FFF Friday: “Aren’t we all in this together?”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I   hope we can all give them the space to do so.

FFF Sarah’s submission is a wonderful document of what she calls a “regular breastfeeding failure”. I know I related to a lot of it, and I’m sure many other women out there will as well. But what I love most about Sarah’s essay here is her inclusion of a wider perspective – she alludes to the social and employment characteristics of so many women who feel the heaviest breastfeeding pressure, and speaks of the historical context of breastfeeding “failure”. And she also brings up my biggest pet peeve – the fact that the biggest perpetuators of the war against women is none other than women ourselves.

Happy Friday, fearless ones…

I have been a regular reader of your blog for several months now and am a proud to be among the ranks of other Fearless Formula Feeders.  As I read through other FFF’s stories, I find that I have a pretty typical breastfeeding failure and I think this is what angers me the most about pro-breastfeeders, the very real and VERY common failure to produce enough breastmilk.
A little background: At 36, I became pregnant for the first time.  I had a normal, healthy pregnancy. I am a healthy, adult woman with no previous history of medical or emotional trauma.  I am, your average, adult, professional working American woman.
I went 40+4 before I went into labor and after 36 non-epidural hours (NOT my choice) and 4 blissful epidural hours, I had a non-emergency c-section.  I never desired to have an unmedicated birth and had no hang ups about having a c-section. Afterward, the doctor assured me that there was no one he was ever coming out the natural way.  Hooray for modern medicine!
As far as breastfeeding was concerned, I figured I would give it a try but certainly didn’t fall into the ‘breast is best at all costs’ mentality.  My husband and I even took the “Infant Feeding” class that was pretty much a pep rally for breastfeeding and nothing else, but hey, it’s what all the cool kids are doing, so why not!
After my son was born, he latched great.  Four visits from two different hospital lactation consultants assured me that everything was going well.  By day three I was starting to get a little concerned that he didn’t seem to be urinating as much as the nurse would like, but he keep having bowel movements and no one else seemed concerned.
Four days after delivery, we came home.  My milk had not come in.  I’m sure you can guess the next part of the story.  2:00am, screaming child, no milk, latch, unlatch, scream, latch, unlatch, scream, latch, unlatch, scream.  Sample can of formula opened and my child was instantly satisfied.  The guilt, which I promised myself I would not have, set in.  Oh, I forgot to mention that upon discharge, my son was still jaundiced and losing weight (shocking!) we had to go back to the hospital and the pediatrician the following morning.  Our pediatrician was supportive, basically ‘no harm no foul, but KEEP breastfeeding and your milk will come in’.
Fast forward to week 4.  I am breastfeeding as much as possible, topping off with formula when needed and trying pump in between.  I am exhausted, frustrated and starting to become obsessive about my lack of production.  Breastfeeding is also becoming more difficult.  My son was aggressively latching and nursing upwards of 40 minutes at a time.  My nipples are becoming scabbed and hurt constantly.  But, there is supposed to be a certain amount of discomfort, right?  I press ahead.
I go to a breastfeed group at the hospital to see if there is anything I can do.  The lactation consultant took one look at my nipples and said ‘you need to take him off, he is destroying your nipples’.  Yay.
It took me over a week to heal.  Since I, like the majority of American women, had to go back to work after three months decided not to put him back on the breast after I took him off to heal.  It seemed rather cruel to me to attempt to retrain my son how to breastfeed only to have to take him off in six weeks when he had to go to daycare.  In the meantime, I pumped and pumped and pumped.  I never became engorged  (which I attributed to large breasts), I never leaked (which I attributed to large breast) but I soldiered on.  My letdown took forever 45+ minutes and I could still never yield enough breastmilk to stay ahead of my rapidly growing son.  I took supplements to boost production, I drank Mother’s Milk tea and lots and lost of water.  Nothing I did ever got caught me up.
I know what breastfeeding enthusiasts will say.  I wasn’t committed enough.  I didn’t relax enough.  I didn’t have enough support.  But the truth is, I did.  I committed as much as I could to not risk the health of my son.  I relaxed as much as a first time mom can.  I had and sought enough support to know that I did my due diligence.  I was educated enough, I took the additional steps and the hard truth was this:  MY body could not produce enough breastmilk to feed and sustain my son. 
