All new parents deserve a place at the consumer protection table, not just breastfeeding ones: A response to the “Day of Action: Keep Infant Formula Marketing Out of Healthcare Facilities”

Public Citizen is known for its advocacy for ordinary citizens who have been harmed by large entities–and rightly so.  Much good has been done by this organization in the name of everyday citizens who otherwise have little power to lobby our government for stronger laws and regulations to protect our society.  However, Public Citizen’s recent event, “Day of Action: Keep Infant Formula Marketing Out of Healthcare Facilities,” does not accomplish the goal of protecting consumers.  A consumer protection advocacy organization has an obligation to women to support their right to bodily autonomy, as well as support their and their children’s health care needs—issues that are sometimes incompatible with breastfeeding and do not currently receive sufficient support in our breastfeeding-centric post-partum health care model.

The Day of Action fails to address many of the true issues that affect women’s and children’s ability to breastfeed.  A complete lack of formula advertising is not going to enable women with insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) to make sufficient milk, or change the fact that many women have to take necessary medications that are incompatible with breastfeeding.  It is not going to prevent complicated births or medical conditions in babies that sometimes make it exceedingly difficult – or impossible –for moms to breastfeed.  It does not reduce adoptive or foster families’ need for formula.  And a lack of advertising is not going to change the fact that some women do not want to breastfeed, and have a right to their bodily autonomy.  While we agree that it would be best for parents to receive information about formula from a non-profit source, currently, there is no such source that provides accurate, unbiased formula information, even to families for whom breastfeeding is not an option at all.

The Day of Action implies that information about formula is plentiful and accurate.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Information about formula is typically riddled with fear mongering about not breastfeeding and uses value-laden language that assumes women who use formula lack perseverance or are selfish, lazy, uneducated, immoral, or ambivalent about their children’s health, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Formula supplies in hospitals are hidden in drawers or even locked up.  Lactation consultants are held to the WHO Code and urged not to discuss formula unless under special circumstances (lest it send a message that formula is “just as good as breastfeeding,” even though it is a medically appropriate option, and sometimes the only option).  Doctors are not taught about formula preparation and are frequently scared off of even talking about formula for fear of being labeled anti-breastfeeding.  Where are formula-feeding families supposed to get the accurate, unbiased, judgment-free information they need?

Perhaps Public Citizen is unaware of the extent to which breastfeeding marketing relies on shaky claims.  Maternity wards are typically papered over with literature that claims breastfeeding improving babies’ IQ and helps new moms lose weight—claims that some assert are based on poorly-done research that frequently confuses correlation with causation, and that have not been borne out in more powerful, well-designed studies.  Recent research on breastfed and formula fed siblings (three well-regarded published studies[1]) showed little to no long-term effect of breastfeeding for a number of oft-mentioned issues.  These studies are powerful because, unlike many other studies on breastfeeding, variables such as parental IQ, educational status, and socio-economic status are much better controlled.  Several large metastudies (including those conducted by WHO[2] itself and the United States’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality[3]) have found that the evidence in favor of breastfeeding is marred by confounding factors.

A consumer protection advocacy organization has the responsibility to ensure that advertising claims are based on sound science, but the “absolutes” plastered on maternity ward walls, city buses, and doctor’s offices (“Breastfeeding prevents asthma[4]”, “breastfeeding makes babies smarter[5]”, “Breastfed babies grow up stronger, healthier and smarter[6]”) and liberally sprinkled in literature distributed to new parents do not fulfill this criteria. Public service messages cannot be immune to the regulations that restrict other advertising.

Further, perhaps Public Citizen is unaware of how much of the advertising for breastfeeding actually benefits corporate entities.  New moms in hospitals are given sample tubes of Lansinoh nipple cream, Medela breast pads, and coupons or ads for local boutiques that sell breastfeeding products such as Boppy nursing pillows and covers.  It is common for new mothers to receive sample magazines, which exist both to promote themselves as well as the advertisers within. It seems counter to Public Citizen’s goals to protest one form of advertising and not others.

Women deserve to know the full range of medically viable options for feeding their children, in an unbiased, accurate, and judgment-free manner, and we feel a consumer protection organization should be at the forefront of that fight.  Formula feeding parents need help, advice, and support just as much as breastfeeding parents. Unless Public Citizen is willing to help establish a non-profit center to train “infant feeding consultants”, not just “lactation consultants,” whose job is to support all medically viable methods of feeding a baby, this Day of Action seems just another way to deny formula-feeding families what little information they can still get about their health care options for their children.  It seems to contradict the stated goals of Public Citizen to protect consumers.

