Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The illusion of a safer infant formula

We are a society that believes that infant formula is a safe substitute for not breastfeeding. We believe it because we are told to believe it. We are told that infant formula is only unsafe in developing countries. The safety of infant formula in developed nations, like the USA, is never questioned. When we look at infant mortality rates in the USA, we discover that it is the poor and black communities that have the highest infant mortality rates. (two-three times the rate of the white population) And not so surprisingly, we find that it is the poor and the black mothers who are the least likely to breastfeed their babies. The connection is there between how babies are fed and the infant mortality rates. But our society has chosen to use the power of public relations and place the issue of infant feeding as one of women's liberation and choice. We cannot tell women that their "choice" will lead to an infant's increased risk of disease and death. Who would believe that anyway? Women don't need prescriptions to buy infant formula but they do need prescriptions to buy donor milk. Death certificates do not say that a baby died from lack of breastmilk. They die from various diseases: pneumonia, septicemia, SIDS, gastroenteritis, diarrhea. And who would believe that breastmilk would prevent that from happening? Well, maybe parents need to read a few patents written by the infant formula industry to understand what the industry knows about human milk. The industry knows that infant formula is a risk for all infants. It is the basis for the continuous quest for a safer infant formula. That quest over the years, has resulted in infants being the guinea pigs to a variety of synthetic substances. It has resulted in a number of deaths and injuries because we do not truly understand the limitations of infant formula. Nor do we seem to understand that not all infants can tolerate those synthetic variations. Yet, we continue onward with this quest for a fake breastmilk. Now we have genetic engineering and the quest is intense because it is coupled with the belief that genetic engineering can duplicate the real substance. Duplicate? Or is it just another synthetic imitation? What will the future hold for those infants sustained on substances created by the corporate world?
We are spending enormous sums of money on the creation of a safer infant formula. We are using up water, oil, electricity, air quality to create an unnecessary food product. And to top that waste of resources, we dump the containers and plastic pieces used for that product in landfills. Yet our society is convinced that women want to escape the prison of breastfeeding and have a choice in how a baby is fed. But what if choice is just a public relations scam by the corporate world who wants to make profits. What if choice is just a way to obtain cheap labor (poor women's wages are always lower than poor men's wages)?
As a past LLL leader, I always delighted in the awe of a young woman's first realization that she helped grow that baby, not Mead Johnson, not Nestle. She did it. She sustained life by breastfeeding her baby. It's a powerful and transforming moment. And maybe that is what the corporate world is so afraid of and why discussions of choice has become the only discussions. Such power, the power of not being dependent on the corporate world for the well-being and safety of your infant is liberation. And the corporate world is mighty afraid of that kind of liberation.
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

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