Friday, October 28, 2011

Does fearless breastfeeding exist?

There is a blog called "Fearless FormulaFeeding:  standing up for formula feeders without being a boob about it."  Cute, catchy and oh so "rational" about the need to protect infant formula.   Yes we must protect infant formula from the judgmental breastfeeders of the world.   Okay, okay, the goal of the blog is to support, protect, and encourage infant formula mommys from the judgmental breastfeeding community.  Yet, I am fascinated by the design of this blog.  The use of words, large and small, "guilt,"  "father."  Oh the psychological games we can play when we have a PR industry in our back pocket.  I wonder who really created this blog?  A PR company?  With who's backing?  

The blog states, "that breastfeeding is not useless," but "Its turned into something we have to do, rather than want to do...."  I turn these words around and around in my head.  Of course we have to do it, it is biology.  We have legs and we walk (unless we are crippled), we have eyes and we see (unless we are blind), we have ears and we hear (unless we are deaf).  We have mammary glands and we make milk for our babies.  "Yes Sally, you have legs but you have a choice about using them.  Our society has changed since days of old where walking was normal, natural.  Walking is worth it... but so it your sanity, health, and sense of autonomy."  (the blog stated, "Breastfeeding is worth it.  But so is a mothers sanity, health and sense of autonomy.")

Choice is the holy grail of infant feeding.  We must have choice because we are liberated women.  Liberated from what?  Our biology.  Yet while we are liberating ourselves from our biology, our industry and institutions are making claims on the magic of the mammary gland and its milk.  How peculiar that seems to me. The Fearless FormulaFeeding blog believes "mothers are well aware"  of the benefits/advantages of breastfeeding (and obviously tired of hearing about it).  Yet I see no discussion on this blog about the patenting of human milk components by the infant formula industry.  So let's take a step for honesty to mothers.  If you don't breastfeed, you will be giving your infant the genetically engineered equivalent of human milk...cough-cough... they have yet to know all the components and clone them for use.  Where is the discussion about the safety of genetic engineering of formulas for newborn and premature infants?  This blogger presumes that infant formula is the safe option.  That presumption is based on ease of access to medical care, availability of good sanitation-clean water, etc.  It is predicated on the belief that manufacturers of infant formula do not make mistakes in the processing of infant formula ( we know this is not true because of the number of recalls and deaths/hospitalizations of infants who consumed contaminated infant formula).  

Why does feminism require a choice regarding the nurturing of our infants?  Why is breastfeeding idolized, romanticized?  It's biology.  It can be a beautiful experience but it is also like anything we do with our body.  It can be tiring, boring, painful, blissful, uplifting, repetitive, annoying, fun, funny, irritating, enjoyable, peaceful, sad, and on and on.  It's life with babies.  

Motherhood in the USA is judged and not just with breastfeeding.  Most of us have felt judged, tried, and convicted when dealing with a toddler who is having a meltdown in a public place.  The eyes of condemnation by others who believe you haven't been strict enough or loving enough.  You can't win whatever you do because there will always be someone who judges you as inadequate at this mothering game.  Why do we believe that mothers should just know how to parent because they are mothers?  Why does half our society believe that a good spanking is all that is needed for the toddler or child who cannot behave in public?  Why does the other half seem to ignore their misbehaving child?  

I have never seen a mother condemned for infant formula feeding in public (I am sure it exists but I have never heard anyone speak badly about a mother who bottlefeeds her baby).  But I have heard the words of disgust from people when a mother breastfeeds in public.  I have been given the evil eye for nursing my 2-week old baby in public.  So it is very hard for me to view the blog on Fearless FormulaFeeding as other than a public relation blog designed to influence mothers to bottlefeed without fear.  The design is to put breastfeeding up on that marble pedestal and make us believe that we have actually made a choice to bottlefeed.  Choice in actuality is a stacked deck that only works to protect infant formula feeding.
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain



  1. I can answer your question. *I* designed the blog. I am an average person living in Idaho who had a baby at the same time as the FFF and who was good friends with that person. I was designing blogs at the time, and I have since launched a web design business ( I am not a PR company, though I have worked briefly in PR.

