The debate started (I think) about whether or not formula companies should be able to hand out free samples and swag to moms in the hospital. TFB said that they shouldn’t be able to hand out swag and Valenti said TFB wasn’t being a feminist because that was taking away women’s choice to formula feed.
Choice, at least in the beginning, wasn’t the point. And informed and educated choice isn’t the point of this post, just so you know.
As I watched this debate, I found myself paying attention to the conversations happening around me, in print and online, and what I found made me sad. And here’s the point at which I will likely offend some people, so my apologies in advance.
The marketing of formula in this country (and elsewhere) is awful for breastfeeding.
Here are two real-life anecdotes from the past week:
Last Thursday was my NT scan. While Dan and I were waiting to meet with the doctor to discuss the results of the ultrasound (which we didn’t actually talk about) I opened a copy of American Baby magazine. There was an article on the cover titled “10 Things Nobody Tells You About Breastfeeding (But We Will)” that caught my eye. I knew before I turned to the article that I probably wouldn’t like the slant of the article. (And I didn’t.) And I said to Dan, “I bet there’s a formula ad either right before or right after this article.” (And there was.)
Here’s the first page of the article:
The things you don’t know:
- You don’t have to eat like a dietician
- Your belly may feel a bit crampy
- Your milk doesn’t look like cow’s milk
- Your breasts may leak–a lot
- Sex may be less than stellar
- Nursing can be boring
- It might hurt
- Your hubby might love it
- You may not be into it–and that’s okay
- It can be complete bliss
I’d like to rebut the bold statements, but I won’t. Not yet. But I read through that list and I thought “Gee, you know, 6 of the 10 of these are negative, and a couple of the others could be spun that way, which doesn’t seem encouraging at all.” And then I looked at the pages before and after the article.
Immediately preceding the article, I found this:
If I’m flipping through this magazine and a two-page formula advertisement with a peacefully sleeping baby on it is right before an article that isn’t exactly positive? That’s bad marketing. Or good marketing, depending on which side of the dollar sign you’re standing.
And then there are subtle ways formula advertising gets mothers:
A girl I went to high school with gave birth to her second child two weeks ago. (Her first was born 9 years ago.) She posted on Facebook that he was fussy and gassy and constipated and he didn’t sleep and she wanted to take him to the emergency room. In the comment thread, she said that he couldn’t “do milk-based [formulas] or breast milk” so he was on a sensitive formula (and they’d tried soy).
My first thought? Sometimes babies are just fussy, especially the new kids. And as much as it sucks to hear that, and believe me, it sucks and I know because I heard it and lived it, it’s true.
Which leads me to wonder how many mothers start out breastfeeding and within a week have a fussy baby and reach for a “for fussy babies” formula that promises great things hoping it’ll be a miracle and the baby will stop crying and they’ll finally get to sleep who then end up sabotaging their breastfeeding relationship and thinking they are personally broken when their milk supply tanks because no one told them that if you supplement you should also pump. The formula can certainly doesn’t say so. The mothers who had “easy” babies and say “Oh, little Suzy was on such-and-such formula and she was awesome!” don’t say that.
Before words get put into my mouth here, I don’t think women are stupid and incapable of NOT falling prey to advertising. I think most of us are intelligent and capable of rational thought. Most of the time.
But I do think that, as a gender, we’re more likely to be driven by pathos (our emotions) when advertising is directed at us. And if you’ve met a pregnant or newly-delivered mother and you think she’s NOT a bundle of emotions? You have not met the pregnant and newly-delivered women I’ve met. Or me, apparently. Because while pregnant? I am driven by my emotions.
And pickles, but that’s another story.