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Risks of Not Breastfeeding and
Strategies to Promote Exclusive Breastfeeding
for the First Six Months

Mary Kay Linge
Staten Island NY USA
Report from the 2005 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 208

Michal A. Young, a neonatologist at Howard University College of Medicine, took an active role in the recent controversy over the breastfeeding public service ads that were modified at the behest of the formula industry. She offered an inside perspective on the ideas behind the ad campaign and a way to move forward during her session, "Risks of Not Breastfeeding and Strategies to Promote Exclusive Breastfeeding for the First Six Months."

Dr. Young observed that too many pediatricians "give lip service" to the American Academy of Pediatrics' standards, which recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. The original ad campaign would have pointed out more of the health risks of formula feeding, including an increased risk of diabetes and increased rates of childhood cancer. "We need to be able to say without hesitation that artificial baby milk is inferior to human milk," she said emphatically. "This thought should just roll off our tongues. Why breastfeed? To keep your child from getting sick and dying."

Focus groups found that mothers-to-be are more likely to consider breastfeeding when they hear about the risks of formula, Young said. Researchers concluded that the proposed ad campaign didn't make women who had chosen to formula-feed their babies feel guilty; rather, it made them feel angry that their doctors had never told them about the risks of that choice. Looking on the bright side, Young said that the ad campaign fight forced breastfeeding advocates to pull all their research together. It's clearer now than ever before that, "It is criminal to not inform mothers of the risks," she said.

"Changing society's attitudes toward breastfeeding is a challenge," Young commented. It calls for education, practical instruction, and emotional support for new mothers. When she talks with women about breastfeeding, Young said she is sure to bring up such benefits as quicker postpartum weight loss and the sense of pride that comes from nourishing baby with mother's milk. "You have to walk it with them," she said of the counseling process. "You never know what will encourage a mother to breastfeed."

Young said that negative attitudes from other women discourage many young mothers from breastfeeding. "Keep at it," Dr. Young advised breastfeeding counselors. "I always say, ‘This is your baby. You want less than the best for your baby? Your choice.’" Big business may have undone the ad campaign, but nothing can stop committed advocates from spreading the word about the risks of not breastfeeding.

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