Booby Traps Set Breastfeeding Moms Up for Failure

BlogHer Original Post

Many mothers start out with the best of intentions when it comes to breastfeeding. Health experts agree that "breast is best" and the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother are numerous. Yet while a lot of people give lip service to the importance of breastfeeding, there isn’t a lot of support for women once they make the decision to breastfeed. In fact, our society offers very little support to breastfeeding moms and often sabotages breastfeeding altogether.

How many times have you heard about a mom being told to cover up her nursing child on an airplane or at an amusement park or at a store or at a restaurant or even asked to leave or had the police called on her? How many times have you seen formula ads in parenting magazines and on television? How many times have you read a magazine article giving incorrect breastfeeding advice (or should I say formula advice) or heard of a well-intentioned pediatrician giving parenting advice that compromises the breastfeeding relationship? Has a can of unwanted infant formula ever mysteriously appeared at your doorstep?

breastfeeding womanThe examples above all have one thing in common -- they are Breastfeeding Booby Traps. Best For Babes (a non-profit that believes "ALL moms deserve to make an informed feeding decision and to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt, whether they breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months 2 years, or not at all") describes Breastfeeding Booby Traps as "the cultural and institutional barriers that prevent moms from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals."

Some Booby Traps include:

  • sending moms home from the hospital with a "gift bag" of formula,
  • having family and/or friends who are uncomfortable with you nursing ask when you are going to give the baby a bottle,
  • or having a pediatrician who is unable to answer your questions about breastfeeding.

This post is not to debate breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding. Parents have the right to decide how to feed their baby. But they also have the right to be presented with factual information and the right to not have their feeding decisions undermined. Best For Babes is working to help accomplish that.

Here are some more Booby Traps that have set the blogosphere abuzz.

Amber from Speak Her Truth wrote Marketing and Breastfeeding, Who Hasn't Been Duped?, and said she is not going "to join in on this back and forth bashing of breastfeeding vs formula feeding mothers."

As long as we fight amongst ourselves on this one symptom we cannot unite against the disease. The disease of markets that profit solely on the belief that our bodies are not good enough, not good enough to be sexually attractive, not good enough to give birth and not good enough to nourish our babies afterwards. A simple statement that could bring down this entire empire of insecurity: "Not only are we good enough, we are better just the way we are."

Maya from Musings of a Marfan Mom wrote about Babble's partnership with Similac -- in which Similac sponsors Babble's Breastfeeding Guide -- after first reading about it on PhD in Parenting. Maya said:

You might ask why I care whether a formula company sponsors a breastfeeding portion of a website. I care, because I want women to have a choice in how they feed their children. I care, because women aren’t being given proper information on nursing, which sabotages the attempts of women who want to breastfeed. I care because, believe it or not, formula advertising has been shown over and over again to have a negative effect on breastfeeding relationships. Formula advertising not only affects women’s choices in how to feed their children, whether they are conscious of it or not, but it results in drastically higher costs for families who choose to feed their children formula (who do you think ends up paying for the “free” samples given at the hospital and sent in the mail, as well as all those commercials and Internet ads?). That affects their choice as well.

Tumbling Boobs pointed out its not just parenting websites promoting Similac’s latest marketing ploy and included screen captures of a few medical providers that are actively promoting Similac’s feeding hotline to moms seeking breastfeeding help.

Annie from PhD in Parenting also pointed out that even WebMD's breastfeeding guide is sponsored by Gerber (which is owned by Nestle). There are six Gerber ads on the page that is supposed to help mothers with breastfeeding! Annie, who said, "There has to be a way to stop this incredibly unethical and predatory infant formula marketing on websites pretending to offer breastfeeding support," urges her readers to take action and lists a few ways to get involved.

Jem wrote a review of the book The Politics of Breastfeeding (which I will be adding to my must-read list). She believes the book should be read not only by nursing moms, but by all women.

Reading the book frustrated me on so many levels. I've talked before about Nestle's marketing practices before, but it goes beyond that. The origins of formula; unnecessary death of babies in both developed and 'third world' countries; the undermining of women because we're "not good enough"/"not reliable enough" to maintain life; the supplementing with formula without permission from mums; the strange habit of separating babies from their mums in hospital, etc.

This book has changed the way I look at so many aspects of birth and infant care.

Taking a more light-hearted approach to the subject is Dou-la-la whose humorous, but also disturbing post Breast is Best, Sponsored by Simfamil: Don Draper Explains It All For Us is sure to be enjoyed by many a Mad Men fan. Heck, I thought it was awesome and I've only watched about 15 minutes of Mad Men.

What is the solution? How do we stop undermining breastfeeding moms?

I think the best start is if formula companies would start following the World Health Organization's International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes. We all know formula exists. We all know where we can get some (even for free), if we so desire. The marketing and the deceit needs to stop. If you are upset about the Babble/Similac partnership or the WebMD/Gerber/Nestle partnership, follow Annie's lead and take action. Let the companies know you disagree with their choices and why and then spread the word.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead

Photo by benklocek via Flickr

Contributing editor Amy Gates writes about parenting, women's health, green living and more at Crunchy Domestic Goddess. You can also follow her on Twitter: @crunchygoddess.

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