Prescription only baby formula proposal

It has been known and recommended for some time now that breast milk is the best food for a new born. However for mothers who cannot breast feed, this has been a serious issue related to guilt and anguish. The controversy took a new turn as a Melbourne doctor of midwifery called for infant formula to be made available only by prescription. RMIT University expert Dr Jennifer James wants infant formula banned from supermarket shelves.

For her this move is not about making mothers guilty but to help them by ensuring that they see health professionals when problems arise. She said many new mothers have trouble initiating and/or maintaining breast feeding and despite the knowledge of what good breast milk can do for the baby opt for formula. She also pointed out that many mothers give up too soon on breast feeding due to problems like pain, lack of milk or when their baby fails to properly attach. It is for these mothers that professional help can do wonders.

She said, “It's about looking at ways of ensuring that women get the support and the education they need when they need it…Having to get some sort of prescription ... then the woman is sitting with a health professional who can go through her breastfeeding problems and set up a plan of action to help her achieve her goal of successfully breastfeeding her baby.” She urged women to give breastfeeding their best shot before switching to formula. She added, “Artificial formulas have to meet food safety standards, but they are at best basic nutrition. They don't provide anywhere near what a mother's own breast milk can provide…So they're a substandard product. We know that children that aren't breastfed exclusively for at least six months run, have higher incidences of chronic disease in the long term.”

In yet another study in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health a major factor contributing to a woman's decision to breastfeed was the attitude of the father, being either pro- or anti-breastfeeding.

This proposal by Dr. James has stirred up controversy. The editor of Practical Parenting Magazine, Mara Lee, says the proposal is outrageous and deplorable. She said, “What this move will do is further promote the notion that formula is poison and is not safe for infants and mothers shouldn't have access to it…What that does to mothers who are already struggling with guilt, with fatigue, with mastitis, with babies who simply aren't being sustained by breastfeeding is it's making them feel that they have no choice and locking them into a cycle of despair….That to me is pretty deplorable. I already see enough mums who are really struggling to make feeding work and I don't think we should be trying to make it harder.”

The Australian Medical Association also did not agree with Dr. James. AMA Victoria president Harry Hemley said requiring a prescription for infant formula would be very inconvenient for new mothers. Dr Hemley said, “There's no doubt that new mothers need more support to make sure their children are as fit and healthy as possible…Breast feeding is the best option for most new mothers, but not for everyone.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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  1. S Wilson S Wilson Australia says:

    "In yet another study in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health a major factor contributing to a woman's decision to breastfeed was the attitude of the father, being either pro- or anti-breastfeeding."

    That would be right
    Now men getting blamed for a lack of breastfeeding???

    What Next?
    Probably be blamed for menstruation
    Give us a break.........

  2. s s Australia says:

    Does this have anything to to with the fact that 48.6% of women in private hospitals have caesarean sections vs 27.6 in the public?

    There are lots of good reasons why a mother finds it difficult to breastfeed but could it just be a little too hard for some!

  3. Woomera Woomera Australia says:

    "Expert Dr Jennifer James"?

    Good grief how many more stupid people want to invade a woman's home, women have been looking after their babies for 1000's of years and right or wrong it is up to THEM to do it how they think best.

    Jennifer go find a new job, I suggest a family.      

    • Peter Johnson Peter Johnson Australia says:

      Yes indeed Woomera - women have been looking after babies for thousands of years WITHOUT baby formula being promoted to them as being equivalent or better than breast milk. I hardly think Jennifer James is invading anyone's home. She is merely pointing out the problems with baby formula being substituted too readily for breast milk and suggesting that it be restricted so that a health care professional be consulted if a woman IS having problems breast feeding. This works well in other countries I have lived in.

    • Peter Johnson Peter Johnson Australia says:

      How do you know Jennifer James does not have a family?

    • Peter Johnson Peter Johnson Australia says:

      Should freedom also include the access to powerful and potentially dangerous medications, for example the inappropriate and uninformed use of steroids by untrained people? Of antibiotics? Is having certain substances restricted to be used by trained persons a dictatorship? Should children have the freedom to carry firearms? This discussion has nothing to do with freedom.

      And as to how you arrive at the conclusion that she is childless and a dragon-lady is astounding. And of course it's a crime to be childless.

  4. Jem Jem Australia says:

    This is by far the most stupidest idea I have ever heard.. I mean, it would practically be like a dictatorship if suddenly you have to be perscribed formula to feed your baby. If anything, it's a money making scheme, as I assume seeing these 'professionals' will cost at least a consultation fee.

    Gosh. What happened to 'freedom'? Bah ...
    Women who choose to use formula have their own reasons, and I am a firm believer in the right to having a personal choice. I'm just surprised it was a woman who suggested this ridiculous idea in the firts place.

    I'm picturing a dragon-lady, childless woman.

  5. Jodi J Jodi J Australia says:

    How dare you or any other so called "Expert" tell Mothers how they will feed their child.

