1.10.2008

Plastic Baby Bottles

This week, Newsweek ran an article titled The Baby Bottle Blues.
In it, the author discussed mounting concern over hormone-like compounds (BPA) that might leach into formula or breastmilk contained inside plastic bottles. Also explored was the environmental impact of glass and plastic options for bottles. No mention was made about the hormones in cow's milk formula, or the estrogen precursors in soy formula. Neither did the article go into any detail about the environmental impact of formula production, packaging, distribution and disposal.

Breastfeeding is free. The only energy it takes to distribute is the burning of maternal calories (bonus!). It's always warm, the packaging is attractive, can't be misplaced or dropped and needs no sterilization.

There were several posts pointing this out, no doubt initiated by the quote by one woman interviewed for the article, Stefania Geraci, who started using glass bottles because, "If there's an alternative that might be safer, then you use the alternative," she says. "I liked the idea of a more natural product."

Using this logic, if there were a safer, more natural product than glass bottles, she'd use it. Obviously, there is no safer or natural way to feed a baby than the way Nature intended. Not coincidently, that safe and natural way is also not just more affordable, it's better for the environment too.

The posters who dared to point out this inconsistency got jumped by a lot of very defensive women. Even a succinct, seemingly innocuous (and true) comment like, "Seems like another reason why breast is best!" set off an avalanche of anger. Most of these were women who said they couldn't breastfeed for a variety of reasons, ranging from physical (I didn't make enough milk-women who felt they had no choice but to bottle feed due to circumstance, more on that below) to fiscal (some of us have to work, you know-women who felt they were forced to bottle feed due to outside influences ). Some even said that because small amounts of contaminants have been found in breastmilk, it's dangerous to nurse. Of course any contaminants women are exposed to, so are cows and soybean plants. However, neither cows milk nor soybean juice, even with fortification of 40 other ingredients, have the other 300 ingredients, including interferon, white blood cells, antibacterial and antiviral agents that human mother's milk has. I don't to completely understand why women wouldn't want to understand their options and what the probable ramifications might be!

Look, in 1999, in the United States, approximately 28,000 babies died. Almost one third of those deaths, over 9,000, might have been prevented if those babies were breastfed (Palmer, 2003).
According to Economic Research Service, hired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a minimum of 3.6 billion in health care dollars could be saved each year if 75% of women breastfed their babies at birth, with 50% still breastfeeding 5-6 months, which was the suggested goal of the Surgeon General in 1990 (Weimer, 2001). Some of those medical costs relate to babies who don’t die, but suffer from other illnesses linked with formula feeding, such as allergies (Green, 2001), obesity (Sears, 2004), diabetes (Mercola, 2000). (The last two of these are currently deemed epidemics.) As of the compilation of the 2004 data, we haven’t come close to that objective (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004). If we had, not only would we have saved babies and health care dollars, but since it is estimated that 25,000 cases of breast cancers could be prevented annually worldwide by breastfeeding (Falco, 2002), the lives of perhaps thousands of American women could have been saved as well.

Unaware of these sobering facts, some women choose not to breastfeed. However, a large number of new mothers will try to breastfeed. They often become discouraged and give up after meeting with pain, frustration and even societal disapproval-being kicked off airplanes and out of stores-for simply trying to feed their babies when they are hungry (Associated Press, 2006). They might assume they are just one of those women who “can’t” breastfeed. They are unaware that breastfeeding problems are not often encountered, but are frequently created. Current birthing practices (Kroeger & Smith, 2004), common parenting practices, an absence of role models, and lack of adequate support all contribute to the problems women face.

We are mammals, so named for the mammary glands that feed our offspring. If the physical act of lactation is so flawed, how do other mammals live without formula? It is a fairly recent invention. Surely, the human species wouldn’t have survived without it if 70% of us were actually physically incapable of successful lactation. There is no doubt that formula filled a need for abandoned or orphaned babies; it allowed them to survive. Nevertheless, no species thrives on the milk of another. In the case of humans, mothers are admonished to avoid milk of other animals, like cows, for the first year of life. Considering cows milk is made for baby cows, born with several stomachs and weighing at least 100 pounds at birth, that makes sense. What is ironic is that most formula is made from cow’s milk.

Nature's design is for survival. There is no flaw in the human design. There is no need to succeed because there is a 'good enough' replacement (for many of the retorts were of the 'My mother gave me formula and I'm not dead' sort). We've lost sight that formula is not 'just another way to feed a baby'. It is an inferior replacement for a substance so valuable it kills cancer cells in the laboratory and is used to bathe donated organs for the protective qualities it provides.

In any case, focusing on the benefits of breastfeeding did not seem to substantially increase breastfeeding rates, so the U.S. government launched a controversial 2 million dollar campaign illustrating the inherent risk in formula feeding (Vargas, 2006). Some people said that the ad might make women who chose not to breastfeed feel guilty. Isn’t that the point? If we hadn’t exposed the dangers of smoking and drinking in pregnancy, societal attitudes would still deem those acceptable. In my opinion, to optimize breastfeeding rates, we have got to be honest so that societal norms change.

