The use of infant formula versus breastfeeding has been a renewed topic in late as the U.S. delegates to the World Health Organization’s 71st World Health Assembly refused to sign a resolution on infant and young child feeding without changes being made.
The passages being opposed by the U.S. delegates called on the WHO member states to restrict the promotion of artificial infant milk. That prompted the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee to release the following as part of a statement: “The marketing of artificial infant foods in our health care facilities severely undermines individuals’ rights to make informed decisions and act of their own free will, which is a fundamental aspect of our democracy. This is why these predatory practices are identified as detrimental to maternal and child health, and why the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is the global standard and needs to be implemented in the United States.”
Local medical professionals and health department officials tend to encourage breastfeeding. Some, who have been in the field for decades, have seen the rise and fall of the popularity of infant formula, as well as the increase in the research of breast milk.
Cherokee County has the highest rates in the state for moms breastfeeding past the infant’s six-month mark, according to Tamarkia Fisher, a lactation consultant and a registered nurse with the Cherokee County Health Department.
“It’s so healthy for moms and babies. The moms experience less illness and less time off of work. Insurance companies are recognizing the benefits and, with some policies, are giving free breast pumps,” said Fisher. “Breastfeeding is the norm worldwide. Here we have to push breastfeeding; there is still some opposition. When more moms breastfeed, and the more it’s talked about, in the future, it will become the standard or norm.”
Sarah Armstrong leads the Breastfeeding USA Tahlequah chapter. A volunteer-run organization, the mission of Breastfeeding USA is “to provide evidence-based breastfeeding information and support, and to promote breastfeeding as the biological and cultural norm.”
“As a breastfeeding mom, myself, I wanted to bring more support services to the area. I wanted to help moms who are struggling,” said Armstrong, who lives near Hulbert. “The group is still growing. I have seen an increase in the moms interested, and I talk to a lot of pregnant women, too.”
She said the topic of the breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Summit had not come up at a local meeting, and Breastfeeding USA has not yet released a statement about it. While she has personal feelings about the U.S. actions during the summit, Armstrong said she has not had local conversations about it.
Mary Martin, in-patient obstetrics nurse manager at Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Hospital, has been a nurse for 30 years, and most of that time has been in obstetrics. She said the topic wasn’t discussed at Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Hospital because the decision was already made to give optimal care and to promote breastfeeding.
After a process that took a few years, Hastings became a Baby-Friendly Hospital in 2015. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was launched by WHO and UNICEF in 1991, as “a global effort to implement practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding.”
Martin said changes were made at the hospital so it could be accredited, including breastfeeding education and training for the nurses, the establishment of a breastfeeding room, and the removal of formula samples.
“Breastfeeding is evidence-based and that’s what we go with. It’s the first step in a lifetime of healthy eating,” said Martin. “We don’t give bottles, pacifiers, or nipple shields. We stopped free samples when moving toward Baby-Friendly. It would be like taking a smoking cessation class and then giving you a pack of cigarettes at the end, in case you can’t handle it.”
Martin said formula is available for moms who are unable to breastfeed, but from prenatal care through delivery, breastfeeding education and encouragement is given to patients.
“We don’t force it if someone is not comfortable with it,” she said.
Over the decades, with the rise in technology, infant formula became almost a norm in the U.S.
“A lot of grandmas here now didn’t breastfeed. Formula was prevalent. They were taught different, so now we have to educate them so they can support the breastfeeding mothers,” said Martin.
Dominated by American and European baby food companies, formula is now a $70 billion industry. Many companies give coupons or samples to expectant mothers or their health care providers.
“It’s a challenge to go up against that heavy marketing,” said Martin. “Pharmaceutical companies do a good job promoting products over best care.”
Using formula can come with risk factors, such as children having higher rates of developing diabetes, obesity, allergies, sudden infant death syndrome, diarrhea, and leukemia.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are a few medical conditions that limit the recommendation of breastfeeding. These can include: an infant with the metabolic disorder of classic galactosemia; mothers who are positive for human T-cell lymphotrophic virus type I or II or untreated brucellosis; a mother with infectious, untreated tuberculosis or active herpes simplex lesions on the breast; and mothers in the industrialized world who are HIV-positive.
“If they can’t breastfeed for medical reasons, we don’t want them to feel less as a mother. It doesn’t always work for every family,” said Fisher. “Breastfed children have less illnesses, fewer allergies, and, on average, a higher IQ score. They aren’t at risk for baby bottle tooth decay. Plus, it’s free. Many moms on WIC get formula, so breastfeeding saves money for the state and the community.”
Those who need assistance with breastfeeding or more information, may call the Oklahoma Breastfeeding Hotline: 1-877-271-MILK (6455).