The U.S. government has unveiled a new advertising campaign to promote breast-feeding, after months of fierce lobbying to change its approach. In what has been called a battle between mother's milk and corporate power, the companies that make infant formula put intense pressure on the government to change its approach. The ads were sponsored by the government and produced by the Ad Council, a nonprofit group that produces, distributes and promotes public service announcements. The ads were set to be released last December, but some formula companies complained after getting an early sneak preview of the ads before they hit the airwaves.
"Many mothers simply cannot breast-feed, or cannot do so for as long as would be desired, or elect not to do so for persuasive reasons (often economic)" ??? " For our government to give all those mothers a guilt trip would just be appalling," stated lobbyist Clayton Yeutter in a letter obtained by ABC News.
"When you say 'not breast-feeding is risky,' what you're saying is 'using infant formula is risky,' and that is true and they know it," said Dr. Jay Gordon, a pediatrician in Santa Monica, Calif., and a member of the breast-feeding committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Gordon added that there is no substitute for human milk, with all of its immune system benefits for newborns.
Breast-feeding advocates say the science and the figures used in the proposed commercials were valid.
"The ad campaign is backed by scientific research, by good research," said Dr. Larry Gartner, the former chairman of pediatrics at the University of Chicago and the head of the breast-feeding committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In fact, a study released just last month by the National Institutes of Health found that babies who are not breast-fed have a 20 percent higher risk of death in the first year.
"There are risks to the baby who is not breast-fed in terms of getting ear infections, upper respiratory tract infections, certain forms of cancer," said Dr. Bobbi Philipp, a pediatrician at the Boston Medical Center and a breast-feeding expert for the American Academy of Pediatrics, who was involved in the ad campaign.
"I think it's a huge public health issue," said Philipp. "I think it's very similar to smoking in terms of the importance to health of the children and mother." Philipp added that there are live human cells in breast milk that can't be added to formula. "And the live cells protect against infection," she said.