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Breast is best: benefits of breastmilk far outweigh convenience of formula

Thursday, 7th April 2016


This World Health Day, celebrated on 07 April, Neonatal heavyweights are calling on all mothers to educate themselves about giving their babies the best start at a healthy life. Vanessa Booysen, Neonatal Lead Facilitator for the Limpopo Initiative for Newborn Care (LINC) and Stasha Jordan, breastfeeding activist and Executive Director of South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) both warn that while formula may seem more convenient for busy moms to feed their babies, the benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding far outweigh those of formula for infants, toddlers and particularly for newborn babies.

Not only is breastmilk the natural solution but breastfeeding has physical and emotional benefits for both mothers and babies. For babies, the likelihood of diarrhea and respiratory infections is reduced considerably by breastfeeding. Long-term associated benefits include protection against cardio vascular disease, allergies, obesity and diabetes.* “Breastmilk is not only food, but essential, natural medicine for your baby,” explains Booysen.

“Like all consumer products, formula milk is designed to be a profitable product for the manufacturer. Due to the fact that it is mostly dehydrated cow’s milk and static (without live cells and enzymes), one can never compare the two. Breastmilk has numerous immune enhancing properties that formula does not; formula is therefore not nearly as healthy as breastmilk for your baby,” says Booysen.

An article published in the The Lancet medical journal** in January this year stated that, “the active and aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes (BMS) by their manufacturers and distributors continues to be a substantial global barrier to breastfeeding.” The article added that the reach and influence of the BMS industry is growing fast. “The retail value of the industry is projected to reach US$ 70.6 billion [just over R1 trillion] by 2019. In many low-income and middle-income countries growth in sales of BMS exceeds 10% annually.”

Booysen adds that promotion and marketing have turned infant formula into a normal food for any baby, while it should be seen as a specialised product for babies that cannot be breastfed. This is one of the main reasons why South Africa has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. “Human beings have naturally breastfed their babies since the world began. Formula is not natural and should only be used to supplement the diet of a baby whose mother cannot breastfeed due to very rare medical reasons. These medical reasons are listed by the World Health Organisation,” says Booysen.

During Women’s Month last year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi did not mince his words when he called for exclusive breastfeeding for all. “None of you have ever met a calf eating grass. All calves are on milk from their mothers and they do so for many months,” he said.***

In 2011 Minister Motsoaledi announced the Tshwane Declaration of Support for Breastfeeding,**** which declared South Africa to be a country that supports and promotes breastfeeding. “We specifically resolve that resources are committed by government and other relevant bilaterals, partners and funders (but excluding the formula industry) to promote, protect and support breastfeeding, and should include updated guidelines on HIV and infant feeding.”

“Institutions such as the SABR collect and redistribute donated breastmilk to 87 hospitals around the country where it is fed to babies who are too sick to breastfeed normally,” says Booysen. Last year the SABR supplied and fed 2845 babies the perfect cocktail of nutrients contained in donated breastmilk as it helps them to better fight infections and reach normal stages of development.

“Breastfeeding mothers who have excess supply are encouraged to donate breastmilk at SABR centres. These donations play a key role in saving babies’ lives and protecting their rights,” concludes Booysen.

To get involved and alleviate the challenges faced by the SABR, including low breastfeeding rates in South Africa, sourcing donor mothers, and funding for the operation of the milk-banks, please visit or call 011 482 1920 or e-mail: