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Breast Milk, Formula and Conflicts of Interest

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We mammals – or more specifically, female mammals – have a unique gift. It is fully possible for a mother to give her children the perfect food for their growth and development in the beginning of their lives. Countless studies have confirmed that “breast-fed is best fed”, and there has been a notable push to encourage new mothers to breast feed their children.


This push isn’t even coming from the “natural” health community necessarily, either; mainstream health practitioners often encourage the practice, because the science is indisputable when it comes to the benefits of breastfeeding.

In the May-June issue of Public Health Reports, the acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, MD, MPH, RADM, USPHS wrote that, “Breastfeeding is associated with lower rates of sudden infant death syndrome, childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and leukemia.” He goes on to note that breastfeeding isn’t just beneficial for babies, but that for the mothers, benefits included “reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, as well as breast and ovarian cancers.” (Link) Breast feeding is also associated with higher intelligence and protection against allergies in children, while protecting mothers against postpartum depression. (Link)

Couple this data with a recent bit of news out of Massachusetts, and the trend looks even brighter. The Massachusetts Breast Feeding Coalition website reports that, “all 49 maternity facilities in Massachusetts have voluntarily eliminated the formula company diaper bags, traditionally given to new moms at hospital discharge.” This ban may seem inconsequential, but is actually a key move; this marketing ploy gives an implicit medical endorsement to formula feeding, even though all studies point to breast feeding as the healthiest method of nourishing a baby.

Eliminating this marketing tool is critical step in promoting the health of the general population over the bottom lines of corporations, and one that we should all take note of.

At this point, it hardly qualifies as news that there is often a conflict of interest when it comes to your health. For example, drug companies are in the business of profiting off of sickness. This is not to say that they don’t have a place in society, or that they don’t perform a vital function. It is to say, though, that they make money on illness. In other words, it is in their best interest when you are sick. Their bottom lines cannot swell to the astronomical levels that they do without selling a nauseating number of drugs.

Direct to consumer marketing by drug companies is often implicated in the gluttonous amount of drugs being sold. The reasoning, even the legality, behind this practice is hard to conceive; drug companies, staffed by scientists that are experts on biochemical interactions between substances in the body, are marketing complex chemical substances to lay people. Never mind that lay people lack the knowledge or training to decide whether they should ingest these chemicals, they can’t even legally obtain these chemical without a licensed healthcare provider. The whole practice seems absurd, and one that should be disallowed. The leniency on such absurdity begins to make a bit more sense though, when you see the figures that drug companies spend on advertising annually. Following the money trail leads straight to the answers for perplexing questions; the amount of money spent on direct to consumer advertising by drug companies is somewhere in the area of $30 to $60 billion, depending where you get your figures.

Deciding whether or not to breastfeed your children is a very personal choice, and one that only you and your spouse can make when deciding how to care for your child. The science certainly supports the idea that choosing to breastfeed is the healthiest option. The benefits for you and your child now and in the long run outweigh any sort of temporary inconvenience. Regardless, this decision – and any other regarding your health – should never be influenced by a third party’s marketing ploy. Their bottom lines, profits, and shareholders are inconsequential when it comes to your health and the health of your children.


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