In days of yore, I most likely would have died from childbirth.  If I had not died from childbirth, my child would have starved to death unless I would be lucky or rich enough to have a wet nurse.  Why do lactivists insist that these things didn’t occur commonly?  Women didn’t even get NAMES in census records until the mid-1800’s.  Who honestly knows how many women and children died due to childbirth or malnourishment?
I reluctantly put the pump away at two months.  At that time my son was getting one bottle of breastmilk a day and my supply, what little I had, was dwindling.  And then, the first full day of formula feeding I realized something.  I had let my preoccupation with breastfeeding get in the way of truly bonding with my son.  The remainder of my maternity leave was not spent charting milk production and pumping.  It was spent holding and loving and bonding with my child.  And it was WONDERFUL.  My son is almost seven months now and he is just a joy. 
For me, the most difficult part of being a new mom has been my breastfeeding experience.  And honestly, I’m bitter about it.  Bitter that no one is willing to be truthful about the difficulties of breastfeeding for fear that being honest that breastfeeding may not be all that it is cracked up to be is a ‘booby trap’ and impediment to breastfeeding.  That we, as women are apparently so naive or frankly, stupid, that even with ‘breast is best’ thrust at us from every turn that WE can be swayed to not breastfeed by a sample can of formula.  That there is a DANGEROUS lack of information provided to new moms on how to properly formula feed in the event that we are unable to breastfeed or unable to produce enough breastmilk to feed our children.  That somehow, non-biased information about all forms of infant feeding is a bad thing.
And then there are the embellishments: Every drop of ‘liquid gold’ is precious, that is cures all sorts of ills, from pinkeye to cancer (!?!).  That formula is POISON.  Your formula fed baby will a)dumb, b)sick, c)fat or d) all of the above.  That breastfeeding is THE MOST MAGICAL, THE MOST IMPORTANT, THE MOST BONDING thing a mother can do.  Sigh.
I never felt magical waves of euphoria wash over me as I watched my beautiful child struggling and starving at my breast.  It was quite the opposite.  Talk about setting up women to feel like failures!  If you don’t feel that surge of golden rays of love oozing from your maternal pores while you breastfeed, CLEARLY something is wrong with YOU.  Again, sigh.
To counter this I’d like to point out the following (and while every child is different, here is what I can say about my child): my formula feed baby is currently, 50/50/50 percentile for height, weight and head circumference.  He has had one sick baby visit since birth.  He was sitting up at four months and crawling at six months.  He is curious, focused and a very, very, happy child.  He receives all the benefit of my and my husband’s love for him and frankly, no amount of breastmilk IN THE WORLD is more important than that.
So, this is my story.  One of countless untold formula feeder stories. 
I could tell you about my sister-in-law who was bullied by doctors and midwives so much to keep breastfeeding that her son became dehydrated and had to be admitted to the hospital or the woman that told her daughter, her second child, that ‘her mommy must not love her because she didn’t breastfed her’ (both formula fed babies are now in their teens and are honor students).  Or, the story of my friend who had twins and had NO production problems who gave up breastfeeding at 5 weeks because she was exhausted from round the clock breastfeeding and was starting to feel trapped.  Or, of another friend who is still breastfeeding and whose child has been sick MULTIPLE times and still wakes up several times a night to breastfeed at almost 8 months old.
I hate that there is a pervasive “one size fits all” approach to infant feeding.  We are all individuals with different and equally important life circumstances.  How can pro-breastfeeding activists judge me and others when no two children, pregnancies, home life are the same.
Shouldn’t it really be ‘to each their own’?   I support my breastfeeding sisters, shouldn’t they support me?  Aren’t we all in this together?  To some lactivists, no, we are definitely not.  And, that, my friends makes me very sad, bitter and angry.
Thank you Fearless Formula Feeder, for being there for us, all the regular breastfeeding failures.  You validate that we are not selfish, ignorant, willful mothers.  We are real women, real mothers who formula feed, who love and want only the best for our children.  


