Why Promote Breastmilk


From the La Leche League to the World Health Assembly, from the United Nations to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is overwhelming agreement that breastmilk is the healthiest choice for infant nutrition.

Breastmilk is specifically designed through millennia of evolution to provide perfect nutrition for a growing human infant.  Breastmilk contains chemicals from the mother’s immune system that helps her infant recognize and fight disease organisms.  "Feeding on breastmilk has been shown to reduce the incidence and/or severity of diarrhea, lower respiratory infection, otitis media, bacteremia, bacterial meningitis, botulism, urinary tract infection, and necrotizing enterocolitis.  There are a number of studies that show a possible protective effect of human milk feeding against sudden infant death syndrome, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, lymphoma, allergic diseases, and other chronic digestive diseases.  Breastfeeding has also been related to possible enhancement of cognitive development."15

Breastfeeding also has real health benefits for the mother, and social and economic benefits for the family group.  (Although a breastfeeding mother must consume more calories than when she is not lactating, the cost of these calories is approximately half that of infant formula, with an expected savings of over $400 for the baby’s first year.16) The AAP recommends that except when the mother is a user of illicit drugs or has active tuberculosis, or when the baby has galactosemia (a metabolic disorder in which milk sugars cannot be converted to glucose) that all infants be breastfed.17

To replace breastmilk with formula denies the infant these benefits. In addition, it can introduce many new hazards.  In poorer communities, infant formula is purchased at the expense of other immediate needs. (The $400 saved per year by not feeding with formula represents more than the annual income for many West African farmers.)

Most formulae must be mixed with water.  If the water is impure, infants are exposed to diseases against which they have no immunity. Impure water is endemic to developing nations.18  In areas with impure water, a baby fed formula is twenty-five times more likely to develop diarrhea than a breastfed baby.19  There is even a name for the symptoms of this infection: Bottle-Baby Disease.

Waterborne diseases fed straight to vulnerable babies causes what is now a common condition in many parts of the world - diarrhea, vomiting, respiratory infections, malnutrition, dehydration and commonly death - known as Bottle-Baby disease.20

Even when water is pure, when families are poor, they are likely to over-dilute the formula to make it last longer.  The result is increased rates of infant malnutrition.  In 1991, the UNICEF’s report on the State of the World’s Children reported that 1.5 million infant deaths each year could be prevented if mothers in developing nations returned to breastfeeding.21  That is one child lost to complications of formula feeding every thirty seconds.22




15.  “Policy Statement: Breast Feeding and the Use of Human Milk (RE9729).”  American Academy of Pediatrics.  Dec 1997.  http://www.aap.org/policy/re9729.html (online 27 July 2001). 

16.  op. cit.

17.  “Policy Statement: Breast Feeding and the Use of Human Milk (RE9729).”  American Academy of Pediatrics.  Dec 1997.  http://www.aap.org/policy/re9729.html (online 27 July 2001). 

18Background to the Nestlé Boycott.  http://shell.ihug.co.nz/~stu/milk.htm (online 27 July 2001).

19.  “Tell Nestlé You Are Joining the Boycott.”

20.  “McSpotlight on the Baby Milk Industry.”  McSpotlight.  http://www.mcspotlight.org/beyond/nestle.html (online 27 July 2001). 

21.  “Tell Nestlé You Are Joining the Boycott.”

22.  “McSpotlight on the Baby Milk Industry.”