America’s Dirty Little Secret

mire March 29, 2012 From the Pros 2 Comments

We in America have a dirty little secret. Our society protects the business of baby formula. It has gotten to the point where those who support and teach breastfeeding have been named in several recent articles as breastfeeding bullies and nipple Nazis. We have been accused of causing new mothers guilt for not choosing to breastfeed, and for judging mothers who choose to formula feed their infants.

I and every other breastfeeding advocate recognize the value of a readily available, affordable and accessible substitute for a mother’s own milk when necessary or desired by the mother. My concern is quality and long-term effects on both the mother and her infant(s). Commercially produced baby formulas have never been subjected to independent, randomized, double-blind, controlled studies to establish their safety as a food for babies. Because the companies say they are safe, and our government has deemed them safe, we have all bought into their assumed safe use in infants. This has resulted in a century-long experiment on babies and mothers. Without the benefit of informed consent.

What we have seen a lot of over the years are corporate sponsored studies that compare breastmilk (the experimental substance) against formula (the standard, or control substance). Results are usually predictable, with breastmilk coming out as the “better,” “ideal,” “perfect,” and “optimal” infant milk.

Perfect, ideal, and optimal are hard standards to reach. And “better,”……better than what? Oh, yeah, the norm, the standard, of formula. So, formula is the standard, and if you want to give your kid something better, knock yourself out and breastfeed. But, everyone else is going to formula feed, and we will train our doctors to use formula when breastfeeding becomes difficult or “fails” or falls short in some way. And we will train our judges that breastfeeding is just something extra that only the most committed mothers do and is not all that important to preserve, so that when a nursing mom requests that her infant not go away on weekend visits because it disrupts breastfeeding, the judge often sides with the non-nursing parent.

Formula is the standard that nursing moms must compete with when returning to work. When they request a private place to pump and, gasp, some time to go do it, they are considered to be pests in the workplace asking for special privileges. Oh, and don’t bother to travel away from your baby. You will have to pump to preserve your milk supply and provide milk for your baby at home. Good luck getting your precious and hard won milk through the TSA screening. And for heaven’s sake don’t take your baby out to a restaurant or mall or just about any other public place. You won’t know where, you won’t know when, but when it happens, you will know why – someone sees you doing it in PUBLIC and complains to the manager to make you stop.

At every turn, breastfeeders are derailed, undermined, harassed, and even accused of child abuse in some cases. If you have your baby in a hospital, you are highly likely to run into formula and its cultural place as king of the baby milks. If your baby gets jaundiced, give formula. If your baby loses weight, give formula. Baby in NICU? Highly likely your baby will get formula while you are struggling to pump those golden droplets of colostrum.

But what is the response when breastfeeding advocates present factual information about the dangers of formula feeding? We are accused of making the mothers who choose formula of feeling guilty. But by focusing on the issue of the ever-present mother-guilt, we ignore the elephant in the room. That is, that commercial baby formulas are made from the cheapest ingredients, not the best ingredients. That the reason formula companies give such lovely “gifts” to new moms is to ensure that a can of formula is in each and every home, in the hands of each and every woman who may be experiencing difficulties or challenges with breastfeeding. They are the ever-present saviors of overwhelmed mothers. This is exceptional marketing, not kindness, compassion or support. Marketing. Very effective marketing. Breast is best. But our formula is here for your when the going gets a little rough. We are here for you when you “fail.” And, boy do we make money from your failure. Lots of money. Billions of dollars each year.

When we concentrate on not making moms feel guilty, we deny her the opportunity to make informed decisions. We assume that she is too emotional to handle the facts. And we take the choice away from her. I think women can handle making decisions. I think they deserve to have all the information they need to make a decision. Do health care providers refrain from letting a pregnant smoker know the risks of smoking while pregnant? Do they refrain from telling a mom about using car seats and the correct way of using them? How about drugs? Don’t women get information about taking OTC, prescription and street drugs during pregnancy? Why then is discussing the risks of commercial formula off the table?

If a mother makes a decision to formula feed for any reason, there should be no need to discuss guilt. I am pretty convinced that mothers make the best decisions for themselves and their babies within the context of their knowledge and life story.

Once a mother finds out that commercial formulas are lacking, her energy would be much better spent being angry at the companies who duped her, not at breastfeeding advocates. If all of us began demanding that human milk be made available to everyone, that milk banks be established in every major city, and that more casual woman-to-woman milk-share programs be promoted, and at the very least that baby formulas be made with the highest quality ingredients available, then we would be on our way to a true solution that does not include guilt or protecting formula and those who manufacture it. It would likely lead to major empowerment of women and mothers.

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  1. Anthony June 21, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    What a sad situation for your frneid! Unfortunately, lots of doctors are not up-to-date about breastfeeding and simply choose to give medication that is not compatible with breastfeeding and tell the mother not to breastfeed rather than do the research to find one that is compatible. Or maybe in your frneid’s the case the doctor didn’t know she was breastfeeding?In any case, what’s done is done. Your frneid will have a difficult road ahead if she chooses to continue to breastfeed after such a long break. I think it’s commendable that she wants to try to get her baby back to the breast, since that is always what’s best for the baby. Your frneid should keep pumping as much as possible whie the baby is not nursing. She may find that the baby rejects the ****** when she offers it again, but don’t be discouraged. She might want to consider using an alternative feeding source while the baby is not nursing to help prevent nipple confusion which would result in the baby refusing the ****** after using bottles. I put lots of links at the bottom to help your frneid research her options keeping up the milk supply while the baby isn’t nursing, returning to the ****** after using bottles, and even relactation links in case her milk does dry up (she should be able to get the milk back if this happens, especially since her baby is so young). There are a lot of options out there to continue breastfeeding. She should continue to pump, but if she finds her supply is truly suffering when she tries to get her baby back on the breast, there are also a lot of resources for increasing her supply (like Mother’s Milk tea or Fenugreek, for example). Really, nothing stimulates a mother’s milk flow better than a baby, though!Also, your frneid should really consider getting in contact with La Leche League. These women are trained well, they are frneidly, knowledgable, and best of all FREE. They are often willing to come to your house to help you with a breastfeeding problem, and honestly I don’t think I would have made it as far as I have without their help and guidance. They might have some better resources for your frneid. I also put the link at the bottom for how to find your local LLL.Best of luck to your frneid and her baby, I hope everything works out alright for them!

  2. Joana June 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    i would just pump a few bottles and then feed baby bttoled breastmilk at night. formula will keep your baby alive but it is not healthy for a baby, so if you can breastfeed and get away from it stay away from it, besides your milk tastes good and formula is gross so the chances your baby will take formula at night aren’t very good. I will tell you though that it is really easy to snuggle baby in bed and lay your boob out and the baby will learn to latch on by itself and you can just roll over and switch when your other breast gets heavy. It is so easy. I have done this with 4 children and no one has ever had to get up with the baby. Once the baby doesnt need to eat at night, we put the baby to bed it his/her own crib. Daddy can take his turn feeding breastmilk out of a bottle during the day and I think that you will find that if you do NOT supplement with a bottle that you will have plenty of milk, however, if you supplement you will start having problems keeping up, especially in the beginning. Dr.s and WIC dont suggest you pump until baby is 6weeks old and your milk supply have been established. If you need more information, check out, Lalecheleague.org. Goodluck and Congratulations on choosing the best for your baby!