Time and time again, research has demonstrated the importance of breastfeeding for child and maternal health.
The issue of breast cancer risk is one specific example where there is convincing evidence to clearly demonstrate the importance of breastfeeding for better health outcomes.
It is estimated that existing global breastfeeding rates prevent almost 20,000 annual breast cancer deaths, compared with a scenario in which no women breastfeed.
An additional 20,000 annual breast cancer deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding rates were scaled up.
Research has found a clear dose response relationship between breastfeeding and breast cancer risk.
Every 12 months of breastfeeding represents a 4.3% decrease in breast cancer risk.
Why, then, would a breast cancer foundation form a partnership with a formula company?
This is exactly what the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) has done recently.
Breast Cancer Foundation Partners With A Formula Company
On their Facebook page, the National Breast Cancer Foundation made the following statement, in response to a huge backlash regarding their decision to have their well-recognised pink ribbon displayed on the side of the tins of a particular brand of formula.
Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed babies. Therefore, breastfeeding should be the control or benchmark with which other forms of infant feeding are compared. What this means is that although breastfeeding doesn’t reduce the risk of breast cancer, not breastfeeding increases the risk.
This is not a way of passing judgement on mothers, regardless of how they feed their babies. It’s simply coming from the standpoint of breastfeeding being the biological norm. As always, it’s important for mothers to do what is best given their individual circumstances.
We certainly appreciate that more breast cancer research is needed. And, of course, this means more money is needed. However, a breast cancer organisation that chooses to partner with a formula company for this reason is simply making an unethical and poor business decision. Clearly, the NBCF has not given enough thought to the broader implications of this decision.
How Can We Improve Breastfeeding Rates?
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for two years, or beyond, if the mother and baby are happy to continue.
In Australia, 96% of mothers initiate breastfeeding. However, by 1 month, 25% of babies are formula fed. The figures rise to 30% by 3 months, 40% by 6 months and 72% by one year.
There are many things that need to be done to improve breastfeeding rates.
The aggressive marketing of formula is one factor that continues to be a significant barrier to breastfeeding. By 2019, the retail value of the formula industry is expected to reach US$70.6 billion!
Global sales of formula have increased from around $2 billion in 1987 to around $40 billion in 2013.
This growth is not surprising, given that investment in the promotion of formula exceeds the amount that many governments spend to promote, protect and support breastfeeding.
Formula marketing is designed to sell formula to as many mothers as possible.
The earlier a mother stops breastfeeding, the more formula is bought. This creates a huge incentive for formula companies to undermine breastfeeding in every way they can.
It has been shown that there is a clear negative impact on breastfeeding when formula is provided free in maternity facilities, and when it is promoted by health workers and in the media.
Yes It’s True, Not All Women Can Breastfeed…
Not all women can breastfeed, but most can.
Formula marketing is not selective. Its promotion is not restricted to only the small percentage of women who cannot breastfeed.
This issue is not all about breastfeeding versus formula feeding. It’s about parents being able to make unbiased, informed choices. NBCF’s partnership with this formula company blurs their choice.
The NBCF must explore other avenues for accepting money. They should find another company – one whose profits don’t rely on undermining breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is one factor which has a clearly demonstrated importance in helping curb breast cancer.
Recommended Reading: Should We Stop Calling Breastfeeding Natural?