Recently on Facebook a few women, including myself and a very well known breastfeeding advocate were called bullies for some comments we made against “Fed is Best“. I really try to stay out of the Facebook fray as much as possible and instead compose my thoughts and frustrations into constructive posts here on the blog. I guess I was feeling extra saucy last night when I jumped in to comment on Facebook. So, of course being called a “bully” had me thinking about all the different perspectives and why some of us are so adamant about breastfeeding education.
While thinking about all this, it suddenly dawned on me how incredibly privileged it is to promote formula usage as an out from breastfeeding. (Disclaimer (per the usual): I respect that there are a variety of reasons why babies DO need to be formula fed, and also I think that making moms feel guilty for formula feeding is neither constructive nor acceptable.)
Why is promoting formula usage a privileged perspective?
FORMULA IS EXPENSIVE.
There, I said it. That shit is not cheap. And for families who can easily absorb that cost (think somewhere between $1,000 to $3,000+ per year depending on the brand/formula your child can tolerate) it’s really easy to say, “Eh, I guess this isn’t working. Formula it is!” And if you have that luxury, then great. It’s your choice to do that.
But when people are PROMOTING formula, they have to think about families that CANNOT afford this extra cost.
How about beyond the cost of formula? For families who live in places with easy access to potable drinking water using formula is no big deal. However there are many places in this world where clean drinking water isn’t available by just turning on the tap.
Let’s fast forward, baby is eating solid foods, hurray! Well, now if you can afford fresh, healthy, organic food, then that’s obviously great for your child. But for families who cannot afford to go to Whole Foods and drop $300/week for their family, breastfeeding could make a huge difference in the long term and short term health of their child. Breastmilk is an immunity booster and a complete nutritional food.
So, when there are people who don’t want us to push breastfeeding education because they feel that just talking about the benefits of breastfeeding is automatically an act of war against mothers who use formula, it’s an obvious sign of privilege.
You can clearly afford formula, so for you, what’s the big deal? But there are so many families for whom picking up a can of formula is not the easy option, and educating them on how to successfully breastfeed is PARAMOUNT to their child’s health.
**Edited 8/23/16 based on a constructive conversation with a reader and friend!
This totally cuts both ways. Because, let me tell you, formula SHAMING is also a big sign of privilege.
Here are the advantages I had as a breastfeeding mother that are not widely available to all moms (especially in the U.S.):
- Paid maternity leave
- Money to hire a lactation consultant
- Healthcare that covered my breast pump
- A city with pump-friendly/breastfeeding-friendly ordinances (and an employer who enthusiastically complied)
- SUPPORTIVE FAMILY AND A SUPPORTIVE SPOUSE (this is huge)
In the U.S. especially we are slowly becoming more supportive of working/pumping/breastfeeding moms, but as of right now it is still a huge uphill battle. Moms in the medical field especially get a lot of push back from colleagues/employers, and if they work in emergency services the nature of their work can make it very hard to impossible to keep a regular pumping routine.
Remember that a child’s health, a mother’s health, and a family happiness rarely hinges on one thing. I like to think that most breastfeeding advocates feel so strongly because they care about infant and maternal health for all.
But, even while we believe deeply in the bonding, healing and nurturing power of breastfeeding, we have to practice compassion, empathy and understanding. Our daily reality is our own and we rarely know every challenge that other families face to give their children the best they can. We have to have open, honest, fact-based and love-based conversations.