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Thanks for Throwing Fuel on the Breastfeeding/Formula Feeding Fire

"I'm going to be very blunt in the hopes that it awakens more people to the dangers of infant formula."

Those were the introductory words of a post written by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. on Psychology Today's Moral Landscapes blog. The post, entitled "In light of last week's posts: Is Pushing Formula Evil?" originates from the question -- why do institutions push formula on normal infants?

That is a very legitimate and important question. It is one that I have asked numerous times on this blog, raising issues like lacking lactation training among health professionals, giving formula samples as a "breastfeeding prize", the impact of formula samples given in the hospital, and ways to know that your health care professional is not supportive of breastfeeding. All of those issues, all of those posts, originate from the premise that the vast majority of mothers do want to breastfeed and that all stars should be aligned to ensure that they have every chance possible to meet their own breastfeeding goals.

However, there was more to the question when Dr. Narvaez asked it. The full question, as written in her post (emphasis hers), was: Why do institutions push formula on normal infants when it is VERY RISKY? Yes, she used ALL CAPS .  Other than the last paragraph of her post, which includes a few bullets on changes that she would like to see in the health care system, the rest of Dr. Alvarez article doesn't address the initial question at all. Instead, most of the space is taken up with a description of just how risky formula is. The problem, however, is that instead of listing scientifically verifiable facts, she used loaded judgmental non-scientific terms like fake food and junk food and starvation diet to describe formula feeding and used vague (and to a great extent unproven) terms like ill health, depressed and lower intelligence to describe the impact of formula feeding on babies. Her remarks were, of course, also short on footnotes or other references.

Her aim, as she stated at the beginning of the post, was to "awaken more people to the dangers of infant formula." In my experience, using loaded judgmental non-scientific terms isn't a good way to awaken people. It is, however,  a really good way to get people to shut down and block out anything you have to say. It is also a really good way to get them angry.

Some people, like Suzanne from Fearless Formula Feeder, think there is an upside to Dr. Narvaez's post. "In fact, I kind of liked it," she wrote in her post called Good versus "Evil": How ignorance can bring out the best in the breastfeeding/formula debate, noting that it "brought women out of the woodwork" to tell their own stories, and also brought out professionals (like therapists and lactation consultants) who told her that her approach was wrong and damaging.

Personally, while I agree with the positives that Suzanne mentioned, I worry that the damage will be much greater than the upside. I think that Dr. Narvaez's post adds fuel to the fire and gives greater legitimacy to the argument that lactivists are cold-hearted, uncaring, uncompassionate, "Breasfeeding Nazis", when most of us are nothing like that. We didn't need Dr. Narvaez's horrible post for people like Amy from Just West of Crunchy to write the Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates Should Stop Saying. We didn't need Dr. Narvaez's judgmental words for Best for Babes to come up a Credo that notes that "ALL moms deserve to make a truly informed feeding decision and to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt" and that "ALL breastfeeding moms deserve to achieve their personal breastfeeding goals without being undermined by cultural and institutional Booby Traps." We didn't need Dr. Narvaez's drivel for Suzanne to start her Fearless Formula Feeder blog to support formula feeding moms "without being a boob about it." We didn't need Dr. Narvaez's ignorance for Katherine from Postpartum Progress to call in experts to address breastfeeding and postpartum depression on her amazing blog. I didn't need Dr. Narvaez to prompt me to write When it is Not Breast or I Won't Ask You Why You Didn't Breastfeed. The positive discussions were already happening, I think.

Yes, I think we were moving in the right direction, but that doesn't mean that the fire was out. The fact that my friend Casey from Moosh in Indy worked harder than anyone I know to breastfeed her child and still feels the heavy weight of society's judgment on her shoulders as she raises a bottle to her baby's lips, is extremely sad. As she wrote in her post, the one about me not being able to breastfeed, the assumptions made about bottle feeding mothers are hardly ever good ones. So this strong-willed, loving, amazing woman who I'm so proud of, now wears a bracelet on her bottle feeding arm that says "Thank you for judging." Partly tongue-in-cheek perhaps, but maybe sadly necessary too.

