So I’m Part of a Secret Police?

This is rant/manifesto was written in the wee hours of the morning after a long day of work and class. It’s quite a rant in response to a terrible article I read earlier today. It may not make sense as my proofreader is asleep. You have been warned.

My social media feeds exploded today after a very popular website posted an article in response to a citizens advocacy group’s letter that was sent to 2600 hospitals asking them to stop providing infant formula samples to new moms. While I have no issues with a mom choosing to feed her child formula for whatever reason, I do have a huge problem with the way breastfeeding advocates and lactivists are portrayed in the article. I don’t want to name the site or provide a link to the article because I don’t want them to get the hits. You’re smart, your Google-fu should get you there if you want.

The article rails against the advocacy group and calls them the “Breastfeeding Gestapo”. Yes, really. First two words of the title of the article. If you read the entire letter sent to hospitals around the country, it discusses the violation of the WHO Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes by formula companies. It cites references to studies that discuss the benefits of breastmilk and how having those free samples can disuade breastfeeding moms if they run into difficulties.

In fact, a recent Huffington Post article interviewed Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, Ph.D., the campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert Project, where she stated, “This is not about setting any limits on mothers’ choices; it’s about opportunistic marketing by the formula companies, and the ethics of the hospitals that allow this marketing to take place on their turf.”

The timing of this coincided with me learning about the stages of lactation in my CLE class. It is absolutely crucial that the baby is at the mother’s breast as much as possible in the first few days of life. This helps set the course for the remainder of their breastfeeding relationship. Supplementation at this pivotal point would wreak havoc on mom’s supply. If a mother chooses to use formula over breastmilk for whatever reason, that’s her decision. She should have option, just as I should be able to breastfeed if I want.

What’s happening is the huge emphasis on the importance of breastfeeding is being undermined by the free formula samples. It’s akin to a friend taking you to McDonalds for dinner on the day you start your new diet. Instead of including them in all the hospital bags, allow mothers to request formula samples specifically. Or why not include information on private practice lactation consultants and support groups along with the formula samples? Both formula and breastmilk are “evenly represented” and the mother can make an educated decision benefitting her family.

All of this was lost on the writer of the snark filled article which accused the advocacy group of limiting a mother’s choice to feed her baby and compared it to the recent attacks on women’s rights. This isn’t a fair comparison. No one is trying to make formula illegal in the US. It’s still readily available in stores and through WIC if you aren’t able to afford it.

What the author failed to mention was just how available formula samples are. I was inundated with samples and coupons. I got some at my first OB appointment; in fact, it expired before my son was even born. I received samples and coupons in the mail a nationwide maternity clothing chain sold my info. I got even more after I set up my baby registry at a popular baby chain. We ended up donating it because we didn’t want it in the house.

The article is on a site that is quite liberal, and promotes women’s rights and gender equality. Yet here they are pitting woman against woman, formula feeder versus breastfeeder. That’s not in the best interest of the sisterhood, is it? How can they be pro woman if they’re too busy tearing women apart? The Feminist Breeder wrote a great blog on the topic earlier this week. It’s great reading.

The comments on that article are great if you want to increase your blood pressure. I certainly don’t appreciate the Third Reich references being tossed around with regard to breastfeeding proponents and lactivists. The last time I checked, Le Leche League wasn’t herding formula feeding moms into concentration camps and performing inhumane acts on them. I get it. Some breastfeeding advocates are militant and will tell a mom that giving her baby formula is giving them poison. Not all BF advocates are like that. How is the equally bullying behavior coming from some formula feeding moms more acceptable?

I just don’t understand the hate and tearing down. Why do we have to be formula versus breastmilk? Why can’t we be do what works for you and I do what works for me, even if they’re different? I consider myself to be a lactivist (obviously), but I am not anti-formula. I’m pro mother and pro baby. Am I being too much of an optimist? My ultimate goal is to be a lactation consultant, to support moms who breastfeed. That doesn’t mean I’m anti formula.

It’s not like we’re all going to sit around a campfire singing Kumabaya with our arms around each other. But I’m in if you want to. I’ll even bring stuff for S’Mores.


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