Sarah was really sweet, but you certainly don’t need to tell me you love me to get your story posted. In fact, you can think I suck.  Just get the pain and frustration off your chest. (Quite literally!) Send your FFF Friday submission in today: formulafeeders@gmail.com.

New formula-related study seeks volunteers

Just a quick drive-by post here… One of my favorite readers is part of a research team that is currently seeking Boston-area formula-feeding mothers and their babies. The study is examining iodine levels in formula-fed babies.

Iodine supports healthy thyroid function, and it exists naturally in breastmilk, as long as the mother’s iodine status is sufficient. This isn’t much of an issue here in the States, because so many of us use iodized salt (see, now you don’t need to feel guilty about throwing an extra dash of salt on your spaghetti). Formula manufacturers have added iodine to formula – in fact, the FDA mandates that all infant formula contains iodine at levels sufficient to support normal growth and development.

The study in question is going to examine the iodine status of formula-fed babies, and it needs wiling participants to make it work. According to my source:

We’re looking to recruit formula feeding moms and babies under 1 year of age in the Boston area who are exclusively on formula and prepared baby foods (jars and cereals, etc). The details of the study can be found here (please note – this is a Craigslist posting, which is very standard for healthy volunteer research studies). The time commitment is minimal (about an hour) and involves collecting a urine sample from the baby’s diaper and samples of all foods and formulas fed over 24 hours before the sample.”

Minimal time commitment, non-invasive collection methods, and the chance to help obtain some truly useful evidence on formula-fed infants’ nutrition. Sounds pretty sweet to me. So if you’re in Beantown, fit the description, and think you might be willing to participate, give ’em a call.

Elisabeth Badinter steps into the breastfeeding minefield

There’s an interesting discussion going on right now on Slate.com between two major players on the breastfeeding landscape. Hannah Rosin (whom, in the interest of self-disclosure, I personally worship as a writer and social critic) and Katie Allison Granju, one of the world’s leading lactivist voices, are in a heated debate over Elisabeth Badinter’s new book, “The Conflict.” And it is one hell of a conversation, from two very smart, and very different women.

For those of you not familiar with Badinter, she’s a French feminist who claims that “modern motherhood undermines the status of women”. She argues that we have become slaves to our infants; that we are all obsessively striving to be perfect mothers, which has come to mean “natural” mothers. She does not take too kindly to attachment parenting practices like co-sleeping, med-free birth, and mandatory, exclusive breastfeeding.

I haven’t read the book yet (because that would require several hours of free time, which if I were lucky enough to have, I would rather spend watching Teen Mom and yelling at the television) but I have read practically every interview Badinter has given since her book was announced. I understand her point of view. I do not agree with all of what she says; I think she’s rather extreme and judgmental in ways which only serve to put down other people’s choices, when the goal should be ending society’s free-for-all on mother blaming. But I do agree with what she says about breastfeeding in this recent interview with the Washington Post:

“I am not criticizing breast-feeding, only the duty to breast-feed. Even if there were more substantial “public and institutional support” to help women breast-feed, that wouldn’t change the fact that not all women necessarily want to breast-feed. And those women must be free to bottle-feed without being bullied with the idea that they are bad mothers.”

Anyway, love her or hate her, she’s certainly causing a stir. Unfortunately, any truths that she is revealing are being obscured by her too-heavy hand; she’s putting people on the defensive, and as we all know on this blog, that tends to lead to a big fat FAIL. I’m not sure Badinter cares, and I envy this about her; she isn’t trying to make friends, but rather present her theories and, let’s face it, sell books. More power to her – we need more opposing voices to counter the current trends in parenting culture. I don’t need to agree with her to appreciate that she is taking on the myths of motherhood which torment so many of us.

