Breast is best

Like most things in life these days feeding a baby has become very complicated and no doubt really expensive. I took a look at some of these infant formula websites and found that babies are not just being fed infant formula for the first few months of life but they can also have a follow on formula when they are  6-12 months old. Even toddlers who are 1-3 years are being catered for with a new product called toddler milk drink.

Not every woman can breast feed and it’s accepted practice for formula to be used for sustenance in the first few months of life prior to the introduction of solids. But does a two year-old really need to have formula or would a drink of regular cow’s milk do, along with normal meals?

The question of breast versus bottle has been around for many decades now. I was only 21 when I gave birth to my daughter in 1971. This was a time when hospital births were extremely regimented, frightening and lonely. I was compliant and suffered. I laboured alone at the mercy of a cold and callous midwife. But in spite of my youth and inexperience, I knew that it was best to breast-feed my new daughter.

But many women did not share my views. In my hospital ward I was one of four new mothers. Two of us were breast-feeding and the other two chose formula. I can clearly remember compression binders being tightened across the women’s chests squashing their bulging breasts and suppressing their natural milk supply. Then there were the little white pills, stilboestrol, a synthetic oestrogen given to dry up their milk.

The DES action website supports my memory:

One nurse reported that during the 1970s the hospitals “were awash with stilboestrol.” Its safety and efficacy for this purpose have never been proven. 

When I had my baby we were kept in hospital for a whole week and in that time I learnt how to feed my baby returning home with routines well established. These days new mothers go home after only one or two days in hospital not having obtained confidence in feeding. It’s easy to see how this lack of resources and support for new mothers might affect the popularity of formula feeding. Food for thought. But seriously we have lost the plot.

This week the media reported that due to a shortage a popular organic baby formula is being sold online for $150 a tin, leaving supermarket shelves bare. This current debacle over the shortage of formula  provides the opportunity to engage in a serious conversation about baby feeding. Is the demand for formula because women can’t breast feed, don’t want to, or is it because of unethical marketing claims in China as asserted by UWS Academic Dr Karleen Gribble  who said:

Formula marketers have tapped into this desire to falsely claim their products enhance brain development and health. Child prodigies and sports stars abound in marketing campaigns, and hospitals are recruited to promote formula brands to new mothers in hospitals.

Infant formula remains a $11.5-billion-and-growing market and marketing works by undermining  breast-feeding with campaigns that are designed to promote the view that breastfeeding is difficult. According to Edward Baer in the New Internationalist:

Knowing that fear and anxiety can actually stop lactation, companies consciously design marketing strategies that aggravate in-built worries and interfere with the pyschophysiology of the human body in order to sell more of their products.

Baer describes how an industry goes about creating consumers?

• create a need where none existed
• convince consumers that your products are indispensable for the ‘good life’
• link products with the most desirable and unattainable concepts; and then give a sample… free.
This marketing can be seen in this current case of extraordinary demand for infant formula. First the need is created when none exists and then parents are to be convinced that the product will enhance the child’s brain development. It’s all sounds like the current desire for the designer baby really. There’s nothing natural about any of it – is there?




Categories: feminism, health, history, media, nursing, pharmaceuticals, politics, popular culture, social change, womens rights

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