    In my opinion(and of course I'm no expert)as I am only a Mother to 3 VERY HEALTHY young adults, Breastfeeding is completely over rated.

    My Mother had 5 children and all of us were formula fed, but guess what? Not one of us has ever had a chronic illness. Fancy that.
    Nor has any of my children.

    I have seen so many women struggle to breastfeed, because of the pressure put onto them by people like you. They are unhappy Mothers with very unhappy babies.

    My advice to all is if you CHOOSE to breastfeed and both you and bubs are happy then great, however if bubs is not happy and continues to cry and will not settle, then try a good formula. You may be surprised at what a difference it will make to both of you. Most of all, remember it is YOUR BABY and nobody has the right to tell you what to do. So whatever your decision, do it guilt free, because babies do not become ill simply due to the fact they were formula fed.

    I guess some people just get caught up in their own self importance.

    • anneh anneh United States says:

      I think it's sad that people think formula can replace a mother's milk. Once you hold your baby to your breast and have that skin to skin contact you will know why breastfeeding is best, it's not just about the milk. Although frankly the crap they put in formula is not something I want my baby to have.

  6. MrT MrT Australia says:

    Stupid comments again made by a know all in nothing.  I as a male am offended at this.  I believe all this pressure on women is a major contributor to post natal depression, do a study on that. If that can be proved imagine the legal ramifications for the medical profession in the backlash of women who sue.  This Doctor needs to put a sock in it.

  7. Fran Fran Australia says:

    Would Dr Jennifer James make such a suggestion if she did in fact have children of her own?! I highly doubt it! Higher incidences of chronic disease in the long term - concluding this from what study? How accurate can this possibly be when it's a sample population only!

    When are these so-called professionals going to start actually giving a hoot for the mothers? It is all about the babies and what you as a Mother are doing wrong... c'mon people, healthy Mother, healthy child!

  8. h h United Kingdom says:

    Due to the obsessiveness of midwives to breastfeed and being unable to my new born ended up in the special baby unit through dehydration feeding through a tube. Formula has made her see her first birthday!

  9. J Pato J Pato Australia says:


  10. Double D Double D Australia says:

    Breastfed babies have higher IQ's if they have a certain gene, Formula doesn't have all the necessary fatty acids.

    That's not to say that in future new formula's won't be able to replicate it though.

    Natural way is always better if it's possible to do so, Who is to say by all of these artificial products we now use in this day and age may possibly be making the human gene pool weaker and thus leading to more problems in future generations?   Only time will tell!

    • slipperyjim slipperyjim Australia says:

      Everyone knows that natural is best. As for the human gene pool, it is constantly getting weaker and being degraded. How can the gene pool do anything but loose? Is there some magic potion that adds excellent NEW dna?????? You misguided person. Please go and live naturally.

  11. jennifer jennifer Australia says:

    What ever happend to a women making her own mind up.. And as for feeding babies years ago, well they used to use boiled cows milk, and Goats milk, i was raised on it, my mother was raised on goats milk, I am a mother of 7 children, they are healthy kids, raised on formula, i am a stay at home and i choose not to breast feed, i just didnt have the milk, tryed for 2 weeks my little girl almost died, because the nurses and the doc, pushed for breast, while i was made to feel totaly loveless and not a good mother by these ppl, you couldnt have gotten any more milk out of me even if  you pumped it thru a tube,it just wasnt there. its not fair that ppl push breast all the time, i never liked it at all i hated it...... and im glad that i didnt go the breats way, i went the way that was right for my 7  children  they are the most important ppl, and as a mother you just know , what next ppl are we going to ban milk from the supermarkets as well, because mothers give that to their children as well... this hole thing dosnt make sense, just something that the docs and goverment can keep and eye out on all of us.....wake up leave it alone let the real ppl do their jobs and that job is doing what is best for the kids......

  12. slipperyjim slipperyjim Australia says:

    Look, wouldn't it be nice to be treated like an intelligent responsible adult for a change. But instead again we see those who can, treating the population like a bunch of stupid children. We are not all idiots, most Australian's would know that breast milk is better than formula, and thats not to say formula is bad. It's just not as good as the milk that God intended. No two womens experiences in breast feeding are alike, and many Women find breast feeding very hard if not impossible. Why penalize everyone for yet another "tree hugging" ideal that has no basis. Half of Australia has been raised on formula for genuine reasons, including my children and I without any problems AT ALL. BUT OUT! Have some kids of your own and stop making moronic laws for every thing!

  13. Nicole Nicole Australia says:

    Take your noses out of our business.  There are many reasons for a woman to bottle feed, none of them are your business.  

    Stop adding stress to an already stressful situation for a lot of women.  Mind your own business and let us continue to decide what is right for our children.

  14. HM HM Australia says:

    Whilst I can understand what the good Dr is trying to achieve - it is always the unintended consequences that cause the problems.  What about a situation where a mother dies and the male partner is left to care for the child alone?  Does that individual have to go to the added expense of getting a prescription for formula?  Of course that ridiculous but the reality could be that if the proposal became law then it could happen.