Some people are not so appreciative of Badinter, though. Granju has gone back and forth with Hannah Rosin (who thought the book had valid points, many of which she has made in her own writing) in a series of published exchanges, the last of which included this paragraph:

As for Badinter’s views on breast-feeding, I think that it’s important to note that her position on this issue is ethically suspect from the get-go. Elisabeth Badinter isn’t simply an incendiary and stylish French feminist theorist. She also personally holds controlling interest in Publicis, one of the world’s most powerful and profitable PR and advertising firms. As it happens, Publicis is the agency of record for Nestlé , the huge multinational corporation that makes and sells a wide variety of infant formula products all over the globe, and which is arguably best known for its lengthy and ongoing history of flagrant violations of the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Considering that Badinter styles herself as an honest-to-God academic—a serious one with serious credentials—it’s troubling, to say the least, that she doesn’t seem to feel the need to proactively disclose the obvious conflicts posed by her millions in income from Nestlé ’s PR firm.

And there it is. The ubiquitous and inevitable Big Formula accusation. Hannah’s no stranger to it. Mitt Romney’s gotten it. Add to that list Rebecca Goldin, Joan Wolf, Dr. Alan Greene. Basically anyone who has ever dared to question the “breastfeeding at all costs” mentality. Now, in this case, Badinter probably does hold an interest in Publicis. And they probably do deal with Nestle. But for all we know, this could mean that her agency represents Nestle Chocolate. I don’t know how much Granju knows about advertising and PR, but from my cursory knowledge having been the “talent” (and being married to someone who works with a lot of these companies) it is very common for one agency to have one segment of a large corporation as a client, but not another. So for example, P&G might use J. Walter Thompson for Pampers commercials, but another company for cleaning supplies. 
I’m not going to go into a long schpiel defending Badinter’s corporate affiliations, though, because even if she were actively working on the Nestle account, unless the sales revenue from her book was going to fund Nestle formula advertising directly, it shouldn’t be relevant. Someone who is a big fan of WHO Code is not going to work with formula companies, so it stands to reason that someone with her viewpoints wouldn’t think twice about taking money from Nestle. One thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other. She is an academic who wrote a book; she also happens to have some sort of financial involvement with a PR firm who works in some capacity with a company which has a formula division (albeit one that has done some horrible things to sell formula). She’s got a diversified portfolio, if you will. Why does this make her position “ethically suspect”? Is Granju’s opinion ethically suspect because she wrote a book on Attachment Parenting? Doesn’t the trend to favor attachment parenting as the “best” way serve her financial interests? 
Do we all see how ridiculous this is? 
Dismissing people’s opinions on breastfeeding as part of some capitalist conspiracy only serves to cheapen your argument. Granju makes some excellent points in her dialogue with Rosin, but this one passage makes her look like she’s grasping at straws. She also goes on to say that if breastfeeding pressure were so intense, then our breastfeeding rates would be higher:

…if American women are, in fact, being subjected to crushing, guilt-inducing nursing shame, it doesn’t appear to be working too well. While breast-feeding rates in the U.S. have edged up overall in recent years, and are indeed crazy high in certain highly specific subpopulations of American women (Park Slope-dwellers, residents of Portlandia), the overall breast-feeding numbers in the United States tell a quite different story…Given that, by the numbers, not very many American women at all seem to be “enslaved” by breast-feeding in the way Badinter claims, how is it that breast-feeding is “undermining our status”?

… which is another common argument against the breastfeeding pressure backlash which Rosin herself inspired. This response lacks nuance: women can feel pressured and still fail at breastfeeding. In fact, I’d say that the pressure, the “all or nothing” attitude, is exactly what contributes to our high initiation/ low continuation problem. This blog is proof – if women who formula fed didn’t desperately want to breastfeed, and didn’t feel that breastfeeding was tied up with their own ideas of “perfect motherhood’, then Badinter wouldn’t be selling books, Hannah Rosin wouldn’t be a folk hero, and this blog wouldn’t need to exist. 
What do you think, fearless ones? Do Badinter’s views on breastfeeding resonate with you? Do you relate more to what Rosin is saying, or Granju? And humor me – do you live somewhere other than Park Slope or Portlandia? 