Many of us in the breastfeeding community have been working extremely hard to extinguish the fires that burn in the breast versus bottle debate. We need to continue that work, so that women can be supported in their feeding decisions no matter what.  We did not need this woman to come along and throw more fuel on the fire. By "we" I mean both breastfeeding advocates and formula feeding moms. We need less judgment and more support in all corners. We need to work together to put this fire out, not to fan the flames. As Lauren from My Postpartum Voice noted, if you need to preface your article (as Dr. Narvaez did) with "NOTE TO MOMS: Don’t read this if you are feeling vulnerable, guilty or overstressed. NOTE TO ALL: I’m not a therapist but a researcher in child development," chances are you shouldn't be writing it.

I know that World Breastfeeding Week has come and gone for another year (I wrote about breastfeeding in front of teenagers over at Care2.com and got to show my Covering Up is a Feminist Issue video in the community keynote at BlogHer '11 in San Diego), but as usual the discussion doesn't end there. Dr. Narvaez has taken us two steps back. We will need to work that much harder to create true support for breastfeeding moms and for formula feeding moms. For every person who rolls their eyes and says, "not another breastfeeding post", I'm sorry...blame Dr. Narvaez because we have to keep fighting this fire until it is out.

Image credits: Fire photo = neiladerney123 on flickr, bracelet photo = used with permission from moosh in indy.

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Reader Comments (98)

From my post, "and not every baby will tolerate being covered."

And actually, according to the laws in most states, a woman's right to NIP does trump other people's right* not to be offended. I actually don't give a flip what other people where. Policing the clothing and bodies (the complete body) of women is very anti-feminist. Wear a string bikini to the library. I won't complain. "Modesty" is different for everyone, and is different from society to society. It can not be quantified across the board.

*No one has a right, protected by law, to not be offended.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Do you know there are some states, New York for example, and some in Canada where it's not against the law for women to be topless in public? Again, too much for you, but no too much for everybody.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Most people might, but not all. Where Iive, it is legal to go topless. Most mrn and women choose to wear shirts most of the time, just as most breastfeeding moms try to be discreet. But complaining about someone's choice won't get you any further than complaining about someone's hairstyle or tattoo. People have the right to find it distasteful, but they don't have the right to dictate what others can and cannot do.

I find the "what about the children???" argument amusing, both because breastfeeding isn't something sexual or perverse and because my children have seen ano awful lot more "interesting" things just by virtue of using public transit in a major city. I've learned to explain things to them and in general I think they benefit by being very open minded to different people making different choices.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Great post. I loved FFF's on this issue to. I think it is so important to consider the way in which we try and advocate- and as you pointed out so well- when you make people angry or feel judged- they stop listening. So approaches like this are 100% ineffective and you are right- add fuel to the fire. Which doesn't help. But I also think it increased the conversation amongst moderates with a more supportive and inclusive approach. So maybe one step forward, one step back?

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkathleen

Thank you. It is nice to know there are other moms out there. I mean intellectually I know there are, but I would say 90% of my mom friends were able to breastfeed as long as they wanted to. Which is great for them, but being surrounded by that sort of makes you feel slightly inadequate.
Yes Breast is Best, I don't deny that, but those of us who can't or don't want to are not evil people. Thanks for the post.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa B

Maybe, and then again, maybe not...

I'm debating how to weigh in on the issue because I am pro-breatfeeding, but formula fed. I recently read a comment elsewhere in which someone complained about mothers grieving the loss of being able to BF, suggesting that grief was superficial and that they don't know what real grief is. Having lost 5 babies prior to having one successful, although high-risk pregnancy I do know grief. Having survived sexual assault, and being estranged from my (adopted) family because they side with my attacker, I have personal experience with discomfort.

However, I did BF for 12 days, wanted to BF longer (health issues changed things - long story, not important to this discussion). I FF my DS, I grieved the loss of BF'ing, (not guilt, just sadness). The article in PT is hateful in many points, but is it really worth my speaking up and offering my 2-cents worth? I feel negatively judged by some for FF, and by others for not using a cover when I did BF.

