- a condition or circumstance that puts one in a favorable or superior position.
There are no advantages to breastfeeding. No, that is not a typo; there are no advantages to breastfeeding. Look at the definition of the word advantage above. It is something that “puts one in a favorable or superior position.” Nourishing our babies with our Milk is not an advantage, it is physiologically normal. But, we have always heard, “Breast is Best.” What does this imply? It simply implies Artificial Baby Milk (ABM) is the baseline, and human Milk is just an additional, extra special add-on. Words have meaning. Milk is now considered the exception, not the norm. Wait! There are no advantages? Consider the following questions: How does Milk
- reduce a Mother’s risk of breast cancer and postmenopausal osteoporosis?
- reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions such as Type I Diabetes, Celiac Disease, and Crohn’s Disease in children?
- lower the baby’s chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in half?
- protect your baby from infections and diseases such as respiratory infections, necrotizing enterocolitis, ear infections, urinary infections, late-onset sepsis in pre-term infants, and childhood overweight and obesity?
Milk is not an extra nutritional substance you give to simply help prevent infections or disease. Rather, Milk is made naturally to grow an infant and help him thrive. Think about this statement taken from a Pediatric Research article, “Thymus size is dependent on whether the infant is breast-fed; the thymus size of breast-fed infants is twice the size of formula-fed infants at 4 mo [months] of age.” The thymus gland is vitally important to the development of a child’s immune system. The thymus size should be baselined from that of Milk-fed infants, not the other way around. This is a paradigm shift that needs to emphasized: The thymus is not “extra large” because it is twice as large as the child who receives ABM; it is the normal size. As late as 2003, The World Health Organization established guidelines detailing the best alternative to an infant obtaining Milk at the breast. The WHO prioritized these options as:
- Milk from own mother by breastfeeding,
- Milk from own mother, expressed,
- Milk from a wet-nurse, or
- Milk from a milk bank, or
- Breastmilk substitute
However, when a baby is unable to be at the Mother’s breast, the next option offered tends to be the last on the list of alternatives. If we embrace the paradigm shift by changing the language used to describe and detail the feeding of infants, all of us (parents, caregivers, healthcare providers, lactation specialists) can better demand and defend the need for more acceptable and accessible postpartum care, lactation support, and more options for the advancement of donor Milk options. Access to Milk Banks is far less than the number of those that want or need such services. As such, we need to demand more Milk Banks. Even though Artificial Baby Milk continues to be an option that has saved many lives, it should not be the baseline; it is an alternative substitute. I once had the opportunity to hear CNM Nancy Giglio share, “We must respect technology, but preserve physiology.” We should say the same for Milk. We must preserve and protect what is physiologically normal. It’s time for a paradigm shift.
In a society where there are many demands on new Mothers, who are often times away from extended family and support structures, there needs to be a shift back to what is normal. When Milk is seen as something that is an extra or taken by new Mothers as an additional pressure to be a “good Mother,” then the biological needs of the dyad are strained. Milk then becomes a concept of something that is viewed “above-and-beyond” or something that is “more than enough.” As Mothers, just being “enough” – in and of itself – is challenging in its own right. Using words like “best” or “superior” to describe Milk only goes to further create environments or situations that become almost unreal or unattainable to many new Mothers. Under such scenarios, ABM companies can then find it easier to market their products and push their brands in efforts to alleviate these so-called burdens felt by new Mothers.
Relying on words such as “advantage” or “benefit” when describing Milk insinuates a certain level of superiority or privilege. We, as a community, need to be cognizant of language and how we use it. Doctor Wayne Dyer states, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I encourage all of us to undertake the paradigm shift of how to care for infants. In doing so we can better articulate what is physiologically normal, and provide with is biologically intended for these Little Beings.
Austin Rees, IBCLC
Sacred Milk Co-Founder
References: Newcomb PA, Storer BE, Longnecker MP, et al. Lactation and a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer. N Engl J Med. 1994;330:81-87 http://www.jaoa.osteopathic.org/content/106/4/203.full.pdf
http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2003/9241562218.pdf ‘The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding’, bullet 18 states: “The vast majority of mothers can and should breastfeed, just as the vast majority of infants can and should be breastfed. Only under exceptional circumstances can a mother’s milk be considered unsuitable for her infant. For those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative –expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup, which is a safer method than a feeding bottle and teat –depends on individual circumstances.” [↩] Hasselbalch H,
Jeppesen DL, Engelmann MD, Michaelsen KF, Nielsen MB 1996 Decreased thymus size in formula-fed infants compared with breastfed infants. Acta Paediatr 85:1029–1032 http://www.nature.com/pr/journal/v62/n1/full/pr2007178a.html