FFF Friday: “I had to be there 100% to care for all my kids…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I   hope we can all give them the space to do so.

One of my freelance jobs involves writing 300-word articles for a physical therapy consumer publication. I can churn these puppies out in about 45 minutes, and promptly forget everything I’ve learned from several hours of research on the given subject. Because – let’s be honest – who really cares about cortisone shots and tendonitis?

Cut to this week, when after a month of embarrassingly severe pain in my hand, I get a diagnosis for a condition that I’m sure I’ve written about, and a prescription for cortisone shots and PT. Ah, the irony. Suddenly, I’m far more interested in these articles; I’m going back and pouring over my notes, consulting my research. Because you know who cares about cortisone shots and tendonitis? Someone with tendonitis, being treated with cortisone shots.

Our own experiences color everything. Anyone who claims otherwise is either lying or an automaton (hey, we all knew computers were going to take over the world someday).

This week’s post comes from FFF Nichole, whose experiences with infant feeding have truly run the gamut. And she readily admits that her three different experiences have taught her valuable lessons about why we shouldn’t judge another person’s decisions until we’ve walked in her shoes. 

Or worn her arm brace, as the case may be….

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

I have had different feeding experiences with all my kids…. looking back I now know that they all were presented to me to teach me something and get me where I am now as a mother.  My story seems to be less about the way I feed each of my children but about what I learned at the end.
The minute I found out I was pregnant I knew I would breastfeed, cloth diaper, and the list goes on.  Funny thing is I prepared for all those other things…I researched cloth diapers for hours, read safe co-sleeping guidelines, and read every book out there about attachment parenting during those 9 months.  I didn’t think I needed to prepare to nurse…I just thought it would happen.  The reality was a cold slap in the face after my first son was born. I had no clue and no one around me seemed to either. One nurse had me in tears thinking I was the worst mom in the world.
My son was breastfed with supplementation the first few weeks…then I tried to pump, but I couldn’t keep up…then we tried a few kinds of formula and he had tummy issues…. so we used donor milk and Nutramigen.  I had a LOT of guilt and promised myself I would breastfeed my next little one… which was only 13 months later.  I got pregnant when he was 3 months.  I know formula feeding actually was a blessing since we wanted our kids close together, but emotionally it was a hard pill to swallow.  So many things got in the way of breastfeeding him…a tongue tie that even after clipped left his tongue forked, my husband having emergency surgery when our son was 5 weeks old.  Most extreme breastfeeders would say I just didn’t try hard enough…heck, I told myself that over and over, and it is probably not far from the truth. Now I know it doesn’t really make a difference.
Fast forward to when my daughter was born. She was not tongue tied…my husband was healthy…my milk came in 12 hours after delivery…I had a good nurse this time around who gave me a nipple shield right away…yada, yada… I exclusively breastfed her until 18 months, 3 weeks and 6 days…with not one single bottle…am I proud of that, of course, but I have NO more right to be proud as someone who has formula fed and also has beautiful, healthy kids. I will admit I had my head in the clouds and was negative towards formula feeders. I even posted a couple negative comments here on this blog…but I was wrong and I have NO shame in saying so.  I will happily eat my words.
My next pregnancy was planned but boy we were not expecting TWINS…3 kids in 3 years seemed doable, but 4!!!  I was still breastfeeding my daughter (I weaned her at 13 weeks or there abouts). I read a book about tandem nursing; I read multiple books geared towards nursing…I never considered anything else the first few months of the pregnancy.  Then the reality of having 4 kids 3 and under came into focus.  Having 4 kids in 3 years, for one thing, is HARD on your body… add in a multiples pregnancy and my body was spent.  I made the choice around 25 weeks that I would formula feed from day one and I wouldn’t cloth diaper anymore.  At that point I felt guilt…for about a week. Then I had to let it go…let it fly somewhere else. I had to be there 100% mentally to get through the pregnancy; I had to be there 100% to care for all my kids, not just the twins.  I knew how much it would take out of me to breastfeed my twins. I knew I wouldn’t have anything left for my other two kids who were/are so young they would not understand.
My boys are almost 6 months, happy and healthy, thriving – and more importantly our WHOLE family is thriving. Do I feel an ounce of guilt giving my boys their formula? NO. I don’t feel guilt when my DH can do night duty once a week so I can get a solid 12 hours of sleep after 6 nights of 2 or 3 hours of sleep, all day alone with a 3 year old, a 2 year old and 2 teething 5-month-olds (which I might add are all still in diapers full-time)…ummmm, HELL NO!!  Yes, I know some people will say, “See there? She is just a lazy formula feeding mom…but I challenge anyone to walk a day in my shoes and call me lazy.
Feel like sharing your story? Impulsive decisions are always awesome, so I say go for it. Shoot me an email – formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

