Women Who Don’t Breastfeed Shouldn’t Feel Guilty, They Should Feel Angry

women who can't breastfeed are being failed by a system that makes it hard for moms to succeed at nursing their babies

I have an op-ed in today’s Newsday about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Latch On New York Initiative.

If you haven’t heard, Bloomberg announced that, come September 3, New York City hospitals are being asked to voluntarily keep formula under lock and key, just like other medications. If nurses need it for new moms, they would have to sign it out.

Many feminists, like Slate.com’s Hanna Rosin, have been getting on their high horses about how this initiative is taking choice away from women.

They’re wrong.

We live in a country where health is a profit-driven industry. In all but three states (go Rhode Island! Go Massachusetts! And sort of start to go New York), formula manufacturers are given free reign to cozy up to hospital staff, hospital administrators, and pediatricians. Two of the three formula giants in America are among the top donors to the American Academy of Pediatrics every year. No one is naive enough to believe this is because formula makers care about infant health. Abbott Nutrition and Mead Johnson both give huge amounts of money and donations in kind to the medical establishment because they have a product to sell and they are cultivating the “halo effect,” as it’s known in the business world. It makes them look good to be associated with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

I’d love to be wrong on this and I have invited both companies to communicate with me. Abbott Nutrition did not have the decency to return a single phone call. Mead Johnson agreed to meet with me in person in Chicago and then changed their minds. I went anyway, hoping to persuade the handsome, well spoken, and well meaning Christopher Perille, to take a few minutes out of his incredibly busy day to explain Mead Johnson’s corporate mission and company history. This was right at the beginning of my research and I thought I would be writing something about the history of infant formula on the lines of Malcolm Gladwell’s history of diaper innovation. Chris, though he came out of this office twice (the first time angrily until he saw that I was nervous, apologetic, and unthreatening; the second time embarrassedly because he didn’t realize I was still there) was too busy preparing for a trip to Brazil where, perhaps, he is happy to talk to journalists.

Mead Johnson is the luminary that brought our children chocolate-flavored baby drinks, which they took off the market after a public outcry. However, their equally disgusting sugar-laden vanilla version is still readily available for thirsty toddlers and aggressively promoted to moms. Accepting corporate donations from companies that make products that undermine children’s health cheapens the mission of the American Academy of Pediatrics and makes every member look bad. It makes pediatricians feel and act beholden to these multi-million dollar industries (no one bites the hand that feeds him), and it is becoming something of a national embarrassment.

This is why so many doctors are against the corporate sponsorship of their professional organizations and are trying–albeit often unsuccessfully–to get the pharmaceutical companies and other corporations out of their offices. Many are, simply speaking, disgusted with a system that both overtly and covertly discourages moms from breastfeeding.

“The vast majority of physicians in my Department agree [corporate sponsorship] is wrong,” Dr. Stefan Topolski, M.D., Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at University of Massachusetts Medical School, insisted when I met with him while doing research for my forthcoming book. “It’s embarrassing. The biggest danger is the loss of professional standing with the public and our patients who see us not able to act independently or stand on our own.”

Our breastfeeding rates are ignominious; our infant mortality rates among the highest in the industrialized world. Telemarketers from formula companies actually call new moms to suggest they stop nursing because formula is more convenient. Formula companies give breastfeeding advice (I won’t link to it but it’s on the Internet and easy to find) that is so frightening it would make most women want to bind their breasts, and moms are being belittled in the hospital, told they are “starving” their babies when they are trying to learn how to nurse, and threatened with separation or even criminal charges if they insist medical staff do not give their babies formula.

Feminists, wake up. American women want to breastfeed as much as women in every country in Europe and Asia who have more success than we do. But breastfeeding is hard and we need support.

Here are the last two paragraphs of my op-ed:

Breast-feeding shouldn’t be only for the wealthy who have the luxury to take time off from work without pay. It’s time for the American government to stop buying formula and instead require employers to provide new moms with a private place to pump. It should mandate and finance paid leave for all new parents. If we prioritized young families over corporate interests, as is done in Scandinavia, we could find the resources to fund this kind of program.

With a system that makes breast-feeding so difficult, women who don’t nurse shouldn’t feel guilty — they should feel angry.

You can read the entire article on-line here.

