My previous post was about how and why Emma Kwasnica retracted her “momination” from babble.com’s “Moms Who are Changing Your World” contest. Now babble.com has responded to this news through this post by Catherine Connors titled “Shame and the Mom: On Formula, Lactivism and Why, it Seems, we Can’t Just all get Along.“ In the response, Connors starts off by saying she’s a former breastfeeder, former (and current) breastfeeding activist, and lists all the ways she has helped with the cause. Then she explains that she is paid by babble.com and acknowledges that babble.com uses formula advertising to make some of its money (which eventually helps to pay for her salary). So far, I understood and had no reason to disagree… And then she writes the following:
“The money that I earn is, on this view, ‘blood money,’ because it comes from a company that accepts such advertising. Formula advertising is, after all, indisputably evil, because formula itself is evil.”
Stop right there. Formula advertising IS evil, but it does not follow that the advertising for it is evil because the formula itself is evil. Formula is simply a product, one that is sometimes necessary. It is not inherently evil. It is inferior to what it is trying to replace (FAR inferior) but that does not make it evil. No. What makes ADVERTISING formula evil is that because formula is so inferior, the marketing has to be so dang deceptive that it needs to dupe the consumers of said product that it’s “almost as good” as what it’s trying to replace. The marketing tactics need to hoodwink vulnerable populations (more about this term later) into believing that formula is somehow necessary. This advertising must be so subtle and so pervasive that it needs to pull the wool over the eyes of not only the direct consumers of this inferior product (mothers, fathers and their babies), but also society as a whole (doctors, hospitals, John Q. Public). It has to convince humanity that not only is formula “okay” it’s “healthy,” even. It has to convince women — mothers — to forgo feeding their babies what they know to be biologically appropriate, high-quality nourishment and replace it with low-quality artificial slop. Formula advertising is, by its very existence, a LIE.
Step back for a minute… Imagine a totally different world than the one we live in. Imagine that formula were not used except in cases of rare metabolic disorders. What would we as a society do? Well, for starters, most women would breastfeed.
There would be no controversy with breastfeeding in public or extended nursing. Everyone would intuitively understand that babies and toddlers need to be fed, and this is how you feed them, with mommy’s breasts. Hand-expression would almost certainly be commonplace. Pumping as well. Doctors and other health professionals would be well-versed in troubleshooting breastfeeding problems (instead of encouraging moms to give up). But what about women who didn’t have breasts? Or who had insufficient glandular tissue? Or couldn’t produce enough milk (for whatever reason)? What about their babies? Well… What’s the next best thing? Another lactating woman, of course! And since most women who have babies would be breastfeeding their own, there would be plenty to choose from, should a family need to hire a wet-nurse (the term used to describe a woman who nurses another person’s child).
In a world like the one I just described, an alternative to breastmilk would only be truly necessary for those babies with metabolic disorders (galactosemia and PKU), less than 1/100 of 1% of all babies born. Formula would be necessary for their survival, yet it’s easy to see that advertising for it would be completely unnecessary.
In fact, formula advertising is unnecessary NOW in our current world. Everyone knows formula exists. Everyone knows where to buy it. Everyone knows what it’s for, and anyone who is curious can read the ingredients list to see what’s in it. There is no need whatsoever for advertising for this product, and in fact, advertising this product has shown measurable harm (reduced breastfeeding rates in entire populations, infant death, etc.).
Remember that term “vulnerable populations?” It conjures up images of third-world countries and starving people with no access to safe drinking water with which to mix their peddled formula.
That is ONE interpretation. Here’s another (just as legitimate): newly post-partum mothers, exhausted, unsure, delirious with sleep-deprivation, and extremely sensitive to any suggestion that their baby might not be thriving immediately at their breasts.
This describes very nearly 100% of all new moms. It’s an extremely vulnerable population. And it also happens to be the primary target demographic for formula advertising (along with pregnant women, of course — gotta get ‘em thinking about it early).
Formula is not evil. Formula advertising is. Check out Jodine’s new post about her take on Catherine Connors’ babble.com defense. The screen shots of the advertisements on babble.com are enough to make your skin crawl.
Before I forget, I’ve gotta say this: Connors implied that Kwasnica was somehow “shaming” mothers who formula feed. How is that, exactly? She started a worldwide network to connect moms who need breastmilk for their babies with those who have extra breastmilk to give. How is that shaming? She found an elegant, real-world solution for the problem of attaining breastmilk for those babies whose mothers couldn’t produce enough for them. No one else before her had done anything like this. She’s STILL working tirelessly every single day, so that more communities around the world are connected and more babies are getting the human milk that is their birthright. She does it for free, because it’s the right thing to do, because it makes the world a better place. She’s not taken any money from any formula company, and I’ll bet she sleeps very well at night because of it.