I don't need to (as some would say) fight the fight because I did what was best for my son, my husband and myself. It's not worth fighting the fight when my goal is to understand, learn and share. I think that's where Darcia missed the mark in her goal to use every moment of her time on her soapbox.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLara

I apologize if the terms "crappy" or "junk" offend anyone, I use those same terms to describe the chips or popcicles I let my kids have. When I say "junk", I mean: not whole food (processed). I'm certainly not intending to condemn other mothers food choices by using those terms, but I think the formula industry is doing a horrible job, using the most inexpensive ingredients they can to make the most profit. I really feel that in order for the fire to be put out, the nutritional gap between BF and FF needs to become smaller. How do we do that? By forcing the companies who make formula to be more responsible, do more research, make better food for babies. They should not be able to get away with making nutritionally subpar products in toxic containers, sometimes laced with bug parts. This is not about being a good mother, it is about better business practices, in my opinion. All mothers want to do what is best for their children.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRose


If the only options I had to feed my child were growing my own bananas or feeding them store bought chips or popsicles, I'd be pretty stressed out about it. We don't have the climate here to grow bananas and it would be virtually impossible. If I then had people telling me every day that I was feeding my children crappy junk and that they would be sick, depressed and less intelligent because I was too lazy and selfish to grow bananas for them, it really wouldn't make me less stressed about the horrible situation that I was in. It would make it much worse.

As a mother stuck in that situation, I would be lobbying the chip and popsicle companies to improve their products so that I could give my children better nutrition. I would hope that others would join in that fight too and would hope that the government would support me through regulation and funding research and maybe some banana plantations to give bananas to the children who cannot grow their own. I would be angry at the chip and popsicle companies, but I would not need other parents or experts telling me that what I was feeding my children was junk.

What does surprise me, honestly, is that there is not a greater lobby among formula feeding families to improve the product, improve the ingredients, and get BPA and other toxins out of the containers. I guess part of the problem there is that they would likely end up having to pay even more money for that formula if the product was improved and that may be unaffordable for a lot of formula feeding families.

I don't have all the answers, but I think part of it comes from educating health care professionals about lactation (so that they don't try to convince moms to give up when it is unnecessary for them to do so) and educating health care professionals about the risks of formula (without using meaningless but loaded terms like "junk"). But at the same time, those health care professionals need to first and foremost support the mother.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

That's a good point that you make at the end, Lara. Darcia didn't realise that you can accomplish more by listening than by talking.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRina

HUMANS. I see this as a very human reaction to the words, they keep getting written and yet NOTHING changes. Why does Nestle get to keep violating the WHO code? Why is marketing even an issue today? The politics of this world are more geared to fighting wars and lining the pockets of executives. We know that. I see this as another evidence of the oppression of women, we don't always have the choice and we just rebel, lash out, get angry and start defending our circumstances. Many articles like this are written every day and it's the same thread of response "I couldn't breastfeed because of A, B, C, and D." And then the lactivist-style response, all hell-breaking loose, and for whatever reason the flames kinda die out until the next shocking article gets posted.

All I know is that I am TIRED of the blinders that have been put up. It's not about YOU - I know people will sit, and spend hours typing and telling their story about how they could/couldn't and then expressing their whole guilt issue (the 10 things lactivists should stop doing are a interesting in that way... ) yada yada.

Articles like this are shocking and blunt and make us angry and happy all at the same time. It's another reminder of how we're continually oppressing ourselves and in-fighting. I'm not saying to break out the white flag and sit around the campfire, but there is a serious health crisis on our continent that is NOT GOING AWAY. How many ways does it need to be put before people listen and changes are made? The World Health Organization, BFI, lactivists, LLL, moms, and bloggers aren't able to get it across despite scholarly references AND simplistic and shocking language.

Personally - I don't care where the words are coming from anymore because it doesn't seem to matter, the human response is predictable and seems to just revert right back to "me". I would prefer that the viral content on my lactation-related feeds related more to direct action to bring the formula marketers to their knees.

Yes - the author threw a whole lotta fuel on the fire, so those who are passionate and ignited with anger from this whole issue should redirect their anger and seriously consider that it's "not about you". This Dr. Narvaez wants to light a fire under someone's butt to get something done (I don't agree with her method necessarily), because it's about the crisis. Go and step into health care in the eyes of a conscious health care provider and you can see what needs to happen, now, yesterday, 10 years ago... and then examine how ridiculous it is that this is still somehow about "me" and "my situation."

If it makes you angry to hear about formula, write some letters, support breastfeeding initiatives, learn the language, and get active in your community and armed with resources. If it makes you angry about the damn lactivists and their language, go and spend a day, a week, a month working in health care and start adding up the links. As a health care professional myself, I feel like all I've spent my career doing is pulling people out of the river long after they've drowned when all we have to do is spend a day on preventing people from going in the water in the first place.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda

I agree with you Kathy.