    The purpose of the words was to demonstrate the range of emotions many of us (including myself) who cannot breastfeed and instead must formula feed go through.

    It disturbs me greatly that anyone who questions breastfeeding as a one size fits all (thanks Teri) approach must be a PR firm or somehow tied to the formula industry. If you truly knew the steps FFF has taken to ensure no bias (other than having formula fed herself) or conflicts of interest, you would realize how absolutely ludicrous your accusations are.

  2. I assume you misspelled my blog's name to avoid giving it traffic. Clever, but also kind of lame, considering I'd never know you made these accusations unless someone alerted me to it (which they obviously did).

    I've never written about people cloning breastmilk b/c frankly, I've not heard much about this. Interesting stuff, and I'd like to learn more. I think cloning is a bit creepy, but I do believe that studying breastmilk (and what makes it so amazing)could benefit the women who cannot breastfeed due to medical contraindications or physical problems, or adoptive parents... if you are truly concerned about the welfare of babies, wouldn't it be wonderful if we COULD replicate the properties of breastmilk in a lab? Obviously, donor milk would be the first choice, but the legal and financial ramifications of milk banking makes this difficult. I think informal milk sharing is wonderful when it is possible (and by that I mean between close friends or family members, not random strangers on the internet)but since it isn't common or easily done in our society at the moment, maybe this would be the next best thing.

    You seem to have a rather essentialist view of women, which is your right - but please realize that not all of us believe we are born to breastfeed, or that we are limited and defined by our biology. As for your assertion that FFF glamorizes breastfeeding - have you READ the blog?? I get accused of many, many things, but that is not one of them. The entire FFF Friday series is based on stories of women who have faced incredible challenges to breastfeeding. One of the main tenants of my blog is to fight for better research into lactation problems so that more women CAN breastfeed without killing themselves to do so. As for the post in question: I wanted to write one post that portrayed breastfeeding in a lovely light, because I was responding to someone's comment that the blog seems to suggest that breastfeeding wasn't "worth it". I was not in any way glossing over the challenges or putting BFing on a pedestal - obviously I believe that breast is "normal" or I wouldn't have a blog supporting women who feel "abnormal".

    And no, I am not a front for anything. I'm quite real. And quite annoyed that I even have to respond to this ridiculous accusation. Do you really think someone has to be a shill for the industry in order to have an opinion that differs from yours?

  3. Hi Brook,
    I have seen a design on various breastfeeding blogs that use words large and small around the borders of the main article. The design is rather eye-catching but distracting at the same time. Of course, the breastfeeding blogs use a different set of words. The blog feels like PR to me, an impression that I can't shake.

  4. And certainly that's your impression to own. It doesn't make your truth reality though.

    Using words in design is not a new concept either and certainly not one exclusive to breastfeeding blogs.

  5. Hi Fearless Formula Feeder,
    Assuming anything about anyone is an invitation for making errors. I did not knowingly misspell your blog's name so that you wouldn't get any traffic. And why is "traffic" of importance? I know traffic is important in the PR industry.

    Breastmilk components are already being replicated (genetically engineered) in the labs of the infant formula, pharmaceutical, food and supplement industries. These gmo products are being placed in baby formulas around the world.

    I don't know what you mean by, "you seem to have a rather essentialist view of women." So I cannot comment. I certainly understand that many women do not believe that they were born to breastfeed, just as there are many people who refuse to believe that they are born to die. Death is part of our biology. Mammary glands function whether or not the woman decides she will not breastfeed. Somehow biology refuses to listen to our desires.

    Why do we believe that breastfeeding is a limitation? Is that scientific? Or is it cultural expectation? And are there no biological ramifications to not breastfeeding? We do know that women who don't breastfeed have higher rates of breast and ovarian cancers. So not breastfeeding impacts the biology of a woman, putting her at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers.

    My first baby was breastfeed for 11 days. I quit breastfeeding and started using infant formula. I felt sad, depressed, and angry that I couldn't breastfeed. This was in 1982 and I didn't feel guilty about quitting. Breastfeeding was so painful that formula feeding became my only option. When my baby was two months old I relactated, it wasn't easy because there was virtually little information on it and I did not know anyone else who had done so. That experience of relactating was the reason I became a La Leche League Leader and eventually an IBCLC. I am no longer an IBCLC. I have enormous empathy with women who struggle to breastfeed. I think the answers are not always easy and straight-forward.

