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Quotable: Unprofitable breasts

I read a lot of books, newspapers, blogs, and journal articles. Sometimes I have the time and inclination to write a book review or a detailed deconstruction of something I have read. Sometimes I don't. But that doesn't mean the other things I read are not worth discussing. Many of them are very worthy of discussion. So I've decided to start a series called quotable, where I will grab a paragraph from something I've read and initiate a discussion on it. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Today's quotable is from the third edition of The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business by Gabrielle Palmer (if you want to learn more about the book, you can read the review of it by Elita from Blacktating). This book was first written in 1998 and was most recently updated in 2009.

From Chapter 1: Why Breastfeeding is Political in the section who profits?:
A doctor who invents a new artificial milk may get a royalty on each batch sold. Those who support breastfeeding and see a conflict of interest in industry links will rarely get as rich as those who have close ties with a powerful company. Our current economic structure does not encourage the promotion of products or systems which provide long-term benefit and do not make rapid financial profits. As with so many of the biological solutions to the ecological devastation of the planet, the money makers would not benefit immediately if we adopted them, though in the long term the world and all society would be wealthier.


One sad fact of the 20th century was that the more contact mothers had with health workers, the less they breastfed. Industrial society is founded on technological solutions and indifference to the costs of primary extraction; it is often easier, and more lucrative, to work out a stopgap way of alleviating a problem than to discover why it occured in the first place. Now that researchers have revealed the risks of not breastfeeding, there is no excuse for the medical and commercial promoters of substitute milks to continue their practices, but many are so caught up in the whirlwind of career progress and profit-seeking that they seem unable to stop to review the damage they do.


If society were organised so that the true baby milk manufacturers, women, earned the rewards they deserve for their production, the baby food industry would dwindle and much of the poverty that causes infant disease and death would disappear.

Whether we are talking about breastfeeding instead of manufactured artificial baby milk, fresh food from the garden instead of processed food full of all kinds of unhealthy ingredients, playing outside in the natural environment versus stocking up on plastic toys, the people manufacturing the unhealthier alternative have a vested interest ($$$) in convincing you to buy it. In a lot of cases, our own lack of confidence, love of shopping, and search for convenience means that we reach for the product on the shelf instead of considering the better (healthier, more environmentally friendly) option.

Is there any hope for us humans? Can we change?
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Reader Comments (21)

great post.
thank you.

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan Schmidt

wow they are some powerful, thought provoking quotes...

I really liked the last quote... I've always thought that if our society valued it's children then the world in general would be better and this seems to follow along with that idea....

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkatepickle

Thanks for that snippet - I think I'll have to get my hands on that one. I struggle with the consumerism of breastfeeding often as an advocate. I know that most women don't need much of anything to breastfeed - yet, when I go to baby shows, I realize that there's something to be said for having "stuff".

That gathering of equipment is so much a part of pregnancy (at least here) that it feels like breastfeeding is disadvantaged exactly because it doesn't need any "stuff" - the stuff can be the beginning of the conversation (as formula companies have well figured out).

Yet, it makes me NUTS when I see totally foolish products or, worse and more frequent, products that actually damage the breastfeeding relationship (ubiquitous pumps jump to mind). And then as a retailer, I struggle with carrying the products that I know mothers may not really need to breastfeed, yet also giving breastfeeding moms cool stuff to show off.

Changing the system from within, it's a tough row to hoe.

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle @ doudoubebe.com

Beyond the politics of breastfeeding, this criticism applies so widely to our lives these days. I'm very skeptical of any 'official' advice - by official I mean doctors, government guidelines and the like. Consumerism is so pervasive, when you scratch below the surface, all this advice has some link to some big company making big money, rather than really addressing what the right thing for our and the planet's well being. Some examples of what I mean:
- when the report was published last year that Canadians eat way too much sodium, what was the government's official line: choose products with less sodium, industry needs to develop lower sodium alternatives. What's actually the best answer: stay away from processed foods. Of course, that doesn't make money for anyone.
- At my six month baby visit, my doctor tells me to start cereals - iron supplementation is now necessary. When I tell her I don't want to feed my baby processed powder from a box (have you read the list of ingredients? What is all that stuff anyway?) she looks at me like I just landed here from Mars. Fortunately, this being a teaching practice, and her being an intern, she talks to her supervisor who says, that's okay, just give the baby eggs and meat. Now that's a real answer. But her initial answer is repeating what she's taught at medical school.
- The whole 'baby must sleep on their own, only on a mattress designed specifically for babies, in their own crib' campaign is run by the Association of Juvenile Products Manufacturers.

Great post. Thank you.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSpright

I just recently finished reading the same book. I wrote review (in estonian only) in my own blog.
I really enjoyed reading this book. There were chapters that made me cry, over my own life. There were details I thought I definitely should use while teaching medical students about power of doctors in their little snippet of sociology. I could go on and on, but I'll spare you from that.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiina

[...] [...]