One thing I recall hearing from one the best LC's I look up to is about what started her on her path to becoming a LC. It was inflammatory language. It took that to get her clued in to the issue. She was an OB nurse and was told that by allowing the behaviours and practices that the health care providers have and use, that she was an unpaid formula company employee. Lots of people may not respond well to that but it sure changed her opinion and now she fights the other way as she was not OK being seen in that light.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I am very much with you Tracy.

I am not sure she meant to target mothers but aiming to hit the hcp's, the people in charge of policy and procedure, the educators, the people who need to wake up and realize how their decisions and practices impact these babies.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim

Ha! Thanks! It's rare that I randomly come across people who have heard of VLCADD; it was nice seeing what you wrote, too!

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDana K

Honestly, this person was the only person to come right out & (very) publicly judge me. I kept the public argument going because the "tips" she was giving me about all the things I should have tried before "giving in" to formula could kill a baby with VLCADD. A significant portion of VLCADD+ babies died by 6 mos of age before these disorders were added to the newborn screening (heel prick). Those first few weeks & months are critical for survival. I couldn't walk away with my conscience intact.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDana K

Seconded. I was ultimately able to exclusively breastfeed, but only after working with my midwife / lactation consultant for six weeks. Pumping 8-12 times a day, half an hour at a time. My baby had an exaggerated tongue thrust and couldn't latch, so we had to train her to do it right. Until I was able to exclusively breastfeed, I had to supplement with formula because I never did, and still don't, respond well to pumps. I felt so ashamed of this, so guilty... but that guilt came mostly from me and all the "breast is best" messages (which to this day still raises my hackles) rather than from anyone in my circle of acquaintances. I was lucky. I had educated support. Many women don't get that. And at the end of the day, the number one rule (as my midwife told me again and again) is "feed the baby."

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnemone

Lisa, I'm there with you. When I was struggling to breastfeed, nothing cut me more than the fact that all my friends seemed to be able to do it with no problems whatsoever. Ultimately, the only reason I was able to was because my midwife was also a lactation consultant. I am forever indebted to her, and wish everyone could have access to someone like her.

I think more people than we think struggle, and more than we think formula feed (if only part time). And I also think the majority of the problem doesn't lie with us, the women, but with the fact that we are expected to do something that frankly does not come naturally to most (even if it is natural!) without any support whatsoever.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnemone

I am so sorry to hear of what you have gone through. The rape and then loosing your daughter. No one has the right to do the things they did to you. WIC had no right to tell you that you were over the rape. No one has the right to tell you when you should be over anything including the rape or the loss of your baby. I have had to gently tell friends who have made statements condemning moms for not breastfeeding in general that there are situations like sexual abuse where it can be very difficult to breastfeed. They said they were not aware of this and thanks for telling them. This was even coming from friends who had experienced multiple pregnancy losses and should have been more sensitive. They knew how difficult it was to go through pregnancies after the losses, so they should have been more empathetic to how difficult it could be to go through these things after sexual assault. Pregnancy and childbirth is also very difficult for those who have gone through sexual abuse. Unfortunately, many even in the medical field are not aware or not very sympathetic to the facts and have added to the trauma women have experienced. I am very sad that instead of helping you heal through gentle breastfeeding help, they added to your trauma.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKitty

Interesting points, Annie. I think it might come down to a philosophical disagreement on what constitutes "junk". I don't love reading the label of my childrens' hypoallergenic formula container, but I also see how the ingredients have helped them grow and thrive, and I'm not entirely convinced that they aren't the right ingredients for them to be consuming. We have a joke in my house that every time my son's whole preschool is felled by the disease of the week and my son is healthy as a horse, we say a little thank you to his Superpowered Alimentum (the damn stuff costs so much it should be superpowered). I'm not using this as anecdotal proof of anything - my daughter, on the other hand, is a sick kid. I don't blame the formula, b/c most of her illnesses are caused by some developmental issues we can credit to my inadequate womb...:( .... but my point is, I think a lot of FF parents are thrilled with the results of the formula they are feeding their kids, esp. after suffering traumatic experiences with inadequate milk or whatever... it makes you think of formula as a miraculous substance and ignore the scary-sounding ingredients. You know?

