SHOULD our baby be breast-fed or bottle-fed ? Every year this question is discussed in about 2,200,000 American homes. On the answer depends the kind of care the child will be given. Although the feeding of babies particularly interests mothers and physicians, it concerns all of us, both as human beings and tax- payers. For the attention received by the child is largely responsible for the quality of the tissues and the soul of the adult. Ultimately, the childs development as a happy and efficient member of society may depend largely on whether it is bottle- or breast fed.
Artificial feeding is admittedly convenient for the mother, and advantageous to the physician. Its technique is well developed. Its results, frequently excellent. Bottle feeding is especially successful when mothers are intelligent, or when well-trained nurses can be employed. Therefore, pediatricians, and some obstetricians in expensive maternity hospitals realizing that their patients expect such advice often feel justified in advocating artificial feeding.
Nevertheless, public health officials, as well as most obstetricians and the competent general practitioners who deliver the majority of babies, prescribe breast feeding as the ideal. Modern treatises on childrens diseases, in Europe and the United States, teach the same doctrine. All over the country, child welfare clinics are in favour of maternal milk.
The Childrens Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labour has issued excellent instructions for breast feeding. In a letter sent to new mothers of the city, the New York Health Commissioner proclaims that mothers milk is the babys birthright. On many important subjects the leaders in medicine disagree. But about breast feeding they are unanimous. They believe, first, that no perfect substitute for mothers milk has been found. Second, that almost every woman is capable of nursing her young.
But all woman are not convinced of the superiority of breast feeding. In the upper-income group, about 90 per cent of the children are selfishly denied maternal milk. In contrast, the number of children in the lower-income groups who are artificially fed is perhaps not above 10 to 40 per cent.
The traditional knowledge of the care of babies, transmitted from mother to daughter for many generations, is now extinct among large groups of society. Modern mothers are ignorant of physiological functions and infant nutrition. They listen too willingly to doctors, husbands, or well-meaning friends when advised to wean their child. They should think for themselves about the true significance of breast feeding.
The child, while in the womb, is one with the mother and all the organs of her body. After birth this relationship is intended to last, although less intimately, for several months. Mother and child still remain inter-dependent. Although separate in space, they are united by many chemical, physiological, and mental bonds. Obviously, this union is weakened when a bottle is substituted for the breast.
The breast is a faultless distributor, as well as manufacturer, of milk. On the apex of the nipple are the openings of fifteen or twenty narrow ducts. These ducts dilate into reservoirs under the dark area of the breast. They finally expand into pocket-shaped alveolus lined with cells. These cells are responsible for the manufacture of milk. An extensive network of capillary vessels rich in blood supply surrounds the alveolus. For the making of one ounce of milk the passage through these capillaries of 300 to 400 ounces of blood is required.
The breast is not an isolated phenomenon; its activity depends on that of other organs. During pregnancy the milk-manufacturing alveolus develop. Their growth is produced by substances set free by the ovary. At the end of pregnancy the order to start making milk is given to the alveolus by the pituitary gland located at the base of the skull. In its turn, the breast exerts a marked influence on uterus and ovaries. Suckling brings about rhythmic contractions of the uterus. It helps the recovery of this organ after childbirth. And lactation causes menstruation to cease.
Milk-making cells, nipple, blood vessels, nerves, ovary, uterus, pituitary gland, and other glands, are the co-operating parts of a complex functional system. Thus the breast is not a mere ornament, to be modified in shape and size according to the fancy of the dressmakers. It is intended both for the optimum development of the child and the welfare of the mother. In suppressing its activities, white women show still less intelligence than did Chinese women when they prevented the normal growth of their feet.
The nipple is perfectly adapted to the lips and tongue of the baby. Most rubber teats are nothing but caricatures of it. The act of suckling requires contractions of the muscles of the face, the tongue and neck, alternative movements of the lower jaw, and breathing through the nose. At the same time, the infant presses the breast with its little hands, as puppies do with their paws, in order to increase the flow of milk. Suckling is a hard task. It is the first physical effort to which man is subjected. This efforts brings about the optimum development of the jaws, the nose, and the roof of the mouth. It enhances the beauty of the visage and the quantity of the voice.