We encourage Public Citizen to speak with actual formula feeding parents, many of who feel marginalized in our healthcare system for the choice or necessity of formula.  Breastfeeding—and products and service providers who support it—is so heavily promoted in hospitals that formula feeding families are left without the kind of education or support that breastfeeding families receive. As there are no non-profit sources of education for formula, other than a few websites run by mothers who have taken up the charge, companies are the only remaining source. This is not ideal, but it is currently all we have. We encourage Public Citizen and all who support this Day of Action to read the stories of actual formula-feeding parents, the vast majority of whom report seeing no advertising prior to using formula, at FearlessFormulaFeeder.com, and consider how they may equitably represent the needs of pregnant, birthing, and post-partum mothers and their babies at the consumer protection advocacy table.

Signed,

Concerned Members of the FearlessFormulaFeeder.com Community

 

 


[1] Evenhouse, Eirick and Reilly, Siobhan. Improved Estimates of the Benefits of Breastfeeding Using Sibling Comparisons to Reduce Selection Bias. Health Serv Res. Dec 2005; 40(6 Pt 1): 1781–1802; Geoff Der, G David Batty and Ian J Deary. Effect of breast feeding on intelligence in children: Prospective study, sibling pairs analysis, and meta-analysis. BMJ 2006;333;945-; originally published online 4 Oct 2006; Colen, Cynthia G. and Ramey, David M. Is breast truly best? Estimating the effects of breastfeeding on long-term child health and wellbeing in the United States using sibling comparisons. Social Science & Medicine, Volume 109, May 2014, Pages 55–65.

 

[2] Horta, BL and Victora, CG Long-term effects of breastfeeding: A systematic review. World Health Organization, 2013.

[3] NIH Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries. Evidence Reports/Technology Assessments, No. 153, April 2007.

 

 

Breastfeeding pressure doesn’t care about privilege

I am privileged.

I’m not rich, but I have never gone hungry; never been without a roof over my head; never wanted for anything (well, nothing more pressing than a better body and maybe a date with Ewan MacGregor circa Trainspotting). I don’t know how it feels to be judged by the color of my skin. I’ve been discriminated against, as a Jew and a woman; called names like kyke and jewbeggar and bitch, but I’ve never been racially profiled or held back by a language barrier, or assumed to be suspicious or uneducated because of the way I look.  I have a great husband and amazing friends and ridiculously supportive parents and in laws.

I realize that in the United States, this means I am incredibly lucky. I also realize that this means I have no business assuming things about anyone else’s lived experience. It doesn’t matter how many academic texts I read or people I speak with in a clinical setting – I can’t know how it feels to be dependent on welfare, or in an abusive relationship, or at a dead-end job with a sexually harassing boss.

I often hear that the pressure to breastfeed is a problem plaguing a specific socioeconomic and geographical subset of women; that my assumption that women are being harmed by overzealous breastfeeding promotion is dripping with “privilege-laden assumptions”. The people making these claims insist that poor, minority women think formula is superior (because they’ve all been victims of unscrupulous marketing and social pressure), and do not know the benefits of breastfeeding, and that if anything they feel ostracized if they breastfeed. Formula feeding, they say, is the unfortunate norm – my concerns have no place in these communities.

I don’t deny that I am coming from a certain perspective, and I always acknowledge that things are different depending on where you live, and what your social circles are doing. I also don’t deny that these social and marketing influences are real. But I think it’s just as privileged to assume that all women in lower socioeconomic areas need to be “educated”, and to ignore the fact that the lower a woman’s status in society, the easier it is for her bodily autonomy or emotional well-being to be violated. Ensuring that the rights of these women are protected is more important than raising breastfeeding rates – and the same policies which are worrisome for a privileged white woman are even more deleterious for someone whose voice is already struggling to be heard.