We need more support for breastfeeding moms in America

 

Jennifer Margulis teaching a workshop at a Parent-Daughter fair. Photo courtesy of Sarah Westover

Jennifer Margulis teaching a workshop at a Parent-Daughter fair. Photo: Sarah Westover

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. A professional writer and mother of four, she is the editor of Toddler: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent, Tiny People We Love and co-author of The Baby Bonding Book for Dads. Her book, The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line, is coming out in paperback in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. Yay for Massachusetts! I’m horrified that these companies call up new moms and urge them to use formula. Yikes. I breastfed in France in the 1970s, when breastfeeding in public was frowned upon there. Breastfeeding creates such a special bond with an infant.

  2. Missy

    I think I love you! So well stated and EXACTLY what every mom should know!! I WILL be buying your new book for all the 50 shades of grey baby showers!!

  3. Oona

    Jennifer you are an inspiration ! This kind of truth is long overdue and kudos to you for exposing the lies about breast feeding. I was lucky enough to be breast fed but not so my poor brother…. Who suffered dreadful eczema as a child which my mother was positive was due to her being forced by a Dr to put him on formula :(
    Keep up the good fight and I can’t wait to read your new book! :)

  4. Shannon Opperman

    I am glad that formula was invented….I suppose…as in some instances (loss of birth mother, drug abuse, etc.) it can be deemed necessary. I just can’t believe the impact it has had!!!!!! I was one who almost fell victim to the aggressive marketing. I truly thought that if you didn’t eat perfectly and make a huge effort to be the healthiest person EVER, that formula was a better option. My husband and I had our first daughter 21 months ago. When I was pregnant I told him I wasn’t going to breastfeed. He looked at me like I was nuts!!!! He grew up in a family that heavily supported it and practiced it. I did not. He told me that he thought formula was a “last ditch effort” to keep your baby alive (not is exact words, but close). I told him breastfeeding was almost impossible and that formula made so much more sense. I gave in and said I would try it, but knew that he would see how hard it was and agree with me that bottle feeding was the way to go. I had my daughter. I tried to breastfeed right after her delivery. It actually was a nightmare. I had no education on the matter, I had never even seen anyone do it! I had set myself up to fail. For some reason I kept at it. I would like to say I had a supportive hospital staff, but that would be a lie. They came in with bags full of formula samples and a bottle ready. I kept at it. We had our struggles, but even with then it just felt right. I cried the first 4 weeks at least and stared at the containers of formula in our pantry. Each time I thought “I can’t be doing this right! If I give her THAT I can rest easy knowing she is fed properly”. I still kept at it. I finally decided to see what the fuss was all about and started googling the benefits of breastfeeding. I could not believe my eyes. How could I be an educated female, living in what is supposed to be one of the greatest countries in the world, have had no idea that breastmilk was so much different than formula!? I continued to struggle with my doubts in a society that leads you to believe your instincts and your body are incapable of sustaining your child’s health. I could go on and on about my struggles, my self doubt, my lack of support, comments about feeding in public, and all that nonsense. Instead I will wrap up my long ramble by saying my child is almost 21 months. She has never had a drop of formula. She actually self weened last week. She is smart, healthy and amazing. I read articles like the one posted and feel as though I have beat the odds! I wish I didn’t feel that way. I wish I felt as though I did what almost everyone does. I fed my child what she was intended to eat. I nourished her and supported her body in it’s immature struggles to deal with the outside world. I mothered her.

    • Mary

      Shannon, I just wanted to say that I am so moved by your comment! What an amazing mother you are to persist despite the barriers you’ve faced. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.

    • Dearest Shannon, your story gave me goosebumps! I also was ambivalent towards the whole breastfeeding issue. So was my husband. We were both fed formula as babies so we didn’t see the point. But I had friends who encouraged me to try out breastfeeding. I also had friends who said formula was better.

      Then I happened to give birth in a hospital that strongly supported breastfeeding (they didn’t have formula!). That was probably the best thing that happened to me and my babies.

      I did mix feed when my first son was 5 months old but that’s because I gave in to the pressure (more here: http://www.mommytopaz.com/2012/07/i-wont-be-bullied-about-breastfeeding.html), not because I didn’t have enough milk. I feel very bad about that. Now, with my second boy, I will try very hard to keep him on my breastmilk for as long as he wants it!

      Thank you for your story. And Jennifer, thank you for your stand! Kudos to you both!

