This is so NOT about your boobs!!

Never in the history of the world has the simple act of how we feed our babies caused so much strife and controversy!

If you have been anywhere on Facebook or Twitter in the past 72 hours you will have a good idea of what I am talking about.

If not, well here is the scoop.

Babble is running a contest right now for the Top 100 Moms who are Changing the World. Moms from all walks of life are being 'Mominated' for the top 10 prizes of $5000.00 for the charity of their choice. Voting is by public ballot. You can get all the details of the contest by clicking on the link above.

Emma Kwasnica, known breastfeeding activist and the founder of Human Milk 4 Human Babies, the global milk-sharing network created on Facebook was nominated by fellow mom and activist Jodine Chase to be one of these amazing Moms. Right away Emma started raking in some pretty sweet votes and was in the Top Ten list within days of her nomination! This is really not surprising, because she IS a mom changing the world, one breastmilk-fed baby at a time. I have seen the results of milk-sharing through her network right here in my own proverbial backyard and very much up close and personal.

Next, Emma and Jodine realized that one of the major advertisers on the Babble.com site is Similac, a formula manufacturer that has its ads (side banners and top banners) posted all over the newborn and pregnancy pages on the Babble site. (Apparently, these ads were removed from the breastfeeding support pages on Babble a year ago after many a blogger called them out for it then!). After much deliberation, Emma asked Babble to remove her from the list of nominees and has said that the only way she would again participate is if Babble where to remove ALL formula marketing from its site and comply with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

Annie from PhD in Parenting wrote this very excellent post, explaining what happened and applauding the stance that Emma and Jodine took in not accepting what Emma considers "blood money" from Babble.

Catherine Connor of Her Bad Mother, and also a Babble Voices writer, responded with this post. In it she is quite upset and insulted by the use of the term "blood money" and that no one is willing to sit down and be on a board of breastfeeding advocate advisors for Babble to discuss what the best options are for everyone involved. She also feels that they whole argument against formula marketing and advertising, shames mothers who can not for whatever reason breastfeed their babies.

And then Jodine wrote this post  discussing this new tactic of "shaming mothers" when we start discussing formula marketing and the very subtle, yet, oh so underhanded tactics that are employed by these billion dollar companies to undermine breastfeeding moms every step of the way.

So.

Now that you are up to speed, I have a few things to add.

First of all, let me make myself very clear. I have breastfeed both my kids for three years each. I believe it is the biologically normal thing to do. My boobs make milk, my babies need that milk, and the closeness and all the other great things that go along with our nursing relationship. I am a breastfeeder. It was not always easy, I needed help, but I was determined that this was the way I wanted to feed my babies. Breastfeeding was and is my choice.

Some women choose not to breastfeed,  some women truly can not breastfeed, some women have serious medical conditions that prevent them from breastfeeding. Whatever the case may be, if the choice for these women is to feed their babies formula or  feed them nothing, then you have to know that NO ONE IS TRYING TO MAKE YOU FEEL GUILTY OR SHAMEFUL ABOUT FEEDING YOUR CHILD.

Here is why I have a problem with Ms. Connor's arguments about this issue. She writes in her post that,

The push for a complete ban on formula advertising rests upon the assumption that mothers are not capable of understanding formula advertising as advertising – it assumes that they will be confused by it, those poor, silly mothers, and mistake it for unbiased, non-commercial speech – and that they are therefore vulnerable to being ‘duped’ by formula advertisers in a way that they are not from, say, Budweiser or McDonalds or General Electric. I’m a grown-up, you guys. I know what commercial speech is. I am capable of parsing information from advertisers. I am not stupid. I can make up my own mind.

No one is saying that mothers are silly or stupid or can't figure out when they are being duped. What is being said is that formula company advertising is subtle. It feeds on our weaknesses and insecurities as a new parent, and I am sorry, but as new moms dealing with all the demands that this new little life has on us and usually working on very little sleep, we ARE vulnerable to these ads and their ubiquitous "we are here to help you" messages.

Really. Now how exactly is a formula company supposed to help a breastfeeding mom? Guess who is formula's main competition? That's right. It's breastmilk. So if we take a look at this from a different angle, it is kind of like saying Ford is going to help me choose what kind of GM vehicle to buy. Not likely...

Are you getting this so far?

