Marian Tompson knows as much as anybody anywhere about the benefits of breastfeeding.
In 1956, she and six other mothers from suburban Chicago formed the La Leche League — now a revered international institution — to teach women about breastfeeding at a time when doctors and politicians were pushing baby formula.
On Friday, we asked Tompson, who now is 88 and living in Evanston, for her thoughts on the Trump administration’s recent attempt to water down a resolution by the World Health Assembly that encourages women to breastfeed.
“It’s embarrassing and disappointing,” she said.
Supporting the resolution should have been a no-brainer.
Instead of supporting a self-evident declaration that breastfeeding is healthy and good for babies, the Trump administration bowed to money, as it does so well. It attempted to derail the resolution at the request of U.S. baby-formula manufacturers and dairy and grocery groups. Just two weeks before the World Health Organization meeting, the Department of Health and Human Services met with lobbyists from these various groups.
Ecuador was supposed to introduce the resolution, but reportedly backed off when American officials threatened to retaliate by imposing tariffs and cutting military aid. That left it to Russia, of all nations, to play the part of the good guy and put forth the resolution, which was approved.
Nobody should need a resolution, at least not in the United States, to know that breastfeeding usually is preferred to baby formula. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website, “breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants.” Which is not to say that baby formula doesn’t have its appropriate place. Not all mothers are able to breastfeed or choose to.
But in less developed countries, governments often struggle to get that message out. Mothers with little access to health education have been duped into thinking formula has more nutritional value than breast milk. Baby formula can turn lethal when mixed with contaminated water. And some mothers have used formula only sparingly, to make it last, starving their babies of nutrition.
Tompson used to travel to Caribbean islands to educate poor, young mothers about the health benefits of breastfeeding their babies.
“Mothers would work to pay for baby formula,” she said. “There were billboards by baby-formula companies telling them their babies would be stronger with formula.”
Baby formula manufacturers don’t need billboards anymore. They’ve got the president of the United States.
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