      • Kellan

        Shannon, that’s an amazing story! I have a 14 month old daughter who still nurses. Unlike yours, though, she has had some formula (I supplemented when it was obvious that she wasn’t getting enough/any milk from me & it helped boost my supply right back up). I agree that we should *know* about all the dangers connected to formula as well as the many more benefits of breastfeeding. So many people look down on extended nursing! I feel I’m a pioneer in my family because I practice that. Like you, I wish it were otherwise. But, in the end, we are strong women and mothers because of what we have and continue to endure. Kudos to you!
        Jennifer, I’m not a feminist, but LOVE your post! Thank you!!!!

  5. Liza Wyles

    Great piece and the RIGHT angle to the argument. Without asking, the hospital gave me a bag of formula when my daughter, now almost 5, was born. It got donated to a food bank. 2.5 years later, when my son was born in the same hospital (in NYC), they thankfully had the tact to first ask me if I was going to breastfeeding. Many women can’t or choose not to breastfeed, and instead of judging them, let’s judge the conditions that influenced their decision (ie formula ads in parenting magazines, no lactation consultants readily available at hospital births, etc.).
    Liza Wyles recently posted…TV or Not TV?*My Profile

  6. Kristy

    I get angry every single time I see these articles. I don’t see any mention of mothers who are physically unable to Produce milk. I saw lactation consultants and pumped constantly forgoing sleep and otherwise just to try to make it work. Had it not been for formula my child who was 6 pounds at birth and lost weight from there would have starved. No this was not a scare tactic a lactation consultant and doctor both confirmed my child was starving due to my inability to produce milk. As if the guilt wasn’t bad enough now we have to beg for the formula. It was difficult enough being forced to give this up without all of you being on your soap box. My child is now 18 months and eats healthier than any other child or their parents in her school. Women should be ashamed of themselves for not supporting one another and having empathy. I support this cause but not to the point of making incapable women feel humiliated further.

    • Jennifer PM

      I’m so sorry you had this experience, and so happy that you were able to bottle feed and raise a happy, healthy child. However, I don’t see how trying to get to the bottom of what the problems women run into (besides the small percentage who have unsurmountable supply problems) is upsetting. Anybody would have empathy for the heartbreaking position you found yourself in, but the writer is arguing that we should also have empathy (and fight for) all the women who want to breastfeed but give it up because of bad advice and lack of support at every turn (dr, family, office).

      • isabella

        You don’t have to beg!! Why do you think that? Its available EVERYWHERE! The samples you got in the hospital wouldn’t have lasted you more than a day or two anyway!

        • Kristy, I am so sorry that you had that experience and that you were not able to breastfeed. It’s heartbreaking. But one thing a lot of medical professionals in America truly do not understand is that establishing a breastfeeding relationship takes time. In the hospitals I visited in Norway and Iceland if a baby needs formula it is given on a dropper or syringe so that the baby does not get used to a bottle and have more trouble nursing. It’s very common for women to have no milk at the beginning. Colostrum is a watery substance that sustains a baby and it can take a week or so for any milk to come in.

          How is it that in Europe women are able to nurse and in America women are not? Is it because our bodies are somehow broken? It’s so hard to breastfeed — it takes time, patience, kindness, sleep, and a support system. If you weren’t able to do it, it’s not YOUR fault at all, and it’s not your body’s fault. It’s my fault that I wasn’t there to bring you a meal or rock the baby while you rested. It’s our society’s fault.

          Does that make sense? The last thing I want to do is make you–or any other woman–feel bad.

          I had a hospital birth with a lot of intervention (basically EVERYTHING but a C-section) with my first child. I felt like I had failed myself and failed her. I couldn’t understand why my body didn’t work — I was young, I was healthy, I have the hips as wide as the Mississippi. I mourned for months. It wasn’t until a smart friend said matter of factly, “Jennifer, an animal who is laboring in nature who feels threatened closes up. Labor stops and she tries again later,” that I began to understand that I had not failed. That my body shut down because I wasn’t being treated the way I needed to be, because I was surrounded by strangers looking at me naked , belittling me, and dismissing me.

          Is it possible, and I ask this in the gentlest way, that part of why nursing was not working for you is that you did not feel comfortable taking your shirt off in front of people you don’t know? That you were exhausted from the birth itself? That you weren’t optimally supported? Is it possible that you didn’t do anything wrong at all but that our system needs to work better so that moms like you have the support they need?

