Claiming the formula industry is anti-breastfeeding is like claiming the birth control industry is anti-children

Birth Control Pills

It’s the central obsession at the heart of contemporary breastfeeding promotion, and it serves as a justification for the shaming tactics so beloved of lactivists.

It’s the fantasy that the formula industry is waging war on breastfeeding.

Formula was not created as a substitute for breastfeeding; it was created to replace the raw animal milk women were already using as a substitute for breastfeeding.

Don’t get me wrong; the formula industry is trying to make money. And, yes, decades ago they engaged in deceptive practices to convince women in developing countries to formula feed; but there was never a similar campaign in industrialized countries for a very simple reason — women couldn’t or wouldn’t breastfeed long before formula even existed.

Formula was not created as a substitute for breastfeeding; it was created to replace the raw animal milk women were already using as a substitute for breastfeeding.

As Jacqueline Wolf explains in the chapter Saving Babies and Mothers: Pioneering Efforts to Decrease Infant and Maternal Mortality, in the book Silent Victories: The History and Practice of Public Health in Twentieth Century:

The custom of feeding cows’ milk via rags, bottles, cans and jars to babies rather than putting them to the breast became increasingly common in the last quarter of the nineteenth century progressed… In 1912, disconcerted physicians complained bitterly that the breastfeeding duration rate had declined steadily since the mid-nineteenth century “and now it is largely a question as to whether the mother will nurse her baby at all. A 1912 survey in Chicago … corroborated the allegation. Sixty-one percent of those women fed their infants at least some cows’ milk within weeks of giving birth.

And the results were deadly:

The late nineteenth century urban milk supply killed tens of thousands of infants each year. Unpasteurized and unrefrigerated as it journeyed from rural dairy farmer to urban consumer for up to 72 hours. cows’ milk was commonly spoiled and bacteria-laden. Public health officials dramatically charged that in most U.S. cities, milk contained more bacteria than raw sewage …

Those death rates did not start falling until cows’ milk was replaced by infant formula, which more closely matches the composition of human milk, is uncontaminated and is very convenient to buy, store and use.

Breastfeeding, like most natural processes, has a high natural failure rate. Up to 15% of new mothers don’t make enough milk to fully nourish a growing baby, especially in the first few days after birth. In addition, breastfeeding can be difficult, painful, frustrating and incompatible with women’s work outside the home.

Infant formula finally made the widespread use of breastmilk supplements safe. It’s no different from birth control. The manufacturers of the Pill didn’t need to convince women to use birth control; they simply made birth control safe and effective.

The similarities don’t end there.

Why do formula manufacturers advertise? For the same reason that birth control manufacturers advertise: to claim market share.

Manufacturers of various formulations of The Pill, condoms and diaphragms aren’t engaged in a war on children. Women themselves WANT to regulate their fertility. They don’t want to subject themselves to a dozen pregnancies across a reproductive life and they don’t want to raise a dozen children. No one needs to convince women to prevent pregnancy; the market for birth control encompasses just about every woman of reproductive age in every country. The issue for women is not IF they are going to use birth control, but WHICH form of birth control they are going to use. That’s why purveyors of birth control advertise.

Formula manufacturers advertise for the same reason. The issue is not IF women are going to use formula; many will choose to do so regardless. The issue is which brand to use. It’s the same reason why formula companies give free samples of their product. Contrary to the lactivist fantasy that formula samples are aimed at seducing women away from breastfeeding, the industry is not worried about IF women will use formula; it’s concerned about WHICH formula brand they are going to use.

Lactivists have used the fantasy of formula manufacturers warring against breastfeeding to justify their tactics of grossly exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding, pretending there are “risks” to formula feeding, invoking shaming language to pressure women into breastfeeding, and employing Orwellian programs like the “Baby Friendly Hospital Inititiative” to force new mothers to breastfeed. They believe they are waging war against the formula industry; the reality is that they waging war against women’s bodily autonomy.

Women use formula for the same reason that women use birth control; it allows them to determine when and how they use their reproductive organs. Lactivists oppose formula for the same reason that religious fundamentalists oppose birth control. Fundamentalists believe no woman should have sex unless there is a chance for pregnancy; lactivists believe no woman should give birth unless she plans to breastfeed.

