FFF Recap 2013: What we learned about infant feeding (or didn’t) this year

It was a busy year in the world of infant feeding! Let’s review:

1. We learned that The Baby Friendly Initiative taking over more hospitals was “good news for mothers”. But some mothers don’t see forced rooming in as good news.

2. We learned that breastfeeding made kids smarter. We learned that breastfeeding didn’t make kids smarter. 

3. We learned that formula feeding causes more than 220,000 deaths per year, worldwide. Most of these are in developing nations, but the media and breastfeeding organizations don’t care to differentiate. Also, we learned that if you’re in a developed country, the benefits of breastfeeding are negligible (notice that these facts both come from the World Health Organization).

4. We learned that unscreened donor milk, purchased over the internet, was often contaminated by a variety of harmful pathogens. We were encouraged instead to engage in local, face-to-face breastmilk sharing, based on the belief that if you meet someone and talk to them and they are willing to give you their breastmilk, there’s little risk of them carrying diseases or engaging accidentally in improper transport or storage. We also learned that this study had too many methodological flaws. Which taught us that people are really great at being hyper-diligent about critiquing the quality of research when it fits their personal agenda and beliefs, but will turn a blind eye to similar critiques of studies that contradict them.

5. We learned that questioning a policy which appeared to put children in immediate danger meant that we were privileged, ignorant Westerners who had no business caring about people in other countries. Except if we were trying to donate our breastmilk to a nation struck by disaster, with spotty electricity, transportation, and access to refrigeration, in which case our privilege, ignorance  and Western-ness made us saints.

6. We learned that women are having trouble meeting their breastfeeding goals, not because of formula marketing, ignorance of the benefits, or because they didn’t give birth in BFHI hospitals, but because of issues like severe breast pain, trouble latching, or insufficient supply. We then learned that these problems were caused by the mothers’ lack of experience and knowledge, and not because there was anything physically wrong with them, despite the fact that the study did not perform physical examinations of the mothers and babies, nor did they obtain medical records.

7. We learned that “informed consent” meant being subjected to one-sided, biased information that mutated evidence into scare tactics, and that formula feeding information (which one assumes is an important part of the “informed” aspect of informed consent) was not a maternal or child health issue, but belonged buried in a website about food safety regulations, according to the Canadian government.

5. We learned that virtually all medications are safe for nursing mothers. Except for various antidepressants, pain killers typically prescribed for postpartum women, herbs, and galactogogues. But who’s counting.

4. We leaned, thanks to Beverly Turner, that misogyny is defined as women speaking up about how postpartum depression, sexual abuse, and personal autonomy affects their relationship with lactation. We also learned that Beverly Turner needs to read the dictionary.

5. We learned that, when it comes to infant outcomes, dads are chopped liver. Actually, all parenting methods are chopped liver, because the only thing that matters is mom’s education level, socioeconomic status, and breastfeeding history.

6. We learned that’s it’s fine for neonates to starve and get seriously dehydrated from insufficient milk, because they usually only have to stay in the hospital a few days to recover. Who cares about a few days in the hospital, besides new moms who feel like failures and those who do not have stellar insurance and have to take out a second mortgage on their homes to pay the exorbitant NICU bills?

7. We learned that breastfeeding probably doesn’t protect against obesity. A few months later, we learned that not only does formula feeding cause obesity, what a mom eats while pregnant is also to blame.

8.  We learned that despite all of this back-and-forth, advocacy-disguised-as-research, confusing crap, most mothers are completely supportive of each other’s feeding journeys. We learned that both breastfeeding and formula feeding moms get guilt-tripped and shamed, albeit from different sources. And best of all, we learned that when women band together and take a stand against intolerance, judgment, and hypocrisy, they can be heard.

It was a typical year in the infant feeding world, filled with contradiction and zealotry and unprofessionalism on all sides, and I have a feeling 2014 won’t be much different. But unlike past years, I have hope. #ISupportYou gave me proof that there is a peaceful army of women who are fed up with the status quo; who are ready for a new wave of support and advocacy. So in that spirit, my resolutions for 2014 are to continue to develop programs that will hopefully help women feed their babies in the healthiest way possible, in whatever way is best for them; to keep tabs on research that may cause unnecessary alarm for vulnerable new parents; and to ensure that womens’ bodily autonomy is respected while simultaneously protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed wherever, whenever, and however long she and her child wants. And to lose 10 pounds, but I guess that’s not really relevant to the discussion.


Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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One thought on “FFF Recap 2013: What we learned about infant feeding (or didn’t) this year

  1. I love the way you numbered your list. Being reminded of many of the stories in your list just makes me angry all over again, but here’s to hoping that 2014 will be a better year. Good luck with the 10 pounds.

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