          One more gentle reminder that is a closely guarded secret: if you cannot breastfeed you do not have to give your baby formula. There’s a groundswell movement among moms across America now to share breast milk with each other (look up Human2Human on FB); you can make your own formula cheaply and easily; you can ask other nursing moms you know for milk; and–if you’re rich (it costs a fortune, which is just so wrong on so many levels)–you can buy human milk from milk banks. When this mom died during labor, a community of women came together to nurse her baby. Their example can be an inspiration to all of us: http://www.huliq.com/8738/89277/mich-baby-gains-20-moms-after-his-dies-childbirth

          p.s. Thank you for reading this blog and commenting on it. I am grateful for your point of view and again, I’m sorry if I inadvertently made you feel bad.

          • Kristy and Jennifer,

            As someone with IGT and someone who is a lactivist at heart I truly see both sides of this story.

            My mother had insufficient supply in the 70s and my 2 month old brother was severely malnourished. Three of her sisters have had breast cancer and two of them died from the disease. Something is wrong, genetically, in my family with regards to breastfeeding. My grandmother did not breastfeed due to the strong marketing of formula in the 40s and 50s, plus her native ancestors passed down the knowledge of babies starving because of lack of supply. Then, there was a tribe to meet the needs of those mothers, they shared so the baby did not starve to death. That is how they survived without the formula. Our industrialized society is also partly to blame. There are endocrine disturbing chemicals by the tons that did not exist 200 years ago. Lack of supply is very VERY real.

            Although I was determined to beat the odds of my genes, I did not. I have 4 daughters and I had to supplement every one. With each one I gained knowledge and understanding, and milk. I supplemented with a bottle with #1, with a syringe with #2 and an SNS with #3 and #4. With the first I was only able to pump out drops, and even then they barely left my nipple let alone broke enough surface tension to get through the pumpworks and into the storage bottle. The second I became better acquainted with how my body worked and I was able to hand express about 1/4 oz out of each side. By #4 I jumped for joy when I got to the 1 1/2 oz mark!!!

            I used formula, but I hated it! I knew it was creating an imbalance in their gut flora and that the stuff curdles within 24 hours. I searched and found a donor mom for #4 and her milk sustained my babe for 5 months, until which time she decided she was staying home with her baby and would no longer pump.

            I was beaten down by my pediatrician for choosing donor milk over formula. He handed me a can the company provided to him and with tears in my eyes I took it. Then, probably because I was using the SNS, I got a horrible case of nipple thrush.

            I hate formula, but in my case it was needed. Had there been a better network of donors available and a system that my pediatrician would have encouraged instead of degraded, then things would have been different. Change does need to come, and Bloomberg’s is a step in the right direction… and this is coming from a 4 time low supply mama.

          • Christine – your story and your courage brings tears to my eyes. That must have been so hard. The saddest part is that I remember when my friend’s baby was born and she had the opposite problem: so much milk she had to pump before he nursed so he wouldn’t choke. She donated it to sick babies (aka a milk bank). If there had been more community back then, she could have given it to a local mama who could have used it for free.

    • Kristy

      Thank you for the varying perspectives in the comments. To clarify my situation, I have PCOS and over the course of 3 months was only able to produce (through very tedious pumping every 2-3 hours) about 1 ounce per day. I gave her the 1 ounce per day until even that dropped off. My frustration comes with the implication that formula is ok only for mothers of a certain type – drug addicts, alcoholics, etc. I recently saw a similar post to this blog on facebook but it came with heavier accusations that those of us not breastfeeding are poisoning our children and setting them up for diabetes and depression. With recent legislation in the Northeast they are simply making the formula more challenging to get so while you wouldn’t have to beg necessarily you would have to jump through some extra hoops – a prospect that I would have found daunting at the time. I would prefer to see women educate and support without being accusatory or making sweeping generalizations about BFing moms and non-BFing moms. This was the third posting of similar content I had seen lately and I just feel the level of the argument should come down a notch. Being a mother is hard enough and all situations are different. Further, I advocate a lifetime of healthy eating and healthy choices, not just the first 12 months. I would love to see the focus of this argument shifted to starting out with the best option (breastmilk) but continuing with healthy natural foods throughout their lives. I get annoyed when we villianize the formula companies but mothers are the ones making the decisions. You could also feed your infant ice cream but you don’t because you know better. I think someone rightly said ‘educate, don’t hate.’ The same rule should apply here and we should focus on helping everyone make the best decision for themselves and their children. I will admit I smile quite often to myself when a BFing mother tells me that I disadvantaged my little one by not giving breastmilk exclusively while their toddler is muching on goldfish crackers or similarly processed gluten filled foods and hanging out in front of the television. I am personally sad I missed out on an enormous amount of bonding and other benefits (cancer also runs in my family so it wasn’t just my child that missed out on extra benefits!) But it had to be that way and I did the best I could. I like to think that I did OK given the circumstances – no colds/flu in over 18 months for my baby and I didn’t let her starve in the first month of life. I hope all mother’s breastfeed but if they can’t, won’t or don’t I also hope they focus on giving their child a lifetime of health, love and support without getting hung up on the guilt/inferiority associated with formula.

