Where real moms tell it like it is.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

To Media Elite: Breast IS Best

I love Salon online, especially for its snarky, in-depth political articles. But my pet peeve about it and other media committing the same crime, is the elitist and condescending tone some of its columnists take on breastfeeding.

Most recently, Salon included in its "broadsheet," an item about Massachusetts regulators mulling over a ban of free formula at hospitals. If the measure passes, Massachusetts would become the first state in the country to prohibit hospitals from giving new mothers free cans of formula -- usually supplied by the formula company as a marketing ploy. Following the advice of every top pediatrician and scientist in the world, the state would like to condone breastfeeding instead.

Like the Boston Herald, Salon is whining how the measure would deny poor women free milk and the option to bottle-feed because, they reason, formula is just as good as breastmilk. But both these publications are playing loose with the facts. From the American Academy of Pediatrics to the World Health Organization, breastmilk has scientifically been proven to be a superior food for babies than formula, giving them stronger immune systems and making them less susceptible to illnesses than formula-fed babies. Now, I am not saying that mothers who choose to formula-feed are bad parents. And, yes, there are instances when women can't nurse in the case of adoptive mothers or children with facial deformities. But, the fact -- even if you don't want to hear it -- is that breastfeeding is better. Shouldn't we condone the best for our children?

As for the argument that a single can of formula will provide adequate nutrition for the children of poor mothers, Salon needs a reality check. A can of formula, which lasts maybe a week, costs $30. Breastfeeding, which is nutrionally better anyway, is FREE. Hell, a $200 breast pump -- yes, you can still bottle-feed with breastmilk -- is a better investment for a poor parent than purchasing formula every week for a year ($30 X 52 = $1,560).

A friend of mine, who used to work as a maternity ward nurse, said the hospital pushed nursing on its youngest and poorest mothers because it found that these girls would "water-down" the formula to make it last longer. Pop quiz: Which babies were healthier? The ones who were breastfed or the ones living on watered-down formula? Exactly.

Yes, nursing can be a pain in the ass. I had a hard time getting my son to latch onto my breast and, initially, (wrongfully) worried he wasn't receiving enough nourishment. But once he learned to suck on breast and his pediatrician confirmed he was in the 90th percentile in weight, nursing became second nature to me. It's a normal part of life and has been long before the formula companies started pushing their (overpriced) products. Being a nursing mother never stopped me from going out and I nursed all the time in public -- to the chagrin of the latte-sipping, media elitist types. Rather than thumb your noses at my nursing, don't look. Also, stop misleading poor mothers about the facts on breastfeeding.


At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 3:42:00 PM, Blogger Erika said...

WARNING: this is going to be a long, rambling comment! ;-)

I couldn't find the Salon article, but I did read the Herald article, and I didn't detect any bias against breastfeeding (aside from the lead sentence, and I think the writer was just trying to be funny there). If anything, I find that elite media seems to condone breastfeeding. Which makes sense, because college-educated women are statistically far more likely to breastfeed.

Anyone who knows me knows I literally shed blood, sweat and tears to breastfeed, so I believe in it strongly. But not every mother is willing to go through what I did, for many reasons. That's just a fact. So while I think it's important for nurses to stress the importance of breastfeeding and for lactation consultants to visit every new mother, I don't think abolishing free formula is the answer. It starts WAY before a woman enters the hospital to give birth. It's about early education and reshaping societal mores and destroying any taboos against public breastfeeding. I don't know about MA, but CA has strong laws in place to protect breastfeeding moms, from exempting them from jury duty to requiring employers to give them the space and time to pump milk to making it legal to breastfeed anywhere. I think that's much more meaningful than taking away free formula at the hospital.

And let's not forget that not every woman can breastfeed. Some moms have inverted nipples, some have supply problems because of their health history, and some babies just can't latch. I've had friends go to half a dozen lactation consultants before throwing in the towel, and they're still wrestling with guilt over feeding their babies formula. I wish breastfeeding were simpler, but when it comes to my motherhood experience, it has been the hardest part by far.

At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 5:34:00 PM, Anonymous Chookooloonks said...