  6. Oh Holy Hell where do I start!! I love the FFF blog and wish it had been around for me when I had my 8 year son. I was condemned by medical staff and strangers alike for FF.Im a sexual assault survivor, the thought of having to BF repulsed me yes it repulsed me. Because I wanted control of my body back after pregnancy, thats a very important factor in an SA survivors recovery. To have control over our bodily autonomy. Bf would have required that I subject myself to the whim of another for hours a day,no thank you. Top that with being on medication for depression.. a toxic combination.Yes I know Dr Hale says that you can BF on most medications.. well he doesnt know my medical history personally. My doctor and my sons ped told me under no circumstances was I to attempt it. However I did once in the hospital after the LC refused to take no for an answer, ripped my gown down, put my son to the breasts and manhandled my tits despite my pleas and protests for her to stop. Triggered a full blown flashback of my violent attack.

  7. Anonymous,
    I am sorry for what happened to you. I do hope that you filed a complaint to the hospital against the LC who assaulted you. If the LC was an IBCLC, you can also file a complaint to the IBLCE.

  8. I did file a complaint. The point is No means No. Whether its a rapist or an LC pushing BF. I was told when i signed up for WIC that I must not really love my baby or I would BF. If I could have sex, then I was over my rape and quit making excuses. They denied me any formula for the 1st 2 weeks of my sons life. They told my husband to "encourage " me to BF. They suggested I go off my meds and BF as it would cure my depression He told them to F off and after a call from my OB and my sons ped they finally backed off. Groups like LLL have no credibilty with me, I see them as nothing more than a cult. When they suggest that a woman with HIV would be better off BF or that its best to smoke and BF than to FF... shows me they have lost all common sense if they had any at all. I wouldnt smoke when I was pregnant, I sure as hell wouldnt expose my baby to the same thing via BM. If I had HIV, I sure as hell wouldnt play Russian Roulette with my childs life under any circumstances.

  9. How was the complaint resolved? Did you also file a complaint regarding the WIC Program? What was the reason for the denial of formula for your newborn baby in the WIC Program? I am shocked that this has happened to you. I believe a woman has the absolute right to refuse to breastfeed and I would support a woman's right to refuse. I would not agree with the decision but that doesn't mean that I believe in forced breastfeeding or mandates by governments to enforce breastfeeding. I strongly believe that anyone working with breastfeeding mothers must seek verbal and written permission to touch a woman and her baby. The WIC Program you were enrolled in has serious problems that need to be addressed.

  10. I assume the LC was issued a reprimand. I didnt file a complaint with WIC because they relented after calls from my doctor. Many WIC offices are now refusing to provide formula for the 1st month to "encourage" BF. They force BF or play on the emotions of women who are vulnerable during pregnancy and after birth to comp-ell her to BF. When WIC regulations state that infant formula must be kept out of site, while allowing the BF propaganda to be blatantly displayed shows me where their priorities really are. They dont even offer education on proper bottle preparation techniques. Some hospitals are refusing to provide formula for babies, the woman must bring in her own. One hospital in Baltimore MD, the name escapes me wont even permit that. They say that all mom and babies must BF. Would we ever demand that patients bring their own food in other cases? It is going to an almost draconian situation to get women to BF. By wanting to ban formula adverts and others saying it should be only available via script its an attack on womens rights. The only country Im aware that makes formula RX only is Iran. Do we really want to follow the example of a place that has a poor human rights record?
    I dont support women being able to write off the cost of their BF supplies on their taxes as "medical devices". While a FF mom who had a double mastectomy was refused the same thing. I dont see the logic in giving BF moms extra pump breaks when others wouldnt be granted extra breaks under other circumstances. They should be able to do their pumping on their regular lunch and other break times. I also dont support BF moms being able to just whip out their breasts and refuse to use some type of cover wherever they please. Then get mad if people, especially men stare at them. Sorry we dont have the expectation of privacy in a public place. It seems that BF women expect people to cow tow to them and put them up on some sort of pedestal. You feed your kid with your boobs, big deal. Its your job to feed your child, how you do it is your choice. Own it and be done with it. Dont expect praise and admiration for doing what you should be doing in the first place.