  7. Jennifer PM

    This rings so true and I’m really interested in reading your book. All the talk of “guilt” and “pressure” seems so off base when women generally want to breastfeed and yet generally don’t succeed. There’s institutional barriers influencing them, but the commercial influence seems insidious as well.

  8. Natalie B.

    But Jennifer, if the government does more to promote breastfeeding, how will they be able to protect our borders? (At least that’s what they’re saying in the comments on your article.)

    It’s really hard for people to see all of the societal components that contribute to our low breastfeeding rates in the US. As a result, everyone takes things personally on this issue. I notice that no one can write an article or blog post that champions breastfeeding without someone feeling attacked. It’s important to keep the issue in the news and in the conversations that people are having. Thanks for doing your part.

    I can’t wait for your book.

  9. Linda A.

    Kristy, you too should feel angry, not guilty. You should feel angry that you didn’t have a thorough breast exam during your pregnancy that might have identified your insufficient glandular tissue. You should feel angry that the Lactation Consultant in the hospital didn’t take a thorough history that might have identified red flags for a problem. You should feel angry that nobody told you there are medications snd herbs you could have taken to increase your chance of producing more milk. You should feel angry if you were discharged from the hospital before your baby showed signs of dehydration. You should feel angry that nobody told you that you could still breastfeed your baby while supplementing with formula or donor milk at the breast with a little tube and container. The ubiquitous promotion of formula over breastfeeding is only part of the reason why so many mothrrs stop breastfeeding before they even have a chance to succeed. The worse problem is the utter lack of breastfeeding education in the US for doctors and nurses when they are in school. The lack of priority of lactation management programs in hospitals ensures that the only education health care providers get on infant feeding is from the formula company salesperson who visits every week or two.

  10. Katherine

    I agree with Kristy 100%. I was in a similar position with the inability to produce enough milk in order to breastfeed. I felt the pressure to KEEP TRYING even though it was very clear no matter what I did i was not going to be able to breastfeed. I thank my hospital staff for bringing me formula for my son, in a little cup, not a bottle, so that he would get the nourishment he needed but not get “used” to a bottle when I was trying to breastfeed. At no time, EVER, did they tell me which brand of formula it was not did they try to sell me on formula exclusively or a particular brand. You may have some valid points however, i do not agree with what you are telling me that I should be angry about. Women not only want to breastfeed, but what they want more then anything is for their child to be healthy. Women, we need to be educated and given ALL the information, from both sides. Forcing women to BEG for formula when it is either needed or just their personal choice is allowing the pendulum to swing the other way.

    • Sara

      Katherine, I agree! I have friends who have made a personal choice to not breastfeed. They are making a choice for their children very different than mine, but I don’t think we should shame them in the hosptial and make them beg for it. I do believe that women should not be tempted with all the freebies, though.

  11. You hit a lot of great points, I completely agree with many of your points. I agree that corporations should not be able to pressure women into their choices. Yes, women should be given the space and time to pump, I would go another step and say that in my perfect world, I would get 12 months of maternity leave and not have to worry about leaving my infant with a stranger at 6 weeks of age. I was able to breastfeed my twins up to eleven months– persevering through various hospitalizations and some very intense mental health issues. My doctors and lactation consultants advised me to stop breastfeeding. And I absolutely should have. I look back at that time and feel like I was stubborn and stupid to make myself breastfeed through the events that we encountered. So, here’s what bothers me about the post. Women should not be made to feel that they are wrong or less adequate for not breastfeeding. There are many valid reasons to not breastfeed, one of which is simply choosing not to. It’s the mother’s choice, plain and simple. Formula provides the choice. I just feel that this article views the bottle-mama as less than, that’s all. Otherwise, great article.
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  12. Lithuanian mother

    It is so strange to read such information on the situation in one of the most powerful countries. On the other hand – not strange at all, money makes its way… Unfortunately in so sensitive area as well… I am glad that in our country the situation is much better, corporations didn’t have too much time to wash brains and many mothers breastfeed. Though attempts from formula business were already getting success and it is not very rare that nurse in hospital would urge to use formula. Therefore I really like this initiative of locking up the formula! Good job!:-)

  13. isabella

    Ok, is it just me, or did you call Hanna Rosin a feminist? When did feminism include calling formula a “cornerstone of capitalism”? And ”
    what employer would let a woman stay home to breastfeed when she could be “productive” to him?” (just published in Slate.com).

