World Health Organization comes out strong on breastfeeding; U.S. asks for softer position

President Trump twitter-rages at the New York Times–again. This time, he reacts to the paper’s news-grenade about the U.S. opposition to the wording of the World Health Organization’s position on breastfeeding.

According to the NYTimes (and the Washington Post, CNN, TheHill, Snopes) this was the phrase the U.S. objected to:

The WHO’s request that governments “protect, promote and support breast-feeding.”

The U.S. also objected to a passage that asked policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that experts say can be harmful to children.

why the U.S. objected to the phrasing

According to President Trump (tweet below) the U.S. wanted the WHO statement changed because women should have access to formula for their babies.


how does this connect to the WHO

The World Health Organization is “the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations’ system.”

In this role, the WHO set international regulations for the marketing of breast milk substitutes. This code prevents formula companies from directly targeting mothers and doctors with breast milk substitutes, and also discourages promotion of the products and health claims on packaging. So, in their statement affirming breastfeeding they’re also affirming the code that restricts marketing by manufacturers.

note: This code does not restrict access to formula.

President Trump is correct

The U.S. supports breastfeeding; the benefits are all over scientific and medical literature, and the practice is gaining in popularity among mothers.

President Trump is misleading

on two points:

According to the WHO website, the WHO is not restricting women to breastfeeding; they are restricting manufacturers on their ability to market to women.

And, studies show that women are healthier and their babies are more likely to live longer and live healthier if they breastfeed exclusively for six months. This is not only the unequivocal position of the WHO, it is also supported by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the American Association of Pediatrics, and many, many others. And, this is especially important for women of low income.

So, the president’s remark that some mothers need formula because they are poverty-stricken and malnourished is misleading because for low income mothers, it’s nearly critical to breastfeed.

In other words, there are women who can’t breastfeed, but many women who can and should breastfeed are not doing so—and that’s what the WHO aims to change.

some backstory

According to Forbes, for the first several years that the CDC, the World Health Organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics tried to promote breast feeding over formula feeding, nothing much changed. The change mostly came in the past twenty years, as a result of government support, research, getting free formula out of hospitals, and making hospitals “baby friendly” or allowing babies to remain in the rooms with their mothers, and encouraging immediate contact between newborns and mothers.

And, Nestle, the largest manufacturer of baby formula, has a long and dark past on the issue. Interested? Read the debate: Should we allow baby formula to be marketed in developing countries?

Want to geek out on the benefits associated with breast milk? Check it out here.

Click here to read the NY Times article on breastfeeding.

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