I also think it's a hard issue to discuss b/c when scientists are paid by formula companies do embark on research to improve their products and make them "closer to breastmilk", they get a lot of flack in the media for not just promoting breastfeeding. Therefore, our best scientists are not working on such endeavors in fear of professional backlash. We need to change the tone of the conversation, I believe, before we can have completely unbiased, quality research on both sides.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFearless Formula Feeder

This drives me absolutely crazy! Yes, breastmilk is best for babies, and I'm glad the word is getting out. But formula is not poison! Babies thrive on it, get strong on it, grow up into toddlers on it. As for whether it lowers intelligence, so many other factors matter so much more that I seriously doubt you could point to a single adult and say, "Wow, he's stupid. It's the formula he was fed as a baby." No one can do that because, as it turns out, once children are older we can't tell the difference between a formula-fed baby and and a breast-fed baby.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNo Drama Momma

If I put a blanket over my baby's head while nursing, he yanked it off. How would you like to have your head covered and be all hot and sweaty while you ate?
I never understand such judgment coming from someone asking not to be judged.
My children wouldn't bat an eye at a woman breastfeeding, because they've been raised to understand how mammals feed their young, including humans. I think it is a human right to understand how the human body works, and children are humans. They need to see more women breastfeeding in public so they don't grow up to freak out about it. I feel so awful for the woman you complained about, feeding my baby in public was very difficult for me because I'm extremely shy and feared conflict with people like you. Breastfeeding was also very difficult for me in the beginning with my first especially, it was next to impossible to latch him on without being somewhat exposed -- impossible if a blanket was covering my child. I hope that woman didn't feel like I did, and that you haven't scared her into staying at home with her baby -- or weaning just so she can go out in public and not get stared at by people with their own hang ups.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Not to mention, there is no money in researching to prove the benefits of breastfeeding (I hate saying that; it should be, this Dr. Narvaez's article notwithstanding, the risks of not breastfeeding -- breast is not "best", not a gold standard few can achieve, it's normal) -- unlike say, researching how to imitate breastmilk and advertise formula as "just as good" or "closest to mom's milk". Lots of money in that, and lots of people take the word of those researchers. Hmm, wonder why the formula companies would want to convince people that their product was like breastmilk, if there was no research proving how good breastmilk is...

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Actually, PND can be aggravated by abrupt weaning or not bf at all. Hormones and all that. A lot of doctors fail to mention this to their patients for fear of making new mothers feel guilty for contemplating switching to formula, and because of course, very few doctors actually study breastfeeding and are likely not even aware of the link. No, women aren't stupid, but it is impossible for woman to make an educated choice when they aren't given all the information they need, when doctors say "there there, it's OK if you don't breastfeed" (that's what my ped said, and there was really no reason I personally couldn't breastfeed other than it was hard at first.)
You know why formula companies advertise and give out samples? Because it works. If formula was only available to those babies that really need it, these companies wouldn't make nearly as much money. They are not in this business for the good of moms and babies, it is in their interest to help ensure more and more mothers stop, or don't even initiate, breastfeeding. It's not as though we aren't all well aware of the formula option, they don't really need to take out yet another ad in a parenting magazine to spread the word. I know lots of women, smart women, who did not breastfeed, or who weaned to formula because they believed it was "just as good". But I can think of only one who actually researched the risks of her choice before determining that in her case, the benefits of ff did in fact outweigh those risks.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Well said.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

You know what, though? Every new study or article about the "benefits" of breastfeeding is greeted the same way, no matter how objective the writer, no matter how many facts are presented: People get up in arms about being "made" to feel guilty for not breastfeeding and feel compelled to defend their choice. I get what you are saying, and Dr. N doesn't speak for me as a lactivist, but I honestly can't say I believe that an article that was more science and less shock value would have been gotten a better reaction. Some people don't want the truth, no matter how it is presented. And the fact is, not breastfeeding does have risks. Not being able to talk about them for fear of upsetting someone doesn't mean they aren't there.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea


I agree that needs to change. I just don't agree with her methods for making it happen. I don't think that a blog post on Psychology Today full of loaded language is going to make hospitals jump up and change. I think more structural changes are needed, including changes to hospital procedures and changes to lactation education for health care professionals.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


You're right. An article that was more science and less shock value might be received the same way by a lot of people. However, I would feel confident standing behind a science-based article while still supporting choice and not judging moms.

