No one said it was easy to walk the walk…

September 13th, 2011 by MamaBear

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.

breastfeeding

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 populationsinfant 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.

Nasty

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.

tired mom

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.

 

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4 Responses to “No one said it was easy to walk the walk…”

  1. Ahmie Yeung Says:

    *brief standing ovation while my knees tolerate it*

    People like Emma and yourself are what give me the strength to do the research I’m doing into effective ways to increase breastfeeding rates among some of the most vulnerable mom/baby dyads in North America as I see it - families receiving WIC assistance. It can be horribly demoralizing to me sometimes when I look at the numbers of how few make it even to the 3 month mark of ANY breastfeeding in that population, heck it’s demoralizing sometimes to look at the data on ALL economic classes of families and how few babies actually get the “privilege” of being breastfed to the American Academy of Pediatric’s guidelines because, sadly, in this country right nowt that is what it is - a privilege that mom has the opportunity to make the sacrifices needed to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and then keep her supply from tanking for at least another 6 months after that.

    That babble.com post was speaking from a place of unexamined priviledge. I found it highly offensive to the sacrifices and guilt that mothers like my own mother suffer because they could not afford to make the sacrifices our narrow-minded society required of them in order to breastfeed their children. I was formula-fed. It very likely DID damage me, a significant portion of my disability could well be because of not having the proper nutrients I needed in critical stages of my infant development (I have hypermobility syndrome, which is an issue with how my body manages collegen… certain receptors or pathways of absorbing nutrients from food COULD have been screwed up because of my not being breastfed). My breastfed children seem to be growing out of the hypermobility as they progress through early childhood, my 7 year old has no symptoms now though he used to hyperextend his major joints, my 4 year old is becoming less exaggeratedly bendy day by day and his major joints are getting close to just the normal range of motion, the 15 month old is still more bendy than his brothers ever were even in his hands so he’ll be the real test case to me. The older two didn’t stop nursing daily until they were 2.5 years old and still recieve my milk on occassion to this day tho now it’s from a cup. The youngest is still getting roughly 50% of his caloric intake direct from my breasts and thriving other than having thumbs that move in disturbing ways. My mother is proud of my breastfeeding her grandchildren, and refers friends (and friends-of-friends, and people she meets casually on the street *grin*) to me if they need information or support with breastfeeding issues. My breastfeeding advocacy actually helps her process and deal with any remaining negative feelings she has about not having been able to breastfeed her own children. Part of that process has been realizing exactly how many different ways she was set up to fail, booby-trapped, by the world around her and how little control she actually had as an individual over the situation. Realizing how much our power has been stolen from us as women generally makes women MAD, not guilty or shamed. Directing that anger appropriately to the betterment of society is healing, and the role that activists fill.

    If something is actually necessary and the best choice for a particular situation, it doesn’t need advertising to connect with the needed consumers.

  2. MamaBear Says:

    Thank you, Ahmie Yeung. I feel like I should be applauding you, now. :)

  3. Kat Says:

    Also untrue - that only babies with galactosemia and PKU medically require formula. Try VCLAD and babies with certain liver diseases that lead to malabsorption -just to name two more off the top of my head. In the case of the latter, babies are unable to gain weight with regular formula or breastfeeding alone. Instead, they require high calorie elemental formula with MCT oil - sometimes as a supplement to their mother’s breastmilk - in order to put on weight. In the case of certain liver diseases, half of these babies will need a liver transplant before they are 2-years-old. A baby’s ability to SURVIVE a transplant is dependent on their weight (amongst other things) -hence the need for this kind of formula and often for feeding tubes. Hopefully, you’ll never have to spend time in a children’s hospital and see these kinds of things. Screened donor milk can be a wonderful option for some medically fragile babies - informal milksharing however carries its own risks for a baby who already has a life threatening illness. Calling formula “low-quality artificial slop” - nice. In your book, is it only slop when the mother is physically able to breastfeed and chooses not to? Would you tell a parent of a baby with galactosemia that they are feeding their baby artificial slop? As Wiessinger says, watch your language.

  4. MamaBear Says:

    Kat, I appreciate your comment. I will do more research on VCLAD and liver diseases as you suggested. I am not sure these children would benefit more from high-calorie elemental formula than from higher-calorie breastmilk.

    You wrote: …”informal milksharing however carries its own risks for a baby who already has a life threatening illness. ” My response to this statement is: SO DOES FORMULA. Have you read this story yet? It’s pretty eye-opening: http://iinformedparenting.blogspot.com/2010/09/milk-for-baby-jayden.html Keep in mind that banked milk is NOT AN OPTION for the majority of babies that need/want it. It’s just too scarce and cost-prohibitive, even from a non-profit milk bank.

    I’ve had to use formula to feed my own baby when I couldn’t find any donor milk. I still think it’s low-quality artificial slop. I do understand what you meant, though, and agree that for people that must use it (including myself), it’s not fair to them to describe it in such an insensitive way.

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