  11. Hey Brooke! Thanks for the shout-out.

    Valerie, I'm the Teri Brooke referenced who finds it strange that many lactivists advocate so strongly for one-size-fits-all medicine for women and children as if this is the most empowering way to go. The idea that anyone who uses formula or wants to stop the bullying toward people who formula feed is too stupid to see through formula company PR is an attitude I find offensive, disempowering, and blatantly false.

    Just so you know, the tag cloud word art on the background of FFF's page is a visual technique used by many; you can generate your own word clouds here: or here: . Many bloggers use them, you can find an article for bloggers about the technique here: . If you're looking for some sneaky subterfuge or sign that FFF is a corporate shill, I'd say try again; your argument is hardly compelling.

    You seem to indicate that all mammary glands work, that all women are capable of breastfeeding. Even the most militant lactivists I've run into will typically acknowledge that 1-2% of women cannot make milk (even as they dismiss the possibility that you, personally, could belong to that "tiny minority;" even though that "tiny minority" means thousands of women who are dismissed as being somehow less than human or less than female for being unable to produce milk). I can assure you that even if only 2% of women cannot physically make milk, there are plenty of women and babies whom breastfeeding is not the best option. This does not mean they are somehow sub-par, not real people, shills for some corporation, or too stupid to not be influenced by a company. On the contrary, FFF's page documents the stories of many women who bought the LLL line that all women can breastfeed and that breast is not only best, it's the only real option--and were devastated to find out that for them or their children, breastfeeding was NOT best.

    Your attitude in this post does a disservice to the real people whose real issues preclude breastfeeding (including FFF's own personal experiences, which she has documented in various blog posts) and does nothing to encourage respect, proper medical care, and individualized pro/con analysis of each family's situation, which I believe to be fundamental to proper health care for women and children. My question to you is: why is the concept of individualized medical care in the arena of breastfeeding so alien to you that you must conclude that someone who disagrees must be a PR hack to do so? Are you trying to deliberately subvert women so that they receive one-size-fits-all medical care? (I don't think so--I think you're someone who has jumped to conclusions--but perhaps you understand now how someone like FFF would feel reading your comments.)

    Perhaps you would be better off applying Occam's Razor to your conspiracy theories about FFF. Complex, delicately-crafted formula company PR, or perhaps (radical idea here) there ARE in fact families for whom breastfeeding was not best, and they need to support each other, not in the terms of breastfeeding dictators, but rather in a way that reflects common difficulties faced by formula feeding families (such as bullying)? Perhaps there is so much hype surrounding breastfeeding that those who can't/shouldn't/don't are so mistreated that they feel the need to band together the same way that BFing women who have been bullied might feel the need to band together? We are human, I assure you, not some corporate robot.

  12. You seem to feel that since you personally have never experienced anyone being derided for formula feeding that bullying toward FF parents doesn't exist. Well, in my experience (which is as valid as yours), this very much DOES happen. My baby's first pediatrician was such a breastfeeding bully that when we had to switch to formula at 6 weeks, he refused to return my phone calls and his staff treated me terribly. Meanwhile, breastfeeding was exacerbating an underlying medical condition and was killing both my health and my ability to care for my child. My baby's second pediatrician was okay, but his colleagues told me that homemade, unpasteurized goat milk "formula" was safer and avoided the "corporatist agenda," and that if I cared about my child I'd go that route. Sure I'd love to report these guys, but who's going to listen? "Breast is best" is mandated medicine now; do you really think I'd get anywhere complaining about this when the one-size-fits-all approach is not only approved but in some cases mandated (see: "baby-friendly hospitals") in health care as far as breastfeeding is concerned?

    This doesn't BEGIN to cover the bullying I've experienced online at the hands of LLL members, other lactivists, and regular janes who have told me I'm feeding my child rat poison, that I never should have had children, and that I'm a child abuser. All for a medical condition I can't control. When it comes down to it, a good deal of the breastfeeding bullying I've seen is actually bullying against people with medical conditions; discrimination against people with disabilities is still pretty accepted in much of the world.