Yesterday morning, I met with two women who work at an organization serving a lower income neighborhood of Manhattan, helping teenage mothers from a variety of cultural backgrounds. These women told me that in some of the ethnic groups they serve, breastfeeding is very much the norm; in others, it is not as culturally accepted. Their organization is extremely pro-breastfeeding – there is no formula available at their office to give to girls in need, and they encourage breastfeeding throughout the prenatal period and beyond. But when I brought up the idea that the girls these women work with are not being affected by the “breastfeeding makes good mothers” philosophy, I was met with disbelief. “The ivory tower ideal is even more of an ideal for someone who is already struggling to fit the definition of a good mother,” one of them explained. They expressed a need for better messaging – encouraging at-risk women to focus on mothering rather than just feeding. Things like promoting skin-to-skin, reading to your baby, eye contact… not putting the emphasis on breastfeeding as the be-all end-all of parenting.

I also learned that the breastfeeding education these girls are given mostly consists of comparisons between formula and breastmilk, and information on how breastfeeding leads to better bonding and healthier kids. There is little instruction on the actual mechanics of breastfeeding, or how to manage the lifestyle barriers that could make exclusive nursing difficult. So while these young women may go into labor wanting very badly to give their babies the best (and they are well aware its the best, as their prenatal education features lectures on the differences between formula fed and breastfed babies), once they leave the maternity ward and have to return to work or school within a few weeks, without successfully establishing breastfeeding, or knowing how to pump, or how to advocate for their right to express in the workplace (if their workplace even falls under the parameters of the latest breastfeeding laws, many end up on formula- without any advice on how to do so safely.

After that meeting, I had lunch with an FFF who lives in Brooklyn. Her story was all too familiar – wanting to breastfeed, finding herself faced with low supply, getting conflicting advice from healthcare providers, balancing her own health and sanity with her (incredibly nuanced) understanding of breastfeeding’s benefits. The same sort of story we often see on this blog, from an educated mom with a supportive partner who had the ability to hire lactation consultants, and knew how to read scientific literature well enough to suss out her own risk/benefit analysis.

Obviously, this woman came from a very different situation than the women represented in the day’s earlier conversation.  But there was a remarkable similarity in what was expressed by everyone I spoke to. There was consensus on what we need: a more balanced, less hysterical, more individualized approach to infant feeding. All agreed that an honest discussion of the challenges of breastfeeding would be helpful, and that education on formula feeding safely and knowledgeably would go a long way in protecting the physical health of babies and the emotional health of mothers, regardless of their socioeconomic or ethnic background.

The stories these women are telling are not about white or black, native or immigrant, poor or rich. This isn’t about politics. It’s about what will be the best choice for an individual woman in her individual circumstances. These are stories with one moral: that we can – we must – support a woman’s right to breastfeed as well as her right to choose not to breastfeed.  This isn’t about doing away with Baby Friendly, because we need to ensure that women are getting a good start to breastfeeding and every opportunity to make it work (and that means switching the focus from vilifying formula to actually helping women initiate and sustain breastfeeding in practical ways). But we need to speak up and insist that there is a way to do this without loading more pressure onto new mothers.

I have a feeling breastfeeding guilt is seen as a problem of the privileged, because we are the ones with the time, resources, and autonomy to speak up about it. That doesn’t mean women of other backgrounds aren’t feeling the same pressure, perhaps manifesting in even more damaging ways. Still, it’s not my place to pretend to understand them, or to put words in their mouths. There’s no way I could, because these women aren’t an aggregate. They are individuals. To speak for the “disenfranchised” or “minority communities” as a sole entity is asinine. My experience is extremely different from other moms in middle-class Los Angeles – that doesn’t make it any less real, or valid.

One-size-fits-all infant feeding policies do not work, because women are not one-size-fits-all. In fact, in both fashion and life, one size usually just fits a lucky few. To label breastfeeding guilt as solely an experience of one type of woman, and paternalistic “education” as necessary for another, is just plain wrong.  It would be nice, instead of arguing about who has the most altruistic motives to help certain groups of moms feel empowered, we just focused on empowering all women to make choices that feel right for them, and to decide how their bodies are utilized.  Because while I would never attempt to speak for anyone, I don’t think it’s a privileged assumption that most of us would appreciate the ability to speak for ourselves.

 

 

So there’s this nationwide nurse-in at Target….