Why we shouldn’t use the term “Breastfeeding Nazis” (except when we should)

Nazi [ˈnɑːtsɪ]
n pl Nazis1. (Historical Terms) a member of the fascist National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which was founded in 1919 and seized political control in Germany in 1933 under the Austrian-born German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
2. Derogatory anyone who thinks or acts like a Nazi, esp showing racism, brutality, etc.
The Free Dictionary

Today is officially Holocaust Remembrance Day. But growing up in a Jewish household, pretty much every day was Holocaust Remembrance Day.  My parents were part of a generation charged with the tremendous responsibility of the slogan “never forget”. They made sure we didn’t. Anne Frank was my childhood hero. We never bought German cars or listened to Wagner. And when I fell in love for the first time, and the boy happened to be born and bred in Frankfurt.. well, let’s just say Romeo and Juliet had nothing on us.

In college, I took a class on German Nationalism and Character. I wanted to learn about what could turn the majority of a nation’s population into something so ugly, something that would happily slay 6 million of my people as well as far too many homosexuals, Gypsies, and people who just didn’t fit in. I’d heard loved ones make angry, anti-German comments, and it rubbed me the wrong way. Not all Germans had been Nazis. And even if they had been (as was the case with my young beloved’s grandparents) that didn’t mean we should blame the sins of the (grand)father on a younger, innocent generation.

The class was phenomenal. Taught by a visiting professor from West Germany, we learned about the historical events that led up to World War II. There were certainly aspects of the German national character that could have contributed to the ease with which Hitler took power, but it wasn’t something in their genetic code. Rather, it was a history of feeling less-than, misunderstood, unappreciated; it was the timing of a charismatic leader who banked on the fact that his countrymen would lap up promises of supremacy and pride like hungry cats given a bowl of cream. 

I’m not excusing what occurred in Nazi Germany, by any means. It was, in my opinion, the most horrific display of the dark side of human nature that the world has ever seen. But I think it is important for people to understand that this could have happened in any country. The group dynamic is powerful. Scapegoating is tempting. The union of anger and insecurity can lead to the birth to pure  evil.  

Group dynamic. Scapegoating. Anger. Insecurity.

I don’t take the term “Nazi” lightly. I don’t like name calling, and I don’t like hyperbole. But I also think most of us don’t fully understand what the tenets of Nazism were. Calling someone a Nazi is not only accusing them of acting like someone who committed genocide. It is also inferring that they possess certain traits. As the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies explains:

Nazism or National Socialism (German: Nationalsozialismus) is an ideology that received its practical political form in the regime that governed Germany from 1933-1945. Nazism is a variety of another totalitarian ideology, fascism. The political goal of both ideologies is to establish a totalitarian state, that is to say a modern, bureaucratic state, where the government is completely dominant in relation to the individual. It is thus a purpose of the regime to monopolise all human activities, both private and public. 

