Scientists and environmentalists have been treating human milk like a canary in a coal mine. From measurements of toxins in mother’s milk we can extrapolate statistics to gauge environmental contamination. We also learned that much of a mother’s bioaccumulated toxins are passed to her baby through breastfeeding. This frightening reality has, unfortunately, had an adverse effect on the reputation of human milk. In spite of assurances that breastfeeding is still the best way to feed babies, learning about toxic contaminants leaves some mothers with doubts about feeding their own milk to their babies.
This is no way to treat what may well be one of our most essential and important natural resources. No one would seriously suggest substitutes for air, soil, or water because these resources have been tainted. We work to clean them up. Why do we allow toxins to degrade the food naturally designed for human infants?
According to the La Leche League International, recognized as the world’s foremost authority on the subject, breastfeeding is the best choice for mothers and babies, especially in a contaminated world.
Immunological properties in human milk offer protection against contaminants from many sources. The great body of research on infant feeding is based on studies wherein babies receive their mother’s milk as is, with no special screening to eliminate environmental toxins. Yet, even with the toxic burden, breastfed babies and their mothers generally fare better. Medical studies have shown that artificially fed babies have significantly high rates of diarrheal diseases. Mothers who don’t breastfeed run a greater risk of contracting breast cancer and osteoporosis.
Artificial baby milk, usually made from cow’s milk or soybeans, requires significant resources, including water, land, fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. In contrast to the intense production, transportation and packaging demanded by artificial baby milk, human milk is elegantly simple. As breastfeeding advocates remind us, human milk is produced at the point of use, just in time, with no excess to waste and delivered at the perfect temperature, in reusable “containers,” with no additional packaging costs.
Human milk is a natural, renewable resource to be promoted, protected and restored to its key place in our culture.
Reprinted with permission from Greenpeace Magazine, Fall 1997
Vol 17 Issue 1 page 3