‘World Breastfeeding Week’ Demonstrates Everything Wrong With The Breastfeeding Agenda
It’s that time of year again: the first week of August kicks off “world breastfeeding week”, a globally supported event with its’ own website (worldbreastfeedingweek.org), whose mission includes the “protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding worldwide”.
Ok, can we just cut the crap? Is there seriously anyone left in the world, or at least in America, who hasn’t heard the “breast is best” mantra? It permeates every conversation from the moment you become pregnant. It’s repeated ad nauseum in Facebook groups, in promotional events at Babies R’ Us, and in countless articles on television and in parenting magazines. It’s pushed by obstetricians, and shoved down our throats through the baby friendly health initiative at hospitals. It’s even in the promotional materials for formula and on the cans. So can we just stop with the BS about needing to inform and make aware?
I have no qualms against breastfeeding itself. I think it is a perfectly appropriate way to feed your infant, and feel sorry for those moms who breastfeed in public and are called out for doing so. But the movement has been hijacked by extremists, who have moved beyond an awareness and acceptance campaign and have formed a cult-like mentality that shames, coerces, and penalizes.
The breastfeeding industry (yes, they are an industry), pushes tons of product at new moms, but never gets called out for it the way that formula companies get eviscerated for their advertisements. If you don’t believe me, go to the Babies R’ Us homepage. You can get 20% off of all “breastfeeding moms must haves”, including a four hundred dollar breast-pump. Of course, if Babies R’ Us is too bourgeoisie for you, there are plenty of other sites, like Medela’s own site, which, in addition to the breast-pumps, offers a stunning array of items like breast-shields, parts for cleaning, breast kits, breastmilk bottles, lids, storage bags, nursing pads, nipple shields, breast shells, and products for sore nipples. That doesn’t even include other things I have seen, like lactation teas, lactation cookies, and necklaces made out of breastmilk.
On what planet is this not an industry, and on what planet is all of this stuff “free”? Even if that were true, which it is not, as another mother in a wonderfully written article on this topic pointed out: “breastfeeding is only “free” if you don’t count the mother’s lost wages during the significant amount of time that she spends nursing or pumping — or if you think women’s time is worth nothing.”
The fact that breast pumps have been mandated to be covered by insurance only underscores the problems that have arisen with this fanaticism. As an example, my sister, who is pregnant with her second child and due soon, informed me that she had her choice of pumps that the insurance company would cover. She doesn’t even know if she will be breastfeeding this time, but she can get a three to four hundred dollar breast-pump covered entirely under her insurance without paying a dime. Compare this to her prior pregnancy, when, due partly to complications arising from a premature birth, her son needed to be put on a prescription formula because his system could not tolerate breastmilk or regular formula due to a host of gastric issues and severe milk and soy intolerances. The prescription was given to her by a pediatric specialist in gastroenterology, but it was a consistent battle with the insurance company (the same one that wants to give her a free breast-pump this go-round!) to pay for the formula. Of course, at least she was able to have it covered eventually. There have been countless women who have not been as fortunate.
I for one am tired of hearing the “breast is best” rhetoric as an excuse for this kind of conduct. Can we just cut through the BS on that one too? Is it a perfectly acceptable way to feed your infant? Yes. Is formula feeding a perfectly acceptable way to feed your infant as well? Yes. Ultimately, it makes little difference which way you choose. When I look around my son’s preschool, I cannot tell which kids were breastfed, and which ones were formula fed. (Although I can guess if I meet the mother). The difference becomes blurrier the older they get, and, as my daughter enters fourth grade this year, there is really no difference at all. In fact, mothers at this point with no children behind this grade don’t even remember, or even care to remember, what was done in those early days, because they are too busy trying to give them love and support at an age from which they’ll actually remember.
Perhaps one of the most tragic results of the breastfeeding initiative is that it hides information from the very people that need it. According to the CDC, only 40% of women were exclusively breastfeeding at three months. This means that over half of mothers were either supplementing with, or exclusively using, formula. Shouldn’t there be information out there on which formula to choose, how much to give, and how to prepare it correctly?
Recently, a Facebook post has been making the rounds regarding an unfortunate death of a formula-fed infant. The formula tested negative for the bacteria that caused the death, but it was still noted that lack of sterile preparation or improper storage of the formula can result in contamination. Unsurprisingly, people fell back to their “breast is best” chants. But the issue here shouldn’t even be breast versus formula. It is nothing short of medical negligence to send patients home without live-saving information regarding the way to choose and prepare infant food. Now, if you are “lucky” enough to give birth at a U.S. hospital, the staff will likely (after repeated prodding otherwise and possible waiver signing) hand you over a six pack of basic Similac. Then you are left alone, in your supposed failure and shame, without any further information. How is this in any way supportive of women or babies?
The fact that you have to sign a waiver at all, by the way, is ridiculous. I know as a first-time mother, I researched everything under the sun to make informed choices. I looked into the safest car seats, the best rockers, and the most educational toys. But apparently hospitals think that although I am intelligent enough to make these choices, I am too dumb to know better about my feeding choices. What a patriarchal, patronizing load of crap.
The truth of the matter is that breast is not best. It is not best for many women for many reasons. Some have had cancer. Some have been assaulted. Some cannot produce milk. Some have babies that, for whatever reason, cannot latch. Some have to return to work immediately, making breastfeeding nearly impossible. Some are on medication that is contraindicated towards breastmilk. And some, for whatever reason that is personal to them and is nobody’s damn business, just don’t want to. To pretend that these women, who make up over fifty percent of new mothers, don’t exist, is simply shameful.
Breastfeeding doesn’t need any more awareness. Trust me, we’re all aware. While I support the campaign to breastfeed in public and to prevent breastfeeding discrimination, this platform does not legitimize shaming, ridiculing, and ignoring the remainder of mothers who choose, for whatever reason, not to do so. And creating battle lines between breastfeeding and formula feeding moms only serves to distract society from the larger problems of gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and equality for all women.
I am mediocre mom!
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