Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The lies of drug companies: how they get women's money coming and going

Up until the 19th century virtually all women breastfed their children. Then, in 1867, Henri Nestle founded the first formula company and concocted the first infant formula. While his original intentions were good (to provide nutrition for orphans and infants of mothers who truly could not produce milk), the formula industry has blossomed into a multibillion dollar a year cash cow and our breastfeeding rates in the US are dismally low. In the US 62.5 percent of women start out exclusively nursing in the hospital, but by six months only 14.2 percent are still exclusively nursing. A sad number, considering that both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months (at which point you may add solids to the diet, but should continue to give breastmilk as the main source of nutrition until a child is at least a year old.) Additionally, the World Health Organization recommends 2 years of breastfeeding as the bare minimum!

Breastfeeding is infinitely superior to formula. It is silly that we humans think we can try to copy God's design. Every time the drug companies isolate a new component in breastmilk and add it to the new formulas (like Enfamil Lipil with DHA/ARA) it just reaffirms the awesomeness of God's design. He made breastmilk to be the perfect food for our little ones and we will never be able to replicate it.

The formula companies put on a fine charade of being pro-breastfeeding, even giving out "breastfeeding success bags" at the hospital. These clever little bags contain a little booklet of tips for breastfeeding, and a large can of formula "just in case". Studies show that moms who start out breastfeeding and stop are more likely to continue to feed their child formula the entire first year, while many moms who start out on formula will switch to cow's milk well before the first birthday. So there is big money to be made by encouraging nursing moms to switch to formula. And even a few bottles of formula in the first few weeks can have drastic ramifications on a woman's milk supply, so making that easy bottle of formula readily available is an insidious trick.

What are the risks of feeding our children formula vs breastmilk?
Ear Infection- 3-5 times more likely with formula
Respiratory Infection - 2-5 times more likely with formula
SIDS - 3-5 times more likely with formula
Necrotizing Entercolitis - 20 times more likely with formula
Type I (Juvenile) Diabetes - 2-7 times more likely with formula
Diarrhea/Gastroenteritis - 6 times more likely with formula
Risks of Rheumatiod Arthritis, Urinary Tract Infections, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Allergies, Asthma, Obesity, Lymphoma and Hodgkin's Disease are all increased as well when formula is chosen over breastmilk. Additionally, children who are fed formula have IQ's that are 7-10 points lower than children who are breastfed, with the IQ increasing the longer a child is breastfed.

So, first, the formula/drug companies make money by selling formula. Then, they make money when we take our sick, formula fed infants and children for treatment of diseases caused by the formula. Are you getting nauseated yet? We haven't even looked at the risks to mom if she chooses not to nurse.

Moms who are gestational diabetics have twice the risk of developing Type II Diabetes if they do not nurse. They have 1.6 times the risk of developing ovarian cancer and twice the risk of premenopausal breast cancer. They also have increased risk of endometrial cancer, osteoporosis, post-partum hemmorhage and post-partum depression.

So the drug and formula companies really have an excellent business plan: Push the formula so we spend big bucks feeding our children an inferior product. Then make even bigger money treating the illnesses caused by the inferior products (both in the children and the mothers.) And many of the formula companies are owned by drug companies!

This baloney makes me sick. But I have seen the strangest phenomena when I present these facts to patients and coworkers. They get all defensive of the formula and drug companies. This makes no sense to me. I think I'd be hopping mad if I found out I'd been lied to and put my babies' and my own health at risk. But I guess the risk of feeling foolish or uneducated trumps the importance of examining the facts and calling for change.

(sources for this article include www.kellymom.com and www.mamadearest.ca/en/info/risk_and_costs.htm).