Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to infections because at birth their immune system has not yet matured. Breastfeeding is a living fluid, providing anti-microbial substances such as lactoferrin and secretory IgA antibodies, while at the same time boosting the maturation of the infant's own immune system. Formula fed infants do not benefit from this protection because formula is a processed product and contains no live cells.
Furthermore, powdered infant formula (PIF) is not a sterile product and indeed "During production, PIF can become contaminated with harmful bacteria such as Enterobacter sakazakii and Salmonella enterica. This is because, using current manufacturing technology, it is not feasible to produce sterile PIF." (1) Enterobacter sakazakii, now renamed Cronobacter sakazakii, and Salmonella species are heat-resistant bacteria that can cause severe invasive infections such as meningitis and bacteraemia in newborns and older infants. Such infections are rare but can be fatal or result in long-term disability.
Chemical contamination of infant feeding equipment and utensils is of further concern. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals such as Bisphenol A and phthalates are found in certain plastics and can leach into prepared feeds and foods. Since infants are at a stage of rapid development, research evidence shows possible long-term negative health effects from fetal and postnatal exposure to these chemicals. Breastfeeding has been shown to provide beneficial effects to mitigate results of exposure.
Breastfeeding is environmentally friendly; producing zero waste and using no scarce natural resources such as water, land and raw materials. It is a valuable and renewable natural resource which comes straight from producer to consumer and requires no processing or transportation. Optimal breastfeeding practices contribute to spacing births and can help a mother plan her family when contraception is unavailable, unaffordable or unacceptable for religious or cultural reasons.
Formula feeding leaves a heavy ecological footprint which is demonstrated using indicators of use of scarce resources: water use for dairy farming and manufacturing; land use for raising cattle and growing soy; raw materials for packaging and energy for dairy farming, manufacturing and processing and transportation. In addition, formula feeding produces greenhouse gas emissions and non-biodegradable waste, contributing to global warming and polluting the environment.
For all these reasons, breastfeeding contributes to a healthier population, a healthier environment and to sustainable development. Optimal breastfeeding practices should be protected, promoted and supported as a key objective of the post-2015 Global Development Framework.
(1) Executive Summary, in 2007 WHO Guidelines on safe preparation, storage and handling of powdered infant formula: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/micro/pif_guidelines.pdf
and the 3 meeting reports of the WHO/FAO expert consultations on Enterobacter sakazakii and Salmonella:
This thematic discussion was led by FAO and WFP in collaboration with “The World We Want”.
The consultation was facilitated by the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)