Nothing in life is ever really 'FREE'

I am confused. And I don't want to add fuel to the fire of the ridiculous and never ending how you feed your baby Mommy Wars, but I am serious. I am really confused.

New Your City has a new initiative called "Latch On NYC". It is aimed at promoting breastfeeding in the city's many hospitals. In order to do this, the plan is to limit access to "free" formula samples and any advertising and marketing materials from the formula companies that are distributed to new mothers and their babies in the first few hours and days after birth.

And there is a lot of hulabaloo about it all over the interwebs this week. Especially because it is World Breastfeeding Week.

A lot of people are quite upset about it and like in this article from Cafe Mom think that this is removing a woman's choice in how she feeds her baby (it is NOT). Some media outlets are sensationalizing their headlines and falsely interpreting it as a BAN on formula in hospitals (again, it is NOT). Some are using all those ugly words again, like bullying, breastapo, etc.... to describe the initiative and the counselling that mothers will (and should always) receive about breastfeeding while still in hospital.

The source of my confusion in all of this goes back to my first paragraph. You see those airquotes around the word FREE?

Yeah, that.

You know that old saying that if it something seems to good to be true, it usually is? I think this applies here.

Because in the long run, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING  "free" about the formula samples that are given to new moms in hospital. NOT. ONE. DAMN. THING.

Here is just a short list of what is the COST of these freebies:

1. The average cost to formula feed an infant for the first year of life is in the range of $1350.00 to $2160.00 and can be as high as $5000.00 if the child needs a specialty formula. NOT FREE.

2. Research PROVES that giving formula in the first few hours and days after birth can significantly compromise the breastfeeding relationship between mom and baby. No more breastfeeding = more formula = NOT FREE.

3. On most cities Food Bank MOST NEEDED ITEMS List you will ALWAYS see Baby Formula. And this one really gets to me. So often it is the lower income families that seem to get the least amount of support and information about breastfeeding. They leave the hospital with samples of the most expensive brands of formula and then can't afford it on their own! DEFINITELY NOT FREE.

4. The public health and economic savings that could be had with more breastfeeding versus formula feeding are well documented as well. For most working parents (especially in countries with no paid maternity leave), babies who are sick more = parents who have to take time off of work = lost wages = NOT FREE.

5. The only thing that IS free here is the free advertising and marketing that the formula companies are getting from hospitals and health care workers. This is a quote from Dr. Laura Sinai, from the American Association of Pediatrics 2012 Leadership Forum taken from the ammendment to divest from formula marketing in pediatric care.

"There is no “gift” in a “gift bag” except that  from the healthcare system applying a seal of approval to the formula manufacturer without compensation. Research reveals that when a health care provider distributes a formula manufacturer’s goods, the recipient interprets that action to indicate that formula feeding is superior to breastfeeding and that the brand distributed is superior to the alternatives."

So Mamas, here is my request.

Before you believe all the hype and crying foul about New York's new breasfeeding initiative, lets really examine who is getting what for FREE here and see this initiative for what it has the potential to be. A really good step in the right direction for moms and babies everywhere!




P.S. If you would like a bit more perspective on this issue, I highly recommend that you read AskMoxie's post and also Dr. Jay Gordon's guest post from Susan Berger, IBCLC on the Huffington Post.


This is the Day 4 post for the Summer Blog Challenge {31 posts in 31 Days}.

Check out these great posts from our other participants too!

Zita at The Dulock Diaries.

Meaghan at MagzD Life

April at This Mom's Got Something to Say

and Aramelle at One Wheeler's World









Not evil, just corporations and marketing 101.

I feel the need to also publish this post tonight. I wrote this at the same time as I did my previous post, but they needed separating in order for my thoughts on both to be clear and concise (and to make sense to me!). My friend who wrote about the "heart" vs "brain" conversations when it comes to breastfeeding or not, also brought up something that I feel I need to explore in a bit more detail. She said in her post that:

...groups that appear extremist seldom accomplish much beyond polarizing the already divided public and swaying public opinion away from their original goals. I think the breastfeeding “movement” falls victim to this, getting labeled by the crazy behaviours of a smaller subsection of our population.  This makes us feel sad and defeated, and we react from that emotional place as opposed to regrouping and considering more carefully our efforts.

Likewise, the women who find themselves on the other side of the debate, feel persecuted by the more extremist movement and, in an effort to self-protect and to defend, respond from an emotionally charged place to advocacy efforts that they perceive as being an attack on their choices.

These statements have forced me to take a very hard look at my advocacy efforts and my messaging to all mothers and to explore why this is happening as well.

I realize that I can never speak for or about mothers who have formula fed their children, as I have never done this. Really. If someone ever asked me how to prepare a bottle of formula, I would have absolutely NO IDEA!  And I would have to point them to the best resource I know, the formula manufacturer. I am also not a breastfeeding expert. I am not an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant or even a La Leche League leader. I am a mother who has continuously been nursing one or both of my children for 5.5 years and in a few special circumstances. I know where to go for advice and more education if needed and I share that along with my own personal experiences with any and all who want it (or in the case of my blog, choose to read about it).

I also want you all to know that I am not about being 'the hippy child' versus 'the big bad corporation' either. It would be very hypocritical of me to be that person, coming from a career in the pharmaceutical industry and also as someone who relies heavily on modern medicines to keep me healthy.

I  live by another saying in my life, and that is, "Nothing happens in this world until someone sells you something." Be that a product, a service, an idea or a cause. Formula manufacturers, along with most large corporations are not EVIL per se. They exist to make money for their shareholders and to sell their product. They are there to grow their market share and increase their bottom line. Plain and simple. Not evil, just capitalist. (I realize that this in and of itself could be a whole other conversation on it's own, but we'll leave it for another time!)

