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Controversy flares over USA challenge to World Health Organization breastfeeding resolution

13 July 2018

But in regard to this particular event, the President tweeted that "The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don't believe women should be denied access to formula".

This spring, US officials threatened trade consequences for Ecuador if the country introduced a resolution to the World Health Assembly to encourage breastfeeding, according to a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.

In response to the Times" story, Health and Human Services spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said "recent reporting attempts to portray the USA position at the recent World Health Assembly as "anti-breastfeeding' are patently false". In the end, the Times said, the Russians stepped in to introduce the measure - and the final resolution preserved most of the original wording.

It's not surprising, then, that there was an uproar when the New York Times reported on July 8 that the Trump Administration had tried to dilute a resolution at the World Health Assembly this spring that called on all nations to "protect, promote and support breastfeeding".

The story, first reported by the New York Times, has outraged public-health advocates because it flouts decades of public-health wisdom about the benefits of breastfeeding.

But Trump said that the Times left out some crucial information: namely, that the administration supports breastfeeding, but that it doesn't want to limit women's access to formula when they need it.

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Scientists are loath to carry out double-blind studies that would provide one group with breast milk and another with breast milk substitutes.

For instance, "mothers who must return to work shortly postpartum face enormous challenges in establishing lactation and continuing to breastfeed as recommended", she said. What is at stake: breastfeeding saves women and children's lives.

World Health Organization has long supported breastfeeding, and years of research has found breast milk to be healthier than other substitutes.

Oakley said, "The issues being debated were not about whether one supports breastfeeding".

Mothers breastfeeding their children.

Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, majority poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States. In war zones and during humanitarian crises, infant formula makes sense, said Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an author and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in this piece. The U.S. not only threatened them with sanctions but also withdrawing military aid.

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"A major risk of formula feeding in low-income settings is that the formula is available without the other safety precautions", Palmquist said.

Caitlin Oakley, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, told Newsweek in an emailed statement, "Recent reporting attempts to portray the USA position at the recent World Health Assembly as "anti-breastfeeding" are patently false".

The Times characterized the dispute at the World Health Assembly as "the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues". "It is also bad for the multibillion-dollar global infant formula (and dairy) business".

In third world countries, there is an added danger to babies from using infant formulas, which require water added, because 'levels of infectious disease are high and access to safe water is poor, ' a 2015 report from UNICEF found.

UNICEF and World Health Organization also recommend exclusive breastfeeding from within an hour of birth until the baby is 6 months old.

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Controversy flares over USA challenge to World Health Organization breastfeeding resolution