Breastfeeding Friendly Does Not Equal Formula Antagonistic

I have had a horrible week and it is something I can’t talk about with fear of being dooced.  So, I want to talk about another topic that generally falls into the same category.  Namely, how my country completely devalues mothers and children all while under the guise of “family friendly” initiatives.

I recently read this post over on Fearless Formula Feeder’s blog (FFF, btw, say that 3 times fast).  I really love her blog because I think she is an amazing lactivist “despite” (or a better word might be in addition to) being a formula feeder.  She agrees that “breast is best” but not at the cost of lack of choice or bullying of mothers.

The article at hand concerns the recent news that UK hospitals, in their zeal to be baby friendly, are not supplying formula to new mothers.  If a mother chooses to formula feed she must bring her own supply with her to the hospital.  I see this as a great step in forwarding WHO’s breastfeeding initiatives which have been shown to increase breastfeeding rates – something that is good for all of us.  It reminds me of bringing my dad a hamburger when he was in the hospital for this heart 1.  The fact is that in the US you are much more likely to hear a nurse say “let’s give him a little formula so you can get some sleep” as she hands you the Similac Freebie Bag Full of Useful Breastfeeding Tips (Ignore That Formula Sample in the Bottom).  Mothers who know that these attempts can interfere with the establishment of breastfeeding have to take the initiative to plaster the isolette with “BREASTFEEDING ONLY!  No artificial nipples” and be vigilant that their wishes are followed.  This should not be the case.  If the medical establishment agrees that breast is best then why are they helping to market artificial milk products?  It is an inherent conflict of interest and I’m glad that part of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is to eliminate all free formula-company handouts2.

However, creating an environment that is breastfeeding friendly is not the same thing as creating an environment that is formula antagonistic.  The woman in FFF’s article was harrassed plain and simple.  She had just been through the harrowing experience of bringing a life into the world and suffered through days of abysmal medical care.

I stopped using the pain meds as much sub consciously and I didn’t ring the bell for the nurses/midwives unless I was totally desperate for help. I would do more than I should of moving wise because I didn’t want to explain again and again or have them sigh as they went off to find boiled water. I didn’t want the bell to be rung and then look up at the screen and think ‘oh its that bottlefeeder in room 1 again’.

The situation basically left her traumatized and unsure if she wants to have more children.

So, here’s how I see this situation:

It is bad medicine

Bon Jovi songs aside – this is bad medicine.  The hospital staff need to be knowledgeable about many feeding methods even if they are “promoting” just one.  Would they have been as useless with a woman who was a double mastectomy.  I can’t imagine my father being treated this way during his heart problems.  The doctors obviously recommended procedure A but if he had chose to go with procedure B I can’t imagine them giving him attitude, bad advice, and poor care.  He made a choice and it is the medical professions’ job to provide the best possible care within those parameters.

As a non-vaccinating family I understand and respect that the medical establishment is not going to agree with me.  I don’t expect the pediatrician to say “no hep B?  That’s awesome!!!.”  I even expect to be pitched their perspective.  However, I do not expect to be belittled, fear-mongered, or sub-served because of my decision.  When I refused vitamin K for Aellyn the pediatrician really disagreed with that and she said as much.  I told her I appreciated her input but felt comfortable with our decision.  That was that.  If (God forbid) Aellyn had a hemorrhagic bleed would it have been ok for her to say “well you deserve it so you’re on your own”?

Same with breastfeeding.  I think formula feeding moms need to be prepared to hear (without undue defensiveness) the breast is best spiel without complaint – after all the medical establishment says it is best and as medical professionals it is their job to make sure you are informed.  But, only if it is offered in a non-threatening, medical manner.  Responding with “we’ve made our decision but thanks for the information.  Could I have some information on safe formula preparation please?” should be the extent of the conversation.  The nurse/doctor/midwife that had this conversation should relate it to others and the conversation should not need to be repeated ad nauseum.

It is Misogyny

I really can’t imagine this happening to a man.  For some reason women’s health is plagued with a dominating, forceful, choice-less, rhetoric that claims there is one way and thou shalt submit.  In pre-conception, pregnancy, and parenting the shame and fear tactics have become the norm.  Where is the abiding respect for free will, personal choice, and parental rights?  Families are sometimes turned in to authorities for failure to vaccinate (which is as far as it goes since it is a protected right) are we looking at a future where women who want homebirth are arrested?  Imprisoning bottle feeders?  Taking children away for use of homeopathy?  Forced vegitarianism?  There are a lot of things besides breast that are considered “best” but let them remain “best choice.”