This was supposed to be a post about a nurse-in provoked by an incident that occurred at a Texas Target, where a mother was apparently sitting unobtrusively in a corner (albeit on the floor) nursing her infant under a cover. The woman was asked to move to a dressing room, and when she refused, she was treated rather rudely by the Target staff. According to a letter from the mother herself which was posted on Best for Babes’ website:

“Briefly I will say that 2 female employees came and verbally asked me to move. The 2nd one told me that Target employees had been told/trained to interrupt nursing and to redirect mothers to the fitting rooms. Even after I informed the 2nd employee of my legal right to nurse in public she still suggested me moving closer to the jean display, turning to face another direction, and also turn my basket a certain way which would have put me practically underneath the jean display and totally barricaded me in. Employee #2 even hinted in a threatening way “you can get a ticket and be reported for indecent exposure” when nothing was being exposed and there was more boob showing from low cut shirts several shoppers were wearing that night. This does not include the other 3-4 employees besides the 2 verbal ones who were all watching and making a spectacle of my nursing by standing around pretending to do something and giving me mean looks and shaking their heads no back and forth. In a side note not a single non-employee customer ever saw the incident so I’m not sure why the employees were trying to act like I was offending “the public” and that it was their job to step in.”

When she contacted Target headquarters, they informed her that their rules were not necessarily one and the same with state laws. The mother approached Best for Babes, and through grassroots efforts, an international nurse-in was planned for Wednesday, Dec. 28th at 10am.

I heard this story and immediately thought, awesome. There have been cases where I thought a nurse-in was a misguided approach; a recently publicized situation in Washington D.C. springs to mind, when it was apparent that the issue was not breastfeeding in public, per say, but rather loitering in the hallways of a government building. I think that the power of this particular sort of protest is lost when used too often for the wrong things; I also believe that nursing moms deserve the same rights and privileges as everyone else – not less, but also not more. If the goal is to normalize nursing, let’s normalize it, not glorify it.

Yet, I have said many a time that if there were a way for a bottle-feeding mama to voice her support for a woman’s right to nurse in public, I’d champion whatever it was. This kind of seemed like “it”. I don’t know this mother from Adam; I don’t know if there was another side of the story; I don’t know if she’s telling the absolute truth about how it all went down. But I’ve seen enough scorn directed at women who are nursing in public to feel that this is a plausible scenario. So I think it’s at least worth encouraging bottle-feeding moms who do want to support the cause to go for it, and to let them know that they (hopefully) would be welcome to join their nursing sisters down at the local Target to make a statement.

I posted as much on Facebook, and boy, was it not the reaction I was expecting.

The first argument that popped up was that some readers felt a nurse-in was unwarranted. Many felt the issue was that this mother was parked on a floor feeding her baby; had she been accosted in, say, the cafe area, or on a bench, it would’ve been a different story. I wholeheartedly agree with this. Large retail chains need to follow some basic safety rules, and having someone sitting in aisle could be a fire hazard. It may be a stupid rule, but that’s not really the point. For example, a Target employee recently embarrassed me terribly by telling me rather loudly that “my child needed to sit down in the cart right now“. My son is shy as they come and not rowdy in the least; he had stood up for a split second to point at a shirt he wanted. I was pissed, and felt simultaneously ashamed and outraged. Who was this kid to tell me how to parent? was coupled with “What kind of parent am I that this kid has to tell me to abide by basic safety rules?”

But from what this woman has said, and Target’s response (or at least what the media has reported as Target’s response), I don’t think this had much to do with her sitting on the floor. My litmus test is imagining what would’ve gone down if she was feeding her baby a bottle on the floor… and somehow, I really can’t imagine the situation evolving in the same pattern. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe this is only because a bottle-feeding mom would know that it wasn’t anything to do with antiquated ideas about public indecency, so she would just think it was Target being asinine about regulations. In my gut, though, I feel that this was about breastfeeding, and if so…. that is not okay. And I think a statement should be made to show the world that mothers won’t take this sitting down (no pun intended).

Look. If we strip down all the mommy war bullshit, the sad fact remains that all mothers are disenfranchised, in one way or another. If we don’t stand up for each other, who will?

