Why is the Trump administration campaigning against breastfeeding?

20-Jul-2018


 

The New York Times reports that US officials threatened to impose trade sanctions and withdraw military aid from Ecuador unless it withdraw a resolution at May’s World Health Assembly calling on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding”.

It appears a key motivator is American support for large corporate manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes. So what is the evidence for breastfeeding?

The Lancet reports that scaling up breast-feeding to near universal levels could avoid 823,000 deaths of children under 5 each year, and 20,000 maternal deaths from breast cancer. Breastfeeding protects both mother and child, and it's free, which is important if you're poor.

However many companies are keen to monetise the act of feeding by targeting young mothers. In February the Guardian reported on Nestle's marketing practices flogging formula to poor women in central Manila.

Here is the resolution that eventually passed in the World Health Assembly, with American support.

Amongst other things, it requests the WHO Director-General to provide, upon request, “technical support to Member States to establish, review and implement national laws, policies and programmes to support infant and young child feeding”.

However, US hostility scuttled language that would have called on WHO to provide “technical support to member states seeking to halt “inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children.”

“Inappropriate” in this context would refer to the promotion of foods in contravention of the International Code of Conduct of Breast-milk Substitutes.

The Code prohibits the advertising of infant formula and other breast-milk substitutes to the general public, to pregnant women and mothers, and to health workers who are concerned with infant and maternal nutrition. It also prohibits the giving of samples and other incentives for purchase. Governments are urged to implement the Code through national legislation, regulations or other suitable measures.

In addition, the Code states that infant formula should contain a clear statement of the superiority of breastfeeding, and a statement that the product should only be used following advice from a health worker.