Letter: Troubling 'deja vu' over baby milk

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The Independent Online
Sir: What a bitter irony that the end of National Breastfeeding Awareness Week should be marked by a health scare concerning infant formula ("Sex change chemicals in baby milk", 26 May).

That rogue chemicals - phthalates in this case - should have found their way into many brands of infant formula is further evidence that the commonly held belief that breastmilk and infant formula are pretty much the same thing is entirely erroneous. Infant formula manufacturers have played down the significant health advantages of breastfeeding and the health risks associated with bottle feeding. But the composition of breastmilk and infant formula is very different, and the health benefits and protection accruing to the breastfed infant, and also its mother, are considerable.

The Unicef/UK Baby Friendly Initiative has gathered research on breastmilk which shows that the health benefits for the baby include amongst others, protection against gastroenteritis, chest infections, eczema and cot death, and for the mother, lower risk of ovarian and premenopausal breast cancer.

There are many concerned midwives and health visitors who seek to disseminate good, well-informed breastfeeding advice, but their task is an uphill one. Breastfeeding has no deep-pocketed benefactors and must therefore rely on the government for a promotional budget which is estimated to be between 9p and 16p per new baby compared with the pounds 6.25 spent on advertising for each baby born by the infant formula manufacturers. This disparity in promotional spend ensures that the infant formula manufacturers are able to control the infant feeding agenda.

Perhaps the fear provoked by the phthalates scare will have a positive side, and will cause those responsible for delivering health care to pregnant women to reappraise their approach to the promotion of healthy infant feeding.


Baby Milk Action

London E18