  14. These articles bother me as well. There isn’t anything that’s ever said about other reasons as to why.some women don’t breastfeed! I for one, CANNOT due to my health & medications I have no choice but to take daily! Instead, I feel.as though a lot of this is meant to make women who can’t or don’t for a very legitimqte reason, feel guilty for failing to do what’s “best” for baby vs your own health also.
    This is how I’ve felt ever since I was told I could not due to the medications I take.being passed through to baby.

  15. Danielle

    Thank you for this article, and I appreciate that it was done to inspire all women to look at this from a feminist standpoint.

    It makes me mad that authors like Hannah Rosin spins breastfeeding into something that is anti- feminist, when the truth is , I have never felt more strong in being a female that as a breastfeeding mother. I feel strong and capable to do what’s right for my child.

    If you are a bottle feeding mama for whatever reason, I know you feel strong and capable and are doing what’s right for your child as well. The first few weeks of bfeeding were the most challenging thing I have EVER done in my entire life- I think it was harder than the labour! If it wasn’t for a really good friend of mine who came over, and my husband for believing in me, I wouldn’t be breastfeeding now. So I really dislike snarky pro BF articles, because without those 2 people, I would now be on the other side of the story.

  16. shelby

    It took my milk a week to come in after having an emergency c-section. I fought in the hospital tooth and nail to breastfeed and was given a whopping 2 minutes with a lactation consultant and bottles of formula. The nurse in the pediatrics told me I was “starving my baby” haha exactly as this article says. I gave her formula for 2 days but also had her suckle as well. I get a pump and didn’t give up until milk started coming out on that 6th night post-partum. I remember crying and waking my baby up to nurse. No one helped me or advised me to do any of this I just figured it out after the hardest week of my life. Wish I would have had more support from an expert and maybe offered to rent a hospital pump from the hospital (something I was not told I could do.) Went on to breastfeed for the best and most rewarding 19 months of my life. Now I hope to go to nursing school and get a certificate in lactation consulting so I can possibly help the MANY other women in my situation.

    • I hope you will go to nursing school, Shelby! And work in labor and delivery. Your story brings up such an important point — the “failure” to breastfeed starts before the baby is even born. Marsha Walker, a very effective and wonderful advocate for women and children in Massachusetts, has a lot to say about how the hospital culture and the way women are treated in labor — and what happens during labor — is often the real reason why women can’t breastfeed. We forget sometimes that labor is an ordeal for the baby, too. The baby and the mom need recovery time. Good for you for fighting, Shelby. You are a strong amazing woman and America needs more people like you in the medical community. But maybe you should go to MEDICAL SCHOOL and become a doctor? That might be an even more effective way to change things from the inside out!

  17. Kat

    This article is not about women who cannot breastfeed. If you can’t breastfeed, please, by all means, feed your child formula so they don’t starve to death. This article is about how the prevalence of product placement and misinformation in hospitals is leading more women who WANT TO and CAN breastfeed to opt for formula instead. When I had my first child, I was extremely sick, in the ICU and on all sorts of meds. I couldn’t breastfeed. I wasn’t even given the choice – I was barely conscious for the first 10 hours of my daughter’s life. Thanks god for formula or she’d be in pretty rough shape! A few years later, when I had my son, I decided early on in my pregnancy that I wanted to breastfeed. A few of my friends gave me pointers, I read up on kellymom.com about some things to expect. I felt confident that I could give it a good try. When I had him, they gave him to me in recovery (I had a csection) and he latched right on! A little while later, they were going to move me to my room so they took him to the nursery while I got settled. When he returned to me he returned with a ton of bottles and formula. Oh, no thanks. We’re breastfeeding. Then they gave me a free diaper bag with an Enfamil logo and a bunch of formula in it. No. We’re breastfeeding. In the middle of the night when I groggily took him to feed him, the night nurse said, “You should get some sleep – why don’t we just feed him in the nursery” What part of WE’RE BREASTFEEDING is so damn hard to understand! I felt like every time I turned around, there was a bottle of formula. I got booklets with coupons for formula when leaving the hospital. I came home and there was a box of free samples of formula in my mailbox. Trust me, I didn’t have to beg for formula. I had to beg to get it out of my face.