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

No Drama Momma:

No, they cannot come to that conclusion because (a) that would be anecdotal and (b) there is no proof that formula is tied to lower intelligence. Some studies did say that, but a review of them indicated that other factors, such as socio-economic status, were not ruled out as contributing factors.

However, other things have been proven and I do see people who look at health issues that they are dealing with (e.g. allergies) and wonder if they would have been less severe if they had been breastfed.

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Hi Kim - Interesting thought process and telling abt the fx of advertising/marketing on our lives. And there is a movement afoot to debunk the hard-won evidence that breastmilk is a special whole formulation. BUT that doesnt mean that women as individuals should be denied choice OR that BF is best in all cases at all times.

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

I think that she went abt it in an aggressive manner AND she wasnt educated abt PND so much. Well, now she is, and u had alot to do with that, which s great. And, she is part of an academic research team that is gathering data that, if it gets published in peer reviewed journals, will eventually feed into the discourse which eventually influences the clinical practice of pediatricians, obs, midwives, psychiatrists, etc and will also feed into discourse abt public health policy, which influences the structure of hospital protocol. As far as child development, an example of this is Bowlbys discovery abt biological origins of attachment, and also Klaus' discovery of the sensitive period right after birth. Hospitals changed b/c of that research. Hospitals will change b/c of research such as hers. What ppl do with the info or how they choose to live their lives, and exactly how much each subtle factor influences an individual baby/child's development, is not known. And women can choose what to do. And the research indicates that breastmilk is a particularly wholesome substance, that has not yet been duplicated in the laboratory. Lest I sound totally crunchy granola, you now, I drink beer & I eat fast food once a month or so, but I'm not trying to say this is as good as whole foods prepared at home.

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

well said expressed my mixed feelings well

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

I agree, Andrea. I live in the States and was confronted with a lot of anti-BF sentiments from friends and even had formula samples just show up to my house. When my daughter lost more than 10% of her weight (took my milk 6 days to come in), the LC asked how I felt about supplementing and I started to cry...she then quickly told me there was no reason to supplement if I didn't want to. Given how fragile I was, if it hadn't been for her supporting me in my decision, I might have given in to formula. The idea of the virgin gut was/is very important to me and I didn't want to sacrifice that if wasn't absolutely necessary.

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanieMZ

As always, you are a brilliant writter who inspires me to share your message with the women in my life. These judgemental pieces do nothing for our community of women. Thank you for bringing this to light and for sharing your voice. I always look forward to what you have to say!

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Well said, FFF.

As a formula feeder who is not as fearless as you, I can throw one more point in the mix: parents (especially mothers) who feed their children formula already face public and private judgments every day. It takes a lot of emotional energy out of a person, so the idea of being the "poster child for formula" by publicly taking on formula companies and lobbying around ingredients (as Annie suggests above)... ugh, just the thought depresses me!

Truth be told, I have never resented the ingredients in formula, nor the price. I'm still thankful I had the option to use formula and that my kids are so healthy.

I too use my humor in unusual ways when it comes to formula. When someone asks why my children are such good eaters, or so tall, or never get sick ... whatever, I will say it's because their mother breastfed them for so many years. ;)

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCoffee with Julie

You didn't like the flame picture? The title to this post and the flame picture are one of my favorite's of Annie's so far -- I thought it was clever, rather than inflammatory.

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCoffee with Julie

Coffee with Julie:

Julie, I can understand being to exhausted to take on the formula companies. I think that is the reason that so many people allow so many companies to get away with so many things. I know that not every mom will be up for it, but hopefully someone will.

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


I'm glad you found an understanding LC and were able to work through the breastfeeding difficulties you faced. But I also think that if we're going to discuss risk, it's important to weigh the risks of a theory (ie virgin gut) versus the KNOWN risk of dehydration or hypernaetremia or FTT. This is what your medical professionals were likely concerned about. I know the legend is that all doctors are out to sabotage breastfeeding, but I just don't think it's that simple. Physicians are charged with protecting and healing us. If they see a baby in danger from starvation in those early days, they are going to push for the fastest, easiest way for that baby to be fed. I would have preferred they offered you alternative solutions like pumping, SNS, or donor milk, but if those were not viable options, formula would have been the go-to.

