Whenever the fed is best₁ argument flares up; you know the one - as long as the baby gets fed that’s all that matters - somebody on the pro-breastfeeding side of things uses the analogy of feeding your older child nothing but McDonald's to point out the absurdity of fed, being best.
This article is for those people.
I get what you are trying to do, but you really need to stop!
Yes i’m a lactivist. I repeat, you need to stop.
I know that you are trying to point out that fed is actually the minimum standard. I get that you are trying to make a comparison between a whole food source that is the biological norm for our species and a massively processed product.
But the problem is that whilst McDonald’s is diametrically opposed to a salad, and the epitome of all things processed, formula isn’t junk food. Formula is emergency food.
The appropriate analogy is to compare eating whole foods in a balanced diet to eating the ration packs that the army and red cross use to keep refugees and disaster survivors alive until they have the ability to secure access to whole, non-contaminated food.
Could it be better, absolutely.
Is feeding infants animal based milks as good as feeding them human milk, nope.
But in most cases it will keep them alive, and it will allow them to grow up reasonably healthy.
Not as healthy as they would have been if they had breastmilk, but healthy enough.
All comparing formula to McDonald’s or junk food does is cause division and anger from people who in the vast majority of the time have been forced into a position where they believe or feel that formula is their only option, or their best chance to raise a healthy child.
Formula isn’t the choice of most mothers, over 90% of us want to breastfeed and initiate breastfeeding, but systematic barriers lead to the mass “failure” of breastfeeding, and in some areas of Australia only 25% of mothers are leaving hospital breastfeeding at all, let alone exclusively.
These mother’s haven’t failed, they have been failed by their health providers.
In America it’s even more complicated thanks to oppressive third world employment conditions and the lack of universal health care.
If you feel like you failed, or you believe that mum’s who use formula just haven’t tried hard enough ask yourself this - If you lived in a rural town with no library and dodgy internet, your school only had textbooks written by fundamentalist Christians and your science teacher was trained at a fundamentalist college, could you reasonably expect to pass a science exam about evolution?
Pretty clear that you wouldn’t!
Now when you received say 15% on that test, would you have failed? Or would you actually, have achieved an extraordinary feat (or simply been plain lucky) to manage 15%?
That is what it has been like trying to breastfeed for the past 30 years.
Yes we have the internet now, but everyone knows that the internet is a mixed blessing. Sure you can find actually helpful, accurate information, but you have to sift through an awful lot of misinformation first.
And the bottom line is that we, the new mothers with a hungry baby, shouldn’t have to be trying to sift through the responses on forums or google’s search results at 4 am in order to find the accurate information.
It is our health professionals duty to be informed about their job.
And if they aren’t informed, then it’s their duty to refer you on to someone who is.
Not to give you the creationist textbook and shrug!
Which looks like telling you that you failed, or saying “as long as your baby is fed that’s all that matters” and handing you an emergency food source as if 1; formula is actually equal to breastmilk in ingredients (let's ignore outcomes for now) 2; your goals and feelings are completely irrelevant 3; feeding is the only purpose for nursing 4; that there are no ways to correct or improve a problematic nursing situation 5; that formula is the only alternative.
Formula is not the devil. It’s not fast food, and if you are formula fed you will most likely grow up to be pretty healthy, but it should never be the primary food source for the majority of the infant population.
It should never be the default choice.
And that’s what it is, the default.
Until such time as milk banks milk is as easily accessed as formula (and either free or a comparative cost,) wet-nursing is once again a social norm, and every parent who wants to nurse receives accurate, evidence based, actual help and support from their healthcare providers and society at large, formula will remain the default choice.
The Red Cross and the Army work to keep people on emergency rations only as long as is absolutely necessary. They establish supply lines to ship in and distribute whole foods, they work with communities to rebuild their farms, they educate on ways to reduce the chances of an entire crop being wiped out, they help communities to ensure that they have a range of crops so they are not completely dependent on one foodsource Potato Famine style and they ask for donations of food from communities that have it.
This is the approach that we should be taking with Breastfeeding, certainly. But in order to do that we need to recognise that formula itself is not the devil, (formula companies are, sure, but the product itself has a purpose) it is not junk food, it is an emergency food.
On the flipside, people who use formula also need to recognise it for what it actually is, an emergency food, that has become the default primary food source for entire generations due to systematic oppression and clever unscrupulous marketing.
Formula and Emergency Rations are the same. Neither should ever be marketed to poor people as a legitimate way to feed your kids whilst whole foods are maligned as being inferior. They should never be marketed to the middle class as “the future of nutrition”. They should never be available in every supermarket and chemist and service station whilst access to their whole food equivalents is limited and expensive. They should never be pushed on parents by health professionals the moment there's the slightest complication. They should never be sent out by organisations that make them as free samples.
They are emergency foods.
They have a valid place in society, but they should not be the first thing people turn to nor the first thing recommended when systematic access issues mean that access to whole food is less than stellar, but ultimately safe.
If the marketers of emergency food rations pushed their products as equal and demanded a place in the market the way formula companies have, we would rightly be saying, “woah hang on a minute there”.
But because infant feeding is an emotive issue, and we have been taught to see ourselves as failures or bad mothers for supplementing, this just isn’t happening.
Instead we are fighting amongst ourselves and justifying formula’s monopoly in order to cope with the fact that we have been royally screwed. Being defensive about your formula use is no more helpful to making sure that all babies are actually fed and all mothers meet their goals than a claim that formula is like McDonald’s.
So please everybody start listening to what the other side is actually saying, not what you want to believe they are saying.
Formula and mixed feeding mums; instead of justifying your formula use, ask why you and billions of other women should be put into a position where you feel you have no alternative, and what you can do to fix that.
Health Care professionals; instead of propping up your ego by trying to fix something you know nothing about, refer women to someone who does. Instead of just handing out formula, listen to your patients who are telling you they want to breastfeed and don’t dismiss that as unnecessary or unimportant.
And exclusive breastfeeding mums; instead of assuming a formula feeding mother is lazy or uncaring, consider how many intersections of misinformation, systematic hurdles and outright oppression they had to overcome in order to even have a chance at breastfeeding. But if you can’t do that, then at the very least stop comparing formula to Fast Food.
Hi I'm Nicole