    And for the record, I live in RI, where this law is already in place. I’m due in a few weeks and am looking forward to nothing seeing formula at every turn. And I know that if I do end up needed it, all I have to do is say, hey I want some formula and there it’ll me.

  18. Sara

    I am a strong believer in breast feeding and have exsclusively nursed both my children. For me breast feeding is about the intimate experience and bond I have with my children as babies. The nutritional beneits are just bonus! Here is my question – what about my friends who just have no desire, instict or passion to breastfeed. Isn’t that their choice? Just like deciding their four year old can drink soda or juice while my children are forced to stick with milke or water, isn’t it up to them if they feed their infants formula or breastmilk? As someone else stated earlier, the judgement needs to stop.

    Is this really about not letting the formula companies infiltrate the desparate, tired mothers on the fence – the ones who want to breast feed, but are at the critical new mom point of thinking about giving up because nursing is NOT easy and takes a lot effort and committment? OR is his about trying to push one groups perspective (pro-breastfeeding) onto another’s? If it is the latter I am not okay.

    One thing I am not clear on — is the formula locked up, but still free? If that is the case it feels like we’re just shaming people who choose not to breastfeed. I do think people should have to pay for the use of formula in hospitals – it should not be free.

  19. paula

    Brava, Jennifer! I breastfed my children, but it wasn’t easy. Like many women my age my mother didn’t do it, and no one I knew had done it. By the time I had my first child, I had seen THOUSANDS of boobs displayed for male enticement, but had NEVER seen one do what it was intended to do!
    I’m with you on the reasons that women are unable to breastfeed. I had a breastfeeding coach (not kidding) for my last two children, and she helped me continue breastfeeding while I had severely clogged milk ducts. It was a harrowing and painful experience, but she eased me get through it, and my very underweight baby began to thrive.
    It infuriates me to know that hospitals still take part in the atrocious practice of promoting a product so dangerous as baby formula. The crap is almost entirely corn syrup! Please, people, if you are entirely unable to breast feed, MAKE YOUR OWN FORMULA. It’s not that hard, and it is far superior to what the idiots are cooking up at Mead Johnson.
    Thank you, Jennifer.
    P.S. I believe the root of this problem is male domination, and female submission…..Don’t get me started on that!

  20. Anna

    I had my first baby in Japan and its a similar situation there in the private clinics which (due to a shortage of maternity services in the public system) is pretty much all low risk women can access in many areas.
    Formula companies provide all kinds of things to the clinics which helps lower their overheads in exchange for a 30min indoctrination session with new mothers. You get given a sample from the formula company and in most of these clinics babies are being given formula without consent and being allowed to discharge is dependent on the old debunked feed and weigh method, which means that most women leave supplementing which we all know is a slippery slope to weaning. I was incredibly lucky in that after only a few days my milk alone was adding the necessary grams to my chunky babies frame and I was sent home fully breastfeeding. That was against the odds though as he had been given formula in his first day (not needed), was surgically born AND seperated from me for no good reason. The majority of women end up believing they dont have enough milk to feed their baby exclusively and because they come out the gates supplementing its a self fulfilling prophecy.
    Articles like this are not saying formula should not be available if it is truly necessary. Just that it shouldnt be being made available in hospitals as an equal option. This is actually already the case in much of the western 1st world nations – and it does improve bfing rates upon discharge. Unfortunately there arent enough support services after that and due to cultural beliefs also that formula is just as good, or babies need to be “fattened up” by 3months our rates in Australia are abysmally low too. I believe something this important too – donor milk should be available so women that are struggling or ill immediately after birth can at least choose to give their child breastmilk for the first few days or weeks – ideally longer.

  21. In response.to Saras last comment, why should it.not be free?
    That would just make someone like myself who can’t nor ever would be able too due to medical reasons feel guilty that much more!