I’ve always felt that if abortion were a male issue it wouldn’t be an issue.  Bodily autonomy is accepted for men but it many cases, despite outward appearances, women are still chattel.  Our bodies are not our own and our decision making process is automatically suspect.  This is not family friendly, mother friendly, baby friendly, and definitely not woman friendly.  It is just plain unfriendly.

This isn’t what lactivists want.  We want to remove barriers to breastfeeding not erect ones to formula feeding.  Right?


Show 2 footnotes

  1. Although not the best comparison – I’m not saying giving your baby formula is like feeding him hamburgers all the time.
  2. I recently had a mother ask me how to get free formula samples and I wondered how NOT to get them.  At 19 mo. still bfing I continue to get samples in the mail!

 

Author: Paige

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15 Comments

  1. You have brought up so many good points. As much as it breaks my heart to see women decide NOT to BF I don’t believe it means that because of their decision they are “bad” mothers or deserving of sub-par treatment. For some women breast is not best and they should have the right to make that decision.

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  2. Okay, this might be b/c the pregnancy hormones have made me prone to emotional fits, but your calling me a lactivist just made me ball my eyes out (in a good way). I was just writing a chapter in the book I’m working on about how much I’ve learned since starting my blog, and how much my attitude has changed towards positive lactivism (which this post is a shining example of, btw), and you have NO idea how much it means to me that you see me that way. Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.

    I think you make so many excellent points here, but I was especially floored by what you said about how it would be okay for FF women to hear the breast is best schpiel, but also be able to politely say “thank you, but I’ve made my informed decision.” YES. Exactly. I’ve never seen it put so succinctly. Maybe you should teach medical students bedside manner (they do have classes in that…)? :)

    Great, great post. And thanks again for the nicest compliment I’ve gotten in a long time.

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    • OMG, I saw the first line of this and thought "oh no! I offended her!" I'm glad that's not the case. :)

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  3. I am very much pro-BF. I guess you could call me a lactavist. I think what bothers me the most is not the parent who decides to bottlefeed after "trying" but that they fell pray to the lack of support and fully believe they can't. Then they decide not to breastfeed for the second child because "they couldn't" with the first. When they most likely COULD, they just didn't have the support and/or resources. I feel bad for them… and when they have gone through that experience and have it set in their head that they just "can't breastfeed" I just want to shake them and be like, "YES YOU CAN!" or maybe I want to shake the people around them for enabling their thought.

    "It's okay. You'll bottle feed them and they'll still be healthy and smart."
    "You were bottle fed and you came out okay."

    (But did we REALLY? Look at how much cancer we have now. How many of us are now overweight. Diabetes. Heart issues.)

    We are NOT "okay".

    Mostly, I blame formula companies for their marketing tactics. I am fully BF, never signed up for ANYTHING and I STILL get formula samples in the mail. If anything, I said I was exclusively breastfeeding and they still have the audacity to try and "turn me". This is what they are doing to mothers and many mothers, insecure in their supply or ability, fall prey to it. It just angers me.. and I think that is where a LOT of lactavists are coming from.

    I for one do not like formula as a supplement for MOST babies. It's not as ideal as formula companies want them to be. But are many lactavists anti-formula? No. We know that there are some cases that formula is the ONLY suitable alternative (i.e. If a mother has cancer; if the milk REALLY never came in; maternal medications, etc). But really, it should be for THOSE babies right away. Instead it is pushed on EVERY mother as equal to breastmilk and that is not the case.

    Most lactavists understand and realize that it's not a perfect world and not everyone can breastfeed but most CAN, but believe they CANT. It's just — very frustrating.

    I also think when a mother feels like a failure herself, she is unable to see support for something (i.e. breastfeeding) without feeling demoralized. The guilt takes over and she feels attacked for her not breastfeeding, rather than seeing it as a support to get her back to breastfeeding (whether it be child #2, or re-lactating which is very possible) When these moms see "anti-formula" campaigns, they see it as a personal attack BECAUSE they feel so guilty, but t hey shouldn't (as hard as that may be) because it's not.

    For example — if we are overweight (which most of America is) and we see healthy eating initiatives bash McDonalds.. are we upset? Are we upset because we're overweight and we have fallen for McDonalds? We may feel bad that we are in the position we are, but why does health-nuts not get the same back lash as breatfeed enthusiasts? It's really the same thing. Breast IS best and lactavists want to help the world become a healthier place.