Nazism was specifically characterised by:
Building on a charismatic leader figure (Adolf Hitler) and on the support of the military,

Inventing common enemies (Jews, communists, liberals, pacifists, free masons, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, etc.),

Trying to re-model the working class by making the workers focus on ‘higher ideals’ than the traditional class struggle; such ‘higher ideals’ included extreme nationalism, racism, and especially war.

I have cringed every time I’ve see the term “breastfeeding nazi”, or even worse, “boob nazi”. I’ve seen responses about how insulting it is to those affected by the Holocaust to sling this term around willy nilly, and I agree with this, for the most part. I also think using the word “nazi” as an insult takes away the power of the term itself. The end of the German Nazi party was not the end of nazism. There is a strong neo-Nazi contingent in the USA and UK, among other countries. We shouldn’t call someone a Nazi unless we mean it.

However, I also think that certain facets of lactivism do veer into fascist territory (Nazism is a form of fascism, but other fascist regimes have thrived in Italy, Latin America, Indonesia, and Spain. In breastfeeding supremacy (thank you to the ever-brilliant Jessica Valenti for that far better and more PC term), the common enemy is the formula companies/breastfeeding-unfriendly physicians/formula feeders. The charismatic leaders are the “famous” and most intolerant breastfeeding advocates, people like Jack Newman, William Sears, Darcia Navarez, Gabrielle Palmer, and so forth. The military support comes from grassroots organizations and mommy blogs, who wield the power to call widespread boycotts of commercial products over WHO Code infractions. And the “higher ideals” are extreme, religious beliefs in the power of breastmilk and a conviction that breastfed babies will be stronger, healthier, smarter, and more beautiful human specimens. 

This essay outlines the “14 common characteristics” of fascist regimes.  Some of these characteristics include:

“Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.”

There are patriotic mottos in breastfeeding supremacy, too. Mottos like “Breast is best”. “Breast is normal”. “Babies are born to be breastfed”. “Breastmilk is a baby’s birthright.” 

“Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of ‘need.'”

Obviously, compassion isn’t a human right (although it should be, if you ask me). But I have seen Newman, Frank Oski, and other respected breastfeeding advocates state that making women feel guilty is a good thing, because it might help them see the error of their ways, serving the “need” of higher breastfeeding rates.

“Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe…”

Comparing formula to cigarettes. Boycotting Babble.com for running formula ads. Hurling insults at blogs like this one or sites like Bottle Babies simply for the fact that we exist to support ALL parents, male or female, regardless of how they feed their babies. Sending hate mail to doctors who dare to suggest that breastfeeding might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Raging about the social “booby traps” that ruin breastfeeding rates. Fighting Facebook over their refusal to allow breastfeeding photos (which I agree is insanely stupid, and I think Facebook is being a major douchebag, but is this really where we want to be putting our energy and activism?). There is clearly a perceived common threat or foe, and one that can obviously spark a unifying frenzy. Or a Twitstorm, which is the unifying frenzy of the new millennium.

“Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected.”

Replace the word “military” with “breastfeeding initiatives” and “domestic agenda” with “the real issues plaguing the emotional and physical health of women and children” and you’ll see where I’m going with this. When breastfeeding becomes one of the major tenets of the anti-childhood obesity campaign, rather than addressing the need for cheap, healthy food or fighting for better recess and PE programs in our inner city schools, something is off.  

“Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid…the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.”

Okay, so obviously the grassroots breastfeeding organizations are female-dominated (although I would argue that those who have made the biggest impact in mainstream breastfeeding research and discourse have been men – paging Dr. Sears…). But traditional gender roles are an inherent part of a pro-breastfeeding discourse. Women are encouraged to stay home as long as possible in order to preserve the exclusive breastfeeding relationship. Mothers are credited (or blamed, depending on how they feed their children) for the intelligence, emotional development, health and weight of their offspring. Men are not part of the equation; genetics be damned. The State has become the guardian of this one aspect of child rearing, as governments coerce encourage women to nurse for the good of the nation.

“Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.”