Feeding from a bottle resembles aspirating fluid through a tube. Milk is absorbed by the child passively and rapidly. As rubber nipples are generally too long, they do not fit the mouth well. If better designed, they would allow the process of suckling to take place in a more normal manner. But the modern nipple, which permits the milk literally to ooze into the infants stomach is stupidly prized by the careless nurse or hurried mother because it shortens the time spent in feeding the child.
At the end of pregnancy, the breast sets free a yellow fluid, Colostrum. Colostrum contains substances that protect the child against infection. On the second day after birth, lactation begins. Lactation requires suckling and complete emptying of the breast. It is a striking fact that the amount of milk secreted by the breast increases with the needs of the child. It varies from a few ounces during the first days to 1.5 and even quarts after eight months.
Its composition is also adjusted to the requirements of growing human tissues. Womans milk contains proteins of the same nature as those constituting the body of the child. These proteins never bring about the changes in reactivity, called allergy, which cow milk may produce on account of its foreign nature.
The amount of protein, phosphorus and calcium contained in mothers milk is more precisely adjusted to the childs requirements than any artificial formula can possibly be. As the child develops, its rate of growth decreases. Simultaneously, mothers milk undergoes a corresponding reduction in proteins and salts. In sum, the breast precisely adjusts the quantity and the composition of the milk to the changing needs of the infant. Like all living organs, it reaches its complex end with marvellous accuracy.
Such harmony does not exist between the chemical requirements of the infant and the composition of cow or goat milk. Cow milk contains too large an amount of protein and inorganic salts, and lacks iron. It is not digested as easily as human milk. It contains many bacteria, and must be pasteurized, which deprives milk of some of its qualities. Even drawn human milk is believed to be less beneficial than milk suckled directly from the breast. However, when cow milk is diluted with water and milk sugar is added, it becomes an excellent food for children, in spit of its defects. The body is endowed with a marvellous power to adapt itself to new conditions.
Breast feeding exerts a manifold influence on infants. First, it reduces mortality. In a survey of 20,000 children made in Chicago by Dr. Clifford G. Grulee, the mortality of the artificially fed children was ten times greater than that of those breast-fed. In England, a sustained breast-feeding campaign has brought about a 66 per cent decrease in the death rate of infants during the past thirty years. If your baby is breast-fed, it has from three to ten times a better chance of surviving that dangerous first year!.
Second, the occurrence of diseases is also decreased. All physicians agree on this point. In the statistics compiled by Dr. Grulee, 64 per cent of the artificially fed children were affected with diseases of the lungs, throat, stomach and intestines during the first year. But only 37 per cent of the breast-fed children became ill during this period.
Third, to aspirate milk from a bottle through a rubber nipple of the type generally used is not equivalent to breast suckling. It does not have the same formative influence on the face and throat. Artificial feeding is partly responsible for the protruding upper jaw, recessed chin, ill-formed nose, flattened mouth arch, which many children display today.
These malformations cause defective dentition, and predispose to infections of the tonsils, pharynx, ears, and sinuses. It is highly probable that breast suckling considerably reduces the bills to be paid later to dentists and to nose and throat specialists.
Fourth, many physicians believe that breast feeding gives to children not only better health, but also greater bodily endurance and nervous equilibrium. There are people, as is well known, who are never ill, resist infectious disease, and completely ignore physicians, surgeons, and hospitals.
Generally these people, when infants, were fed on human milk. Such a high degree of health depends on peculiar qualities of the tissues and the blood. And these qualities of the tissues and the blood. And these qualities come not only from hereditary tendencies, but also from the food and care given to the child during the formative period.
How does nursing affect mothers? Lactation and suckling are natural functions. If performed with appropriate care, their effects ought to be beneficial. We know that breast feeding contributes to achieving the physical and mental development of women.
The breast suffers no ill effect from lactating activity. After weaning, the gland decreases in size and regains its normal shape. But proper attention, in particular adequate support, should be given to it before and during lactation. Sagging breasts are the result of insufficient care and defective nutrition not of the actual suckling of the young. If trained by wise physicians, women keep their beauty even after having suckled several babies.
Inflammation of the nipple and abscesses of the breast can easily be prevented by medical supervision. Suckling has never been shown to predispose the glands to cancer.