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiina nurgatagune » luge

Yes, I think there is lots of hope for us. The very fact we're discussing the issue shows there is hope. The fact that I'm nursing my half asleep 2y old while typing this shows there is hope. :)

I think the problem here steps beyond consumerism, advertisements, bad government or bad doctors. The only reason any of those work is because we innately trust their advice as the Authority. There are so many messages from an early age that say authority knows better than you. Even if your brain tells you one thing ignore it because person X said different. So then people become new parents who love their children so much and want to do best and do what they've been innately trained to do and look for sources of authority to guide them.

I don't think we need to change anything about the available information about breastfeeding. I think instead we need to start working on making sure children keep the critical thinking skills and curiosity they are born with. "Because I said so!" can't be an answer when a child questions us. Instead we need to make sure that they are taught it is good to question. That no one can tell them what is right just because of who they are. That they need to research, consider facts, consult knowledge sources but think if the sources make sense and think about what is behind them. The wonderful think about breastfeeding is it is wonderful. It doesn't need fancy sales jobs, government support, etc. It just needs facts and a brain that knows to look at facts. So I think if we correct the general trust authority just because it is authority all sorts of great things like breastfeeding will sky rocket.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRose

I agree that people should not blindly follow authority, but I also think it can go too far in the opposite direction. There is a LOT of misinformation available to parents today by people who call themselves experts, and I think a lot of parents now think they know more about medicine than their pediatrician. I am not a doctor, and while I make a point to research and be informed on children’s health issues, that simply does not compare with my son’s doctor’s medical training and over 30 years of experience treating children. I put a lot of thought into choosing a doctor whose advice I could trust, and he always makes a point to tell me that he would never recommend any treatment/vaccine/etc. that he wouldn’t recommend to his own granddaughter. This man has personally seen children die of preventable diseases because they weren’t vaccinated, and that goes much further with me than the internet fervor over vaccination. I know this isn’t a post about vaccination, but that’s just one example. So no, don’t automatically trust every person in a position of authority, but definitely seek out trustworthy authorities you can depend on. We moms do a lot, but we simply can’t know everything.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCallie

To say that pumps damage the breastfeeding relationship is a sweeping statement I take issue with. I am a mom of two and a teacher. I breast feed my 7 month old and he takes breastmilk exclusively at the sitter's during the day. Without a "ubiquitous pump", there would be no breastfeeding relationship between my son and I. I can't pick not having a pump as an option, keep my job and nourish my child in the manner I've deemed best for him without a pump.
From my POV, a pump is THE feeding necessity for a breastfeeding working mom.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole


I don't think that all pumps damage the breastfeeding relationship. I do think that ubiquitous pumps, i.e. the assumption that to breastfeed you MUST have a pump can and does damage the breastfeeding relationship. It can be damaging because:

1) Moms think that if they can't afford a pump, they can't breastfeed.
2) Moms use the pump as an indication of supply and if they don't get much from the pump, they assume it is because they aren't making enough milk (rather than realizing babies are more efficient at extracting milk than the pump is and that not all moms let down easily for a pump).
3) Moms pump and pump and pump to try to build a freezer stash, which results in them having oversupply, which results in their babies getting too much foremilk, being gassy, fussy at the breast, etc.
4) Moms pump and give their baby a bottle and the baby "gulps the whole thing down", which makes the mom think the baby isn't getting enough at the breast and must be starving.
5) Moms buy a cheap pump, which damages their breasts and/or their supply.

I pumped at work for both of my kids. I'm very glad that I had the pump. But here in Canada, with most moms taking 12 months of maternity leave, I find it a bit over the top that everyone seems to register for and/or purchase a double electric pump before the baby arrives because they assume it is necessary equipment. I think that is what Michelle was getting at.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I think part of the solution is what you're doing right here: providing alternate information to moms! By talking about breastfeeding and it's many joys and benefits on our blogs, our phones, at the park, and at the mall, we are "advertising" and supporting it.
Cigarettes came to mind (although I know there are situations when formula is the healthiest option available which is never true of cigarettes) in that they have decreased tremendously in popularity to the point that I think most educated people consider you a "bad" parent if you smoke around your kids or while pregnant. Can you imagine if formula cans had warning labels like cigarettes do, informing moms of the risks of formula instead of breastfeeding? I wonder how many moms (other than those who are actually unable to breastfeed) would still choose formula?
The only downside would be that such labels might heap even more guilt on moms already sad about their inability to breastfeed which isn't a good thing either.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaman A Droit

Looks like an interesting book! I was just reading the other day about the controversy about Best For Babes in Fit Pregnancy magazine and the advertorial about "breastfeeding essentials". Seems to have similar ideas as the quotes from this book. I am increasingly frustrated with profits driving society. So sad...

