November 29, 2021 by John Fernandez
Not Just for Royals
Inquiring minds want to know if new mom Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, plans to breast-feed newborn Prince George.
The debate over formula vs. breast milk being discussed in the British and international press, as a result of the royal baby’s birth, coincides with the celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, which wraps up today. But, the debate is by no means a new one.
During the early 1900s, nearly every child was breast-fed.
In the U.S., that trend fell out of favor during the 1940s when many women went to work to support war efforts. As a result, formula became very popular. Formula manufacturers promoted formula as an excellent way for women to go to work and still feed their babies.
“There was not enough evidence back then that breast-feeding is the optimal way to foster development,” says Shakira Henderson, R.N., who has researched the benefits of breast-feeding as a nurse in South Miami Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. But now, she points to two decades of research that provides strong evidence about the benefits of breast-feeding.
There are even official health programs to promote the practice.
One such program developed and promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), accredits hospitals as “baby-friendly,” if they can show that they have met 10 specific criteria to encourage mothers to breast-feed their babies.
Ms. Henderson says that the maternity staffs at each hospital and the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) staffs at Baptist and South Miami Hospitals are receiving special training about the benefits of breast-feeding to newborns and their mothers. The WHO recommends 20 hours of education and training for mother-baby caregivers.
Baptist, South Miami and West Kendall Baptist Hospitals are in the final stages of meeting WHO education recommendations, and the process is rolling out at Homestead Hospital.
At each hospital, healthy babies stay in their mother’s hospital room with them instead of in a nursery. Also, nurses encourage breast-feeding within the first hour after birth, when possible.
Community education is one of the challenges faced by healthcare professionals who try to encourage new mothers to breast-feed.
“There is an education gap,” Ms. Henderson admits. “We’re looking at the barriers and myths. We are going to the community with outreach education.”
Following the WHO’s recommendations, Baptist Health hospitals will eventually stop giving out free samples of formula and indirectly marketing commercial brands of baby formula, in accordance with the Worldwide Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes.
At South Miami Hospital, staff members do not wear stethoscopes or badges featuring logos for formula brands, and formula is not placed on crib carts.
For mothers who are unable or who choose not to breast-feed, Ms. Henderson explains the hospitals will accommodate their babies’ feeding needs.
“We’re not telling mothers they must breast-feed,” she said. “We just want them to know the health benefits of breast-feeding so they can make an informed decision.”
The duchess, according to palace gossips, has chosen to nurse Prince George and has brought to light, again, the debate of breast vs. bottle – news the WHO undoubtedly is thrilled to deliver.