But, um, on the other hand…FFF Sara voiced something on the Facebook thread that gutted me (and I hope she doesn’t mind me re-posting it here):

I know that fff doesn’t want to contribute to the bf v. ff animosity that is so prevalent. And I respect that. But sometimes it feels so one sided to be a ff mama who supports bf rights. We have to explain and defend ourselves, our decisions, our reasons for ff all the time in a motherhood culture where “breast is best!” and “formula is poison” are constant refrains. And we need to make sure they know we support their right to bf lest we sound politically incorrect and disloyal to the sisterhood. Yet I so rarely see the bf community sticking up for the ff mama’s. Maybe when they stage a bottle in at a so called baby friendly hospital…maybe when they stop comparing ff to child abuse…maybe when they stop saying “formula should only be available by prescription only”….maybe when I can say I ff my kids without getting dirty looks from other mamas, without having to go into an explanation about my depression meds being contraindicated with bf, and wax pathetic about how I really wished I could nurse too just like the real mamas just so I can pass some kind of deserving of motherhood test that women with kids inflict on each other..maybe then I will begin to care more deeply about the plight of nursing mothers on the floor of Target…I wish that support was more mutual. And bf moms have so many advocates, groups,organizations,consultants. We ff mamas have you.

Touché. And ouch.

Reading that, I felt like an asshat. I realized I never should have posted about a nurse-in without explaining myself first. 

Guys, I know it seems like I am getting all riled up about breastfeeding moms when I should be focusing on the injustices that formula feeders are facing. Both types of feeding come with their own particularly noxious pile of crap. Breastfeeding moms get nasty looks when trying to feed their babies in public; bottle-feeding moms get nasty comments from physicians, the media, and the parenting literature. It shouldn’t be a battle over who has it worse. 

I know that many of us feel we don’t get the same solidarity or compassion from the bulk of the lactivist community. And you know what? We don’t. But I want to stand up for the women who do give us support; the ones who do stand up for us on a daily basis on breastfeeding blogs; the ones who frequent this blog and our Facebook page and Bottle Babies and offer positive commentary on a daily basis. I want to stand up for our breastfeeding friends who are being harassed for nursing in public, just like they stand up for us when people start hurling “breast is best” admonishments at grieving mothers. I don’t have blinders on; I realize that most of the women involved in this particular nurse-in probably don’t give a rat’s ass about me or any other formula feeding mom; I know that many probably think we perpetuate the same bottle-feeding culture which alienates them in the first place; many are the same folks who have berated us time and time again, who have pretended to support us and then belittled us behind our backs. 

I don’t care about them. I care about you guys. But I also care about creating a future where mothers do have each others’ backs. I know it’s probably futile and Pollyannic and all, but I can’t help myself. I hope you can at least trust that if I didn’t think that standing up for a breastfeeding mom’s right to nurse in public would make things better for all mothers, us included, I wouldn’t bother to bring up the protest in the first place.  

I take the credo of this blog very seriously. “Standing up for formula feeders” means that FFF is first and foremost a blog that supports and protects formula feeding or combo feeding mothers.  But the second half is important as well – “Without being a boob about it” means that I will fight for breastfeeding rights too, because I don’t want anyone feeling ashamed or marginalized, because of the way they feed their babies.  

That said, all I ever wanted to do here is spread the word about the nurse-in, in case that some non-breastfeeding moms would like to participate or show support. That’s it. It was never meant to be a huge issue, and certainly never meant to hurt any of you, or make you think my focus is blurry. Information on the protest can be found here; I would love to hear about how it goes if any of you do attempt to join the demonstration; otherwise, case closed, ok?

And just wait until I have an opportunity to stage the “bottle-in” that another reader jokingly referred to on Facebook. I’m chomping at the bit for that one.


 

Putting on my militant formula feeder hat for a sec….

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.

The Bull(shit) That Wouldn’t Die: The 2003 DHHS Breastfeeding Ad Rears its Ugly Head

I had fully intended on coming on here tonight to post for the first time in months; easing back into  things with an innocuous little piece about how my first four months with my daughter had been… It would be a lighthearted foray back into the blogging world, and then I’d go clean my kitchen.

But now my dishes are going to have to stay dirty.

See, back in ’03, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health, put out this piece of drivel. It basically compares not breastfeeding to riding a mechanical bull while pregnant.

I have an entire chapter about this in my book, but I think you’ll get the point I spent 32 double-spaced pages making by watching the ad. So go do it, and then come back here.

 Back already? Did you throw up in your mouth a little? Sorry about that.

