Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Tyranny of Formula-Feeding

I just read, "The Tyranny of Breast-Feeding," by Elisabeth Badinter in the March 2012 Harper's Magazine.  It's a "feminist" rant against La Leche League, rather hard for me to stomach because I was a La Leche League leader for 10 years.  I am somewhat amazed by her perspective.  She has a wonderful detailed history about the founding of La Leche League.  And seems to have some information, the facts, correct but her interpretation of those facts are really off-base. 

In a NY Times article, entitled "In Defense of the Imperfect Mother," it states that Ms. Badinter says that "the baby has now become 'the best ally of masculine domination.'  The impression I get is that Badinter believes that La Leche League is anti-feminist, that it's political objective is to make the stay-at-home mother the ideal.  She believes that La Leche League's agenda is to make breastfeeding a moral decision.

Interesting.  From my perspective, La Leche League's efforts from the beginning were to give mothers information on a wide range of reasons to breastfeed.  What always interested me was the amount of medical/scientific papers La Leche League collected in order to present a rational reason for women to consider breastfeeding.  And even back in 1982, when I attended my first La Leche League meeting, there was plenty of medical and scientific evidence regarding the health benefits to mother and baby regarding breastfeeding.  Back then, I wondered why this evidence seemed to be suppressed, pages and pages of studies showing the risks of infant formula.  Yet the public never heard it back then, just like the public has no idea of the patenting of human milk components to be used in baby formulas.  The risks of infant formula were drowned out by an industry who controls the media.  And nothing has changed much since then because the industry still controls the media.

How much control does the infant formula industry have?  This article is an absolute example of the control the industry has over public knowledge.  Ms. Badinter is a professor at the Ecole Polytechnique in France ( former military academy, a engineering school).  But she is also a billionaire according to Bloomberg Market.  A billionaire who inherited her stake in Publicis Group after the death of her father.  Publicis is the 3rd-largest advertising agency in the world with $7.6 billion in 2010 revenue. Who is one of their clients, Nestle.
So is this the tyranny of breastfeeding or actually the tyranny of Nestle.  Feminism has become a capitalist game.  Feminism, as designed by billionaires who envision a world of men-like women.  Liberation?   Nestle, used slave labor during WWII (as well as some well-know pharmaceutical companies).  And we are to believe that Nestle has an interest in freedom/liberation of women? 
We are to believe that Ms. Badinter's only interest is in the feminist perspective of child-rearing? Give me a break.
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain   


  1. I think the point of her article is to point out the shame many women feel in US society if they do not breast-feed. I agree with her point because I for one, was made to feel that way when I could not breast-feed due to a medical condition. I think the focus should be on supporting a woman's right to choose how she wishes to mother her child.

  2. Women feel judged by so many things: our looks, our intelligence, what we eat or don't eat, our choices in boyfriends or husbands, our choice to have natural childbirth or not, our choices in how we feed and wean our babies. Those judgements can be crushing to our self-esteem, to our sense of who we are and our relationships with others. Honor yourself and your decisions, you are doing the best you can in a very crazy world. What others think of your decisions is none of their business. But, and there is a big but, while I understand your position and your hurt, it does not change reality. And that reality is that there are risks to formula feeding, risks that aren't talked about and need to be talked about. As long as we base discussions on infant feeding based on making women feel shame, then we are risking infants and their survival. Shame, guilt is about regret. There should be no regrets, regarding not being able to breastfeed. If there is to be a feeling regarding infant feeding, it should be anger against the media hype that pits one woman against another based on how they feed their babies. There is tyranny in our society but it is the tyranny of the corporate world creating hard feelings among women who have or are struggling with breastfeeding. I was a lactation consultant for some 20 years plus. I felt a depth of sadness for all the moms who struggle with feeding their babies. Shame should not be a part of anyone's feeling whether or not they breastfeed or bottlefeed. Nor should those feelings stop breastfeeding advocates for speaking out about the connections between the infant formula industry, the media, and the medical community.

  3. Feminists should support a society whereby women are supported when they stay at home or are given options at work with infants, so that they can breastfeed them. Feminists seem to have internalized the ideal person as a company chief executive, yet those are some of the most odious people on the planet.

  4. David, I think some feminists in striving for equal rights have embraced capitalism with the idealism of "she who has the most money wins." I think the article by Badinter, a billionaire, may only reflect what the wealthy, well-educated women in this world want to believe is true about motherhood. It truly does not speak to the reality of most women, particularly women in poverty whose "choices" in infant feeding may lead to devastating results. Badinter's article is basicly a propaganda piece, using La Leche League as the scapegoat in society's infant feeding "debate."

  5. I have never considered myself a feminist because the goal of the movement seems to be to create men out of women. Thus, they do not support motherhood or anything pertaining to it.

