Sunday, October 30, 2011

Choice: The Holy Grail of Infant Feeding

Choice has become the holy grail of infant feeding.  Female liberation has been predicated on the "freedom" to choose between infant formula and breastfeeding.  So are women freely making this choice?  Or is society, our medical-industrial-social-marketing-government institutions, creating the propaganda to influence choice?  

I seem to have stirred the hornet's nest, particularly on Facebook, regarding my comments on my previous post to my blog.  The blog writer for Fearless Formula Feeding wrote regarding me--STFU.  And a number of facebookers agreed to that statement.  I had to look up what STFU meant.  Yes, shows my age.  It means shut the fuck up. Wow. Yeah I seem to be the only one on the Virtual who is initial-impaired.  Rude, eh?  What can I say?  Oh yeah I am suppose to shut the....

Sorry, can't shut up, getting too old to shut up.  So I have an answer for those facebookers who think I should STFU.  Put your hands over your ears, close your eyes, and don't read my blog.  I allow humming while reading my blog and actually I do allow people to disagree with my point of view. 

I believe that biologically the mammary gland is a working organ and meant to be used.  Not using that organ has health ramifications for both mother and baby.  Long term there is enormous ramifications to society in terms of health care costs-physical and emotional.   Yet I do not believe that society and in particular government should force women to breastfeed.  I feel a woman has the right to refuse to breastfeed.  The right of refusal is a subtle but crucial difference than in believing in "choice."  Breastfeeding is normal mammalian behavior.  But as I have said many times before we do not live in natural/normal environments.  So while breastfeeding is normal, our culture makes it abnormal.  We struggle with learning to breastfeed because we do not see it in order to imitate it.  Humans are the great imitators.  When women are asked to leave public establishments because they are breastfeeding, it sends a message not only to the mother and her family but to the rest of the community.  These messages are pervasive in the USA.

Choice isn't choice when the person who makes that choice does not know the full consequences.  When a government, a society, withholds crucial information or an industry subverts that knowledge, then choice is a stacked deck.  If women knew about all the patents on human milk components or read the infant formula patents, I believe that they might question the safety of infant formula feeding.  They might question the belief that choice really exists in infant feeding. 
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain


  1. "I believe that biologically the mammary gland is a working organ and meant to be used." But what if it doesn't 'work?'

    When I had my first baby I had never seen anyone bottle feed. EVERYONE I knew breastfed. Bottle feeding was not even an option for me, I was surrounded by breastfeeding women and I was told that all women can breastfeed if they try hard enough, after all it is the biological normal. Some how someone forgot to tell god to give me 'normal' breasts which produced milk. Though all my lactation consult visits, midwife encounters and doctor visits no one ever seemed to feel the need to let me know that some women just can't breastfeed. No, they only told me to keep trying while my little boy starved. The guilt I felt was tremendous when I made the 'choice' to formula feed and it was exasperated by the times I was kicked out of mother's rooms by mother's who did approve of my bottlefeeding, told by shop keepers 'I should be breastfeeding that baby' and having random strangers asking me 'don't you know breast is best?'
    It wasn't til my second was born that finally I was told by a decent (male) midwife the medical reason I was not able to produce enough breastmilk and that no amount of trying would make my breasts 'work'.
    So yes, when people tell me that I am somehow stupid for formula feeding or that I am risking the life of my child by doing so then my response will be STFU.

  2. First of all, I NEVER said that you, Valerie McClain, should "STFU". I said that PEOPLE who accuse me of being in the pockets of Big Forma should STFU, a phrase that punctuated a long, ranty paragraph about the dismal state of my finances.

    Also, contrary to what you write in this post, I didn't intend for you to "STFU" regarding your opinions on formula and breastfeeding. That wasn't at all what the comment thread on our FB page was about. It was referring to your libelous attack on me, my blog, and all that I stand for. Frankly, in light of your refusal to acknowledge that I am indeed a living, breathing, unfunded voice, I restrained from what I truly wanted to say.

    Accusing someone of being a "front for a PR company" simply because they have a different opinion than you is pretty rotten. There is a huge difference between disagreeing with someone's opinions/engaging in a good debate, and personally attacking them. Talk about covering your ears... the easiest way to ignore what someone has to say is to pretend they don't exist (or are paid-off to exist).

  3. Anonymous,
    I want to acknowledge I read your comment. I am sorry that someone called you stupid because personally we all make decisions about our lives and our children's lives that often cannot be understood by 3rd parties.

  4. Fearless Formula Feeder,
    You are a professional editor, writer, researcher whose resume is online at in which you state, "Creative, articulate editor, writer and researcher with extensive experience in both the magazine industry and corporate arena, seeking opportunity to enhance the brand of a company or publication in need of a fresh perspective." I would call what you do public relations.

  5. Saying that professional writing is public relations is a FAR cry from saying that a blog is a front for a PR firm. Changing your position does not change the fact that your initial assertion was wrong.