    I challenge you to rethink your concepts of biology--women and children are not clones of each other, and our bodies are not cookie-cutter. Having mammary glands does not automatically mean you can or should breastfeed. Being a baby doesn't automatically mean you can or should be breastfed. Breastfeeding is a great thing and should by all means be promoted as a wonderfully beneficial option for women and children, but that does not mean people have license to treat the other options as inherently inferior for using formula, because in many individual cases, options like formula are the superior option.

    If I tended toward an immature perspective, I'd conclude that based on my experience, only formula feeding parents catch hell for it. But I know this is not the case. Just because it's unacceptable to bully women for breastfeeding doesn't mean it's somehow acceptable to disrespect women for formula feeding, as you are doing. You were bullied and that is terrible, but that does not give you license to become a bully, yourself.

    I challenge you to examine your reasons for jumping to conclusions about FFF's blog, and realize that your own biases are being generalized to a level that is not true or appropriate. I also challenge you to apologize to FFF for your baseless accusations of being some kind of PR machine, as well as to her reader base who have endured quite enough offensive accusations of being mindless formula company zombies when we, in fact, have made our own intelligent analyses of what is best based on our love and devotion to our children. I hope you will have your eyes opened to the reality that breastfeeding is and always should be an option, but that people aren't and shouldn't be accused of being some kind of corporate hacks for going another way.

  13. Anonymous,
    Should the WIC Program, ultimately the American taxpayers, give infant formula to mothers who bottlefeed; when that product has short and long term effects on the health of the infant and mother? A few years ago the infant formula industry was caught price fixing what they sold to the WIC Program. Ultimately, American taxpayers are footing a bill from an industry that makes billions yearly. They are also footing the bill for the medical care that is and will be needed because of the use of infant formula. Is there a fair way to run this Program? I think there should be a fair way. Economics does factor into what is done by institutions, and sometimes a great deal of unfairness is visited upon mothers and babies.
    The "choice" to bottlefeed comes with a price tag. The WIC Program has never covered the total cost of infant formula for those infants on the Program. Breastfeeding moms, especially exclusive breastfeeding mothers, saves the government, the US taxpayers, a lot of money. In these days of economic recession (I'd call it Depression), anything that saves money is an investment. Women who bottlefeed in the WIC Program are now being caught by economic forces that have made lawmakers and WIC Program Directors view infant formula in a very different light than even a few years ago. Because of the very nature of government programs (cumbersome,contradictory,rule-bound, slow-slow), many people get hurt in the crossfire of change. You certainly have a right to view infant feeding differently than I do. I respect your right to refuse to breastfeed. I wish you and your family the best.

  14. Most women know that WIC is a supplement programme. Is telling a woman with severe depression and PTSD to get over it and BF or suggest that she quit her meds responsible health care? I think the costs would have been alot higher both emotional and financial had I took their crappy advice. Chances are I would have been put in the nut house without my meds and then where would my son have been? That would have been higher cost to the taxpayers than a few cans of formula supplied via WIC. I bought more of his formula than they supplied me. Most WIC recieptants work, like I did. I had to go back to work when my son was 3 weeks old.

  15. First I would like to say that I can respect the research you are doing on patents. I have an awareness of Monsanto (Omnivore's Dilemma) I find it all very interesting.
    However, reading some of your posts makes me feel sub-human. These are my feelings. Maybe or maybe not your intent to inflict them.
    I indeed have breasts, but I am in the minority. I make very, very little milk. I was diagnosed with IGT by several LCs. I tried everything. I experienced depression due to what I viewed as my failure as a woman. My body failed.
    My children are living because of formula. I want to instill in them respect for others and be open minded to others life situations. We are all unigue.
    You have a good message to send. Please becareful of your wording. Try...if you put yourself in someone elses shoes. You can still be passionate about breast feeding without discounting a formula feeding mom's experience.