In both cases, what is at stake is not the financial health of corporations, but the rights of women.

  • Mel

    The public health officials who claimed that unrefrigerated, unpasteurized raw milk had higher bacteria counts than raw sewage were not exaggerating.

    In my microbiology classes, the two media that would grow fininky bacteria better than anything else were blood agar and raw milk.

    Lots of fat, proteins, and carbohydrates and a nice stable pH; it’s great for pathogenic bacteria.

    • mabelcruet

      In my old hospital, the microbiology lab was on the floor below the pathology lab. Going past their corridor on the way into work was horrible, they smelled so much worse than our lab did!

  • Alia

    There’s a story that my mother-in-law sometimes tells, about her mother’s cousin (or sister-in-law?) who did not want to breasfeed her newborn daughter because she knew she had tuberculosis and did not want to infect her. This was just after WWII, she even boiled the cow’s milk but still it was contaminated with bacteria, the baby got ill and died. If only she had had formula then…

  • Do anyone know that political party affiliation of most lactivists? They remind me so much of the pro-lifers and anti-birth control people.

    I came across this today.
    https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-10-breastfeeding-vulnerable-infants.html
    More BS from the lactivists.

    • fiftyfifty1

      Lactivism is one of those rare handful of causes that get support from both the Right and the Left. The others I can think of are homebirth, attachment parenting, anti-porn, and anti-vaccine. I find these rare marriages of Right and Left to be fascinating and creepy.

      • LaMont

        As a Jew, atheist, and city-dweller I can think of three groups the right and left both love to hate – and yeah, the alignments are strange

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        Ohhh yeah. I grew up in an extreme right, fundamentalist Christian (Catholic) world. There was a *lot* of crossover between the “God made the world and your body perfectly, so homebirth, breastfeed, and use essential oils rather than vaccines because that’s how God designed nature” types and “Big PharmaBusiness/evil powerful men are out to keep you from birthing naturally/breastfeeding/being well naturally, so skip the vaccines in favor of essential oils” types.
        It’s almost like no one side has cornered the market on crazy. :p

    • Anna

      Im noticing what I think Dr A has known all along, a decent amount are your typical hippy dippers but the leadership and the radicals resemble very closely the extreme end of Christianity and I strongly suspect many of them believe women’s ‘natural’ place is in the home, subservient and reliant. I saw a thread on a lactavist group recently where some were suggesting breastfeeding should be paid work and some got really angry like “no, breastfeeding is my duty, I wouldnt want to be paid for it”. Also its telling how the more radical lactivists are now making a distinction between direct feeding and expressing. Theyre using the same shamey techniques on their own! “we’re not trying to make Mums feel guilty, we’re just stating the fact that pumped milk is not breastfeeding and women should be able to make informed decisions for the health of their babies”. If you want to be a gold star Mommy you’ll quit work and devote your life to breastfeeding is the not so subtle message. Its odd that so many so called radical feminists buy into it. I suspect thats a lot like antivax – the cause that can bring together even knit your own crochet hat vegan socialists and gun totin Trump fans. Lol.

    • mabelcruet

      You can tell its written by a lactivist with pretensions of academia because of the appalling verbiage. “Difficulty in sustaining a latch to allow milk transfer to occur” is a ridiculous way of saying “feeding difficulty”.

      It’s an odd sort of article. I’m no expert, but babies with spina bifida are generally smaller, usually delivered a little earlier, may have a range of movement and coordination difficulties with underdeveloped musculature, tend to gain weight slowly and can have significant structural brain anomalies like hydrocephalus. Surely expressing and bottle feeding would be physically easier for the baby? It reads as though the mothers ‘breast feeding journey’ is more important to preserve than finding a way of feeding that is easiest and best for the baby.

      • Mel

        Nah, the important bit is not following up to see if unfortified human breast milk is providing enough calories for those babies to grow at an appropriate pace.

        BFHI rewards EBF at release from the hospital, not neonatal outcomes at 1 month of age…..

    • rational thinker

      Wow…..that article was even worse than the usual shit they peddle.

