Health officials considering warning labels on baby formula

By By Jenny Willden

By Jenny Willden

When Sharane Pitts had her first child, she chose to breastfeed rather than use formula.

“I think it is what is best for them,” said Pitts, a resident of the married student housing program at the U and whose husband majors in electrical engineering.

Pitts is not alone. Many health officials warn that replacing breastfeeding milk with formula milk can be detrimental to the health of mothers and their babies. Some public health officials are considering placing warning labels on formula canisters for this reason.

The label would say, “Breast milk is more beneficial to infants than infant formula.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cites the benefits of breastfeeding as: prevention of infectious diseases, enhanced immune system, lower rates of obesity, lower risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and asthma and enhanced cognitive development.

Brenda Gulliver, a registered nurse at the U, said there can be benefits to the mother as well.

“It is something people learn, so it takes time; but once established, it is a great way to bond with the baby and create healthy practices,” she said.

They may also save come cash, too. The AAP stated the savings could be as high as $400 per child per year.

The University Hospital encourages mothers to breastfeed, and it appears mothers have taken the advice.

More than 90 percent of mothers who gave birth at the U Hospital begin breastfeeding, which is more than the national average of 70 percent, Gulliver said.

“Breastfeeding for the first six months is best for the baby,” Gulliver said, though fewer than 20 percent are exclusively breastfeeding at this time.

The U Hospital is planning to receive a designation that would make it a World Health Organization and a UNICEF baby-friendly hospital. This process requires that the hospital have a written policy on breastfeeding, teach mothers about breastfeeding within an hour of giving birth, give infants nothing but breast milk and practice “rooming in” (allowing infants and mothers to remain together all the time).

Currently, only 54 out of 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. have these designations.

Benefits aside, Gulliver understands that it is difficult, impossible or unhealthy for some women to breastfeed.

There are alternatives.

“We need to talk not about breastfeeding, but about breast milk,” Gulliver said, because mothers who cannot breastfeed or choose not to can still use their breast milk to feed their children with other methods.