Fleur Bickford, of Nurtured Child, wrote this post earlier this year discussing why formula companies like the phrase "breast is best". In it she breaks down one of the online ads for Nestle's new Baby Nes instant formula machines  (think Tassimo for babies). At first glance the ad itself seems pretty benign. But Fleur notes that,

 

Great that they’re showing breastfeeding right? Well, if we look closer at it, the breastfeeding mom is sitting on the floor, is barefoot, is half undressed and her dark roots are showing through her blond hair colouring (compare that to the beautifully highlighted hair of the formula feeding mom).  All of this is subtle, but it creates an emotional reaction (which is exactly what it was designed to do). The reaction may not even be a conscious one for many people, but it plays on the stereotype of women who breastfeed being barefoot “hippies” who just “whip it out”. It also plays into the fear of having a baby who ties you down and nurses so often that you can’t even get your hair coloured. Even the graph behind the mom with the downward slope to it produces a negative feeling about breastfeeding.

Subtle right? I think down right sneaky, and probably from an ad campaign perspective rather brilliant. And this is only one example.

Here is one right off of the Babble.com (I found it on the Pregnancy page on their site).

I am assuming that by fed, they mean nursed and the implication is that, she is still crying because she is still hungry....so go ahead, give her some formula to "top her up".

THIS is where and when the formula companies GET you! And they know it and count on it. They know that a mom starting to supplement just a little bit is a damn slippery slope and that is the way they like it, and most likely they count on it!

Here is the scenario: new mama starts supplementing with a little bit of formula and it seems to work. Baby is now 'full' and not crying anymore, so all is good. And mama's thoughts process becomes, "SEE, obviously I am not making enough milk for him." But what is really happening is that rather than getting the help needed to correct a nursing issue (and the lack of proper breastfeeding support for a lot of mothers is a LONG topic for another post), the simplest thing seems to be to supplement with the 'just as good as breastmilk' formula. Mom is happy, baby is happy, or at least they sure do seem to be in this Nestle Good Start commercial and she can just go back to breastfeeding again once they get over this bump in the road/phase/growth spurt/etc....

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Jo1hQN9X7c[/youtube]

(Did you catch the teeny tiny print and  2 seconds of 'Breastfeeding is best for your baby." in that one?)

Or can they....

Unfortunately for a lot of mothers, no, they can not.

And therein lies the bigger issue with this kind of marketing. Formula marketing and advertisements don't target already happily, by choice or by circumstance, formula-feeding moms. They don't have to. There is no need to preach to the choir. They target NEW moms, moms who have every intention of breastfeeding (our provincial breastfeeding rates in Alberta, Canada upon discharge from hospital are 92.4%, 2009 statistics), but who run into issues at home and decide to call the 1-800 number that they find attached to the can of formula that they were sent home with in hopes of getting support, encouragement and advice on how to continue to breastfeed. Do they get decent advice from these "feeding experts"? Perhaps, I have not called them myself. But to honestly say that these formula-company-sponsored or funded call centres have the best interests of your successful breastfeeding relationship at heart is rather ludicrous.

So what do we do now?

Well for one thing, we need to stop using words like 'guilt' and 'shame' when discussing how we feed out babies. You make your choice and you deal with it. Do what is right for you, do what is right for your baby, and yes, do what is right for your mental and physical health. If that is breastfeeding, good for you. If that is formula-feeding, good for you. DONE, no more discussion.

The only people who need to feel ashamed right now are the formula companies. They are the ones who are shamelessly promoting and dare I say pushing their product (doctor's offices, hospital maternity wards, even family trade shows) on new and yes, vulnerable moms who are just trying to figure out how this whole 'feeding, nurturing and not completely wrecking the new baby' gig works!

In the end, I applaud all of the incredible bloggers and activists for all their work for breastfeeding moms and moms in general. Emma, Jodine, Annie and Catherine are all moms that I have the utmost respect for and they all make excellent points in their posts. I highly encourage you to read them all.

My final point {that does need to be said again} is that this issue is not a breastfed versus formula fed one. I DON'T CARE HOW YOU FEED YOUR BABY! It is a question of ethical marketing and advertising practices by formula companies and that is the point so many seem to keep missing. We all need to get over our own vulnerable feelings of guilt or shame, accept the choices that we made as the best ones that we could make given the information that we had or the situation we were in and see this for what it really is.

Formula companies have millions of dollars to spend on ad campaigns and government lobbyists and they make a lot of money selling their wares to families worldwide, with what seems little or no regard for whatever harm or disservice their practices do to moms and babies.

Breastfeeding? Well, that is just biology.

Natasha~