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Breast vs. formula: U.S. opposition to breastfeeding resolution reignites debate

Breast isn't 'best' for every parent.


Alex Dalbey


Posted on Jul 9, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 11:38 am CDT

On Sunday, a report from the New York Times revealed how the U.S. attempted to block an international resolution supporting breastfeeding at the World Health Assembly in May. Now, a larger conversation has started online about how families should do what’s best for them when it comes to feeding their babies.

The breastfeeding resolution, based on decades of research that showed that breast milk is the healthiest food source for babies, also asked countries to put regulations on formula manufacturers to stop misleading and inaccurate marketing. It was expected to be a simple and easy resolution to pass; however, the U.S. delegation had different ideas.

The requested changes by the U.S. delegation included weakening a section that asked governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding.” It also wanted to water down a section asking governments to put restrictions on formula and baby food products. Ultimately, it appeared the U.S. was siding with formula manufacturers.


Asking to change and weaken the breastfeeding resolution was enough to raise eyebrows, but the U.S. delegation did not stop there. According to representatives from several countries in attendance, the U.S. turned on the smaller countries who were sponsoring the bill. Ecuador, who introduced the resolution, dropped its sponsorship when the U.S. threatened rigorous trade retaliation, as well as a promise to withdraw military aid. At least a dozen other mostly poor countries in Latin America and Africa ended up dropping their sponsorships of the bill for fear of retaliation as well.

Political motives of the Trump administration aside, the resolution has re-sparked the debate over breastfeeding versus formula. An anonymous spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human services said of the resolution to the New York Times, “We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.”

This sentiment, regardless of whether it was at the heart of the delegation’s proposed resolution block, was echoed by many online who feel judged by pro-breastfeeding activists. Breast is not always “best”; not every parent can breastfeed, due to body, time, or work constraints, and mothers often put pressure on themselves to meet this breastfeeding ideal when formula is available.

However, many still support the resolution because the adminsitration’s true reasons for condemning it seemed nefarious and financial.



In the end, Russia stepped in to sponsor the bill and the U.S. backed off most of its demands, leaving the resolution largely intact. Still, the U.S. delegations’ actions have again left the international community frustrated. In explaining why Russia stepped in to sponsor the resolution, a delegate said, “We feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world.”

H/T New York Times

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*First Published: Jul 9, 2018, 11:42 am CDT