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrenna

Thanks, Annie - that's just what I was getting at. Except in pretty limited circumstances, it's hard for mothers to know what the pumping needs will be and it's not an immediate need (a mom going back to work at 4-8 weeks probably can safely assume that a high quality double pump will be her best bet mind you). I had two preemies who only breastfed with the help of a pump - when I went back to work for my daughter at a year, it ended up I only ever needed a manual pump when I travelled overnight, but not everyone finds the same at that age. i also wish that mother's got better instruction in hand expression as so often that could replace the occasional hand pumping.
Yet, I'm still conflicted because I have to think that just having a pump might encourage some mothers to keep at it for just long enough to get baby nursing well.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle @ doudoubebe.com


I think that moms should know exactly where they can rent a hospital grade double electric pump and where they can access a lactation consultant. Armed with that information, they should be prepared to be equipped with the equipment and the support that they need if they run into trouble.

If a mom knows she will need a double electric pump, then it can't hurt to buy one in advance. But I wouldn't suggest that moms who plan to pump an occasional bottle for the babysitter buy one.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

First of all - I LOVE THAT BOOK. One of my readers suggested it to me a couple months ago and it entirely changed the way I looked at parenting (especially breastfeeding) (but that's probably pretty obvious lol) as a whole. The next thing I knew, I was picking up medical texts about human lactation and anthropology journals about how culture affects parenting choices. A year ago, I had exactly one book about breastfeeding (LLL) and one book about parenting (dr. sears baby book) in my home. Now I have nearly three dozen.

So obviously you can guess where all of my saved-for-a-rainy-day book gift cards went...

ANYWAY, that aside, my husband and I were just talking about this earlier today. I recently checked out a book from the library for my daughter called Our Living Earth. My daughter's too young for it, but I like to read her books like that and talk to her about the various issues contained within anyway. I figure it can't hurt, and it gives me something to do when we're at the park and all she wants to do is play with dirt. One of the sections of the book mentioned that at the current rate of climate change and human stupidity, the Himilayan ice cap will have completely melted within a century.

We spent the rest of the day discussing the changes that we, as a species and culture, need to undergo to ensure the health and safety of future generations. And what we came up with was that, you know, there's always hope. The hope is in people like us, who change our ways because our eyes are opened, who slowly work at making a difference. It might not work, this recruitment of one small person at a time, but until it fails? There's hope. And as long as there's hope, this planet, our children, biodiversity, etc - it's all worth fighting for.

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

I know this is sort of a radical notion, but has anybody considered that insurance companies might be interested in subsidizing the cost of a breast pump for working (and nursing) women they cover? It's like, you know that idea about formula companies subsidizing the cost of donor milk, or formula being socialized by the government so that inferior ingredients that raised profit margins were not an option? Those both center on the idea that breast is best, right? And if breast is best, and if insurance companies have to pay out less money for women and babies who successfully maintain a healthy breastfeeding relationship (this on the assumption that, in fact, breastfed babies and mothers are healthier and less at risk for a variety of chronic ailments or cancers) - wouldn't it be in their best interest to shell out a couple hundred bucks for help their working, nursing mothers maintain a breastfeeding relationship? Like an ounce of prevention?

I was a huge overproducer, like, gallon-a-day overproducer, and had to slowly teach my body how to regulate. So I appreciated a pump for a completely different reason. But my pump was covered by the milk bank I donated to, which is good because I couldn't have afforded a double electric pump any other way. It just makes sense to me that it might be in an insurance provider's best interest to do that sort of thing too, you know? At least it might help alleviate some women's concerns that they cannot breastfeed without a pump - because they'd have access if they wanted one.

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

Becoming Sarah:

Some insurance companies do cover the cost of the pump. I'm not sure exactly which ones or under which circumstances, but I know that some women do get them to pay for it.

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Becoming Sarah:

Looks like I need to add Our Living Earth to my reading list. Thank you. :)

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

HEY! Now that's cool. (Although I'm a little bummed that somebody else already hit upon my brilliant, genius master plan. But that's alright. I suppose it wouldn't have made me a millionaire anyway lol.)

August 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

In Canada, pumps are considered a medical expense when prescribed by a physician - so if you have a health spending account, you can easily get reimbursed. The trick is to get them covered under insured plans (along with IBCLC services), but you can imagine that there aren't a lot of people agitating for it. I recommended it in my work, but there's no market data to support so not very easy sell. But it wouldn't take much to make broad changes (these aren't big $$ items) if a few key employers took it under the mantle of family friendly policy.

August 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle @ doudoubebe.com

I wrote a post last year for API Speaks about whether or not all breastfeeding moms need to pump. I pumped for numerous reasons. I work PT and needed expressed milk for my husband to feed the babies while I was at work. I have thyroid disease and pumping was a means to keep my supply up. And because sometimes we wanted to go someplace without the babies. We went to a no-kids wedding 2 hours from our home when our daughter was 4 months old and I pumped every few hours in the car.

However, I have a friend who is breastfeeding her 3rd baby and does not own a pump. She's a stay home mom who never had any intention of pumping because she saw her cousin do it once and was, in her own words, traumatized. It works for her because she doesn't work outside of the home and rarely leaves her kids when they are young. But it wouldn't work for someone else. That depends heavily on your work status and life style.

I do think pumps are a worthwhile expense, even for SAHMs, although not absolutely required. It's the other stuff that bugs me--nursing covers, nursing clothes, microwave disinfection bags for pump parts, etc.

August 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

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