Hence, the reason why every article has to start off with “breastfeeding has been proven without a doubt to be the healthiest and best way to feed an infant” even if the article is talking about a downside to breastfeeding. Articles or quotes which may be construed as “pro-formula” are immediately attacked; the media outlet is accused of being in the pockets of the formula industry, or the writer/person quoted has “industry ties”. It doesn’t matter if there is no concrete proof. 

I’m also concerned with how the conversation is turning away from mom-blaming and into baby-shaming. I saw a tweet the other day about how baby powder was created to cover up the stench of formula-fed babies. And then there was the Facebook thread where a woman blithely commented that all the obese babies she’d seen were formula fed, and she “much preferred petite breastfed babies”. The Alpha Parent recently posted this mock-up ad she created, in reference to a conversation about the power of presenting “facts” versus avoiding guilt:

Source: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Alpha-Parent/168640486536470
Text reads: “Babies are born to be breastfed”; “Formula fed babies are 600 times more likely to have a life of obesity”

This is uncomfortable territory, in my opinion. It reminds me of the Nazi propaganda posters about how to spot a Jew, with exaggerated comic-strip versions of every Jewish stereotype around. When we talk about the superiority of breastfed babies over formula-fed babies, we are creating an atmosphere of supremacy, of “pure” versus “unpure”. 

Speaking of darkly evocative breastfeeding promtion, this charming essay was written for  Feed The Babies Funda non-profit, charitable organization in South Africa (a country which has been earning praise for its new focus on breastfeeding):

It is beyond doubt that the good health status of any nation’s citizens makes an important contribution towards economic progress. ..One of the best ways to ensuring a healthy life for somebody in his/her life span is having a firm health foundation at infancy; a role mainly played by breastfeeding mothers…mothers have the responsibility of investing in the health of their children and the nation by choosing to breastfeed as this choice will impact positively on the stock of health for the kids as they grow. A healthy workforce means a sound human capital base for any nation which ensures a high level of productivity at the workplace. In other words, the type of feeding chosen by mothers for their infants can to some extent determine the level of income that a family and ultimately a nation will earn. If high infant mortality rates are a function of a lack of proper breastfeeding as reported in various media, then one can conclude that families who choose not to breastfeed choose to reduce the stock of health, the time that their children are to survive, ultimately the income that they earn, the income that the nation will earn as well as the socio-economic welfare and progress of the nation.

Parents therefore need to take cognisance of the fact that behind every healthy-child and ultimately every healthy nation is a woman who reasonably and responsibly decides to participate in critical health-enhancing behaviours such as breastfeeding children against all odds… Clearly, one of the reasons why many countries in Africa are burdened by diseases is partially because of inadequate breastfeeding of infants… There is… no justifiable excuse for any mother not to breastfeed considering the vast advantages of breastfeeding discussed in this article.

All Germans were not Nazis, and obviously, all lactivists are not engaging in fascist or supremacist behavior. It sucks that some bad eggs are ruining what should be a really healthy, wholesome omelette. But we also cannot sit idly by and watch a subtle form of fascism grow. So while I am ardently against indiscriminate hurling of the “boob nazi” label, I wish breastfeeding advocates would please consider why this term has gained popularity. Reading the excerpt above, I think it’s pretty damn clear.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Lately, though, I’ve become more and more distressed with the state of breastfeeding advocacy. Articles on Mothering.com and Psychology Today, as well as this hot mess of misleading propaganda from Infact Canada (notice the cute but foreboding cartoon imagery surrounding the text) have made me nervous; it seems that the more a backlash grows against the pressure to breastfeed, the more people want to apply stronger pressure. 

The thing is, we can talk all we want about informed choice. But informed choice cannot mean manipulation. If the facts are that formula fed babies have a higher risk for asthma, this should be explained to parents in a calm and clear way, with meaningful statistics and explanations that illustrate relative risk. But if you take that same fact and turn it into a public service announcement like this-

– you are manipulating your audience. You aren’t allowing them to make an “informed choice”, because that choice is now colored with fear. And that, my friends, is something that all fascist regimes have in common: they control by fear.

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