Filed under: Food + Health, Justice + Outreach, Society + Media | Tags: breastfeeding, formula, infant formula, kansas law, la leche league, marian tompson, melamine, nestle, nursing
On a lazy summer afternoon in 1956, my great-aunt Marian Tompson was sitting on a checkered blanket, chatting to friends at the church picnic.
Her little daughter began to whimper. She set down her plate, unbuttoned her dress and guided her daughter’s rosebud mouth to her plump breast. As she nursed, she realized that the infants at the picnic were the only congregation members who weren’t eating homemade food. She counted only one other mother nursing her infant, the rest held bottles of formula.
In the 1950’s, when Marian’s children were young, only about 20 percent of new mothers breastfed their babies. This seemed ridiculous to her– breast milk is full of the exact nutrients that a baby needs to grow. Infant formula cannot match the chemical makeup of human milk, which gives infants antibodies that fight disease. Moreover, nursing allows bonding between the mother and child. Yet grocery stores are stocked with formula and people turn squeamishly from a nursing mother’s bare breast. It showcases society’s distance from food, nature and natural life process.
Inspired, Marian organized a forum where five breastfeeding mothers shared their experiences with the community. This soon developed into La Leche League. In 1958, Marian began LLL News, a publication to reach out to women without a local chapter—using journalism to educate a hungry public of young mothers. Over the next 24 years, this grassroots group became an international organization promoting women and children’s health and awareness about breastfeeding.
Yet, formula is still in use today. Problems are pervasive. Uneducated or poor mothers may prepare the formula wrong, creating health hazards for their infants. In China, melamine in formula killed multiple infants. In America, Nestle, too, had a melamine scare. In Kansas, it wasn’t until 2006 that public breastfeeding was made legal. It is an ongoing struggle between nature, corporations and society, despite what should be a no-brainer: breast is best.
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