Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Should you formula feed?

Will formula feeding harm your baby? That is the question posed on a new site, Opposing Views, where experts in a field are allowed to debate a topic. What's really interesting and different about the site is the experts are allowed to counter each other's arguments. Users of the site are allowed to post their own comments, as well.

La Leche League International posits that yes, formula feeding can harm your baby. The reasons they list are that formula circumvents nature's plan, formula is an ongoing experiment and that while "harm" is subjective, formula feeding does pose real risks to both infants and the world at large.

I think the recent formula scare in China highlights this nicely. I had been thinking for weeks on how to cover this story and as it got bigger and wider-reaching, I was reminded about how even though formula is marketed and promoted as being a safe, second-best alternative to breast milk, in places outside of the US, it can actually kill your baby. Even the US has seen its share of formula recalls. The tainted milk crisis has now been determined to affect not only breast milk substitutes, but cow's milk as well.

Why is this happening? According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, women in China not only "don't like to breastfeed" they are also under the mistaken impression that formula is actually more nutritious than breast milk. The ads even say so!

But also, much like what has happened in the US, the structure of Chinese families has changed. Women are now expected (and probably need) to work, including after they become mothers. More working moms + babies in the arms of other caregivers= need for a breast milk substitute. I am fully convinced that if I had not had to return to work, my son would have gone on to have only breast milk until his first birthday.

Probably the grossest part is that it appears the Chinese government knew that dangerous chemicals were being added both to formula and cow's milk and looked the other way. In a country where the size of your family is regulated by law and people are only allowed to have one child, you'd think the government would be more concerned with the health and well-being of babies. Thankfully, lots of breastfeeding moms are now offering up their services as wet nurses and baby-sitters, but in general these women are poor and can't bring their own kids along when they're baby-sitting. So these poor babies get rice water while the babies of wealthier couples are now getting that precious breast milk. The whole thing is so infuriating, it's hard to even write about, let alone look at the pictures of these sick formula-fed babies, which are just heartbreaking.

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