Formula industry

Q. What’s wrong with getting breastfeeding info from formula companies in free pamphlets or at parent fairs or at industry-sponsored websites?

A. What about the breastfeeding sessions they offer for free? I’ve heard they’re good.

Breastfeeding information can be found in lots of places nowadays. Online, at seminars, and all over the place, really. It can become overwhelming trying to decide who to trust, can’t it?

From time to time, the artificial feeding industry introduces breastfeeding “experts”, either in institutions or rented space in the community, but be forewarned that this is NOT objective information.

The folks that run these websites or you see at a formula-company-sponsored seminar are probably formula salespeople and not recognized breastfeeding authorities. If they are bona-fide professionals, but actually representing a formula or bottle company, I would be even more concerned, because their professional accreditation gives the company greater credibility.

The information they give is not trustworthy because it is designed to discourage moms from breastfeeding. That’s right. They want you to buy their products and try to get people to think that the products are needed or that they will make life simpler or in some way make your life better.

They subtly try to undermine a woman’s confidence while trying to make breastfeeding seem inconvenient, old-fashioned, or just not all that important.

Often, what’s wrong with the information they disseminate is not what they say but what they don’t say.

For example, they might mention that breastmilk is very nutritious and ideally suited to your baby. Then they say that formula is very nutritious, too, without mentioning that it does not contain the antibodies that protect babies from many infections that breastmilk does, or that the iron in it is poorly absorbed, unlike the high absorbability of iron in breastmilk.

Instead, because of what they don’t say, they make formula appear to be more or less equivalent to breastmilk, which it most definitely is not. In fact, many informed health workers now say that breastmilk is the gold standard for infant feeding, and that formula is a very poor “second best”. Actually, mom’s own expressed milk is the the real second best, followed by human milk from a milk bank. THEN formula.

The formula industry manipulates people into believing breastfeeding is time-consuming, inconvenient, difficult, tiresome, merely a lifestyle preference, or simply unimportant. The talk quickly turns to weaning, with the encouragement to wean at the first sign of a challenge — or if mother returns to work outside the home — or to at least prepare for giving bottles when mother is away.

They encourage people to think that it’s a good idea to start baby on bottles so that s/he gets used to them or doesn’t become too attached to mother.

But breastfeeding is how we evolved as a species so that baby WOULD be attached to mother! This helps to create the ability for folks to have close, deep relationships throughout life. Starts with a secure, attached beginning. But the companies never warn moms of how their products change the mother-baby bond and relationship.

They don’t warn moms that using bottles can have a real and negative impact on breastfeeding, including reducing the baby’s desire for the breast (and reduced frequency can mean reduced milk production and a premature return to ovulation). Also, the artificial nipples can encourage a poor latch on the breast and thus can create problems. But the companies don’t mention those details.

Of course, the companies never remind us of how transportable a breastfeeding baby is, and therefore how easy it is to bring baby along to most places. Therefore, bottles and formula are really unnecessary altogether if you bring baby with you and just breastfeed. [Note: If you are having breastfeeding challenges, a supplement might be necessary temporarily. And if you are already giving supplements, do not suddenly stop doing so unless you check with a doctor first.]

But if the breastfeeding is going well and baby is growing well (which you can determine at check-ups at your local health department) then supplements are not necessary at all. Just take baby and go!

Actually, in traditional communities, breastfeeding often continues even when mother is employed outside the home. Baby sometimes sleeps while mother works, and nurses when she’s available. This might mean being in a sling and just crawling from her back to her breast, while she continues to work! Or maybe mother’s expressed milk is given to her baby in a cup. Or if baby is old enough for solids, then baby eats solids when mom is not around, and breastfeeds when she is. Rather simple, isn’t it?

Assuming mom has gotten the help she might sometimes need so the breastfeeding is going well — but if it IS, that’s a lot easier than working to make money to afford formula and equipment, and a lot less time-consuming than shopping for supplies, washing them, preparing formula, packing up supplies to bring, recycling materials, and taking time to calm a crying baby who is waiting for you to get everything ready to feed. Just lift your top a little, offer the breast, and enjoy the peace and quiet. Fast!

But back to the artificial-feeding industry for the moment. They don’t encourage women to press for more family-friendly workplaces which welcome babies to on-site childcare facilities. Or to press for longer legislated maternity leave so women aren’t continuing to be so often forced to pick between their careers and their children.

Furthermore, they don’t reassure mothers that if breastfeeding challenges arise, there are plenty of resources for families to turn to, particularly mother-to-mother support groups and lactation consultants (IBCLCs). They make sure not to remind you that most breastfeeding challenges have solutions which emphasize that breastfeeding can be continued.

And why don’t they do this? Because they want you to become a customer of whatever they are selling. And especially if breastfeeding is going well, they have to get you to think of breastfeeding in some negative way if there’s any chance of you buying their products.

You see, for the formula, bottle, and artificial nipple companies, their biggest competition is not other companies. Their REAL biggest competition is breastmilk — and breastfeeding women.

Remember, if women breastfeed, the companies stand to lose billions of dollars. Money they should never have been getting in the first place, because the vast majority of women who formula feed only do so because they either did not get the breastfeeding help they needed and should have gotten, or they were made to feel they “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” breastfeed for myriad reasons.

The main ways formula companies have succeeded in convincing women of this has been by disseminating misleading information in written or online material — or in person at places where parents are likely to be — and it’s material that is given to parents. Stuff that looks and sounds great on the surface, on lovely colourful brochures and ads, all accompanied by images of happy, healthy-looking babies, all designed to lure parents and convince them that their products are just as good or even better than breastfeeding.

They erode mothers’ confidence in their own ability to fully nourish their children with their own breastmilk and sweet loving arms that of course, nourish the child’s spirit — a need that is no less important than nourishment of the body.

Another bonus! Breastfeeding is WAY cheaper than formula/bottles and the money you save can be spent directly on your family instead of going to multi-national corporations who already have hugely profited from convincing people to become their customers.

Even in the event of a crisis, such as an earthquake or in areas that are wracked by war or famine, the best way to feed a baby is to make sure mom is as adequately nourished as possible with good food and clean water — and then she will make plenty of milk for her baby — sometimes in these conditions, it’s the baby who is doing better than anyone else in the family as long as the mom is fed.

Here’s the simple truth: ideally a mom will breastfeed exclusively for about the first half year of life or even longer and then while gradually introducing solids she will continue to breastfeed for two or more years, as recommended by the World Health Organization, and continue breastfeeding until the child no longer needs or wants to breastfeed.

I hope this article will inspire and empower you to breastfeed and to do whatever you can to get all the support and help you need to have a wonderful and memorable breastfeeding experience.