  6. Yes, Valerie, that IS what I do as my day job. Do you make money off your blog? I see no ads, so I doubt it. I assume you have an alternate source of income?

    I do indeed work for a variety of web-related companies, as a freelancer. I used to be Editor in Chief of Los Angeles Family Magazine. I also am currently working on a book about the pressure to breastfeed. I suppose one could say that my blog is sort of a PR effort for my book, but it would also be fair to say that the book is PR for the blog. Either way, I'm not going to make much (if any) money on railing against the status quo. And the formula companies are not publishing my book, nor do they have any stock in the company which will eventually publish it, if all goes well (it is a distinguished, academic publishing house).

    However, what I do is NOT public relations. Most of that is professional jargon to differentiate oneself from the myriad of other writers/editors on Elance. I am a writer. I am a researcher. I am an editor. None of those things are PR... I'm confused where you are heading with this? Are you just saying that the blog SOUNDS like a public relations stunt from a formula company, or are you actually accusing me of being a front for such a company? This seriously gets weirder and weirder...

    Thanks for the free PR for my services, though! If anyone's looking to hire a freelance writer/editor/researcher, I could use the work. ;)

  7. Brooke,
    My comment on my post, "Does fearless breastfeeding exist?" was the following:

    "I wonder who really created this blog? A PR company? With who's backing?"

    Jodine Chase on Facebook wrote this on Facebook to Fearless Formula Feeder, "Hey Fearless Formula Feeder, another fearless blogger, Valerie McClain, suggests you're a front for a PR company." Maybe Jodine forgot that I am a "friend" on Facebook and can read such posts.

    What Jodine wrote was not exactly what I wrote and it created the stampede of name-calling directed towards me. The questions I asked still stand as far as I am concerned. Someone who is a writer and paid by corporations to enhance their brands or give new perspective is being paid to do public relations for corporations. Readers and myself cannot possible know whether the blog is just her own "muse" or whether she is being paid by a corporation.

  8. Suzanne Barston Cobb/Fearless Formula Feeder,
    What you do for a profession is public relations even if you want to believe otherwise. Yes, you are a editor, writer,and researcher. But your statement on your resume is about using those skills to enhance the brand of a company or publication. Readers cannot possible know whether your blog is driven by your own experience or whether you are being paid to use your skills to benefit a third party.

  9. Valerie, I didn't forget you are a Facebook friend, I tagged you.

  10. Valerie, I think it's up to my readers to make that call. Luckily, the majority of them are logical, intelligent, and sufficiently worldly to understand the distinction between writing/editing and PR.

    There's really no way for me to convince you that I'm not being paid off by a company, other than allow you to view my tax return, I suppose. And even if I did that, I expect you'd find some obscure company I worked for and accuse it of being a pseudonym for the IFC. Regardless, I can't win. No matter what I say, you have a pat answer for.

    Don't you see, that by your own logic, someone could come on here and accuse you of being a shill for a PR company representing the IBCLC? Or maybe a milk bank? How is what you do any different than what I do? Because I make my living as a writer, that precludes me from blogging about my own personal interests, or attempting to build my own "brand" of representing/defending formula feeding moms?

  11. Additionally, you might want to consider that what you are doing - mentioning me by name, and making unfounded accusations - is awful close to the definition of libel. Which, last I checked, is something I could sue for.

  12. The Fearless Formula Feeder,
    I welcome debate (without name calling). I think readers should evaluate all internet web sites-blogs are included. I think if you had read my blog, you would realize that suggesting I am a "shill" for a PR company that represents the IBCLC, a milk bank is...well rather funny. I don't mind anyone questioning my funding of my blog (my blog is free, no advertisements) but anyone who had read my blog would understand that I am not one of the "beloved" members of the breastfeeding community. Why? Because I am as critical of them, as I am of the infant formula industry. No side in the infant feeding debate has truth on their side. There is alot of game playing going on and the real losers are the mothers and fathers caught in the crossfire of misinformation and propaganda.
    I believe libel is legally defined as deliberate lies meant to harm someone. Review what I actually wrote, not what Jodine stated. They were questions about your blog. Not lies about your blog, but questions. Is the public no longer allowed to ask questions regarding blogs and who funds them and authorship?
    You write that you are "attempting to build my own 'brand' of representing/defending formula feeding moms." Branding is an unusual description of what writer's do, unless one works within the PR field. Your first paragraph in your initial response to my previous post was concern regarding "traffic" to your site. PR terminology. It doesn't make sense to me because I don't believe writing/editing/researching should be about "branding" unless you are in the public relations industry.
    I read an interview of you written in 2010. Your first name and picture appeared in that interview (lifeandtimesofstella). Clicking on your picture reveals the name Suzanne Cobb. That very same picture appears when you comment to me. If you don't want people to know who you are, why would you have an actual picture of yourself in an interview, particularly when that picture has your name on it?

  13. That interview which showed your picture was about your blog, Fearless Formula Feeding.