Many people do not understand that the use of infant formula carries with it certain inherent risks that are primarily avoided by breastfeeding. The recent death of ten-day-old Avery Cornett, a baby boy from Missouri, prompted a massive nationwide infant formula recall. The baby died of a rare illness caused a bacteria that can be found in dried milk and in grain, and the formula recall was enforced as a safety precaution to protect other babies in case the formula was indeed the mode of transmission for the bacteria. The manufacturer of the baby formula stated that pre-shipment tests showed the formula did not contain the bacteria in question, but stores and distributors felt that the recall should remain in effect as a matter of caution.
It is entirely possible that the formula itself did not contain the bacteria that caused the death of Avery Cornett. Contaminants in the water used to mix the formula, or bacteria present in the baby’s bottle could also have made him ill. Infant formula is intended for use when breastfeeding is impossible or otherwise medically unadvisable, not for the seemingly routine and almost “mandatory” way that it is used in most industrialized countries. This assumption of using infant formula is inherently more dangerous in areas of the world where people may or may not have access to sanitary water sources. When a woman breastfeeds her baby, impurities in water are “filtered out” of breast milk. Formula is most commonly sold in a powder form that must be mixed with a specific amount of water before babies can drink it. If the water is contaminated, a baby will receive that contamination directly from the formula in his bottle. Lead and other contaminants in water may be present even in very modernized countries. Even with clean water, improper proportions of formula to water can cause serious malnutrition and digestive problems for babies.
With the exception of using pumped milk while a mother is at work or otherwise away from her baby, bottles are largely unnecessary when breastfeeding. Using fewer bottles means cleaning fewer bottles, and fewer chances that those bottles won’t be thoroughly sterilized before they are used again. Bottles that are not properly cleaned increase a baby’s risk for thrush, as well as other bacterial contaminants that may grow from small amounts of formula that can become trapped in artificial nipples. A fact that many people are unaware of is that even in cases of breast infections like thrush and mastitis, it is not only safe for babies to continue nursing, breastfeeding through treatment often helps the mother to recover more quickly and with less pain.
Most problems encountered while breastfeeding come from a lack of education and accurate information about the practice. Lactation is a physiological process as natural to women as their menstrual cycle. Formula feeding provides a certain false sense of security because it can be easily measured, and because people generally feel more secure with things that they’ve seen many other people do. Despite medical research findings that have determined that breastfeeding is both a preferable and viable option for the majority of women and their babies, prejudice and uncertainty colors popular opinion.
Medical research has revealed very few genuine contraindications to breastfeeding, suggesting instead that the majority of women can nurse their babies successfully. Misinformation, prejudice, and poor maternal care practices in hospitals are largely responsible for many of the problems that women experience when attempting to breastfeed. Reliable and sound information on breastfeeding is publically available, but patient education and support by healthcare professionals is sorely lacking for many new mothers. There should be no reason to doubt the advice of a doctor or attending nurse, so most women do not, and may find themselves following suggestions that sabotage good breastfeeding practices before they’ve even begun. For sound breastfeeding advice and help, women should contact a lactation consultant or a La Leche League representative.
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