  6. La Leche supports women who choose to breastfeed. The USBC on the other hand has a stated goal of normalizing breastfeeding as the nutrition of choice for babies and infants. They use idealized images of breastfeeding mothers, liquid gold as a reference to breastmilk inducing shame and guilt in women who cannot breastfeed, often suggesting that "cannot" is a personal choice. When 80% of women who start breastfeeding stop prior to policy recommended timelines, ought we not believe their experience over an agenda. Ought we not consider babies being born into stress and anxiety experienced by mothers who cannot breastfeed, who will have their foundational psychology affected by those emotions. While the article may have chosen the wrong target, La Leche, the concept is still the same, healthy babies live in a world where mothers are free from shame, guilt and anxiety. The choice between optimal nutrition and psychological health is heavily dependent on the relative risk to both conditions.

  7. Adrienne,
    I assume that you are writing about the United States Breastfeeding Committee? If that is so, then it must be understood that the USBC is composed of about 45 organizations, 8 of those organizations cannot vote. One of those organizations is La Leche League, a voting member. Another member is the National WIC Association, a voting member. There are 7 governmental members (non-voting): CDC, FDA,USDA, and various DHHS (US Health Department) agencies. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Nursing, the Association of Military Surgeons of the US,US-ILCA (International Lactation Consultant Association),International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, and more are all voting members. see
    see the tab on AboutUs, Membership
    Thus, the complaint you are making is directed towards a wide variety of organizations (governmental, breastfeeding, childbirth, and medical organizations).
    What world are you talking about that is free from shame, guilt, and anxiety? I don't think it exists. Infant formula feeding does not protect an infant from a mother who is stressed, anxious, or feeling guilty. And that anxiety/guilt/stress may have nothing to do with infant feeding but the reality of living in this world. I think what seems to be going on regarding infant feeding is the blame game. And yes, there is wrong on both sides of the issue. And we can spend our whole lifetime blaming organizations or people for creating our shame, guilt. But maybe we should consider that no one else can live our lives for us, that our decisions are often made in the heat of the moment, and sometimes there is no right decision. Life is not perfect. We can strive for stress-free, but I don't think that is the human condition or even a "life" condition. Even plants face stress, lack of water, disease, etc. I think one of the hardest things for people is to feel judged. But sometimes no one is really judging you because they are too busy feeling judged. When I was employed as an IBCLC, I didn't have time to make judgements about mothers. I saw the issues, they are overwhelming, particularly for mothers in poverty. I think what screws us all, is the PR Campaigns used by breastfeeding advocates and the PR used by the infant formula industry. PR is never, ever realistic. It scapegoats and is designed to be emotive. I hate it and wish that we lived in a world without it. But we don't. So I believe that people should educate themselves on the techniques that are used by industry to sell their products, and organization's (including the government) who use social marketing to sell health care ideas (that sell health care products or services).

  8. There was so much that was infuriating and misleading about Badinter's essay that it is difficult to know what to say first. But I do think it strange that she chose to pick on Norway and Sweden and their high success rates as evidence of some kind of anti-feminist conspiracy. Those countries have really high rates of breastfeeding AND amazingly high indicators of gender equality. The two MIGHT be related. America, among other nations, places an extremely high cost on breastfeeding. It is banned in many public places, pumps are expensive (ople complained about breast pumps being given tax-exempt status under Obamacare), and many workplaces simply do not allow or support it. To say that breastfeeding is being foisted on women is laughable. They may feel emotionally pressured to breastfeed (just like they feel pressured to do everything else "just right" for their babies), but that is the extent of the "pressure." When American women can breastfeed without being penalized at work, ticketed in parks, and given zero paid maternity leave to adjust to new motherhood, (as they are in Sweden and Norway) then we can talk.

  9. Micky,
    You have made some excellent observations. I, too, find it strange that Badinter choose to pick on Norway and Sweden as evidence of some kind of anti-feminist conspiracy. Unless we consider that this article is strictly a PR piece by the infant formula industry. This article attempts to create doubt about societies that provide liberal maternity leaves (which we know are more supportive of breastfeeding). If a known feminist considers these societies to be anti-feminist; then we should accept her thinking as truth. Working with mothers who have breastfed and who have bottlefed and had to return to employment at 6 weeks postpartum (some earlier than this), I believe that almost all of them mourn the separation to various degrees. Her reality does not reflect the reality of most women. If we honor wealth, our capitalist society, we may embrace what she has to say. But it is just fluff and nonsense for those of us caught in the everyday reality of current economics.

    The current PR campaign by the infant formula industry is that "breastfeeding is being foisted on women." It is repeated and repeated in various infant formula blogs on the internet. PR/propaganda uses a technique of repetition; the more often something is repeated, the more easily it becomes belief.