A lot of people got angry about the ad,  not only because it was misleading, but also because it was degrading and insulting and wrong on so many levels that it needs a freaking elevator. The Executive Committee of the AAP spoke out against the campaign, which of course they only did because they were in the pockets of big formula, and not because they had compassion for parents or the ability to understand the faulty science behind the claims stated in the ad. Or so the Breastfeeding Section of that same organization loves to tell us. Anyway, in the end, the ads got pulled; a lot of breastfeeding advocates were pissed; and the whole thing went down in the lactivist history books as a colossal FAIL. I’ve seen the destruction of this ad campagin referenced as one of the prime examples of how the formula companies have duped women. If we’d only been so privileged to see this ad, then maybe we would have breastfed. Or at least we would’ve known that we were horrible, unfit parents if we’d decided not to.

A few people had mentioned that they thought they’d seen the ad recently, to which I’d replied, assuredly,  “No flipping way. That thing has been good and dead for eight years!” But then I got this email today, from my friend  Kristine (she doesn’t have kids yet, but she’s a smart cookie and works as a high-end baby nurse, where she’s seen the breast-vs-bottle craziness firsthand, so I think we can consider her an honorary FFF) who wrote while she was watching Southern California’s K-CAL 9:

Um.. I’m so annoyed – they just showed a tv commercial with a woman who was supposed to be pregnant riding a mechanical bull and then she falls off. Next, there is a caption that says, “You wouldn’t take risks before your baby is born, why start after? Breastfeed exclusively for 6 months.” And then, a voiceover states that recent studies show breastfed babies are less likely to develop ear infections, respiratory infections and diarrhea. Babies were born to be breastfed.”  You probably already know about this from writing your book, but I wish there was a way to sue the pants off of them for putting that on the air. That commercial probably just made some poor woman, that’s sitting there trying to breastfeed, no milk coming out, her nipples bleeding, and her starving child screaming, cry her eyes out. Assholes. 

I immediately emailed her back to confirm she’d seen this on live TV, and hadn’t accidentally stepped into a Delorean. But the Bull(shit) is apparently back.

I think it is particularly insidious that this thing got resurrected with so little fanfare. Considering the brouhaha that went down when DHHS and the Ad Council tried to run the ad last time, it strikes me as odd that they would suddenly start running it again, especially in a manner so under the radar. The first time the ads came out, there was a media blitz; the folks responsible were bragging about their advertising genius to anyone who would listen. (Obviously, whoever taught them Advertising 101 neglected to mention that guilt and fear appeals can have a rebound effect; if you scare or induce guilt to enough of an extent, you piss off your audience.) But this go-around, the ads are popping up innocently during reruns of Scrubs, and no one has bothered to explain what has changed in eight years that makes it okay for these insulting, ridiculous PSAs to be inflicted on the public.

I would like to start a grassroots campaign to run these ads back into the hole from whence they came. I’m not sure how to go about doing this; PSA’s are tricky, both in the way they are made and the way that they get distributed. Who do we protest to? The stations running the ads? The Ad Council? DHHS? (I’m thinking of writing a letter to Obama, since DHHS is a government thing, but considering Michelle’s stance on breastfeeding I assume it would fall on deaf ears. Plus he’s probably a bit distracted at the moment, what with finally killing Bin Laden and all….) If anyone has any thoughts, please share. I know we are just a tiny, mostly disliked corner of the mommy blogosphere, but someone has to speak up for that woman Kristine referenced.

And speaking of which… Guilt-Ridden Woman with the Bleeding Nipples, if you’re reading this, listen up. Not breastfeeding is NOTHING like bull riding while pregnant. The people who created this ad fully intended on scaring you, making you feel like only a craptastic mother would feed her child formula. The ads completely ignore the myriad reasons that women do not breastfeed. They do not address the societal factors that impede breastfeeding, nor the physical problems that can happen, nor the emotional/professional/personal reasons that women have for performing their own risk assessment and deciding whether breastfeeding is right for their families. They ignore the father completely, making it seem like this is only a mother’s decision; only a mother’s fault. They over-simplify the science. The kind of woman who would risk riding a mechanical bull – in a bar, no less – has nothing to do with you or your decision to use your breasts to feed your child. Turn off your television, and take a deep breath. If I could hug you, I would.

For the rest of you… I guess this is the closest we’ve come to a Fearless Formula Feeder Call to Arms. I am going to investigate the best way to counteract these ads, but in the meantime, keep an eye out for them and let me know the station/location/time/show that they appear on.

I’m a lifelong vegetarian, so I never thought I’d say this, but… let’s slaughter the bull.

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