Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Formula as an intervention

Lately I've been hearing the phrase "risks of not breastfeeding" a lot. This is different than talking about "pros and cons of breastfeeding," as it is often presented.  It was presented this way in the book I used during pregnancy, From the Hips by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris, which cited "more margaritas" as a "pro" to formula feeding; I think it was meant to be irreverent or humorous, but given what I know now  about the significant health differences between the average formula-fed baby and the average breastfed baby, I question its validity. (Though, this book did a good job overall on the whole in its breastfeeding section.)

What if infant formula were considered an intervention by the medical community? Then, the risks of using it could be listed, much like a medicine. The choice still belongs to the mother, but the argument is framed such that breastfeeding is the norm and formula is the intervention. For example, the natural way to keep our cholesterol low is eating a healthy diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat. But for some people, that isn't enough, and for others, sticking to a diet isn't feasible. In either case, there is medicine to help, for which the patient can understand the risks.

Of course, the "patient" in the case of breastfeeding is not one's self but one's infant. Does this change our responsibilities?  It it irresponsible not to attempt to breastfeed?  I'm not sure, but even if it is, it doesn't seem right to place this kind of accountability with individual moms when our society fails to support it.

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