The problem with the formula manufacturers is that their market is mothers... with babies. And their main competition... yup, you guessed it, is BREASTMILK. And therefore their main target audience and how they GROW that market share is by focusing their efforts and advertising dollars on mothers who are breastfeeding (or the people who directly influence these mothers).

And here is where it gets all messy...

No one wants to believe that a company would willingly undermine a mother's breastfeeding relationship. No one wants to think that there is some evil plan conceived in a board room somewhere to get you to fail at breastfeeding. And you know what... NO ONE is actually doing that. There is no evil plan, there is just a corporate need (greed) to increase market share and make more money. Now to some, this may be the evil in and of itself, but really, this is just business as usual in a free market.

Does it suck? Yes. Are the marketing practices of these companies questionable and downright harmful to the breastfeeding rates in North America. Yes and Yes. Does this mean that they are being successful and doing a good job? Some would argue that yes, they are. This is after all a billion dollar industry and all this money = more dividends for shareholders and more market share. And so they continue on marketing, selling and growing their businesses.

On the other hand, we have breastfeeding.

NOT a billion dollar industry. Actually a free and readily renewable resource and with the right information, resources and support, a potentially life saving one as well.

Breastfeeding does not have fancy logos and pamphlets to pepper our doctors offices with. Outside of the ACTUAL breast milk, you don't get any free samples of anything in the mail or at the hospital after you've had your baby. Breastfeeding does not have millions of dollars to spend on ad campaigns with giggling, happy babies. Breastfeeding does not have any 'add-on' branded accessories that you need to buy in order to do it properly at home or 'on the go'. Breastfeeding does not have the 'continuing medical education' dollars from its manufacturers to spend on further educating our health care practitioners about it or give them the resources for referrals to the real experts.

So where does this leave us?

From an outsider's view it can look like a real David and Goliath scenario. A billion dollar industry with reach and scope worldwide versus...

Boobs. Big ol' breast milk producing boobies.

But the hard truth of this is that, in this fight, no one ever really 'wins'.

One side feels that the general public is being misled and misinformed about both breastfeeding and formula.  There are protests, there are efforts to help the public understand more about 'the competition', there are peer groups and grass-roots organizations formed to give support and alternatives for infant feeding. And what happens time and again is that in the zeal and desire to educate and inform and yes, even expose the formula manufacturers and to an extend formula itself, the message is lost. It gets lost to the point that even when good, solid, evidence-based and peer-reviewed research and new information is available (either about breast milk/breastfeeding or formula), this too gets poo-poo'd and chalked up something that those "crazy breastfeeding (insert derogatory and inflammatory word here)" are saying.

And this makes me sad.

Because here is what I think is also happening. I think that the more we 'fight' about how we feed our children, the more we continue this breastfeeder versus formula-feeder stance.... the happier the shareholders at the formula companies are going to be.

Let me explain.

Mothers (and most people actually) who feel that they are being PUSHED to do anything, will push back. And in this case, if the push is to breastfeed (and the message being heard by some is "at all costs"), I think what we risk doing is simply pushing more and more mothers away from our messages, our information and from breastfeeding at all, and into the open, waiting and seemingly so very understanding (cue the BRILLIANT marketing) arms of the formula manufacturers.

So what is the answer here. How do we as breastfeeding advocates help spread a message and help further educate mothers and families with ALL the information they need about both breastfeeding AND formula feeding, without all the 'bashing' of the formula companies? To be perfectly honest, I don't know. I have been breastfeeding for over 5 years, have been an active participant in the advocacy movement for the past 3 and in all that time, not once have I ever seen a discussion about breastfeeding or formula-feeding progress beyond the "I am a mother, doing the best I can for my babies and it is my choice." rhetoric. From both sides.

What I do know is this. Formula manufacturers are companies (not people). They have a bottom line and that is to make money. In order to make more money they need to grow a market. And anyone who knows anything about marketing or has even taken a rudimentary Marketing 101 class in university knows that in order to do that, you need to convince said market that they NEED your product. If you create the NEED, they will COME! If you focus on how difficult it can be to breastfeed, provide 24 hour 1-800 numbers to help whenever that NEED arises, show TV commercials of happy, giggling babies who have had a "happy feeding", well... it is what it is folks. We live in a nation that, although we may embrace the World Health Organization and their standards for the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, neither  the Canadian or the US governments have enacted legislation to ensure that anyone is bound in any way by its guidelines. Companies are free to market and advertise their products in the best way they see fit to make more money and grow their shares.

I don't really have any answers here and I don't know that there are any. In the face of all of this, I can only promise that I will COMMIT to keeping the dialogue open and to continue to advocate from a place of positivity.

I can not fight the Nestles and Similacs and Enfamils of the world on a grand scale. But I can use my voice, a NOISY one I think, and I will continue to speak out against what I believe are unethical and undermining marketing practices by these giants of industry.

I will not judge anyone's choice in this matter. Breastmilk, donor milk, formula. Doesn't matter to me one iota. As long as it is your choice and you are happy with it. (Happy with it, being the operative term here.)

I will share my experiences and those of others that have chosen this path. I will share as many resources as I can here on my blog and if you need more please email me and I will help you find someone in your city, town or hamlet who can help.

And I will not stop talking or writing about breastfeeding, and the many options for infant feeding that are becoming more available to mom's who are willing to seek them out and explore these options.

Thank you,


P.S This very lengthy post is an OPINION piece. MY opinion. Please keep that in mind when you are commenting.

P.P.S. Any comments that are inflammatory or divisive or that PROVE MY POINT about being over zealous in either camp, will be reviewed and probably deleted.

P.P.P.S. I am very excited to have found a way to use the word IOTA in a blog post! Just saying...



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 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.


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 (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 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....


(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.