W.H.O, What? Honest Support for Breastfeeding.

Ignoring decades of evidence about nutrition for infants and children, the current administration opposed the WHO Code resolution (W.H.O International Code of Marketing for Breast-Milk Substitutes.”).  This was done by threatening small countries, a bullying tactic, and sending out misinformation.

This policy has been in place since 1981. Most public health advocacy groups, including the World Health Organization, were surprised. What was the point of this? In a tweet on July 9th, 2017, President Trump gave an inaccurate and dishonest excuse. Let’s clarify the two points from that tweet.

Mr. Trump stated: “The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty.” (1:04 PM – Jul 9, 2018)

That totally misses the point. The official W.H.O Code states: “Appreciating that there are a number of social and economic factors affecting breast-feeding, and that, accordingly, governments should develop social support systems to protect, facilitate and encourage it, and that they should create an environment that fosters breast-feeding, provides appropriate family and community support, and protects mothers from factors that inhibit breast-feeding;” The W.H.O. Code does not prevent the sale or use of formula.

Does the United States “strongly support breastfeeding”?

  1. Did your health plan offer and cover the cost of prenatal education?
  2. Were you assured you would receive support outside the hospital, even a home visit?  Those families who look around, are resourceful, live in an area with options and can pay for it… may find something. Those with Medicaid, with limited transportation and finances, most likely will do without.*
  3. How much paid family leave do you have? Some companies offer four months leave, maybe paid. There is no state or federal structure for family leave, other than 12 weeks unpaid, if you can afford it.
  4. The Affordable Care Act did recognize breastfeeding as part of women’s preventative health care. It mandated coverage for breastfeeding support, supplies and equipment. Where is the current administrations support for this? Not there.

The second point is illogical. ” Women should not be denied access to formula.”

What limits a woman’s access to formula is COST. (Notice it is in a locked cabinet in the store because it is an expensive commodity.)  Families have to buy formula, teats and bottles. They have to have clean water (think Flint, MI.) to sterilize and mix the formula on a daily basis. (Infant formula powder is not sterile. Water must be boiled first to pour over and sterilize it.) If they don’t have the money for formula, they can’t feed the baby. Or they dilute it, which does not meet the baby’s needs.

Specifically because of malnutrition and poverty, breastfeeding is the option women need. Feed the mother and you feed the child while boosting both of their immune systems. Breastfeeding is free and promotes many health bonuses!

Women who have trouble with breastfeeding deserve timely and accurate information. They deserve continued support for any challenges at any time. This how families can truly make a better-informed choice. If a mother doesn’t have access to that, especially in the first days and weeks, her efforts will be thwarted, her supply will be compromised. Then she doesn’t have a choice.

Rolling my eyes, I read more misinformation about breastfeeding. It goes on and on. There are policies that have improved breastfeeding rates. There are documented improvements in health and cost savings.  The W.H.O Code, the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, WIC peer support programs are three of those programs.

My colleague Lina, in Iceland, told me “Every mother knows she can expect a visit at home every day for the first two weeks.” Can you imagine that?  Please do.  That’s a better model than threats and inaccurate tweets.


*Clinical Lactation, Volume 8, Number 1, 2017, pp. 10-16(7) “Massachusetts Parents Experience with Insurance Coverage for Lactation Consultant Services.” Snyder-Drummond, Robin; Bingham, Heather; Lang, Jessica M.