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New York Legislators, Advocates Call Out Trump’s Efforts to Suppress Breastfeeding

Auditi Guha

“We should not be bullying other countries and attempting to water down resolutions that would recognize the importance of breastfeeding for infants and would work against misleading attempts to sell substitutes for a mother’s milk,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney.

New York legislators rallied Monday against United States delegates opposing a resolution to encourage breastfeeding at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in May.

“We should not be bullying other countries and attempting to water down resolutions that would recognize the importance of breastfeeding for infants and would work against misleading attempts to sell substitutes for a mother’s milk,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), a longtime advocate of breastfeeding, said at a press conference outside New York City Hall.

Maloney helped provide money to support breastfeeding through the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program; helped pass an act ensuring a right to breastfeed for people with low incomes; and a part of her breastfeeding promotion bill was signed into the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, according to a press release.

The Trump administration blocking a resolution that had the support of most, if not all, delegates to the World Health Assembly indicates corporate profits are more important than the well-being of people in the United States, said New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy, who opened the state’s first public lactation station.

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“As a husband and father of six children who has experienced firsthand the serious impediments nursing mothers face in safely and freely breastfeeding their children, I will not stand by while this administration puts billion-dollar companies’ profits ahead of the health of newborn babies and nursing moms,” he said in a statement.

Cornegy has helped increase the number of breastfeeding sites in New York City and advanced the rights of breastfeeding mothers there, according to a press release from Cornegy’s office. One of his bills was signed into law by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016.

Theresa Landau, chairperson of the NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council, Inc., told Rewire.News she was “outraged” United States representatives threatened to remove aid from Ecuador and other small nations if they did not withdraw the resolution. “While the resolution eventually passed, it was watered down and did not address infant formula and baby food marketing. We can never put corporate profits over the health and well being of any nation’s families,” Landau said. “Health care and government policies must always be free from industry influence.”

The $47 billion per year baby formula industry was accused last year by a consumer watchdog group of deploying “aggressive” marketing efforts to push formula on new parents across the world. “While companies claim that their products are informed by the ‘latest developments in nutritional science’, the wide variety of products on sale within and between countries and the efforts of companies to push expensive premium products call such claims into question,” the Changing Markets Foundation said in a report on the industry.

The health effects of breastfeeding are globally recognized. The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend infants are fed breast milk exclusively for six months after birth.

“When you breastfeed, you give your baby a healthy start that lasts a lifetime. Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby,” states the Office on Women’s Health website, an office under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But the Trump administration pushed back on the resolution that supported breastfeeding and discouraged misleading advertising for formula, and instead used its network of diplomats to pressurize member states, the Guardian reported. After widespread criticism and modified language, the resolution passed with support from the U.S. delegation.

Medical experts and maternal advocacy groups have expressed outrage at the Trump administration favoring a multibillion dollar formula industry over breast milk, which is known to protect against childhood diseases and infections.

“Members of MomsRising thought it was shameful, ridiculous, and flat-out wrong that our country came out opposing breastfeeding and that our country tried to remove the language asking governments to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director/CEO of MomsRising, tweeted.

Some researchers say campaigns promoting baby formula over breast milk led to an increase in infant death rates in developing countries and in the United States and has sparked worldwide controversy, as the New York Times reported.

“Breastfeeding is not only a lifestyle choice, but is a public health imperative. It is up to us as a society to support mothers and families in their breastfeeding journey,” she said. “Breastfeeding gives every baby a healthy start in liferegardless of their income status, ethnicity, race or religion.”

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