Worldwide Breastfeeding Week 2010

In an effort to encourage breast-feeding and improve the health of babies around the globe, The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and nursing advocates in more than 170 countries are celebrating World Breastfeeding Week.

In its 19th year, this year’s theme is “Breastfeeding: Just 10 Steps. The Baby-Friendly Way,” created to draw attention to steps hospitals can take to encourage mothers to nurse. The steps include helping moms hold their babies skin-to-skin immediately after birth, providing breast-feeding training for staff and connecting mothers to support in the community upon discharge from the hospital, said Mary O’Connor, lactation services leader at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Statistics from The United Nations Children’s Fund show that the reduction of child deaths from 13 million globally in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008 is partly because of the adoption of basic health interventions such as early and exclusive breast-feeding.

(Source: Natalie Neysa Alund, “Advocates Celebrate Breastfeeding Week Locally, Globally.” Bradenton Herald, 2 August 2010, breastfeeding.html#ixzz0vqd8PiDv.)

Anger grew this week after the deputy editor of a leading British parenting magazine wrote an article describing breastfeeding as “creepy”….

In Kathryn Blundell’s article for Mother & Baby, entitled I formula fed. So what?, she explains how she never breastfed because “I wanted my body back. (And some wine) … I also wanted to give my boobs at least a chance to stay on my chest rather than dangling around my stomach.”

The UK Department of Health (DoH) recommends breastfeeding for six months and launched a controversial “Breast is Best” ad campaign to convince mothers to put down the bottles. According to the DoH, only one in 100 British mums actually does breastfeed for that long.

Of these “quitters”, Blundell says, “I often wonder whether many of these women, like me, just couldn’t be fagged (did not want to make the effort) or felt like getting tipsy once in a while.”

The fallout from the article ranges from breastfeeding group Lactivist condemning Blundell’s “generally spreading misinformation” to a Facebook group with 500 members demanding an apology.

“As a formula-feeding mum who was unable to breastfeed, I am left wondering whether, thanks to this piece, people who see me giving my baby a bottle may assume that I am doing so because I could not be fagged to breastfeed/found the idea ‘creepy’,” wrote one member of the Facebook group.

(Source: “Baby Expert Kathryn Blundell Calls Breastfeeding Creepy, Bemoans Loss of ‘Fun Bags.’”, 28 June 2010,

Professing the best of intentions, many activists fighting child abuse and neglect warn, “Anyone might be an abuser.” To be sure, state officials have uncovered alarming cases involving unlikely perpetrators. However, in a world of limited resources, those most intent on protecting children must focus their efforts on circumstances that expose children to the greatest risk. Those worrisome circumstances come into decidedly sharper view in a study by medical researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and from the University of Queensland in Australia.

Analyzing data collected for children born in the Brisbane maternity hospital between 1981 and 1984, the researchers uncover a pattern that makes even more imperative a practice that paediatricians have strongly encouraged for nutritional and immunological reasons: namely, maternal breastfeeding. For when the American and Australian scholars looked for statistical predictors of maternal abuse or neglect of children, they discovered “an inverse relationship between breastfeeding duration and maternally perpetrated maltreatment [of young children.]” Whether looking at emotional abuse, physical abuse, or neglect, the researchers find the same telling pattern: “The prevalence of maternal maltreatment increased as the duration of breastfeeding decreased, for all maltreatment subtypes examined separately or in combination.”

The effect of breastfeeding indeed looms large: using a multivariable statistical model, the authors calculate that “for non breastfed children, the adjusted O[dds] R[atio] for maternally perpetrated maltreatment was 2.6.” In other words, mother who do not breastfeed their children are more than two and half times more likely to abuse or neglect their children than are mothers who do breastfeed their children. When looking just at maternal neglect of young children, the researchers report “a nearly fourfold increase in the odds for non breastfed children.”

As the researchers parse their data, they identify a number of “other variables that were independently associated with maternal maltreatment,” including “unmarried status” (Unadjusted Odds Ratio of 1.7, Adjusted Odds Ratio of 1.6)

But it is the inverse relationship between breastfeeding and maternal maltreatment that holds the researchers’ interest. Trying to explain this relationship, the authors note that “suckling results in peripheral and central production of the neuromodulatory hormone oxytocin,” a biochemical manifesting “a broad range of central effects [that have been] characterized in both animal and human studies s the ‘calm and connection’ response of the parasympathetic nervous system.” It thus appears that “oxytocin helps to prepare the central nervous system for the long-term endeavor of child-rearing.”

Regardless of the biochemistry involved, breastfeeding can deliver its positive benefits only when it happens. It distresses the authors that while 74 percent of new American mothers initiate breastfeeding, “only 42% of mothers are breastfeeding by 6 months and only 11% are

breastfeeding exclusively, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.” It alarms the Baylor and Queensland scholars that “breastfeeding rates [run] lowest among those at highest risk for maltreatment (e.g. unmarried women with low levels of education).”

Such low levels of breastfeeding among such high-risk mothers merit immediate attention, these scholars believe, at a time when “nationwide data in the United States indicate that, in almost 60% of substantiated [child-maltreatment] cases, the mother is an identified perpetrator.”

The authors believe that the time is past to recognize breastfeeding as “a relatively simple and cost-effective…means of strengthening the relationship between a mother and her child. This overarching goal would be best accomplished by promoting parent education and long-term

marital stability and by providing economic and social support for new mothers who choose to stay at home with their infants.”

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, “New Research,” The Family in America, Spring 2010, Vol. 24 Number 2.Study: Lane Strathearn et al., “Does Breastfeeding Protect Against Substantiated Child Abuse and Neglect? A 15-Year Cohort Study,” Pediatrics 123.2 [2009]: 483-92.)