Breastfeeding Medicine

Physicians blogging about breastfeeding

Emotional (!) responses to breastfeeding promotion and formula marketing

with 7 comments

Is anyone besides me endlessly fascinated by how emotional we all become about infant feeding?  It’s such a big part of mothering, & I would submit that we get emotional about our kids because they are so precious to us.  (As my 10-year-old would say, well, duh.)

In response to my rant about the formula company putting my name on their advertising rag last week,  a friend I hadn’t heard from in years sent me a lovely private message saying that the “tangle over breastfeeding” left adoptive moms feeling ignored and left out.  “(W)hen (my kids) were babies, I often felt badgered and belittled by the insistence that breast milk was best… We were, after all, feeding our kids.”

I tried to apologize for leaving adoptive moms out of the discussion.

I tried to sum up the public health perspective:  that human babies do best with human milk, and that, in the US at least, we feel we are still working to overcome  decades of cultural “belittling” of breastfeeding —  summed up by Jayne’s comment that  “(t)he only reason breastfeeding is seen as so much harder is because our culture and often our medical professionals totally undermine it.”.

And (rhetorically, perhaps) I asked whether there is a way for the public health community to avoid hurting feelings while still counteracting the cultural forces of formula marketing, back-to-work pressures, and just plain undervaluing women in general.

Perhaps there is some explanation, if not an actual answer, in the State of the World’s Mothers 2011 report.  (For those who haven’t already heard, the US comes in at #31 among 43 developed countries surveyed.)

And I think the US Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding (full statement here)  is an important start toward improving our situation in this country, beyond the simple repetitive  “breast is best” message that seems to have so hurt and angered my friend.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of us!   Love your kids, nurture them … feed them.  It’s what we do.

Kimberly Lee is a neonatologist and member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.

Written by neobfmd

May 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm

7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. But adoptive moms deserve to know the risks of formula feeding in order to make an informed decision about induced/relactation, donor milk, bottle nursing, etc.


    May 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm

  2. I was at a public health leadership conference last week. In a very general discussion about public health ‘problems’ in my state, many items were listed fairly dispassionately — veterans affairs, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, etc. When I introduced lack of breastfeeding support as a problem (my state is practically at the bottom), conference participants became passionate! They started telling personal stories and bemoaning the state of affairs. This response was *totally different* than the response for any other public health problem previously discussed, and personal stories were not only verbalized by mothers. In fact, the facilitator had to intervene and cut off conversation because folks were getting emotional about it! Interestingly enough, however, breastfeeding was never mentioned again by anyone at the conference nor was considered as a ‘big enough’ problem to be addressed through conference projects.

    I interpret this as another instance where emotion temporarily (and loudly) took over, where everyone wanted to share an opinion, but when opportunity came to actually do something about it, no one showed interest. Very fascinating!

    Doraine Bailey

    May 4, 2011 at 8:08 am

  3. I think Shannon is right that all parents, including adoptive parents, deserve to know the risks of formula feeding. Many adoptive moms don’t know that induced lactation is even possible, and sometimes even when they do, they don’t think it’s worth pursuing because formula is “fine” and readily and easily available. The most fascinating part of her response to me is the whole “We’re all feeding our kids.” I’ve heard this time and time again, this defense of formula feeding because the only other option is obviously to let your baby starve to death. Where does this idea come from, that breastfeeding advocates would prefer to see a baby to starve to death rather than get formula? Or that as long as you are feeding your baby something, it’s perfectly fine, because you’re not starving him.

    Elita @ Blacktating

    May 4, 2011 at 9:48 am

  4. A lot of people have brought up induced lactation. My friend did bring it up, & said that she hadn’t heard of it when she adopted — but she was glad she hadn’t because it would have meant “more guilt and pressure”.

    I just find the emotional overlay very interesting… including Doraine’s story. (If we could get past this somehow, & reduce it to a “rational” decision, would that translate to more breastfeeding??)


    May 4, 2011 at 11:42 am

  5. I am also fascinated by parents reporting that they were “made to feel guilty” by not breastfeeding. When I would go to work at the hospital to see new mothers and help them, there were always those women who refused to be seen by the Lactation Consultants. There is so much anger towards us as professionals that I find to be very odd! I have never met a woman yet in 27yrs that has felt guilty about choosing to breastfeed, but too many of those women were being told by MD’s and certain nurses that breastfeeding is dangerous to the baby, so they were being forced to give formula, or threatened that there would be dire consequences. I call that assault, especially because it is not truthful. This causes a divide between professional Lactation Consultants and other staff which is beyond rude and disrespectful. Our job is to teach and inform. We teach based on evidence and research (which is a bit ridiculous, because we have breasts that are supposed to breast feed!), and we teach that breastfeeding is so much more than providing food. Women who do not breastfeed are also putting themselves at greater health risks, both long and short term. If we teach women to quit smoking during pregnancy, these women are supposed to feel guilty for harming their unborn infant. If these women don’t like what LC’s are teaching because it makes them feel guilty, I believe it is because they know deep down inside that they are rejecting their infants needs and putting themselves first, and that is where the guilt comes from. Much of the time they have been told horror story’s from women who had challenges with their own breastfeeding experiences, and this negative influence, along with a rejection of the function of their own breasts is what causes this divide.Don’t shoot the messenger! Many women over the years/decades have stated that they had no help, or they tried and it was too painful, because they were being told by mostly male MD’s that that’s what happens when you breast feed, so suck it up and deal with it. This is very sad, but we need to move forward because one cannot change the past. All medical professionals should support breastfeeding and leave their own feelings and experiences out of it! I had an actual debate with one MD that breastfeeding does not hurt when the baby is latched correctly, and he totally dismissed me and said that I didn’t know what I was talking about. My response to him was the day he breastfed his own baby would be the day where we could have an actual discussion, and how dare he continue to undermine his patients in this manner. He had nothing to say- and he is supposed to be a pediatrician who follows the AAP stand to support breastfeeding for a year. This happens all the time with many MD’s at the hospital where I have worked for 10 years, and we have the Baby Friendly Certification! I feel that this behavior is unprofessional, and hospital’s need to come up with a better screening program when hiring for maternal/child health staff, and let those staff that refuse to comply go elsewhere.
    In regards to adoptive parents, they know what they are getting into by adopting an infant, and if they don’t, shame on them for not researching more. If they chose to formula feed their infants, they need to be adult enough to realize that there may be health complications by formula feeding, and take responsibility for it. Not whine about how their feelings were hurt. Our future will be much healthier by having the great majority of infants breastfed or fed human milk for the first year of life and beyond, and this is an irrefutable fact.

    Martha Wardrop, RN, IBCLC

    May 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm

  6. I am really agree about benefit breastfeeding. I always appreciate people who can give exclusive breastfeeding for her babies or commit to support breastfeeding.There’s a story about Salma Hayek who breastfeed a hungry african child when her visit to Sierra Leon Hospital (this story really inspire me)


    May 10, 2011 at 8:16 am

  7. Adoptive moms can get donor milk, they can do adoptive breastfeeding (provided they have breasts), they can adopt an older child, or they can at the very least take into consideration that when breastfeeding isn’t an option, formula is the substitute. Exercise is good for you, but if you are in a wheelchair, getting exercise may not be possible. Doesn’t mean that messages to encourage exercise among those who aren’t physically disabled need to be toned down, does it?

    Jennifer R

    January 13, 2016 at 1:53 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: