Dr Karleen Gribble, speaking at the Australian Breastfeeding Association's Hot Milk conference in August 2007. Dr Gribble outlines starkly why the "breast is best" message does nothing more or less, than make formula sound 'good enough', and that we must change the paradigm if there is any chance of increasing breastfeeding rates.
The message that formula is not benign, and that infants deprived of breastfeeding, have higher rates of illness and disease, is not a comfortable one. We have this lovely cosy image that formula feeding is only dangerous in poor countries, with bad hygiene.
Even then, when those very same conditions happen to us, it doesn't appear to make a difference. Dr Gribble relates that even when babies' lives are directly in danger, such as leaving hospital on formula, and being released into hurricane wracked New Orleans, where people were dying and clean water was not available... the doctors still couldn't bring themselves to tell mothers that formula feeding would put their babies' lives at risks.
But it's not only in poor countries that formula feeding increases health risks to babies and mothers. Formula feeding is itself intrinsically risky, as babies suffer from both the lack of breastfeeding, and the risks of using modified cow's milk on tiny newborn guts.
Formula fed babies suffer from higher rates of gastroenteritis, ear infections, certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease, life threatening sleep apnoea in adulthood... mothers of formula fed babies suffer higher rates of breast cancer.
Leaving mothers in ignorance of these facts is simply criminal. How can any mother make an informed choice, if she doesn't have the facts?
Likewise, how can mothers using formula, do so as safely as possible, if they don't know that powdered infant formula is not sterile, and as many as 14% of batches are contaminated by salmonella and enterobacter sakazakii?
Breast is no longer best - it's just what you feed babies. Lack of it, increases health risks. The message that needs to get through is not that breast is best... it's that formula is inadequate nutrition for babies.
If you choose to refuse your baby your breast, you should at least know what risks you are taking on in both your baby's health, and your own. You should be empowered to minimise those risks as far as you possible can, and you should have a right to proper lactation support that doesn't get in the way of establishing breastfeeding if you are happy for the baby to have your breast.
And if you had no choice but to use formula, you deserve to have it made as safe as possible for your baby. You shouldn't be getting your information from the people who need to sell it to you, to keep their jobs.
No baby ever chose a bottle. Babies are born to breastfeed.
Everytime you use "breast is best" you knock that down a little, and allow the formula companies to make merry on mothers' ignorance. A lot of profit to be made in that silence on the risks, in that gagging of the truth. A lot of sick babies in hospitals on drips, a lot of mothers out of their minds with worry, on why baby is projectile vomiting again. A huge amount of potential donated milk, left uncollected, as formula companies flood the culture with the fallacy that formula is needed. Formula is never needed. It's just that mostly, it's all that's available. If there is no human milk, better formula than raw cow's milk. It's that simple. Better than the last resort.
The miracle of the human race is that we survive large periods of famine and drought. We're built to survive on inadequate nutrition, and get to the next generation for the Good Stuff to heal us. We're allowing this amazing ability to then allow us to decide to feed our babies inadequate nutrition.. can you spell irony?
Breast is no longer best... formula is inadequate... pass it on. (Even if you have to whisper it... in case you get your head blown off for daring to speak the truth.)