“Who celebrates moms who breastfeed? Nobody!” joked Pauline Sakamoto.
That’s why when National Breastfeeding Awareness Month rolled around this August, Sakamoto, who serves as executive director for Mother’s Milk Bank, an organization that collects mother’s milk from donors, was determined to change that.
Wednesday morning, the San Jose-based non-profit, which provides milk to premature infants and non-lactating mothers, set up tables in front of Comprecare Health Center, a Gardner Health Services clinic to host its first breast-milk drive in Silicon Valley. The effort to celebrate and raise awareness about breastfeeding comes amid increased efforts from U.S. formula brands to push alternative nutrition options for young infants.
“There’s so much evidence that human milk is so much better for babies,” said Sakamoto.
Staffers at the Gardner clinic came prepared to fight for breast-feeding moms armed with shirts reading “Milk Warrior,” and pamphlets that listed the benefits of breast milk over formula, which ranged from providing antibodies that fight disease, lowering the chances of the child developing conditions like asthma and allergies, to offering higher quantities of nutrients essential to a newborn.
The battle between formula and breast-milk was fought out in a United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly meeting last month, when the U.S. delegation attempted to block a resolution that would encourage mothers to breastfeed their infants. Countries like Ecuador argued that breast milk was the healthiest option for babies, and ultimately a resolution backed by Russia passed through assembly, despite surprising opposition from the United States.
Sakamoto attributes the controversy to formula companies wanting to get their market share back and the Trump administration’s support of big industry over public health. Breast-feeding advocates have been “building a great wave of interest,” said Sakamoto. “Formula companies admit that we’ve put a dent in their business.”
Mother’s Milk Bank, the sole provider of donated mother’s milk to hospitals all across California, doles out 550,000 ounces of milk to infants each year, enough to feed more than 300,000 infants in a year. Organizers hope the popularity of breast-feeding continues to increase.
Recently, with new legislation passed in Utah and Idaho, breastfeeding in public has been made legal in all 50 states. Laws aside, a stigma still remains, explained Sakamoto. “There are so many stories of moms being booed or taunted in public” when breastfeeding.
But it’s not just the stigma around public feeding that’s preventing more mothers from breastfeeding, explains Juan Escalante, a breastfeeding coordinator at Gardner Health Services.
“Women hear from family members or friends that say formula is better or easier,” said Escalate, but many don’t realize the extensive health benefits that breastfeeding offers not only the infant, but the mother as well. “When a mother is breastfeeding or pumping, they can lose 400-500 calories,” he said, “There’s also less of a risk of breast cancer.”
Susana Calderon came to Wednesday’s milk drive with her 3-week-old, Adrian, to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding. Calderon also donated milk.
Sakamoto explained that promoting breast-feeding among mothers could amount to $4 billion in cost savings as the health benefits provided by mother’s milk would decrease doctors’ office visits, infants with colds and flu, and a host of other health conditions.
Sakamoto hopes that increased awareness will encourage more mothers to donate breast-milk to Mother’s Milk Bank, which this past year received donations from more than 900 women, some of whom pumped at their Monterey Road location and many of whom sent donations in the mail.
Seeing mothers reach out to help others has been a highlight of her job, said Sakamoto. “This is the ultimate human story. You can’t get any better than this.”
Mothers fight for breast milk in Silicon Valley