I just read a blog by Alison Stuebe about the World Health Organization and formula companies. She makes an important point about who, we as breastfeeding advocates, are fighting. We are not fighting formula or families who use formula. We are trying to fight formula manufacturers. They are the enemy. Why? Because there are huge profits to be made and where there is money to be made, there are often tactics being used to make that money at any cost. Recently, I had a client call on Friday who I couldn’t see until Monday. I was one of many people she had desperately called needing breastfeeding help. She complained to me that although everyone is promoting breastfeeding we are still very much lacking the support needed to sustain breastfeeding. I gave her some suggestions to get through the weekend and then we worked out her issues on Monday, but her point is really valid. If we are telling everyone they should breastfeed, we need to have the help needed in a timely manner.
Feeding into this idea was another blog post which lists the top five things breastfeeding advocates need to stop doing. Number 3 is Assuming that someone who didn’t breastfeed doesn’t know the facts. “There are some moms who know all the facts about breastmilk and breastfeeding and choose not to breastfeed anyway. I know that’s a hard one to swallow, but remember that there are some very private, totally understandable reasons a woman may choose not to breastfeed.” This is true, there are some excellent reasons why a mother might choose or not be able to breastfeed, but when the formula industry is spending “Conservatively…$480 million (10% of net sales) each year on marketing infant formula in the US. That’s more than six times the $68 million in total US federal government expenditures for breastfeeding support through the WIC Peer Counselor program ($60 million) and CDC initiatives ($8 million).” I have to wonder, do mothers know all the facts?
With all this cash available to influence families and professionals, I wonder who else is in their pocket. I have been too busy creating new curriculum to read Courtney Jung’s new book yet, Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy. I also think I am afraid to read it because I worry it is filled with so many untruths that I will be overwhelmed. Yet she is getting so much press. I can’t believe the title of this blog inspired by reading Jung’s new book, Breastfeeding Extremists are Even Worse than We Thought.
What? She is talking about me. Because the “Breastfeeding extremists” she refers to don’t really exist. These stories of some crazy lactation consultants having bad interactions with mothers are not breastfeeding extremists, they are just bad at their jobs. We have bad car mechanics too. Do you say, watch out for them! Don’t get your car fixed! Who knows what “those” people will do to your car! No, we try another car mechanic. I think I may be an
“extremist” because I do truly believe that the health benefits, for physical and mental health, are powerful. Most mothers say they want to breastfeed. These are the people I am helping. I don’t have time to chase after formula feeding mothers trying to make them breastfeed. I am too busy helping the mother who want help to meet their parenting goals.
This blog also talks about how we encourage mothers in third world countries to breastfeed even though the mothers are HIV positive. The author claims we are endangering babies! What she doesn’t mention is that A) the transmission rates of HIV are about the same with exclusive formula feeding and exclusive breastfeeding so exclusive breastfeeding is very important, and B) Most importantly, if these babies are not breastfed, they will die. They won’t care if they have HIV or not because they will be dead. Polluted water, lack of money to buy the proper amount of formula, the protection that breastfeeding offers against a myriad of health threats outweigh, in the World Health Organization’s eyes, the threat of HIV transmission. Do I want little babies to get HIV? No, of course not! However, many of them will be born HIV positive already. Those really need their mother’s milk. WHO does not romanticize breastfeeding. They are not sitting around singing Kumbaya, talking about about how much they love breastfeeding. No, they review the research and make the healthiest public health recommendation for people. A brand new study that was conducted in Rural Tanzania supports their recommendations. Let’s get back to Ms. Jung
She talks about the big business of breastfeeding. As evidence of this, she tells us about a person in New York who went through the tremendous hassle of becoming Durable Medical Equipment (DME) provider so she could provide breast pumps for insurance companies. This is a long and complicated process. Ms. Jung somehow thinks this lady is getting incredibly rich and is exploiting people by providing this service. Isn’t this the American way? See an opportunity and run with it? So, one person in the USA is profiting off of breastfeeding. So what? Let’s talk about the formula manufactuers. Talk about exploiting people! Talk about real money!
I wish Ms. Jung had spent her energy doing an expose about the formula industry and their marketing practices. Now, that would be an interesting tale! Let’s stop fighting with each other about breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. Let’s focus on the real enemy and how to reduce their unfair influence on families.