Breastfeeding Could Help Women in Underdeveloped Countries with NFP
The United Nations Global Health meeting held back in May is receiving renewed attention after the New York Times reported that a resolution intended to encourage breastfeeding, particularly in underdeveloped countries, was usurped by the United States of America.
The initiative, intended to be introduced by Ecuador but ultimately introduced by Russia, was meant to promote the spread of factual information about breastmilk and to limit unsupported information about breastmilk substitutes. It was backed by research showing that breastmilk is the healthiest option for infants.
The New York Times and others reported the U.S. bullied Ecuador into dropping this initiative with threats of strong trade measures and withdrawal of military aid, although the Federalist noted that there was no evidence of this provided except anonymous sources. Still, twelve sources, anonymous or not, is concerning, and have certainly contributed to the mainstream view that the United States bowed to the interests of powerful baby-formula lobbyists. Whatever the case is, the crux of the debate is about whether baby-formula companies should be able to market their products to developing countries, and the truth is, decisions like these have a huge impact on women and children.
When it comes to breastfeeding education for women globally, there’s a lot at stake for babies’ health. Less talked about is how there’s also a lot at stake for women’s health, specifically when it comes to spacing children and Natural Family Planning.
First, let me begin by saying that there is zero shame in using formula. How each mother chooses to parent their child is up to their discretion, and many women who would like to breastfeed simply do not have the option. But many women who would like to use formula don’t have the option, either—that is, to do so safely. The truth is that it is easier to afford the best and healthiest formulas when you are privileged. The necessary resources to properly sanitize bottles, as well as a purified water supply are not readily available in all corners of the world. By eliminating potential contamination through impure water sources and unsanitized bottles, breastfeeding can reduce infant mortality. That may be why studies like this one suggest increased availability of infant formula actually increases infant-mortality rates.
“Malnutrition and poverty are the precise settings where you absolutely do need to breastfeed, because that’s the setting where access to safe and clean water for reconstituting powdered formula is often impossible to find,” Dr. Michele Barry, senior associate dean for global health and director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health in the Stanford School of Medicine, told the New York Times.
At the end of the day, studies throughout the decades have proven that mother’s milk provides children with nutrition that cannot be replicated by any formula—and it’s free.
A study series published in The Lancet shows that breastmilk could prevent the deaths of up to 823 thousand children and 20 thousand mothers each year. Furthermore, it would allow for savings of $300 billion. Finally, the benefits of breastfeeding include “fewer infections, increased intelligence, probable protection against overweight and diabetes, and cancer prevention for mothers.” However impactful this information, it’s not a new finding.
But there’s another loss in this measure that no one is talking about.
If women are not given proper breastfeeding education in underdeveloped countries, their choices are more limited and they face further disadvantages when it comes to their reproductive health.
Not only does breastfeeding limit health risks for children, it has the added benefit of naturally pausing a woman’s fertility and it can provide a natural spacing between children. This can be important for women who can’t afford to take care of more children or who don’t have access to health education or other means of birth control.
As Natural Womanhood contributing writer Cassie Moriarty wrote earlier this year, “The idea that breastfeeding prevents pregnancy is actually based in the sound science of how lactation affects reproductive hormones. Prolactin wants to be the dominant hormone. Nursing results in prolactin. Therefore, technically speaking, breastfeeding makes your infertile. This is where the idea of the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) comes from.”
While breastfeeding isn’t a catch-all “birth control” solution for women, especially if she’s not feeding her child with it exclusively, it can help introduce ideas of fertility awareness that are beneficial to the woman. Not only is breastfeeding good for one’s health, it’s a holistic practice that is empowering to the woman. It is an important first basic step toward fertility awareness that allows the body to do what it has been naturally made to do.
Charting with Fertility Awareness-Based Methods helps women to better understand their bodies and work in sync with their natural cycles to serve both their health and that of their babies. When breastfeeding is possible, it should be encouraged as the first, best option for both women and children. Pushing formula as an equivalent alternative simply isn’t based on facts, especially for underprivileged communities, and does women a global disservice.