Many Canadian children are not benefiting from something that is free and available to them, something that helps produce healthier, smarter babies, decreases human suffering by reducing illness, saves families money, and saves our health care system a lot of money. Sound to good to be true? It isn’t. It’s breastfeeding.
On the other hand, over one million infants die every year from diseases related to artificial feeding. In countries where widespread poverty exists, infants fed with infant formula, or supplemented with artificial feeding, face a four- to 16-fold increased risk of dying from diarrhea-related diseases compared to exclusively breastfed infants.
Unfortunately, the tragedy is not limited to Third World countries. It is estimated that less than 10 percent of Canadian infants are meeting World Health Organization (WHO)/UNICEF guidelines for infant feeding.
Mothers who are food bank users also tend to be the mothers who bottle feed. In Toronto, new mothers have had to steal infant formula in order to feed their infants, or put less appropriate liquids into bottles to keep their crying babies satisfied. Relief agencies report that mothers go from food bank to food bank in order to find formula for their babies. Breastfeeding would have given their babies a secure food source.
The Infant Feeding Action Coalition (INFACT) Canada, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote optimal infant and maternal health through the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding, is trying to change this sorry situation. It notes that the cost to babies, mothers, families, communities, health care systems, and the environment when babies are not breastfed is substantial — no matter where they live, INFACT makes the following case for breastfeeding.
For the baby and growing child, breastfeeding reduces infections diseases in early and later childhood, promotes optimal brain development, provides protection for premature infants against life threatening illnesses.
For the mother, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, decreases the risk of developing osteoporosis, and enables a mother to sustain her infant independently.
For the family and community, breastfeeding reduces costs to families, protects the environment, improves health and well being, decreases health care costs, requires fewer resources and staff time in hospitals when mothers and babies room-in together, contributes to long term health care saving, improves productivity and reduces absenteeism among breastfeeding mothers as a result of their healthier children.
INFACT Canada produces and markets a variety of resources to help encourage breastfeeding. As the North American representative for the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), it supports the longstanding boycott against the world’s largest baby formula manufacturer Nestle. INFACT says that what it calls “commerciogenic malnutrition” in infants is attributable in part to the aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes by the babymilk and babyfood industry.
Although Nestle in the past has agreed to adhere to the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, its actions have not followed its promises, INFACT claims that Nestle continues to dispose of large quantities of free formulas to maternity hospitals and birthing centres, to distribute free formula to pregnant women and new mothers, and to misinform about infant feeding and buys off health care workers with bribes, gifts and enducements.
Another group that actively works to encourage breastfeeding is the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada (BCC). It is the National Authority for the WHO/UNICEF Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in Canada.
The BFHI is a global program initiated in 1991 by the WHO and UNICEF, This program encourages and recognizes hospitals and maternity facilities that offer an optimal level of care for mothers and infants. A Baby-Friendly hospital/maternity facility focuses on the needs of the newborns and empowers mothers to give their infant the best possible start in life. In practical terms, a Baby-Friendly hospital/maternity facility encourages and helps women to successfully initiate and continue to breastfeed their babies, and will receive special recognition for having done so, Since the inception of the program, over 14,800 hospitals worldwide have received the Baby-Friendly designation.
The BFHI protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding through the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding developed by UNICEF and the WHO.
In Canada, the name of the BFHI has been adapted to the Baby-Friendly Initiative (BFI) to reflect the continuum of care for breastfeeding mothers and babies outside of the hospital environment. With a Baby-Friendly hospital and community behind her, a mother will have the support she needs from the whole community to ensure her child’s full, healthy development.
A baby-friendly community is one in which mothers are encouraged and supported in their desire to breastfeed; where women are provided with the maternity rights to which they are entitled; and where the commercial promotion of breastmilk substitutes and the bottle feeding culture are challenge, A Baby-Friendly environment is also one in which working conditions for women reflect the mother’s role in family and community health and development. It is an environment in which the value of the time and energy women spend on breastfeeding and all the other responsibilities of child health care are acknowledged as an essential, life-sustaining contribution to her family, community and society.