This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Biology 103
2001 Second Web Report
On Serendip

Convenience and Replacement: The Pervasive Corporate Influence Over Breastfeeding

Heather Shelton

We live in a world of vast opportunity and choice. We can walk into a grocery store and select something from a wide array of unique and scrumptious food items; some are simple, some elaborate, some are manufactured in a factory, and some are organic. With all of these items available, how do we pick what we are supposed to serve for dinner? When all food used to come from local farms, humans weren't faced with the same issues that they see today when they enter a market. Many things have changed. The food industry is an enormous and flourishing sector of commerce with a lot of influence on the consumer's perspective. Are you too busy to eat breakfast? You should grab something to go. Advertising campaigns will try to catch the eyes of the shopper by changing the color of their product to make it a new and exciting food that is rare and novel. A majority of the product design and intention is meant to appeal to the consumer. Thus, the plights and predicaments of the modern shopper play a role in how food items are created; we are inventing new forms of food. It is precisely this notion that scares and worries me. There are many manufactured snack and junk foods that fall into this realm of "creation for the needs of consumer", but what happens when market strategy tries to extend itself the area of essential food items? For example, infant formula was created as a substitute for breast milk. Breast milk, a product made within the body that is conceptualized as a natural food item is being recreated on shelves all over the country. This power of consumerism has the potential to affect how we eat, how we interact with our children, how women view and understand their bodies, and how we live our daily lives.

Why is breast milk so important for infants? Breast milk helps babies with their developmental process. Breast milk has been linked to protecting babies from stress, respiratory disorders, hemorrhages, ear infections, and allergies. Researchers have discovered that breast milk has twice the level of protective antioxidants when compared to commercial formula (1). At birth, the brain is only 1/3 complete. In addition to the prevention of many other things, breast milk has a positive influence on the neurological development and possibly even the IQ of a child (2). Many argue that breast milk has been evolutionarily honed over millions of years in order to complete tasks like forming the brain during the first two years of life (2). Infants who are breast-fed throughout their growing years develop leaner physiques and have stronger immune systems. Just one single drop of breast milk contains around one million white blood cells (6). It has a large quantity of macrophages, which are a defense mechanism that envelope and devour germs. A baby who is born into the world is being constantly bombarded germs and bacteria. Breast milk contains something called immunoglobulin, or IgA, which functions as a lining agent for the intestines (6). IgA creates layers over the intestinal wall of an infant and prevents foreign elements from leaking into the bloodstream. Human milk fills in the gap between when the baby receives its first antibodies from the placenta and when the baby's own immune system starts to kick in. An antibody is made for each germ that the mother or child encounters and it is passed on through the milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics identifies breast-feeding as the ideal method of feeding and nurturing infants and as essential to child health, growth, and development (4). This is a miraculous biological process; each mother offers her child custom-made protection and nutrition.

With all of the stresses of parent hood in the world today, many people find breast-feeding to be entirely appealing. Corporations came up with a modern solution to solve every woman's problem: infant formula. Infant formula is a liquid substance that is seen by the general public as an acceptable replacement for breast-feeding. The infant formula industry is an $8 billion per year business (5). All over the world, advertising campaigns do everything that they can to convince women that formula is a healthy, viable, and more convenient alternative. What is in it? Is it even close in composition to the real thing? The answer is no. The main ingredients of most formulas contain whey (5). Whey, is a waste by-product. It is what is left over after certain dairy products like cheeses and yogurts are produced. Is it possible that manufacturers found a profitable way to utilize their waste products? Also present in most formulas is some form of oil; the most common ones are palm, coconut, and safflower oils. These oils are some of the cheapest oils that are available, many snack foods, like potato chips and movie theatre popcorn (5). There are also many vitamins and minerals present within the formula, but with these basic components, how can it be good for a newborn baby? In addition, many types of formula require someone to dilute it and if not done correctly health problems can result from over-diluted or under-diluted mixtures. Many companies spend an exorbitant amount of money in order to convince mother that it is easier to bottle-feed their infant formula than it is to breast-feed. Breast milk is one of the few foods that is produced and consumed without any pollution, packaging, or waste. On the other hand, the production and shipping of formula and bottles requires large amounts of our earth's resources, namely water, fuel, rubber etc. This definitely produces significant amounts of garbage. "It would take 135 million lactating cows just to substitute for all of the breast milk of the women of India: that many cows would require 43 percent of the surface of India to be devoted to pasture" (5).

There are many benefits and conveniences to breast-feeding. Breast-feeding is beneficial to both mother and child. Mothers who nurse their children have a much higher chance of returning to normal weight more quickly. Mothers who breast-feed also significantly reduce their chances of developing ovarian and premenopausal breast cancer (7). Breast-feeding is also good for the bones of the mother, bone remineralization improves dramatically during the breast feeding process (7). With so many benefits, it is worrisome to see how our culture treats such a natural process like breast-feeding as an inconvenience.

Human milk is more than just a food item. "It's a complex living substance, like blood, with a long list of active germ-fighting and health-promoting ingredients"(6). Are people really aware of the choices that they are making, or who is making the choices for them when they do something like decide not to breast-feed? Consumer culture is so quick to come up with substitutes and replacements for every little item and often these alternatives are seen as comparable and adequate options. Are we putting harmful things into the bodies of young children for the sake of convenience? When did issues of utility, availability, and expedience become more important than our well being? The ability for us to overlook the importance of things like breast-feeding has huge implications for how we see the world and how we live our lives. What does this mean for the future? Is the corporate "on the go" influence over what we're eating so strong that we forget the actual reasons why we do things like breast-feed? We should not overlook a biological process that is essential to the health and lives of our children. The stressful 9am to 5pm work mentality is dictating how we see the world and many times it is becoming all of what we see. As humans, we have to take a second away from the confusing consumer world and pay attention to the things that are preventing us from living in a way that makes sense on the simplest level.

WWW Sources

1) "Formula Label, Want a Scare?'

2) All about Breastfeeding Why Breastfeed?"

3) "Breast Milk" , A Los Angeles Magazine Article.

4) "Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk" (RE9729) American Academy of Pediatrics. 1997.

5) "A Baby's Best Nutrition"

6) "How Human Milk Protects From Illness"

7) "Why Breakfast is Breast"




| Back to Biology 103 | Back to Biology | Back to Serendip |

Send us your comments at Serendip
© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Monday, 07-Jan-2002 13:53:31 EST