Fortifying Our Villages

Phrases that really have no place in an article on breastfeeding and formula, no matter how crafty they are:

“Tits up”

“Suckled at the corporate teat”

Something else that doesn’t need to be done in order to make a point? The vilification of mothers.

I know that I’ve ranted ad nauseam for the last couple of weeks about the so-called mommy wars, and the way the media and various corporations help push the idea for profit. Well, here I am ranting again (surprise, surprise). But this time, I have a bit of a different focus.

Mother Jones posted an article yesterday that takes a look at Mitt Romney’s relationship to big pharma, particularly his past connections to the formula industry. Being a resident of Massachusetts, I’m quite aware of Romney’s push to support Bristol-Meyers Squibb (and by association, Enfamil) and how he actively worked to overturn the ban of formula “swag bags” in hospitals.

I’ve seen the arguments on both sides, and am no stranger to the breastfeeding/formula swag bag debate. I’ve seen this fight occur numerous times, and it usually ends up with mothers on opposite sides of the fence, arguing and playing up to the mommy war stereotype.

A regular sight at our place

Before I continue, just in case there are a few of you out there that don’t know my stance on breastfeeding, I figure I will make it as crystal clear as I can.

I am 100% pro-breastfeeding. I believe it is the most ideal way to feed a baby, and has many benefits that cannot be artificially reproduced.

That being said, I’m also not ignorant to the many, varied obstacles that new mothers face when it comes to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can be challenging for even the most “nursing-friendly” mother/baby pair. I had what I would call a relatively easy time nursing, and even then there were days in the beginning where the pain was excruciating, when my nipples were tinted purple from gentian violet while treating thrush, when I’d wake up in a cool puddle of my own milk, when I had to deal with plugged ducts and cracked nipples. I also had oversupply issues which came with their own special set of challenges.

I was lucky, however. I had what many women do not. I had support. My husband was absolutely supportive. My family and friends were incredibly supportive. My midwives were supportive. I had the phenomenal support of my wonderful doula who literally sat and watched, counting, as my son nursed during his first week of life, reassuring me that he was getting more than enough.

First week of EZ’s life…visit with our doula

You’ve heard the saying it takes a village? Well, it can sometimes take a village… to nurse. And that’s the problem. We don’t have a system of villages set up in this country.

What we do have, however, are corporations. Corporations whose primary goal is to make money. So what do they do? They create mass marketing campaigns to send free formula to anyone who registers at any baby store anywhere (or maternity store, birthing classes, etc…). They also create these “swag bags” which are pure marketing campaigns, provided with the sole purpose of getting more customers.

Where are the swag bags for breastfeeding? The ones that include a free pump, breast pads, and nipple salve? Or perhaps a few free hours with a lactation consultant who will come to your home and help you establish a productive nursing relationship and answer all your questions? Where are the mandatory breaks and clean spaces for women who need to nurse (beyond, oh – just use the toilet)? Where are the commercials and magazine ads and newspaper inserts promoting breastfeeding? Where is the option of donor milk in hospitals?

There’s not. And that’s the problem. You can’t even begin to judge or vilify mothers when the playing field is hardly even.

Listen, some women might make the choice to use formula for personal reasons, and “leveling the playing field” wouldn’t even matter. I get that. Other women don’t have a choice due to a number of issues. I’m not saying we should deny these women the chance for free formula while at hospitals. But for the rest of the women who may have had even the fleeting wish to try to breastfeed their babies? We need to fortify our villages. We need to ensure that they’re equipped enough to rise up to the level that formula companies are currently at, hawking their wares.

For those that are strong proponents of breastfeeding, let me implore you – instead of throwing shade and judgement in the way of mothers who don’t nurse, let’s instead focus our attention on those that deserve it. On companies that wheel and deal with politicians to get their product into the hands of women who might have breastfed, had they been given some support and encouragement. Let’s vilify the real people that deserve it – those who put profit over people.

18 thoughts on “Fortifying Our Villages

  1. I’ve been noticing with this whole “Mommy Wars” I think the posts I’ve been reading for the most part women understand that there are a lot of things that go into the decision and it’s a personal one. You are so right though – if a woman is going to breast-feed, she needs support! The breast-feeding swag bags would be an excellent idea!