    Does the formula corporations have more power than we give them credit for? Are they equal to cigarette companies in which we can NEVER overcome them but they will keep giving us their cancer-lined cans of replacement food? And people will still buy it no matter w hat? Even though they know the risks associated with it?

    Anyway — that is my $0.02. Lactavists aren't horrible people. They just want what's best for everyone and are fighting a big bad battle against the big guys.

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    • “You were bottle fed and you came out okay.”

      (But did we REALLY? Look at how much cancer we have now. How many of us are now overweight. Diabetes. Heart issues.)

      We are NOT “okay”.

      Good point but maybe I am missing something. You would think that with the breastfeeding rates climbing steadily over the past 30 years and if breastfeeding did truly decrease the risk of these problems then you would see a decrease in these problems – yet they just keep on rising – wonder why that is?

      As far as marketing in the mail goes, I do see your annoyance in receiving things you do not need but I have received coffee samples in the mail – I don't drink coffee so I just throw it in the bin, or give it to someone that does drink coffee. It doesn't mean that I am going to start drinking coffee just because I got it in the mail.

      I can not breastfeed. It is not something I believe or was tricked into thinking, it is fact. But that is beside the point. The way in which you feed your child is a medical decision, the standard way to make a medical decision is to weigh the pros and cons for each individual patent and come to the decision which is Best for that individual patient based on individual circumstances.

      When ads depict a pregnant women ridding a mechanical bull as equal to formula feeding or when advertising includes 'breast is best' it is stripping a mother's capability to make her own informed decision on what is best for her family based on her own indervidule circumstances because if she doesn't comply with this cookie-cutter analises of what is 'best' then she is deemed a bad mother cause she is not giving her child the 'best' – which is what every mother wants to do. No matter how confident you are in your choice to formula feed this sort of advertising will be frustrating and demeaning to a formula feeding mother's capablity of making an informed decision which is best for her and her own family.

      Breastfeeding is not best (it should be the NORMAL way to feed an infant, cause it is only logical that human babies should drink human milk) as formula is not best. What is best is giving a mother all the correct and truthful information so she can make an informed decision on what is truly best for her own baby and her own families circumstances and then following up her choice with non-judgmental support.

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  4. I agree with you Paige. Mothers need to be educated on the benefits of breastfeeding, but they don't need to be force-fed it. Having a baby is damn hard work, and if a mother can't handle breastfeeding, or isn't even able to breastfeed, no one should be giving them a hard time. Mothers need support all around.

    I have a friend who had such terrible breast infection problems with her first two, that she decided not to even attempt breastfeeding with her third. While I think it's sad she didn't even pump for a couple of weeks to give him a head start, I could see that this was important to her. She said the nurses gave her horrible guilt trips and made her cry. That's just cruel.

    I love the idea of hospitals being breastfeeding friendly, but that means providing support and not sabotaging the breastfeeding relationship. It doesn't mean being unsupportive or even attacking mothers who choose otherwise.

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  5. Well done. I love all of this but mostly the part about formula feeding moms to be able to say that they have made an informed decision. As a lactivist that's really all I want to make sure moms have the ability to make. When we as a society can do this and ff moms can say this, we've done a very good job.

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  6. It's kind of funny (in a sad ironic way, not in a haha way) but it almost seems like the medical establishment has succeeded in making pretty much all moms feel like they aren't supported in their choices instead of vice-versa. I'd love to hear from an Ob nurse sometime what they're taught about how to discuss feeding choices with moms.

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  7. It's ironic, sometimes reading stuff like this…

    My son was less than 8hrs old & the nurses were forcing formula on us. They were not supportive of our breastfeeding passion. Even the hospital's one circuit "care for your baby" channel told us not to feed water or formula for any circumstance if you plan to b'feed. But, EVERY SINGLE NURSE & even 1 lactation consultant told us we'd need to give him formula. 13mths later, my baby is still b'feeding.

    I have somewhat mixed feelings about the hospital's policy. I think I need to think about it a while to fully "decide" how I feel about! :) But, I wish nurses would be supportive of the patient no matter what they're decision is. My recovery would have been much more positive if the nurses would have encouraged me in my breastfeeding efforts… instead of making me feel as though my husband & I were not adequate parents refusing HepB & formula.

    I also feel as though I have to censor any pro-breastfeeding links or comments on my Facebook page as several friends attack me as an anti-formula witch. And I hate that; agreed with you that we can be probreastfeeding w/out being formula-antagonists. :(

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  8. Information is key. Wonderful post and well-said. I agree with some of the comments on here about the necessity for formula in some cases (adoption being one that is often left out, maternal health/meds, sexual assault triggers, no milk at all), but it is upsetting that it's given to all of us despite our breastfeeding goals. It's about support and knowledge about breastfeeding itself (it's not always easy) and about formula feeding. We need all the facts and options available to us, no judgment necessary.

