes and transient ischemic attacks (15%).
They concluded that “encouraging greater duration and exclusivity of breast-feeding is a potential avenue for reducing future chronic disease burden and health system costs.”
But it is not all about baby, either in infancy or all grown up. It has long been known that, by breastfeeding her babies, a woman reduces her own risk of developing breast cancer later in life. We now know that lactation confers even greater benefits on the woman who breastfeeds and the benefits increase the longer she does it.
Specialising in improving birth outcomes and women’s health, Dr Eleanor Schwarz of the University of Pittsburgh has been investigating the long-term health benefits for breastfeeding mothers. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for women in the western world, and Dr Schwarz and her colleagues have found that “women who breastfed their children were less likely to have developed hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia** or CVD when post-menopausal. Women who reported longer histories of lactation had significantly lower rates of risk factors for CVD even after adjusting for sociodemographic and lifestyle variables, family history, and BMI category. Women who had a cumulative lifetime duration of lactation greater than 12 months were approximately 10% less likely to have developed CVD than women who never breastfed.” 
They followed this study up with another on diabetes, discovering that mothers who do not breastfeed their infants are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and even one month of breast feeding confers benefits. Women who have never breastfed an infant are more likely to be obese and have type 2 diabetes than women who have breastfed an infant for any length of time.
These results confirm the results of several previous studies that had found that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
I do find the name calling and criticism of outspoken breastfeeding advocates a bit tiresome. Really, there is so much evidence now about the benefits for everyone – baby, mother, and family, and the community when it comes to the burden of disease – that it is time we stopped making pathetic excuses about why we don’t breastfeed for longer (or in some cases, at all) and just do it.
No, breastfeeding is not always easy, and it can take time and effort to establish, to match the production with baby’s needs. But for goodness sake, for thousands of years human beings successfully nurtured their babies on breast milk alone. Fake human milk is a relatively recent invention and it damages our health.
Breastfeed! The benefits for everyone are enormous.

"They started by destroying our milk and making us believe their cocktail of coconut and cow juice was better. They will end by destroying our planet and making us believe their wasteland is what we want." Gabrielle Palmer - The Politics of Breastfeeding 2009

† This article was written in response to Nigel Latta referring to those who are staunchly pro-breastfeeding as breast Nazis in both his 2009 TV series The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show and his Politically Incorrect Parenting Book.
* Exclusive breastfeeding" is defined as no other food or drink, not even water, except breast milk (including milk expressed or from a wet nurse).
** an excess of fatty substances called lipids, largely cholesterol and triglycerides, in the blood

Copyright © Sue Claridge, 2010.

Wiessinger, D. (M.Sc; IBCLC): Watch Your Language! Journal of Human Lactation, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1996.
WHO Secretariat: Global strategy on infant and young child feeding, WHO, Fifty-Fifth World Health Assembly A55/15, 16 April 2002
Ministry of Health: Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Infants and Toddlers (Aged 0–2): A background paper (4th Ed). Ministry of Health, 2008.
Smith JP, Harvey PJ.: Chronic disease and infant nutrition: is it significant to public health? Public Health Nutr. 2010 Jul 13:1-11.
Schwarz EB, et al.: Duration of lactation and risk factors for maternal cardiovascular disease, Obstet Gynecol. 2009 May;113(5):974-82.
Schwarz EB.: Lactation and maternal risk of type 2 diabetes: a population-based study.Am J Med. 2010 Sep;123(9):863.e1-6.


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