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Infant Feeding: Breast Is Best
U.K. parents and hospitals don't often see the full financial and health benefits
Liam Bailey (wordsworth)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-30 09:32 (KST)   
In recent years medical research has and is proving breast milk to be far ahead of formula milk in infant feeding. Many studies since 1990 have provided significant reliable evidence that breastfed babies have a reduced risk of gastro intestinal infection (vomiting and diarrhea), respiratory infections, ear infections , urinary tract infections, allergic disease (asthma, and/or wheezing, eczema), insulin-dependent diabetes (mellitus) and -- mainly in premature babies -- necrotizing enterocolitis. A serious childhood disease inflaming the tissues of the intestine, which can lead to a perforation developing; allowing the contents of the intestine to leak into the stomach, likely to cause severe infection.

There is also some evidence to suggest that breastfed babies have better neurological development but further research is needed. For the mother breastfeeding lessens the risk of hip fractures, ovarian cancer and breast cancer. Possibly also rheumatoid arthritis but again, further research is needed. Breast milk is formula milk; milk specially formulated by the mother for her baby. With regulating substances to give the baby the correct amount of only the nutrients he/she needs at the time. And if the mother's immune system fights off an infection, antibodies are transferred through breastfeeding, in effect immunizing the baby against the infection. In babies born prematurely breastfeeding comes into its own again; aiding brain development. Breast milk for a premature baby is higher in growth factors and antibodies and has special properties to prepare the babies bowels to tolerate milk.

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New research Nov. 2006 by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Has found in a systematic review of all published evidence that breastfed babies have lower serum insulin concentrations and mean pre-prandial blood glucose levels than infants fed with formula milk. The same study found that breastfed babies have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes throughout their life than those fed on formula, and marginally lower insulin concentrations as adults.

Despite the significant health benefits for mother and child, British breastfeeding rates are still some of the lowest in Europe. According to the last complete study in 2000, at birth, only 69 percent of U.K. babies were breastfed compared to 90 percent in Scandinavia. This figure fell rapidly to 55 percent at one week. Just one in five babies were still receiving breast milk at six months. 2005 U.K. figures showed initiation of breastfeeding up, at 78 percent.

Although figures for continuation won't be ready till 2007, the report authors said very few U.K. mothers are still breastfeeding at six months. This is because many midwifes and health visitors have inadequate training in how to breastfeed correctly. Leading to problems of "latching on" (how the baby takes the nipple) and failure to feed on demand. Ultimately leading to cracked/bleeding nipples, puerperal mastitis (blocking of milk ducts, pain, fever, redness) and/or inadequate supply of milk, which in turn leads to mothers being told they aren't producing enough milk.

Although some hospitals still advise formula supplements, a baby needs nothing more than breast milk in the first six months of life.

The Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) is a global program run by UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) and the World Health Organization to promote breastfeeding; working with a country's health service to ensure all mothers are properly educated on feeding their baby, and if they decide to breastfeed that they are shown how to feed their baby correctly.

According to a report on the Initiative's Web site Oct. 19 found that mothers giving birth in a Baby Friendly-accredited hospital were 10 percent more likely to initiate breastfeeding. And 8 percent more likely to still be breastfeeding seven days after birth than those in a non accredited hospital, including hospitals in the process of obtaining accreditation.

This confirms the BFI as the first such initiative to have a positive effect on Britain's breastfeeding rates. However, the same study also found that Baby Friendly accreditation doesn't significantly change the likelihood of mother continuing to breastfeed past the age of one month. The report's authors called for further interventions to ensure breastfeeding is sustained for longer.

I have first hand experience of how poorly trained medical staff can stop mothers breastfeeding.

My local healthcare trust holds a certificate of commitment to implementing the 10 steps to successful breastfeeding and achieving BFI accreditation. Step six is as follows: Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.

My fiance gave birth to a beautiful baby boy Oct. 18; unfortunately her waters broke sometime before and Scott was born with a slight infection. It wasn't picked up until the first night. He was then taken to the neo-natal ward. My fiance continued to express breast milk to ensure he would have a constant supply, as well as breastfeeding him whenever allowed.

The first day Scott was in neo-natal my fiance, Susan breastfed him in the afternoon. He fed well and we went to express more milk. I told the nurse looking after our baby that we were going to express milk and get something to eat, but that if Scott needed fed to give us a shout. She said, "Yes, we'll get him back on the breast tonight."