Andrea and others....

I think that we ALL need to take a step back and approach the breastfeeding/formula issue with a bit less anger. I know it's difficult; trust me, I do. As someone on the "other side", I get extremely agitated by certain things and will go to less logical places because of it. And I understand that the formula companies suck, and that people can be cruel and ignorant and don't respect your right to breastfeed wherever and for how ever long you want (all things I would gladly fight against right there next to you). The history of infant feeding is rife with chauvinistic, prescriptive advice which takes the parents out of parenting, and it's normal to feel defensive and angry about that. But this pendulum has swung too far, leading to poor excuses for "science" and a reliance on observational studies and an overreaching belief in the "natural" being good... ultimately, this results in women being scared and guilted into doing something that should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. I know we may disagree on the validity of the scientific case for formula being "risky", but I guess I don't see why people can't let mothers make their own decisions about this, just as we let them decide whether to smoke, work, do IVF, wait to have kids, become obese, become anorexic, and get divorced - all things correlated with worse health or worse developmental outcomes in observational studies. Informed choice needs to mean that women are informed by unbiased facts, not passion.

August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFearless Formula Feeder

The problem with that kind of thinking is that formula MUST be processed in order to be digestible and give the right balance of nutrients to infants. Infants cannot digest solid foods and other animal milks are too high in protein, too low in carbohydrates and fat, and missing essential vitamins. I am sure there is plenty of room for improvement, but saying that formula is a processed junk food like fast food or chips is misleading, and dangerous because it leads women to think they are better off feeding their baby plain cow, goat, or plant milk, or some kind of homemade concoction. These options are extremely DANGEROUS to young infants. Formula is the only safe alternative to breastmilk. I think the closest thing you're going to get to a "whole food" breastmilk alternative, is those genetically engineered cows that produce human milk, although I'm not quite sure if that's going to work just yet.

August 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAntigone

Corn syrup is dangerous to infants in my opinion. It is the same corn syrup used in soda. That is why I was comparing it to junk food.

August 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRose

"What does surprise me, honestly, is that there is not a greater lobby among formula feeding families to improve the product, improve the ingredients, and get BPA and other toxins out of the containers."

There is! It is called "voting with your pocketbook." Similac did remove BPA from all containers, except for liquid formulas in cans (instead of plastic bottles).

I really don't get the "formula is made of junk food" argument. The ingredients in basic Enfamil and Similac are nonfat milk, vegetable oils (not hydrogenated), lactose, whey protein, and then prebiotics and vitamins and minerals. Basic food, that is processed for safety and digestibility. It can't be compared, nutritionally, in any way at all to chips and popsicles. I have breastfed my children, but am considering switching my current baby to formula around 3-4 months, so that I can get back on a medication incompatible with breastfeeding. I have been reading a lot in the midst of my decision making, and I just don't get the "formula is junk" argument at all. It simply isn't true.

August 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

"It is the same corn syrup used in soda. "

Nope, corn syrup or corn syrup solids are NOT the same as high fructose corn syrup, which is used in soda. Nutritionally, corn syrup is just sugar, no more dangerous than table sugar or honey. Moreover, corn syrup is not in all infant formulas. The basic formulas use lactose for the necessary added carbs, other sweeteners tend to be used in the specialty formulas as they may be more digestible for some babies than lactose.

August 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

I don't think formula is on par with soda. But I am also weary of most mass produced food environments. When there is profit to be made, the consumer is rarely the first concern

The studies ive seen on corn syrup are mostly done by the corn refiners association. Not the most unbiased of lobbies.

August 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstephaniemz

There isn't any doubt about whether basic corn syrup is different than high fructose corn syrup, all the controversy is about whether HFCS is more dangerous than other sugars.
This post describes the difference between HFCS and corn syrup solids: http://www.thefitshack.com/2007/06/19/high-fructose-corn-syrup-vs-corn-syrup-solids-whats-the-difference/

I'll point out that this post is very anti-sugar, which is appropriate for adults. However breastmilk is *high* in sugar and formulas need added sweetener in order to properly nourish a baby. The mainstream formulas (Enfamil Premium and Similac Advance) use lactose, which is the sugar in breastmilk, but some carb sources are more digestible for some babies.

