This post is updated from this original: Research vs Marketing in Breastfeeding
Lactivists and breastfeeding supporters are often criticised for forcing the issue, or 'guilting' mums in some way. They may even be accused of having some sort of agenda.
It is important to see through this emotional ‘debate’ to the facts beneath it.
So why is breastfeeding 'alternative' behaviour?
Factors affecting the drop off in breastfeeding rates include:
It is not just companies sponsoring research. There are many reputable research institutes independently looking into breastmilk and breastfeeding, with the view to support and encourage mothers. One such institute is the Human Lactation Research Group, headed by Prof Peter Hartmann and based at the University of Western Australia in Perth (for lists of publications click on the staff profiles).
The Human Lactation Research Group has worked out many things, including how to maximise expressing for preterm infants and the discovery of stem cells in breastmilk.
The discovery of stem cells is particularly interesting. Do they provide benefit for babies (immediate and long term)? or are they broken down in digestion? Do they provide benefit to mum? Is it these stem cells that provide the reduced chance of breast cancer?
Aside from this new, and exciting research, there is already much known and backed by solid research:
http://www.sepeap.org/archivos/pdf/10488.pdf (Human Breast Milk: Current Concepts of immunology and infectious diseases)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/mar/13/breastfeeding-child-brain-development (IQ study)
http://www.australianscience.com.au/psychology/breastfeeding-and-cognitive-development/ (IQ study)
http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv.php?pid=UQ:8593&dsID=pq-musp-01.pdf (IQ study)
RESISTANCE TO ILLNESS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2105113 (13 weeks of breastfeeding found to protect baby for that time and beyond from gastrointestinal illness)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6469558 (significantly less episodes of illness in breastfed infants)
http://www.nichd.nih.gov/cochrane/shahprak/shahprak.htm, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15188980 (breastfeeding shown to have calming effect in neonates undergoing procedures)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2771117/?tool=pubmed (higher cortisol levels in breastfeed infants may assist with analgesic effect, and may lead to better resilience in later life to stress)
This list is by no means exhaustive, but rather a taster to the biological purpose of breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is normal - and weaning naturally occurs between 2.5 and 7 years - then not following biologically normal processes can lead to biologically abnormal results. The studies suggest this risk is lower IQ (perhaps more noticeable when IQ is naturally low, if it is naturally high a few IQ points might not be noticed), increased chance of obesity, diabetes, allergy, ear infections…in the child, increased chance of breast cancer in the mum, potential speech delays. (see also this post about breastfeeding past preschool)
The main challenge to breastfeeding is not really lack of information about why breastfeeding matters…it is generally understood that breastfeeding is important. However, the 'Breast is Best' mantra has been warped by marketing (for example see 15 tricks: formula companies) by creating a feeling that formula is normal, and breast is a bonus. The 'Fed is Best' campaign is concerning. This leads to a cultural acceptance, lack of support and encouragement and for some a preference for the 'scientific’ advantages.
This is where the warning comes in:
Just as with birth (and sleep), breastfeeding has shifted from the biological to the technical. This shift means intervention is viewed as necessary, problems as common and often insurmountable. Technology appears to provide solutions to these biological problems…but in reality the technology has led to marketing of problems and solutions that in most cases do not require products, but knowledgeable and empathetic support.
In addition to this cultural shift towards the technical, there is a loss of genuine breastfeeding knowledge and support in the community. In Australia, the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) is the ultimate resource for breastfeeding knowledge and support. Genuine support needs to have a biological understanding of breastfeeding, an empathetic understanding of an individual’s breastfeeding culture and needs and TIME to be with the mother in need. ABA offers all these, and more.
The reality is that because there is so much more to a child’s development than simply the milk, formula can never be considered an equal choice.
The research supports it.
The rest is marketing.