    • Wouldn’t a swag bag like that be excellent? The only issue is – who funds it? Already strapped for $ hospitals are unlikely to do so. “Big Pharma” isn’t about to rush and financially support it’s opposition. Which leaves government or private/non-profit companies. That is what is frustrating – it seems like unless the government steps in and helps promote breastfeeding support, it’s highly unlikely it will ever become a level playing field in that regard.

  2. Fantastic post. I really value the way you acknowledge the artificial and profit driven interests that continue to drive the whole breastfeeding debate. You are so right, it’s not mother’s who need to be vilified, but the corporate companies who so often thrive in the midst of this manufactured controversy. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: Fortifying Our Villages « The Mamafesto – Your Guide To Breastfeeding

  4. Have you thought about starting your own BF swag business? The revenue aspect is tricky but I think it’s doable using SBA loans an various govt programs. Most people don’t realize how much money is actually available to them.

    *appause* Agree 100%

      • There could be a rental market for the pumps perhaps and/or a community where you pay a fee to participate and get various services (like Aflac). I constantly try think of way to make business for mothers work. Unfortunately, I am often led down a rabbit hole, ending up with ideas to change the entire capitalist system when I’m done. lol! It’s quite flawed and backwards.

    • or rather…how would it be profitable beyond the bag, you know? For formula companies, they bank on hooking repeat customers (that last up to at least a year if not longer), so the freebies in turn earn them more business. How would that system work for BF-friendly swag bags? (unless one worked with companies like Medela, Lansinoh, etc…) hm. food for thought indeed!

      • Yes, I think it could be cross promoted by business that provide such supplies — and renting the pumps out. In-home care from breastfeeding to house cleaning would be a real help. It would be great to connect all these dots.

  5. Having a clean space and time to pump for working moms is key. Or better yet, longer maternity leaves. I think that is a bigger, more important issue to address than the swag bags. I teach and the high school bell schedule was totally incompatible to pumping so I stopped nursing my daughter and son when I went back after 8 and 4 months respectively. Also the fear of having leakage in front of high schoolers wasn’t a pleasant thought.

  6. This may sound strange, but I felt the opposite of what you’re saying, when my son was born three years ago. I was living in Idaho at the time and the nurses and doctors simply acted as though there was no other choice for me. I did intend to breast feed, and in fact was able to do so for the first year (with lots of support, as you point out IS needed). But they simply handed me the baby moments after birth and asked me if I needed help getting him to latch. Then they woke me on a schedule that they determined, to feed my son, and left him in the room with me unless I asked for him to be taken to the nursery. The lactation consultant came in twice to monitor if his latch was OK and gave me two sheets full of tips and how-to’s for every problem imaginable. And then the hospital offered lactation support groups, where you could show up weekly and ask questions with a consultant. I went a few times and actually felt bad that we weren’t having nearly the problems some women were having, so I stopped going. Overall, I felt judged for even considering supplementing with formula when my son was older and my milk production wasn’t adequate. Other mom’s in my circle felt similarly to myself, in that they felt judged for ever considering formula, or God forbid, actually NEEDING to use it.

    • I don’t think it’s strange, but I do feel that it’s certainly not the norm in the US. In fact, according to a 2011 CDC report, ” less than 5% of U.S. infants are born in Baby-Friendly hospitals.” And while more women are finding avenues of support, that support seems to drop off post-birth, causing breastfeeding rates to lower significantly at 6 months, then again at 12 months. You can read more of the report (and see your state’s data) here:

  7. I got a “breastfeeding” swag bag when I was in the hospital–sponsored by Similac. It was clearly labeled “breastfeeding” and was different than the one that was given to women who opted for formula feeding (though they got one, too). It did include some nursing pads, an ice pack, and bottles for milk storage, but it also included coupons for formula and actual formula samples. I wrote about how frustrated I was by this “gift” and include some pictures of its contents:

    • Thanks for sharing that, Jane. Just another example of the lengths companies like these will go to with their marketing in hopes of securing customers/profit. I certainly do not want to deprive women who need/want formula the availability of it, but at the same time – this sort of marketing is absolutely unethical imo. :/

  8. Pingback: Latch On, Latch Off « The Mamafesto

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