I was reading some old posts over at Just West of Crunchy yesterday, and came across her fabulous 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates Should Stop Saying article, and it really got me thinking about things. While discussing breastfeeding with breastfeeding advocates, I really hate feeling like they’re defending formula marketing. Now, I don’t mean the women who are honest about the fact that some people do need to use formula, that donor milk can be too costly or difficult to obtain for some families — no, those are honest advocates. I’m talking about the people who swear up and down that getting formula freebies has nothing to do with low breastfeeding rates, and that by taking those away, we’re not allowing mothers to make their own choices, or that those mothers must just be “stupid” or “weak” or “weren’t really dedicated to breastfeeding anyway.” Those people. So, I decided I’d do my own list of things I wish would stop coming up in every damn conversation about the dangers of formula freebies.
1. If a mom is dedicated to breastfeeding, it won’t matter if she gets samples.
How I wish this were true. However, it’s not, it’s SO not. Not to mention, it’s pretty unfair. Consider the study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics on June 4th that said that while 85% of moms intend to breastfeed for at least three months, only 32.4% actually meet that goal. Obviously, just being determined to breastfeed exclusively isn’t working for moms right now. Even the first couple days have proven critical to breastfeeding success — a time often fraught with worry and many, many suggestions for formula use, for jaundice, weight gain, worry about milk coming in slowly, so “mom can sleep” and so on. Pressure to use formula starts right off the bat. Worse is when the hospital has formula freebies everywhere and hands this new mother ready-to-use formula bottles amidst all this pressure. Postpartum is a difficult, emotional time, and moms worry about their baby’s health more than anything. Without people standing around telling them their baby is breastfeeding well, that jaundice doesn’t mean a need for formula, that their milk can take up to a week to come in, all that pressure especially from medical professionals to use the formula sitting right there does make a difference, no matter how dedicated you started out.
2. People don’t really buy into marketing.
Oh really? So that’s why people spend millions on ads? Why a single 30-second slot on a TV show for a commercial can cost thousands of dollars? Why would sponsors pay us bloggers for ad spots on our blogs? Because it doesn’t work? Try again. Marketing is a very effective tool. Especially when formula companies get in with medical companies. For most moms, if your OB hands you a bag of information and in it is a pamphlet on breastfeeding, you’re not going to flip it over, see “Abbott Laboratories” or “Mead Johnson Nutrition” and instantly think, “That’s Similac and Enfamil! This is going in the trash!” No, instead, they read through it, and they think it looks like helpful breastfeeding information. It’s supposed to. And when it starts talking about how their formula is so good for your baby, the closest to breastmilk, reduces colic, makes your life easier… well, there’s a reason people choose the brands they do. We even have a comment in an article here on our own page where a mom swears her chosen formula is closest to breastmilk, so says her research. The only things she could have read that would have suggested that? Marketing propaganda.
3. Their breastfeeding information isn’t really that bad.
Okay, sure. So, let’s look at this supposedly helpful looking pamphlets I just mentioned. Get an IBCLC or even an educated advocate to look over the information, and they’ll start seeing things here and there that are intentionally misleading, or even depressing. For example, Similac says:
“To keep a steady milk supply in each breast, it’s important to switch breasts during feedings. Begin feeding on the breast that was not used last. After five or 10 minutes, try burping your baby, and then offer the second breast for as long as he wants.”
However, that’s BAD advice. La Leche League says:
“Limiting baby’s nursing on each side to only five or ten minutes can be counterproductive when viewed in terms of the change in milk composition. For some mothers, nursing on both breasts at each feeding is important in terms of keeping up milk production and relieving engorgement, but the baby should be finished with the first breast before being switched to the other side.”
There are many sentences like that, where it sounds like good advice, but actually if followed can end up causing you supply problems, latching problems, etc. There’s even lots of depressing language such as “Based on your milk supply, pumping opportunities and energy levels, you may decide to supplement your breast milk with infant formula. Most women do.” or “Being a working mom is two hard jobs in one. For this reason among others, many women decide that formula-feeding is the way to go. You can feel confident in choosing an infant formula that is closest to breast milk, with all the nutrients your baby needs to support her health and development during the first year.” Look at that. They say right there that basically, you shouldn’t really expect yourself to be able to breastfeeding exclusively if you return to work, since most women don’t anyway. But no worries, they’ve got your back!