At that stage he was feeding every three hours, so we went back three hours later. Only to find to my utter dismay that she had given Scott the breast-milk we had expressed, and then tried to give him formula milk. Which he refused and the little he did take made him sick. They said Susan could try and give him another feed, but with the pads stuck to him monitoring his vitals etc, feeding was a chore enough, the added confusion between bottle and breast, formula and breast milk now meant Scott refused to feed from Susan's breast altogether on that occasion.

We went back to the room to express more milk, to try and ensure they had enough so they wouldn't find the need to give him any more formula. Susan was unable to feed Scott again the next day, but we had been taking expressed milk through every three hours and this had done him through the night and for the first part of the day. We continued the expressing in the hope that this would continue. But when we went back through that night after dinner, there was a tube up Scott's nose, and he had already been given more formula milk. When I went to put the latest expression into the fridge and saw the three bottles of Susan's breast milk untouched. I was angry and absolutely bemused.

I had viewed the BFI Web site and knew that a baby needs nothing more than breast milk for the first six months of life. I also knew all about the anti-bodies and thought: If Scott caught the infection in the womb, Susan's body will be filling her breast milk with the antibodies to fight it. It seemed beyond reason. Susan was already finding breast feeding difficult and rapidly losing faith in her ability to carry on, the tube in Scott's nose made it nearly impossible.

While we were there Scott pulled the tube out of his nose, despite our best efforts to keep his little hands under control, he is a determined little one. Just like his dad. I went and told the midwife, who said that she was going to give Susan another go at breastfeeding and would leave it out for now. This restored a little of my faith in the care we were receiving.

Scott fed well that time, after he was finished we told the midwife, who proceeded to go and get a bottle of breast milk from the fridge and bring it through, "to top him up." Contrary to step nine: giving the baby no artificial teats or dummies while breastfeeding. I didn't mind when it had been really necessary, of course Scott getting better was my primary concern. But just after feeding straight from the breast, wasn't following the 10-step plan and confusing Scott all over again.

We found out later from another midwife, that the tube had been put in Scott's nose because feeding from a bottle would confuse him and hinder breastfeeding. The first of the 10 steps is to communicate the breastfeeding policy to all staff on a regular basis, which clearly wasn't being done.

Failing on three of the 10 steps took away the last of the faith I had in my local hospital ever achieving accreditation with the Baby Friendly Initiative. However, the shifts changed and the new night and day staff were much more supportive of breastfeeding. The tube was soon out and as the amount Susan was getting each expression had grown considerably, the new staff were giving him no formula whatsoever.

Scott was now improving rapidly. But, because of Scott's confusion and dwindling confidence Susan still found breastfeeding difficult. Our new midwife gave Susan a nipple shield; an extension of the nipple, slightly harder than a bottle's teat. Using the shield doesn't cause confusion because it allows skin-to-skin contact. Susan's growing confidence soon said goodbye to the shield and now it is kept in case of problems. The lack of BFI standards in my local heath trust didn't stop there.

When Scott got out of the hospital he was being seen regularly at home by one midwife and being weighed on the same set of scales. He was growing and progressing fine. One day the midwife was going to be late and we had made plans. We agreed to take Scott into the hospital for his check-up.

On the hospital set of scales, Scott had lost a little weight. Despite it being common for breastfed babies' weight to fluctuate, and there to be slight differences between one set of scales and another. The midwife went to check with a more senior member, and I was already anticipating what she told us on her return.

"I went and checked but she thinks as I did," she said, and proceeded to explain how we needed formula milk supplements. I protested but without the support of my partner, who believed the hospital staff, I was out numbered. I did however manage to convince Susan not to give the supplements, but wait until the other midwife came back to weigh Scott again two days later. I guaranteed Susan that Scott would be above the weight of her previous home visit.

When I was right she asked how we got on with the formula supplements. I took great pleasure in telling her that we hadn't even touched them.

I spoke to a friend of ours on Nov. 28, a mother of a six-month-old boy. She asked if Susan was breastfeeding and I told her she was and asked her the same question. She told me she had started breastfeeding with the best intentions but only lasted four days. I said the staff in our local healthcare trust are too quick to discourage and suggest formula feeding. She agreed.

She is one of two people I know who have really wanted to breastfeed but haven't lasted a week. Both preferred not to be named in the article to avoid animosity from the staff in future pregnancies.

All I can say is I hope my local healthcare trust improves its commitment to achieving BFI accreditation by the time I have my next child.
This article will appear on my blog: Better World.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Liam Bailey

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