Hear, hear, Erika! As an adoptive mom, I thank God that the hospital gave us free formula -- because Lord knows I didn't have a clue what I was doing, and having the hospital recommend a brand was a great help. Yes, yes, I know breast is best and all that, but I have to say that the dirty looks I got from women who saw me bottle feeding my daughter made me INSANE.

As Erika said, the importance of breastfeeding needs to be emphasized WAY before it's time for baby to go home. Because, let's face it: women who intend on breastfeeding aren't going to be swayed just because a couple of cans of formula happened to make it in their bags before the were discharged from the hospital.

At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 8:43:00 PM, Blogger Elisa said...

Actually, Salon has an excellent thread going on in reaction to the Boston Herald piece -- which I want to point out quoted 3 women blasting the MA measure and one sole woman who expressed support. Apparently, disappointed at the response to that article, Salon has since added a thread about "Nazi-breastfeeders" berating a NY Observer reporter for choosing to bottle-feed over breastfeed. (No media bias there, eh?)

But, to be fair, in the Boston Herald thread, most readers responded in support of the hospitals promoting breastfeeding over formula by not giving out free formula. One reader who claimed to be in public health said that UNICEF has evidence that giving away free formula does interfere with promoting breastfeeding. Unfortunately, the formula companies still prey on poor women in the Third World and elsewhere, making them believe that their breastmilk lacks in some way. (Not to mention, force them to dole out $$$ for their products.)

I understand that not all women can breastfeed and they are free to buy formula. I don't think they are bad mothers for it and it is rude to make them feel guilty. I also agree with both of you that educating women on the benefits of breastmilk sooner, rather than later, is ideal. But I do worry about the influence these formula companies and their big marketing budgets have on the public's perception on breastfeeding.

Personally, I got a lot of grief for nursing by well-meaning family members and acquaintances who thought breastmilk alone couldn't sustain a baby. A hospital that gives away a certain brand -- because that happens to be the formula company giving it away for free -- is somehow an implicit endorsement of that brand IMHO. For a mother who is not aware of the studies supporting breastfeeding, a freebie by a hospital could be seen as an endorsement of formula feeding.

As a public health organization, the hospital should not give out mixed messages on this issue, even if it runs the risk of pissing off the formula companies and/or hurting the feelings of some women who can't nurse.

Sorry for the rant! I will get off my soapbox now. :-)

At Thursday, December 22, 2005 4:27:00 PM, Blogger Erika said...

Looks like MA went ahead and passed the law banning formula freebies:

That story is from AP, and pretty balanced, from what I can tell.

I agree, Chookoloonks (love that term! so darling) that if someone is determined to breast feed, a few cans of free formula likely won't sway them. I also worry that
all this "breast is best" pressure will only increase the burden of mommy guilt most of us are already struggling to bear.

I just don't get the whole "media elite" generalizing. As a member of the media, I find it funny when I get angry phone calls from people on opposite sides of a given issue, each accusing me of unfair bias. That tells me I did my job and presented both sides fairly. As a nursing mom who is very interested in the breastfeeding issue, I can honestly say I haven't detected any media bias against it.

Elisa, can you post these Salon links? I looked on their homepage yesterday and even did a seach but couldn't find anything.

I *really* don't get the "latte-sipping, media elitist types" slam. Huh? That sounds a little too close to right-wing type rhetoric for my comfort. Kind of like "limousine liberal." HATE terms like that.

At Thursday, December 22, 2005 5:44:00 PM, Blogger Elisa said...

Sorry, girl, I did not mean to offend -- please see my new post. Same goes to you chookooloonks, which is a great handle!

At Thursday, December 22, 2005 6:19:00 PM, Blogger Amy said...

I was determined to breastfeed way before I arrived at the hospital to birth, so the free formula given to me there had no affect on my decision-making whatsoever. I did like having the can on hand in the event of an emergency, and to this day I use the black diaper bag that the formula came in. I like free stuff.

Now, if I wasn't someone who researches health-related issues exhaustively, and if I didn't have a predilection for all things "natural," and if I was more impressionable and less opinionated, MAYBE the free can would lead me down a path. Hard to say.

Yeah, that "media elite" tag is straight out of Wingnut Land. The "latte" reference, too.

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