I made a promise on the FFF Facebook page to discuss why this article bothered me so much, but after the conversation that ensued on my page after I posted the link, I’m not looking forward to writing this post. You all made some fantastic points and I’ve gone back and forth on what I initially thought was a no-brainer. Which is great, but also makes expressing my concerns far more difficult.
I hope that those of you who have followed this blog for any significant amount of time will agree that I take a (relatively) moderate stance, in general. I feel strongly that the fatal flaw in any debate (the abortion battle is a prime example) is an inability to give an inch, in fear of that fabled mile being Hamburgled as well (speaking of which… whatever happened to the Hamburgler? I miss that guy…). The more “hardline” either side of any debate acts, the less likely that debate can ever result in productive solutions.
Sometimes, though, my emotions get the best of me, and this is one of those cases. Maybe it was because I heard about the article in question through a series of Tweets that posted the link using the headline, “Bottle-Feeding Moms Outraged as NHS Withdraws Free Formula Milk” with zingers like “good on them” and “brilliant!” hanging like NYC subway rat tails on the ends. That probably put me in a bad place to begin with. And then, I read the article, and my blood pressure began to rise.
The story is pretty obvious; the National Health Service has decided to stop providing free formula to babies during the postpartum hospital stay. I’m feeling a bit defeated that I even need to explain why this is a problem, but here goes:
1. This is not a matter of doing away with free formula samples or stopping nurses from “pushing” formula. This is a blanket policy, for the express purpose of encouraging breastfeeding rates. To me, that feels awfully coercive. If NHS had said, “ok, guys, we’re outta cash, and we need to cut corners. Bring your own diapers, wipes and formula to the hospital because we’re not providing it anymore, you bloody leaches,” I’d have no problem. Really. I know it’s only semantics, but semantics matter, especially in the case of infant feeding, an issue which has a disgusting history rife with manipulating women (both to formula feed and breastfeed) for the “good of the nation”.
2. Going back to that give-an-inch-take-a-mile thing, if I were going to be giving birth in the next 2-5 years, I’d be strapping on my running shoes, because that mile is ominously close to becoming a reality. I do not think it’s hysterical or melodramatic to suggest that policies like this – when implemented by people like the one quoted in the Daily Mail article, which I will address momentarily – could quickly lead to other punitive measures, like forbidding women to use epidurals or other pain meds since they lead to lower breastfeeding rates. After all, that’s what the studies suggest, and “baby friendly” policies are based on the same types of studies.
3. I would lean towards believing that it may actually be a good thing for parents to have to bring their own formula to the hospital – it would stop people from assuming that its the evil maternity nurses who forcefeed formula to innocent babes, and also let parents be informed consumers rather than getting “hooked” on whatever (expensive) formula the hospital doles out (typically freebies given to them by formula companies in order to gain customers). But as I said on Facebook, what happens to the woman who goes in to the hospital assuming she wants to breastfeed, and has a change of heart for some emotional or physical reason once she’s faced with the reality of what nursing entails? I want to ensure that she doesn’t become the victim of some anti-formula agenda. So while I am not opposed to taking away free formula from hospitals on a practical level, I am violently against it on an emotional one. I’m scared to death of what it represents and cannot see it as anything less than anti-woman, anti-parent, anti-freedom and anti-choice.
Okay, so, that’s where I stand on the general issue of refusing to provide women with formula. Now onto the article itself, which is a real humdinger. Someone on Facebook pointed out that the Daily Mail is a bit of a trash publication, and if this is true, I suppose I shouldn’t take it seriously. But I think we’ve seen enough evidence that tabloid or not, these things have a way of leaking in to the general discourse surrounding formula feeding…. so we need to take them somewhat seriously, regardless of the source.