  • Cartman36

    Thank you! It’s as if lactivists cannot fathom that women choose to use formula. I am an intelligent and educated women with a successful professional career. I chose to do both breastfeeding and formula feeding from birth because it worked for me and it was what I preferred. It had nothing to do with a lack of knowledge or being swayed by formula companies.

    Two people can have the same information and come to different conclusions about what is best for their family. what a novel concept….

    • Cristina B

      Yesss! I have my university degree and formula fed from the start. I was *never* even remotely interested in breastfeeding.

    • Casual Verbosity

      So how is the evil corporate mind control still responsible now that formula advertising is regulated up the wazoo?

    • Mattie

      I really struggle to understand the people who claim to be feminists but then are militant about breastfeeding uber alles. It’s patronising to assume you know better for all women, and it also seems to just conveniently forget that some women want children but do not want to be the primary carer for those children, and that’s ok.

      I live in England where advertising for formula is limited to “follow-on” or toddler milks (not sure if that is also the case in the US) and people still choose to bottle feed their newborns.

      Personally when I have a baby I’ll be hoping to give breastfeeding a go, but I’ll be packing ready-to-feed bottles in my bag, and you bet that whoever is with me can feed the baby so I can rest, and if I don’t like breastfeeding or if it doesn’t work out then I’ll feed formula and put the cost of the LC towards something nice for the baby/us.

      • rational thinker

        I have a friend that had 2 abortions cause it was not the right time for her but many years later she had ended up having 2 kids. The messed up thing is that she is all for women having control of their own bodies except it seems when it comes to breastfeeding. One day I was out with her and she was talking to someone and made the statement that she thinks all women should be legally forced to breastfeed for the first 4 to 6 months or they should not have kids. When I told her I never breastfed my kids she was shocked. Both her kids had to have formula for failure to thrive by 2 months of age anyway. She also has hep C and is on methadone and breastfed anyway but she thinks I should’nt have kids cause I wouldn’t breastfeed. I personally would never have an abortion but that does not mean I think other women shouldn’t have them either, I would never interfere with another womans right to have an abortion.

        • StephanieJR

          The cognitive dissonance is strong with this one.

        • Cartman36

          Wow! Just Wow. I don’t even know what to say here. I would think your friend, given the struggles she has had in life, would have a little more grace and compassion for other women.

          • rational thinker

            Nope, if it is not “her” way it is the wrong way. She has had 2 c sections and I had 2 vaginal births. She said vaginal birth is disgusting and she does not know why anyone would do it. When you tell her any scientific fact that goes against what she thinks she just tries to shut you up by saying “No No Just No” every time you try to even open your mouth to explain a fact she disagrees with. Her beliefs are really just all over the place, she gets most of her news from facebook, and she loves trump but has been oddly quiet about him the past 2 weeks ( I wonder why).

            If I didn’t carpool with her once a week I probably would have walked away from the friendship a while ago.

          • Cartman36

            Ughhh…. I really hate it when people get more of their information from facebook. I know a few as well. They don’t question anything they read even if its ridiculous on its face. One of my friends told I couldn’t use my essential oil diffuser with eucalyptus oil when I was pregnant because she read on facebook it would make me go into labor. I told her labor was triggered by hormones and she told me to “do my research”. LOL, I was like, no I don’t need to, that stupid.

            I use essential oils because they smell good and I think they are safer than candles. I don’t think they have any magical properties or do anything other than make a room smell good.

          • rational thinker

            I once told her that everything has a small amount of arsenic in it. Even that yes we humans also have small amounts of arsenic in us at any given time. She was shocked and said “no thats not right arsenic is a poison so no” I told her look it up so you can see that its true. She said “well maybe people who eat processed food have it in them but I eat right so I wont have any” and she then told me “you need to get a phone with internet so you can research these things and maybe get a facebook so you can keep up with things”.
            Now when she starts spouting off bullshit as fact I just sit there and and go ok and nod my head every few minuites other than have her get a panic attack every time I try to explain how she is wrong or misinformed to her.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            “no thats not right arsenic is a poison so no”

            You should have told her to use her phone with the internet to look up Paracelsus