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  9. I agree – we can promote breastfeeding without personally attacking someone who uses formula, for whatever reason.

    I think that, in general, big organizations are fair game. That is, it's reasonable to question the tactics used by formula companies, the policies employed by hospitals and the information shared by public health agencies. Working with these groups to ensure that mothers and babies have good information and are not actively undermined is important.

    I also think that, in general, individuals are off limits. Just as I wouldn't want to be questioned for my infant feeding choices, I understand that others wouldn't want to be questioned, either. I think we can support everyone, while still advocating for our cause.

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  10. I am totally astonished at how society is helping out our new mothers and mothers to be. I am a new mom and fully enjoy the benifits of BOTTLE feeding. I tried breast feeding when my daughter was born but she suffered for 10 days and my milk still didn't come in. I finally tried formaula and I never saw such joy on her face. She was so happy to be full and satisfied. She is now 4 months old and healthy and happy. I think we all forget that most of us turned out fine and we were mostly brought up on formula.
    I think is it horrible how we treat mothers who decide to bottle feed! Bottle feeding has been the best thing for me and my husband. I am a stay at home mom and I fully enjoy an evening away without having to pump. My baby is healthy and happy. Shame on all of those exclusive breastfeeding believers out there. Parenting is so much more than what we feed our children!!!!!!

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    • Agreed! The saddest part is the nurses are not allow to say to you well lets try to give them some formula because your baby is pretty much starving and miserable and you need rest to get that milk in. I see nothing wrong with either bottle-feeding or breastfeeding, but I have been to hospitals a lot lately because i have been training to be a doula and the baby friendly hospitals are such sad places. I walk in and it sounds like they are torturing babies you can hear them screaming because they are so hungry!!! But if you walk by and take a peek you can see the baby laying in the crib thing and the mom trying to shove a pacifier in her/his mouth. I just reseantly got a chance to talk to both a nurse and lactation consulant about what I was seeing and the nurse almost cried saying we can't do anything we are not allowed to tell them they need to feed the baby we can only suggest and we cant talk to them about formula because that could hinder breastfeeding, and we cant say anything about pacifiers. I asked if I came in with my kid and you could tell they were hungry and they were miserable and hadnt peed or pooped in hours, would you say something to me??? Or would it be my choice if I wanted to feed them or not, I have breastfeed three kids all till about a year, and after they were born I always did both formula and breast and let me tell you, I have a hard time thinking that just because some nurse comes to me and says would you like any formula, would cause me to break down and never breastfeed again. I just don't see it, women I know who are exclusively breastfeeding still get the formula in the mail and I have yet to see them breakdown and give them formula cause it was their, I do think they shouldn't just send formula to people unless you ask for it. I hope that soon their can be a reasonable policy that makes breastfeeding moms and bottle-feeding moms have the best experience possible having a baby should be joyful not dreadful!

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  11. You are so well informed and well spoken. You really empress me. I agree with you and all who commented.

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  12. Okay! I have breastfed all three of my babies, but I also use formula from time to time, and when they are first born I alway breastfeed them first and then give them the bottle. I was shocked after my last baby was born and the lactation consultant came in and said" formula really?? guess you are not interested in giving your baby the best start" I was pissed! I couldn't believe how rude this woman was and if I wouldn't have already successfully breastfeed two others this same way I would have broken down and cried and never tried to breastfeed again. I immediately went to her supervisor and told her how I felt. I then found out she got her lactation degree, off the internet so apparently she did not learn how to talk to people. While I was in the hospital I was up all night listening to all these poor babies screaming like they were being tortured. I wanted to cry for them, I have believe 100% that breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for you baby but some women are not interested in being up all night or having sore nipples or do not like the idea of breastfeeding in public. So just like no women should be put down for breastfeeding her baby why should we put down a women who chooses to bottle feed. We have no idea her story or why she choose bottle feeding. I also have read the Baby Friendly rules and the slide show, no where in their do they discuss induction rate or c-section rate! I know so many women that right at 38 weeks are asking their doctor to induce them because their tired and when some doctors do induce they wonder why their milk doesn't come in for a couple days and their baby wont latch on or why they are having all these issues, and I just want to nicely say you didn't let you body fully develop you baby.
    I think education is the key but at the same time no one should be put down or made to feel like less of a mom because they do not choose to breastfeed.

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