National Nurses United Condemns Trump Administration’s Opposition to Breastfeeding Resolution
Breastfeeding Gold Standard for Baby and Mother Health, Say RNs; Opposition Shows “Lack of Understanding”
National Nurses United, the largest U.S. union of registered nurses, strongly condemned the U.S. administration’s opposition to an international resolution encouraging breastfeeding—which nurses say is an attempt by the administration to kowtow to a profit-seeking infant formula industry, while ignoring science and jeopardizing the health of babies and mothers around the globe.
“By refusing to lead the way on this family affirming, uncontroversial resolution, the Trump administration is sending a message to the world that the U.S. government does not care about babies, mothers or science,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. “Breastfeeding is unquestionably seen as the clinical gold standard for infant and mother health, not only by the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but by nurses around the world who care for mothers and babies every single day.”
Nurses point out that breastfed infants have a reduced risk of asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, ear and respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome. Meanwhile, mothers who breastfeed can experience lower risk of negative health impacts including heart disease, ovarian and breast cancer. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond infancy into childhood and all the way into adulthood, with significant physical and emotional benefits for mothers, as well.
And while President Trump has defended U.S. opposition to the breastfeeding resolution in a tweet citing formula as a way to address “malnutrition and poverty,” nurses point out that formula has been a cause of malnutrition in areas of the world where it is impossible to mix it with clean water or in clean bottles, or where it is priced out of reach of mothers who are unable to breastfeed.
In fact, nurses point out research has shown the six big manufacturers of baby formula—Nestle, Danone, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Abbott, FrieslandCampina and Heinz—have aggressively marketed their extremely lucrative baby formula products, with little science backing up their nutritional claims, in order to increase corporate profits. Meanwhile, studies have shown that promoting breastfeeding has actually proven to be best way to prevent malnutrition (the underlying factor contributing to the main causes of death for children under five).
“Women have to breastfeed their infants in countries where the access to clean water is problematic. Why would we encourage any mother to use powdered formula with dirty water? That would be a death sentence,” said NNU Vice President and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit RN Cathy Kennedy, who says Trump’s tweet shows a “lack of knowledge about breastfeeding.”
“We have always encouraged our mothers to provide expressed breast milk for their infants,” said Kennedy. “For our micro-preemies, if the mother is not producing any breast milk, we will get permission to give donor breast milk up to 32-34 weeks gestation, when the infants can then begin actual breastfeeding. We know that there are significant benefits to breastfeeding that impact the health and wellbeing of the infant.”
“I have worked with moms and babies for close to 35 years, and breastfeeding is simply healthier,” said Labor and Delivery RN Thorild Urdal. “It doesn’t cost any money, and especially in areas where there is no availability of clean water, where you may not be able to sterilize a bottle, it just makes sense. If there’s a medical reason why a mother can’t nurse, of course formula is an option, but if not, we were intended to nurse our babies. Science totally backs that up as a healthier option for both mothers and infants.”
“In the U.S., we already have an environment that does not promote breastfeeding. We have no guarantee for a decent maternity leave, while women in other countries have longer leaves of absence and guaranteed breastfeeding breaks at work,” Urdal continued. “Because we already have lots of obstacles in the U.S. for optimal breast feeding that other industrialized countries to do not have, I just find it outrageous that we can’t even support this simple, common sense breast feeding resolution.”
With reports that the Trump administration has put pressure on countries that did support the breast feeding resolution, reportedly threatening sanctions on Ecuador, for example, RNs say the U.S. government can and must do better.
“Nurses have consistently ranked as the most trusted profession in the U.S. Trust us when we say that to uphold the good health of moms and babies around the globe, the Trump administration must reverse its position and actively support and promote breastfeeding,” said Castillo. “It is shameful to prioritize corporate profits over the health and safety of our tiniest, most vulnerable patients and their mothers.”