Scare Quotes Don’t Make for Good Posts
“In an era when many feminists are (in my opinion rightly) dismayed by the suggestion that a woman’s right to an abortion should be subject to conditions, I have been shocked by the high level of acceptance when it comes to the notion that women who formula feed should be forced to justify their choice, not only to medical staff, but to pro-breastfeeding women. While I have never seen anyone claim that formula is better than - or even equal to - breast milk, a large number of women are vociferously and uncompromisingly against a woman’s right to choose formula milk. I have witnessed a sizeable number of women, some of whom are self-declared feminists, debating on one another’s social media profiles and calling for formula to be made illegal.”
This whole post - which is about a hospital ceasing to provide free formula to the women who give birth there in an effort to be “baby friendly” - is a great, important read. I just want to add one thing, though. Hearts writes that she’s never seen anyone claim that formula is better or the same as breastmilk. Well, for me, formula feeding was absolutely, 100% better than breastfeeding. Like, life changing better. I wrote a column earlier this year about it, so I won’t rehash the whole thing here. But truly, refusing to give mothers access to formula is not “baby friendly” or helpful - it’s shaming and in some cases could be very dangerous. Enough already.
If you’re going to put scare quotes around “baby friendly” without trying to find out the basic information about what the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is, that it’s a global program (because formula feeding in industrialized nations is a “choice” but in developing nations can be a death sentence) or who runs it (UNICEF) you’re just being lazy and pejorative.
If you’re not willing to make the effort to find out why the Baby Friendly Initiative is important, or to know that giving away free formula samples is a violation of the World Health Organization’s code of marketing for human milk substitutes (a code the US refuses to adopt because it would hurt big pharma) because it’s been proven to undermine breastfeeding success for parents who want to breastfeed, or comprehend that when it’s hospital staff who are giving free samples to parents, giving the impression of medical recommendation, it undermines breastfeeding even more, then you’re not interested in actually having a dialogue about this issue.
And yes, women who don’t succeed in breastfeeding are shamed. (As are women who never try it.) But the answer to the former, at least, is giving women the resources for breastfeeding success. Free formula is the exact opposite of that. But it’s cheaper, easier and more “convenient” for hospitals to throw a no-cost sample at a mother and tell her “it’s okay, breastfeeding doesn’t always work” than to have a trained lactation educator available 24/7 as an important medical para-professional who can help when it’s needed, and to have an IBCLC on call for the harder cases, and to treat breastfeeding as something valuable, important, and worth putting effort into.
It’s cheaper and easier for pediatricians, who have, on average, 2 hours of breastfeeding educations across their careers and offices full of growth charts, scales, measuring tapes, posters and other paraphernalia from Abbott Labs, Mead Johnson and Nestle, to pat a mom on the head, tell her she did her best, and tell her formula doesn’t make “that big a difference” and remind her that the store brands of formula are made by the major manufacturers too so she shouldn’t feel badly buying generic and saving a few bucks.
There will always be women for whom breastfeeding is not a good choice, or for whom it is not an option for their physical or psychological wellbeing. But that will never, not ever, justify allowing massive multinational corporations to push their way into hospital rooms to treat all women as potential breastfeeding failures who need to be equipped with wholly misleading “educational” literature (written by formula marketers) and a supply of formula around for when everything goes wrong.