Since the beginning of time, breastmilk has always been the best food for babies, yet today, only half of all American mothers choose to breastfeed. Those who do, less than thirty-two percent of American babies are still breastfeeding at six months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses breastfeeding for a minimum of twelve months and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least two years.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, wet nurses – lactating women who nursed and cared for the infant of another woman - hit the height of popularity. With little oversight, these wet nurses often created mixtures of grains and broth for feeding the babies, instead of nursing. As a result, babies died, and wet nursing was wrongly blamed.
When the Industrial Revolution turned our attention to science and technology, specialized formulas were prescribed by physicians and scientifically thought to be superior to breastmilk. So began the relationship between formula companies and the medical community. As birth moved from the home into the hospital, birthing women were highly medicated and unable to breastfeed during their required two week stay in the hospital, often leading to inadequate milk supply, nipple confusion, and ultimately breastfeeding failure. As a result, breastfeeding success dropped to an all time low of eighteen percent in 1966, and formula was seen as coming to the rescue. However, it was our own community setting up mothers for breastfeeding failure, instead of formula saving our babies.
In the 1970’s the WHO and UNICEF recognized the decline in breastfeeding was due to political, social and technological reasons. Formula companies were marketing their products aggressively which led to the development of the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes in 1981. The United States was the only country of the 119 countries participating, to vote against this code. While most of the world works to promote breastfeeding as a human right for both mother and baby, the United States continues to fall behind in this most basic human need - infant feeding.
Infant formula is the fourth recommended way to feed an infant, falling behind breastfeeding, pumped breastmilk, and the breastmilk of another woman. While the FDA recognizes that the “exact chemical makeup of breastmilk is still unknown”, nutritionists at a leading infant formula manufacturer admit that it is “impossible” to create an infant formula parallel to human milk, no matter how well the marketing agencies may try to convince consumers otherwise. These same nutritionists issued the following statement in the March 1994 Endocrine Regulations – “(It is) increasingly apparent that infant formula can never duplicate human milk, which contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes, immunoglobulins and compounds with unique structures that cannot be replicated”.
Most consumers incorrectly assume that the FDA closely monitors formula production. The Infant Formula Act of 1980 requires formula manufacturers to include only an insignificant number of mandated ingredients and list them on the packaging. The WHO and UNICEF continue to report that between one and two million infants worldwide still lose their lives each year due to artificial feeding.