Requiring a prescription for formula would also make it clear that it is not a natural food source. In fact, according to the National Institutes for Health (MedlinePlus, 2002), formula should, “only be used under medical supervision.” Does that sound like food? Currently, to get breast milk from a bank, a prescription is required, but formula is not only sold over the counter, it is given as a free sample by the very doctors women trust to provide information on infant feeding. What kind of message does that send?

To put the importance of this subject into perspective, remember those 9,000 children who die unnecessarily each year because they didn’t receive their mother’s milk? Consider that 100 children per year died from Chicken Pox and 500 per year due to Measles before compulsory vaccination programs (Centers for Disease Control). We mandate vaccination, but we hesitate to offend when it comes to breastfeeding.

Obviously we cannot force women to breastfeed. Therefore, in order to optimize breastfeeding rates, we must provide education, support and positive reinforcement for women who do choose to breastfeed. We have got to stop perpetuation of the formula company rhetoric that while “breastfeeding is best,” formula is just as good. We have got to re-frame the breastfeeding experience as a continuation of the childbearing year. Provided with what they need to succeed, I believe that women will provide the very best for their babies. Many are already trying and are, sadly, convinced they have failed, when in reality many factors have conspired to fail them.

When we get pregnant, most of us know there is an expectation, an agreement with our unborn baby, to the father of the unborn baby, and even with society, that we will eat the best food we can and avoid things that would be toxic to our babies in order that our child will be as healthy as possible. It's an inconvenience to change dietary patterns and sacrifice vices for 9 months, but it's just part of being pregnant. If formula weren't so readily available and socially acceptable, despite the obvious and considerable detriments to its use, we might see breastfeeding the same way.

I am unabashedly a breastfeeding advocate, not because I care to infringe on the rights of any woman in anyway, but because of the serious societal ramifications of making a choice in infant feeding that affect so many. In fact, I see this as a feminist issue.

Breastfeeding is good for our bodies, good for our babies, fiscally responsible and an asset to society. Why aren't women fighting for the right to nurse in public and at work? Why aren't they fighting for maternity leave packages that support mothers? Why are they instead defending the right to work harder, pay more and deal with the stress of sick kids? I would suggest reading Milk, Money, and Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding for an interesting perspective.

I'm on several mothering boards, and anguished mothers write in every single day with the same problems: My child is overweight, what can I do? My child has life-threatening allergies, what can I do? My child is diabetic, what can I do? I have missed so much work because my kid is sick all of the time, what can I do? My baby has severe excema, what can I do? My baby has had recurrent ear infections and my doctor wants to put tubes in, what should I do? Many of these mothers, desperate for sleep and torn apart by the suffering of their children, begin these queries with 'I've switched formula several times and nothing is working'. Yet, these are these are often the same mothers who didn't want to hear about the risks of formula feeding, when we know that many, if not most, of these problems could have been avoided all together with breastfeeding.

I just find it interesting that the solution to toxins in bottles is to develop different bottles; not to avoid the bottles.


Associated Press, (2006). Woman kicked off plane for breastfeeding baby. Retrieved February 9, 2007, from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15720339/


Centers for Disease Control: Department of Health and Human Services, (2004). Breastfeeding Practices — Results from the 2004 National Immunization Survey. Retrieved February 8, 2007, from http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/NIS_data/data_2004.html


Centers for Disease Control, (n.d.). Chicken Pox: What you need to know. Retrieved February 9, 2007, from http://www.cdc.gov/nip/publications/VIS/vis-varicella.pdf


Falco, M., (2002 July 18). Study: Breast-feeding lowers cancer risk. CNN Medical Unit. Retrieved February 9, 2007, from http://archives.cnn.com/2002/HEALTH/conditions/07/18/breast.feeding.cancer/index.html


Green, A., (2001). Can formula actually cause allergies? Retrieved February 9, 2007, from http://www.drgreene.org/body.cfm?id=21&action=detail&ref=81


Kroeger, M., Smith, L., (2004). Impact of birthing practices on breastfeeding: Protecting the mother and baby continuum. Sudbury, Massachusetts. Jones and Bartlett.


MedlinePlus, (2002). Infant formulas (Systemic). Retrieved February 9, 2007, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/uspdi/202678.html

Mercola, J., (2000). Infant formula increase diabetes risk. Retrieved February 9, 2007


Palmer, L., (2003, December). A Natural Family Online special report: The deadly influence of formula in America. Retrieved February 9, 2007, from http://www.naturalfamilyonline.com/articles/312-formula-report-2.htm

Sears, W., (2004). Childhood obesity: Corn syrup in formula. Retrieved February 9, 2007, from
http://parenting.aol.com/parenting/onlyonaol/baby/article/0,19840,670926,00.html

Weimer, J., (2001, May-August). The economic benefits of breastfeeding. Food Review, 24(2). http://www.mercola.com/2000/jul/30/formula_diabetes.htm


Vargas, E., (2006, July 13). Is the breast best? Retrieved February 9, 2007, from http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=2188066&page=1

1 comment:

womantowomancbe said...

It's interesting to me that the government will suggest and/or require the chicken pox vaccine, not because it stops a dreaded and/or deadly disease, but because parents have to take time off of work to take care of their sick kids. Yet they aren't promoting breastfeeding which almost certainly staves off as many days of sickness in the baby's first year as a typical case of chicken pox causes. Not to mention all of the other health benefits to mother and child.

Kathy