  16. Teri Brooke,
    Obviously you have not read my blog. So I will only make one comment. Even the infant formula industry considers their product inferior to breastfeeding. This is stated in their advertising and even more revealing statements are made in their patents regarding the inferiority of their product. Infant formula is continually being improved because of the problems it causes babies. Human milk is the gold standard and no infant formula company disputes that fact.

  17. Valerie, the problem with denying formula to women in the WIC program is that it ignores the reality for many of the families who rely on that and other public benefits programs. They do not have enough money to buy good, healthy, nutritious food to feed their family. So if they cannot or choose not to breastfeed, the alternative isn't just that they buy formula for their baby out of their own pocket. It's that they may go hungry themselves or make some feeding choices for their baby that are much worse than formula. Like formula that's been watered down. Sometimes formula/sometimes cow's milk. Just cow's milk (WIC does provide that). Maybe a little juice. A little rice cereal will help keep baby full. Maybe they go ahead and let baby finish off a bottle that's been sitting out too long so they don't waste it.

    I think in the zeal to promote and support breastfeeding, a lot of advocates forget that formula was created for a reason. Historically, there were babies who were sick, who suffered, who died because they weren't breastfed (for whatever reason) and the nutritional alternatives at that time were not good. They would have survived, thrived even, if they had access to clean water and the types of formulas that are commercially available today. This is not to say that formula is as good as breastfeeding. In general, it is not (although for specific individuals, it may be the better choice). But it is much, much better than the alternatives that were common for so much of history. And I think those of us privileged enough for breastfeeding or formula to be the only options forget that for many families, those worse alternatives are still very much a reality.

  18. This will be a general comment to the last few posters. I will not contradict anyone's experience regarding breastfeeding and/or infant formula feeding. And I post your comments because it is important for all people to read those experiences and try to improve the situations for all women. Part of the problem in US society is that women, particularly women in the WIC Program have to go back to work far too early. They are under the gun of little time to establish and maintain breastfeeding. We have studies that show that large numbers of breastfeeding mothers who go back to employment before a baby is 4 months old quit breastfeeding than those who don't have to go back so early. Most problems that occur in breastfeeding happen in the early weeks. Thus, the mother needs a quicker fix than mother's who have the luxury of staying home until the baby is old. Breastfeeding needs time to be established, particularly with the first-time mother. As a previous IBCLC, I recognize that there are some women who will never establish a good milk supply. I believe that in the human population that would be some 2% or less. Yet we are seeing record amounts of women who are told that they physically cannot maintain a milk supply. How do we get to the bottom of this situation? Are more women than in previous history, physically unable to maintain a milk supply? Has our environment degraded so widely that it has impacted a women's physical ability to have a milk supply that can sustain her infant? Is this similar to the rising, unbelievable c-section rates in the USA, where in some hospitals we have 50% or more of women unable to birth vaginally?

    I worked in the WIC Program from 1994-1998. I have seen the problems that women face. I felt my job there was to promote breastfeeding (as did many others) not force women or browbeat them into breastfeeding. I will continue to promote breastfeeding and respect those who decline that option. I cannot live someone else's life.

  19. Valerie,
    I have read your blog, Teri's comments, and your reply to Teri's comments where you said "Obviously you have not read my blog."
    I would suggest Teri did read your blog and commented on it accurately... this dismissal of all her comments by that one glib throw-away line is completely disrespectful ot Terri (not Teri Brook by the way - if you were reading carefully you would have picked up on your mistake there).
    the Fearless Formula Feeding blog that are patently a lie, yet you refuse to apologise for your false claims!
    You are a member of a cult, so it's obviously a waste of time saying anything more as you will never admit you could be wrong... it just saddens me that people like you continue to spread lies and cause upset to those many thousands of new mothers who cannot breastfeed and are made to feel guilty over that fact... shame on you!
    Jeff W.

  20. Jeff,
    I don't think either of you have read my blog. A Teri posted to my blog, read my blog. Who is the Terri you know?
    So now I am a member of a cult? I like what Orson Scott Card wrote in an article called, "Hey, Who Are You Calling a Cult?"

    "an ad hominem epithet hurled to try to silence any persuasive opponent whose ideas can't be countered on their merits."

    It's name calling and does not add any credibility to any argument or discourse. In fact it stops discussions dead in their tracks.