    The other issue is how the formula is defined.  An item can only be via prescription only if it is 'medication'.  Infant forumla is most likely a food not a 'medication'.  The complexity goes on and on...

    • Adrianne Adrianne United States says:

      There is actually a category called medical foods - these can be covered under insurance, some examples would be specialized nutritionally dense foods for those with metabolic disorders. Actually, these products are also manufactured by formula companies. Currently, formula is categorized outside of food in a category called "exempt infant formula".

  15. HAL HAL Australia says:

    I have to wonder whether Dr. James has children? I'm a childless singleton and I find her comments enfuriating. Frankly, she comes off as an unrealistic dictator rather than a caring physician. I can certainly appreciate the need for health care professionals to liase with and support mothers and fathers more but making formula a prescription will only worsen the situation. Too many individuals and institutions think they know it all when it comes to child birth and raring. IMO each individuals experience is different - people need options and support not chastising!

  16. Combination Feeder Combination Feeder Australia says:

    Make infant formula hard to get as to ensure that a woman seeks the proper medical help????  Are we all ignoramuses who can't think or make decisions for ourselves?? I have 2 children and have never found a shortage of info, or help on breastfeeding if I wanted it! I can decide this for myself without someone forcing this decision on me! What are we all stupid?! To take away a woman’s option and force her to consult a doctor while her baby is suffering and mom is a nervous wreck is degrading, despicable, and unconscionable! This is wrong on so many levels! How often does Jennifer James have food readily available to her to eat when she gets hungry! Is all the food she shoves in her pie hole the purest of the pure? Does she consult a doctor before she eats!  She should step down as she has suggested something that would raise postpartum depression rates, and be nothing short of infanticide!

  17. Sara Snow Sara Snow United States says:

    All of you ladies need to wake up and see that she is not saying these things out of maliciousness but out of concern. I encourage all of you to do some research and find out just how extremely toxic infant formula is for babies because then maybe you would understand why the Dr. is saying such a bold statement. The truth is that formula is one of the things that is making Americas children so damn sick!! Wake up there is a connection between all the sickness, disease, and nutrition, I just hope some of you realize it before its too late. The FDA does not care about your children they only care about money, and they won't make money off of women who breast feed. And they don't care if your children are getting sick and dying  from things they are making money off of either. Please do some research so that you will understand.

    • whocares whocares United States says:

      Honey your an idiot, sorry but your comment all you women, what about us men in this forum supporting freedom of choice for our partners. I take it your against gay adoption too. You listen to your propaganda fueled argument, 5 kids in my family none ever sick all above average IQ, with high profile jobs. End of day reality is fact all arguments on which is best are theory based. The truth that is not a theory is a well fed baby is all that matters, loved cared, fed, simple fact. In addition if my parter is not stressed then neither are my babies. I also believe all this attitude forcing opinion and making women feel a failure causes post natal depression.

  18. Send Formula to Starving African Babies! Send Formula to Starving African Babies! Australia says:

    Bases on the comments by Sara Snow of the U.S. I guess all the infant formula that my friends are feeding their infants in an African orphanage is "toxic" too! I'm wondering why there isn't a pandemic of sick babies filling up hospitals in Australia and America from "toxic" formula poisoning? There are many women returning to see their doctors, midwives, etc... with complications related to breastfeeding! Sara, what a damn ignorant statement to make, and Jennifer James can stuff it!

  19. Meatpopsicle Meatpopsicle Australia says:

    This is an insult to a woman's right to choose how to raise her own child, not to mention putting even more guilt, shame and pressure on new mothers to successfully breastfeed if they so choose. I hope Jennifer James intends to revolutionise the Australian medical system as well so that women don't have to wait 3 business days for an appointment with their doctor, or can access at-home midwife care, counselling and breastfeeding consultants on demand under Medicare with no restriction. Or maybe she'd just like to join the real world some time.

  20. Frannie Frannie Australia says:

    Next we are going to need a prescription for disposable nappies am I right?? I do not think anyone has the right to tell mothers how and when to feed THEIR babies. I have breast fed all 3 of my children, I am one of the women who can produce but not everybody can. Do you realise how stressful it is especially when you are trying to settle 2 older children while trying to get your baby to suckle?? With no luck then waiting with your screaming baby for hours at the doc for a prescription to get formula?? stupid people

    What about fathers whose wives die giving birth?? The children that are orphaned after accidents?? WAKE UP to yourselves you all sound like control freaks back off and let mothers and fathers do what THEY think is best for THEIR children!!

    ALSO formula does not give your children allergies asthma skin problems etc its a gene carried on the females side that causes this. All 3 of my sons have asthma and skin allergies seeing as they were all BREAST FED I don't see how formula is the cause!

  21. Melissa Melissa United States says:

    I think this is a fabulous idea! Women can still get formula if they absolutely have to, but it will push women to actually try to breastfeed, rather than just give up so easily when it doesn't go exactly as expected. I hope this get's passed!

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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