The politics of breastfeeding

The rabble podcast network offers an alternative take on politics, entertainment, society, stories, community and life in general. All opinions belong to the podcaster; however, podcasters are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new podcasters -- contact us for details.

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $1 per month!

Interviews with : Elisabeth Sterken, National Director, INFACT Canada (Infant Feeding Action Coalition), Frances Jones, Lactation Consultant, Program Coordinator Lactation Services, B.C. Women's and Children's Hospitals, and Coordinator of the B.C. Women's Milk Bank, and  Anne Simmonds, RN, PhD, Perinatal Nurse Consultant, Reproductive Care Program of Nova Scotia.  

It is estimated that 1.5 million babies die each year due to inappropriate feeding practices, while millions more suffer from malnutrition related to improperly mixed formula. In the United States and Canada, as the production and marketing of pharmaceutical infant formulas to health-care providers, hospitals, and mothers rapidly expanded, breastfeeding rates dropped to all-time lows, in some areas of Canada reaching as low as 20% in the 1970s and 1980s, and even lower by 6 months of age. With the commercialization of infant feeding, breastfeeding was no longer the norm, and the health of our babies and mothers was sacrificed on the altar of corporate profits.

In 1979 the World Health Organization, in partnership with UNICEF, drafted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which was subsequently passed at the 1981 International Health Assembly. This Code bans the promotion of bottle feeding and sets out labeling requirements for commercial infant feeding products with the aim of restricting the unnecessary use of formula; the Canadian Government endorsed the Code, but failed to adequately enforce it in the face of industry lobbying and opposition. Opening a 'second front' in the struggle to protect and promote breastfeeding, the Baby-Friendly Initiative was launched by WHO and UNICEF in the early 1990s to impact infant feeding at the level of health services. The initiative is a global effort to implement practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding by accrediting maternity and community health-care facilities and higher education institutions that have passed an external assessment. In Canada, B.C. Women's Hospital is the largest designated Baby-Friendly tertiary-care centre. And what is gained by the pharmaceutical and baby food industries at the expense of our babies and mothers? In 2005 the estimated world market for formula was 7.9 billion dollars. In 2009, Nestle Corporation, makers of Good Start formula, earned over 200 million from the sales of infant milks alone!

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.