I have selected my favorite snippets, for your reading pleasure – phrases of note are highlighted:
An NHS Trust has sparked outrage by revealing plans to stop supplying free milk to new-born babies…Under the controversial new policy new mothers will be expected to bring their own formula milk, or send a family member to a shop to buy some, if they are unable or unwilling to breastfeed…maternity staff will now have only a ‘small emergency stock’ and mothers who insist on bottle feeding their babies will have access to just one bottle after giving birth…
Notice the language – mothers who insist on bottle feeding. I haven’t seen much “outrage” sparked over these policies thus far, but I would bet my life savings that there would be rioting in the streets if thesame phrasing had been used in the reverse: “Mothers who insist on breastfeeding their babies…”
Liz Mason, infant feeding coordinator at the trust, said mothers who do use formula will receive advice and support to prevent them overfeeding..She said babies who are bottle-fed formula milk gain weight too rapidly in their first year of life – putting them at risk of obesity and potentially developing childhood diabetes…
I am hoping against hope that Ms. Mason was misquoted; she may well have been considering the highlighted bit is not in quotations, implying that it is not, word for word, specifically what she said. But again, these memes spread quickly, and we already have been fighting an uphill battle getting folks to realize that the obesity/formula thing is a bunch of correlation-not-causation hooey. And by saying that babies who are fed formula gain weight, rather than something like “may gain weight” or “some formula fed babies” confuses the issue further. Not all formula fed babies gain weight too quickly. Not by a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong shot.
A price list for baby milk at a local supermarket, as well as opening times, is also fixed to the wall in the day room at the women and children’s hospital…’Bringing two or three cartons in to the hospital with them is relatively inexpensive.’… She added: ‘They have already made that commitment to bottle feed and it will cost them more than £600 in the first year.
….’By offering improved education and support for the mothers who have chosen to bottle feed, it will help reduce the risk of their baby gaining too much weight too quickly and putting the child at risk of becoming overweight or clinically obese…Mothers will be shown how to hold their baby closely and how to safely feed their baby with a bottle.’
Oh, holy hell. Here I was, about to applaud NHS for doing something slightly helpful, and their spokesperson has to ruin it with snark. Veiled snark, but snark all the same. In both these passages, Ms. Mason ruins any guise of trying to support formula fed babies and their parents. Why is it assumed that parents who formula feed will not know to hold their babies close while they do it? And notice I said parents. What about the damn dads? Bottle feeding allows for true co-parenting, so why not embrace that fact and help the dads learn to be more nurturing? And is it really necessary to teach parents not to overfeed in order to “help reduce the risk of…the child becoming overweight or clinically obese?” I might concede that point, if the whole shebang wasn’t based on one recent study that suggested babies who gain weight too quickly will become obese later in life, rather than definitive evidence. Instead, I just find it insulting.
Real support for formula feeders would be a no-questions asked policy for all parents, allowing them to choose to feed their babies how they see fit, and providing non-judgmental support for everyone. Maybe some instruction on proper mixing techniques. Or level the playing field a bit, and let all parents know that gaining weight too fast isn’t good; that it’s not necessary for babies to nurse or bottle feed every time they cry… although I’m still firmly of the mind that you really can’t overfeed a newborn. They spit up whatever extraneous food you give them. As someone who has both over- and underfed (the first due to comfort feeding and the second because I was overly paranoid about comfort feeding) her bottle fed babies, I speak from experience. You know what would help? A real guideline on how much a baby should be eating depending on age and weight. An explanation about growth spurts. Maybe some education about what hunger looks like in an infant (the rooting reflex is the same, bottle and breastfed babies alike).
So, I’m not convinced that this policy will truly “support” or educate parents. Rather, I think it is one more way for the powers that be to shame women into breastfeeding, instead of focusing on better assistance for those that want to breastfeed. The fact that it is couched in a lame attempt to help the “unwashed masses” makes it all the more disgusting.
I know many of you disagree with me on this, and I totally respect that. But on top of trying to be moderate, I also try to be honest. I would love to stay safely in the middle ground and not veer into the same type of zealotry I rage against, but fear makes me emotional. And policies like this, described by articles like this?
They scare me.