When mothers have proper food, rest, and exercise, their health is distinctly improved by nursing their baby. After childbirth, the contractions of the womb brought about by suckling prevent the occurrence of haemorrhage. Also they help the organ to return to its normal condition. As menstruation ceases, breast activity gives a period of rest to the ovaries. Proper diet during lactation is most important.
Physicians should devote more time to searching for a proper diet for nursing women than for artificial milk formulas. While feeding their babies, mothers learn a great deal about how to live. Also about the ill effects of tobacco, alcohol, and coffee, which enter the blood and directly affect the child. They have to lose many bad habits. They cannot afford to be nervous or temperamental. An intelligent woman derives great profit from suckling in connection with her present and future health.
Breast feeding, as is well known, is a hard and monotonous task. For a few months, the mother becomes the slave of the child, who has to be fed at three or four-hour intervals. At the same time, she must attend to her household duties. She needs strict self- discipline.
She has less time for outside work, social obligations, travelling, recreation. In exchange, she is given the priceless opportunity of learning selflessness and love. She also has the joy of giving more health, strength, and beauty to her baby. That is, the capacity for a happy life. Although love is not self-seeking, she prepares her own happiness in this manner. For most of the sorrows of parents come from, the physical and mental defects of their offspring.
Why are so many children compelled to feed from a bottle instead of the breast of their mother ? It is said that seven out of ten babies in maternity hospitals are weaned within two weeks. Should physicians or mothers be incriminated for this state of affairs ? While obstetricians advise breast suckling, knowing how important it is to the mothers convalescence, pediatricians catering to the well-to-do do not favour it so much as they should. Women have an exaggerated predilection for bottle feeding. Especially when they are well-to-to. For what reason is breast feeding so often discontinued ?.
According to Dr. Henry Dietrich of Los Angeles, fifty different reasons were considered as valid excuses in 370 cases for depriving children of their mothers milk. Some of the reasons were insufficient or defective milk-failure of the baby to gain weight, weakness of the mother, cracked nipples, and “social duties”. As a matter of fact, these excuses are not valid. Ninety per cent of mothers are able to nurse their babies. Only pregnancy, tuberculosis, cancer, and a few other diseases absolutely prevent breast feeding.
The true reasons for giving up breast feeding are both physiological and moral. Modern women are not prepared by their education and habits of life for maternity and its consequences. They are not taught the functional significance of the breast.
They are allowed to contract absurd dietary habits. Thus, during pregnancy and lactation, they do not absorb the food indispensable for abundant milk production. No scientific care is taken of nipples and breast, which should have gentle applications of lanolin from time to time all during pregnancy. Mothers do not realize that breast feeding is, like child-bearing itself, an essential organic function. They are ready to be humoured by over-zealous pediatricians into bottle feeding.
Many mothers believe their work, their career, their social pleasures are more important than the care of their children. They do not understand that their primary duty is motherhood.
Some years ago, a young mother pitied herself in Parents Magazine because doctors did not consider the price of breast milk ” in terms of her own time and energy !” No one has ever lamented about the infinite amount of time and energy spent in producing a masterpiece in art, science, engineering, or any other activity. No mother should complain of her hardships. Is not a heal thy child the supreme masterpiece ?.
Actually, modern women are the victims of economic and mental environment. Society has grown without regard for biological laws. Especially for the law of race propagation. Girls are given no sense of the purpose and significance of their life. They are educated like boys. They are given no different status in the community. They have to support themselves as men do.
How can factory and office workers, schoolteachers, lawyers, physicians, business women, pleasure-seeking society women, suckle babies even for three or four months, which is the minimum period desirable ? Besides, hygiene has put a heavy burden on the shoulders of mothers. Minute attention is imperative for the optimum development of children. Today, more than at any other period in the history of civilization, there is urgent need for a youth strong in body and mind.
Should babies be breast-fed, or bottle-fed ? Under its deceptive simplicity, this question profound significance. It requires an answer from mothers and physicians. Also from each man and woman in the nation. Ultimately, from democratic society itself. In nursing her child, the mother fulfils her high duty with regard to the community. But the community must give her the educational, moral, and material help indispensable to the fulfilment of this duty.