The smartest argument formula manufacturers can make in favor of using formula is to imply, through clever marketing tactics, that it’s “just as good” as breastfeeding. But smart does not always means honest. The implications made by formula marketing tactics don’t have to be true, and in fact, they aren’t. The important thing, though, is that consumers believe the implications, that consumers believe the lie.
Analogies are imperfect; I’ve never met one that aligned exactly with what it was trying to explain, and because of this they can be a source of bitter quibbling over the details… Despite that, I will use one to describe what I mean: Formula is to breastfeeding as Coca-Cola is to eating a freshly picked ripe organic orange. There is NO COMPARISON.
So, for a formula manufacturer to say, for example, “Brand X formula now contains DHA and ARA, just like breastmilk,” is like saying, “Coca-Cola now contains the addition of Vitamin C, just like a freshly picked ripe organic orange does.” In both cases, an unfair comparison is made by association, implying that the addition of one discrete item (or two) makes the manufactured product “enough” like the original that it’s “just as good for you (or your baby).” It’s NOT.
I’m not trying to demonize formula itself. There are many legitimate cases where formula use (as in my own personal case) is necessary. However, that necessity has been grossly distorted by formula manufacturers and the trickle-down effect their marketing practices have exerted on the medical community. As a brief example, look at the formula give-aways at hospital discharge in most Western hospitals, maternal-infant separation at birth, and other baby UNfriendly practices that pervade the medicalized birth experience. These routines and practices are no accident or mere coincidence. They are couched as “safety” concerns, but the truth is they have come about out of fear of malpractice suits and the desire to control as many variables as possible in order to avoid being sued. Formula companies LOVE this and exploit it for their own ends, reassuring the medical community that one more variable can be controlled precisely: the baby’s nourishment. Most doctors, ignorant about breastfeeding (medical school dedicates about 1.5 total hours to breastfeeding education, out of FOUR YEARS), are happy about this control, because they perceive that it reduces the risk of malpractice suits, and one hand (medical establishment) washes the other (formula companies), willingly.
My point here and now is that the aggressive marketing of formula has convinced too many people, some of them doctors, that formula is “just as good” as breast milk. It is NOT. Not by far. This nonsense needs to stop right now. It never should have started.
Unfortunately, this is one of the primary goals of formula manufacturers, and they will stop at nothing to convince the entire world that formula is “just as good” as breastfeeding, even if it means lying about it. They have lied before and gotten away with it. Rest assured, they are not deterred by ephemeral negative publicity, and they will lie again. Negative publicity to a huge multi-billion-dollar corporation like Nestle, for example, is a mere trifle, a nuisance, like a gnat flying in its face it can swat away or squash with its hand. They can always buy back the hearts and minds of the public by (grudgingly and dismissively) paying lip-service to “breast is best” while talking out of both sides of their mouth and emphasizing that “our formula is ‘like’ breast milk.” It matters not to them that that comparison is a gross misrepresentation of the truth, as long as there is money to be made.
The real truth, that the difference between formula and breast milk is worlds apart, is the reason why I am skeptical when I read about claims that breastfeeding performs “like” formula for a given data set, even if these claims are published in a prestigious medical journal. It’s not that I’m not inclined to believe it if the science is sound. It’s that I’m not certain I know enough information about what happened behind the scenes to believe what I’m reading. And since it’s happened before, my skepticism remains intact.