This stuff is intentional. They know that moms are very vulnerable when it comes to worries about their health of their children. So when your OB hands you those pamphlets and those freebies, you better believe that the language in there is designed to convince you that it’s okay not to breastfeed even if you really want to, you probably will fail anyway, and then you have those samples right there. Add in a nurse telling you your baby isn’t pooping enough or that your colostrum isn’t enough, and moms who give in aren’t WEAK. They are victims of sabotage, or as Best for Babes puts it, Booby Traps.
4. You’re forcing moms to breastfeed!
This one baffles me. Whenever we talk about taking away the freebies, women get angry and insist that we’re being mean to those who choose to formula feed. Let’s make this very clear: WE ARE NOT. What we are saying is that women who want to breastfeed should not be given breastfeeding information from a company whose goal is to sabotage them, nor should they be given free formula. It’d be like your psychologist handing you anti-depressants, telling you therapy probably won’t work. Formulas (and anti-depressants) are still there for people who want or need it, but it shouldn’t be handed out like candy as it undermines your goals. If you WANT formula freebies, then by all means, sign up for them! But when breastfeeding moms return home from the hospital to find a full-sized can on their doorstep because their OB or the maternity clothing store they visited sold their information, it’s just not okay. So no, we’re not “forcing” anyone to breastfeed (and that sentence suggests without free formula, you would breastfeed… isn’t that a good thing?). You’re free to make your own choices. You should be free to get samples IF YOU WANT THEM, but also free to not have formula anywhere near you if you didn’t request it, knowingly. A friend of mine was filling out the new patient information at an OB’s office, and tucked inside all those forms was a sign-up list for a formula company. She almost didn’t realize what it was, because it looked so similar to all the other papers she was robotically signing. Again, sabotage.
5. You don’t have to use the formula, you know.
Sure. Just like if you’re on a very strict diet, you don’t HAVE to eat the huge dessert buffet I’ve set up on your kitchen table right in front of your face, while I quietly whisper in your ear, “You’re going to fail this diet. It’s okay to be fat, so many other people are. You really can’t resist this chocolate. No one will fault you if you eat it. You can just eat a piece… or two… or three… and it’s okay…” Establishing breastfeeding can be incredibly difficult. Even if you’re still rolling your eyes, muttering point #4, consider these study results:
Women who didn’t receive the free samples were 3.5 times more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively after 2 weeks, said Breastfeeding in Toronto, Promoting Supportive Environments, released Tuesday.
The study, conducted in 2007 and 2008, found that of 1,500 first-time mothers surveyed, 39 per cent were given formula at hospital discharge. As a result, many of these women stopped breastfeeding sooner than those women who weren’t given formula.
So… what were you saying?
6. The word “sabotage” is hyperbolic.
In this case, it’s really not. Take, for example, the fact that some of these companies have products aimed to help breastfeeding moms, such as “Breastfeeding Nutritional Drinks” or vitamin supplements… that when you purchase or sign up for a freebie, sends along free formula, puts you on their mailing list where you get constantly messages about weaning and how only formula gives you freedom. They don’t target breastfeeding moms because they want you to breastfeed — they target you because they want you to see them as a company that cares about you so then you will continue to turn to them when you turn to formula, a goal they constantly try to encourage you to meet.
So, I’m sure I’m forgetting some points, which I’ll be kindly reminded of in argumentative comments, but the truth is, they pay the money they do and create the programs they do for one purpose — to get mothers to use formula. How do you use formula? By NOT breastfeeding. So of course they try very hard to slip in there and address women who breastfeed. After all, the MAJORITY of women start out intending to! So when you start from the very beginning and slip your name and information in there, when a woman starts facing doubt, better yet doubt you’ve helped perpetuate, and they’ve got your calling card in their pocket or their kitchen cabinet, they know where you’re going to turn.
But we need moms to believe this. We need people to stop trying to play Big Bad and say “Whatever, they couldn’t affect ME!” and instead realize that you only have the privilege of saying that because you’re already aware of their tactics AND likely already confident in your breastfeeding ability. You’re also NOT the majority, nor the average first time mom. Instead of denying YOU could be affected, help protect those who can be, and regularly are, by not denying that formula companies really are good at the sick, sad job they have.