Friday, March 21, 2003

Great article in the latest about the way that comparisons between formula and breastfeeding treat formula, rather than breastfeeding, as the biological norm (in other words, they say "breastfeeding improves your child's health", rather than assuming that breastfeeding is the norm and formula feeding has health risks) - Subtle Truths About Breastfeeding.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but it's difficult not to connect the way formula is marketed in this country with the much lower rates of breastfeeding as compared to other industrialized nations. The World Health Organization's Code would eliminate all mainstream commercial advertising of formula, as well as promotional give aways through pediatricians and hospitals, but it is not enforced in the U.S. in any meaningful way. Formula commercials air frequently during daytime tv, and most parenting magazines are chock full of formula ads. If you've ever had a baby, you know that starting in your second trimester (or earlier), you get coupons and mailings from formula companies, as well as free samples. These mailings continue into your baby's first year, carefully timed to coordinate with your child's developmental stage. Many pediatricians also give out samples, and it's extremely common for hospitals to give new mothers diaper
bags filled with samples as well.

All of this material pays lipservice to the idea that "breast is best," but then contradicts it by saying that formula is just as good as breastmilk and by subtly (or not so subtly) suggesting that breastfeeding is hard. Which it is for some women, especially at first, and especially if they don't have a network of resources to help them solve those early problems. And isn't it convenient that the nice formula company just happened to send you a case of formula? So it's 3 am and you can't get the baby latched on and your breasts are swollen larger than your head and your nipples are sore, and look, you just happen to have formula and bottles (included in that handy diaper bag from the hospital) in the pantry, and wouldn't it be easier to give the baby a bottle just this once? Except the nice formula company neglected to mention that the more formula you give your baby, the more engorged and uncomfortable you're going to be, and the less milk your body will make, leading you to supplement with more formula, and possibly to weaning your baby.

There are absolutely instances where formula is necessary, and I certainly don't mean to denigrate women who, for whatever reason, were unable to breastfeed their children. However, I think it's shortsighted to downplay the benefits of breastfeeding or the very mercenary motivations of formula companies in order to spare those women's feelings. The simple truth is that most of the parents in this country who choose to feed their babies formula could breastfeed if they were motivated to do so and had adequate support and information.

More good information on breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, from the marvelous Katie Allison Granju. For practical breastfeeding advice, I also recommend the book So That's What They're For: Breastfeeding Basics by Janet Tamaro - it's incredibly informative without being preachy or guilt inducing.


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