August 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

Hi Olivia,
I respect your trying to defend nursing and people's right in general to breastfeed, be topless whatever. I agree with you 100% but remember who you are defending to. Stephanie, from reading her post, appears to have unresolved issues surrounding her past abuse. While it is unfortunate that she suffered as she had, the fact is, her perception is distorted by her experiences. In short, you are talking to someone who views sexuality in a skewed/distorted way and effectively she cannot 'hear' you. Until she deals with those issues perhaps via therapy and not just anti-depressants, she will continue to have this 'hyper' negative reaction to the human body and perhaps sexuality etc. Hopefully she will address these issues for her children as her skewed/distorted views will also influence her son's sexual health. It is unfortunate she was unable to overcome the mental effects of her past abuse to breastfeed her son but in a way she seems still in the grips of the abuse she suffered and cannot be reasoned with about breastfeeding until she no longer has these distorted views of the human body as a sexual object. HOpefully she will get the help she needs to overcome so she can let go of the anger and perhaps even bf if she has any more children. If not, formula is fine too because I think her distorted views of the human body/what is sexual etc. is more damaging to a child's psyche if she passes these on, that whether she bfs or not.

April 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhallo


April 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhallo

I think how angry some mothers get when people suggest or ask about breastfeeding is the reason why alot of healthcare professionals won't even discuss it. I had WIC and no one was rude to me or tried to shove bf down my throat. They asked if I would I told them I wasn't sure. They did makeme attend a class to get the WIC but they also told me if I could bf for even a month it was better than nothing. And when I got so sore I was about the give up, I went to my OB and told her I was thinking of weaning and she said ok and just put it on the chart, no feedback, no help for the sore nipples that was causing me to contemplate it. Now looking back, it was probably her fear of anger or retaliation from those who are 'uber-sensitive' to anyone suggesting breastfeeding why she was afraid to give any opinion but neutral about it. People are afraid of getting sued t hese days, alot of doctors. What appalls me is how angry women get about being asked about breatfeeding or about being told about the benefits of breastfeeding. This anger makes it hard to get help when yo do want it because others are so afraid if they try to help you or offer, you will take it as them trying to criticize or make you feel guilty. Doctors are scared and if I were a doctor I would be. If you don't want to bf thats fine but stop with the Oh how dare you make me feel guilty for not breastfeeding! rant. Its such a crybaby thing to do! No one can make me do someting I don't want to, and no one shoved bf down my throat in fact I was hardpressed to find any help when I di dwant to breastfeed and as a result almos tgave up. It was WIC who saved me. I went to them with my nipples sore and engorged and said, help me, I can't get baby to latch on right and I am too sore to want to go on and one lady sat with me and walked me through the latch and then gave me what I needed most, reassurance that I was doing it right. Then again later I felt like quitting bcause he started giving issues stayng on breast. There was no one to help. The night I quit my partner said come with me tomorrow to see an LC. We had to drive a good 45 minutes to find one who didnt want an arm and a leg in payment and she helped me. She didn't feed me rhetoric to make me feel guilty for wanting to quit. She just showed me, at the end of the day it was my choice. My baby got some formula in the beginning bcause I had no help, not even in the hospital when I asked. Everyone seemed afraid to say anything lest they seem like they were advocating one or the other. I had to push hard to get the help I needed and trial and error on my own. I dont believe WIC did anything but try to communicate information one otherwise wouldn't know. If the person offering it came off pushy maybe that was just their way. Some people's personalities are pushy regardless of what they are saying but to say they are militants because they tried to do their jobs is along the lines of the whole, how dare you make me feel bad rant. If you dont want to bf that is perfectly fine, I'm sure it means nothing more than you don't want to but please please quit the whole how dare you make me feel bad and who do you think you are for telling me bf is best (it is! so get over it) and the whole bf is not better, its just a different way to feed. If you dont want to do something then don't do it but why does it have to be on the basis of negating what research has shown time and again that breastfeeding is best. There are alot of things t hat are better for me that I don't do for various other reasons. I don't go around saying how dare you tell me its better or no its not better etc. Its better. tthats fine. I just don't want to do it and I have my reasons. but I won't go on an angry rant about how dare you make me feel guilty. i think thats childish and weak. that is all.

April 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhallo

Brilliant article PHD - Thank you!

'We need less judgment and more support in all corners.'

Couldn't have put it better myself!

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJo Willis

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