    • Sara

      You have to buy the formula from a store once your home, right? So why not have to pay for it in the hospital. My point is – if it is just locked up to shame people into having to ask for it that is just mean. If it is really about telling the formula companies to STOP dangling a carrot in front of tired, hormone-filled women than suggesting someone pay for a product they will have to pay for after leaving the hosptial makes sense. The problem hear is the freebies that tempt people. If you had to pay for it you may not be tempted. If the formula is deemed “medically necessary” in the hospital it is no different than having to pay for other medications. Again, just locking up the freebies to make someone ask for them just seems like the pro-breastfeeding folks are trying to push their perspectives onto the other women. I have had friends who had ZERO intrest in breastfeeding and were fine paying for formula from the get-go as that was always their plan as they had no intrest in breastfeeding. I have had other friends, though, that wanted to breastfeed and the tempting, free formula did create obstacles to their success.

  22. msmith

    While there is much to agree with, for me, in this article I read the title with dismay. While women whose choice is effectively removed by aggressive formula marketing have good reason to feel angry, should we really be introducing discussion of this issue with a statement which appears to tell mothers what they should or should not be feeling. There is a wide spectrum of valid feelings which women who do not breastfeed will experience. Guilt, anger, indifference, relief, pain, heartache, content, peace, anxiety etc. Perhaps you will think I am missing the point, that it is obtuse of me to focus on the title rather than the content of the article. I think however that many people will read the title, dismiss the article as another example of commentators telling women how they should or should not act, feel, react. Unless we are only interested in preaching to the converted it defeats the purpose of an interesting, thought provoking opinion piece.

  23. Jamie Howe

    I think it’s kind of ridiculous to lock up formula. I have a medical condition that keeps me from producing milk. It made me quite upset that I couldn’t feed my daughter the natural way, but having to ask for formula every time I needed it to feed my daughter would probably make me even more upset. Think of the few of us that actually can’t produce milk.

  24. LittleLmomma

    I just want to say that not having any formula in my house (ever) especially within the first week after my son was born helped me. One night he was very grumpy wouldn’t stop crying my husband and I tried everything. I think if I had formula in my house I would have given it to him because I thought he didn’t like nursing/wasnt getting enough. We survived he stopped crying and 16 months later he is still a breast fed happy healthy beautiful boy! I’m blessed to have been able to BF this long and lucky to never have had any issues.

  25. Elly

    I am an accredited lactation counselor and I have volunteered for 25 years with an internationally recognized leader in breastfeeding support, protection and promotion. My scope of breastfeeding knowledge is extensive.
    However, I am not anti-formula.

  26. Thank you Jennifer for this impassioned and informative post. I breastfed all three of my children but remember the beguiling messages and formula give-aways from the hospital and my doctor. Ugh! What’s it going to take for us to put children and mothers first? Changing the structure of the system — giving mothers a place to pump at work — is one step in the right direction.

  27. I had sooo much trouble nursing my first child–it was not the heart-warming, bonding experience I had anticipated (even with my other children it was never an easy endeavor). And I did use formula to supplement nursing for awhile, just until I got comfortable. At least for me, I wish that there were more lactation consultants available at the hospital and for follow-up. I recently interviewed several lactation consultants for a story I was working on and over and over again I heard the same thing–overworked, understaffed. When women feel supported, it’s so much easier to continue nursing.

  28. In our bottle-and-crib culture, women feeling a pull to what they believe is a healthier and more natural approach to motherhood need information and support like you offer–thank you.

    I’ve seen women in 50 countries–rich and poor–co-sleeping and breastfeeding for years. They must have information we don’t (the subject of my book New Mother). Or is it that in the U.S. we’re inundated with information under the guise of help and support by profit-driven institutions?

    It’s both.

    I look forward to your forthcoming book “The Business of Baby”.

  29. I have been very surprised to hear that breastfeeding is difficult. My mother breastfed all her children. As the oldest, I saw my younger siblings being fed, and it seemed perfectly normal and easy to me. Of course I realize that it is truly difficult for some women or for some babies for a variety of reasons. But when I read about the widespread need for lactation consultants, breast pumps, etc., etc., it makes me wonder why we are so different here compared to other countries where most women just do it.

  30. thank you so much for sharing this – it is so true – marketing and $$ go so far in personal health decisions. when we think we’re making a personal decision, we’re un-duly influenced by a company whose own interests are before the health of an individual, a nation, or the world!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] -          **  Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. “Women Who Don’t Breastfeed Shouldn’t Feel Guilty…”  http://jennifermargulis.net/blog/2012/08/women-who-dont-breastfeed-shouldnt-feel-guilty-they-should-… [...]

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