Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

Aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes

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Antiwomen context of breastmilk research

Breastmilk substitutes

Moving on with the discussion of the antiwomen context of breastmilk research we come to the controversial topic of formula and bottle feeding paraphernalia marketing.  While some think that marketing of formula is benign and constitutes anything from freedom of speech to freedom of choice, breastfeeding advocates are fairly unanimous in conviction that formula marketing is detrimental to breastfeeding. The problem of formula marketing had been so grave that in 1981 World Health Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes to protect members of the public from predatory marketing practices of formula companies.

Direct marketing of infant formula, cereals, follow-up milks, baby teas, juices, bottles, and bottle teats to parents and healthcare workers has been connected to higher breastfeeding failure. One one hand, direct unregulated marketing creates an illusion that formula feeding is a safe, as-good-as breastfeeding method of feeding or else governmental and medical workers would not be endorsing or allowing it. On the other hand, the public has learned the mantra “breast is best” and there is an expectation that breastmilk will be mined for information to improve on already “good enough and safe enough” formula.

Formula acceptance and advertising plays on existing ideas about women in society as incapable and deficient in some way – “not every woman can breastfeed” is a repetitive motive in all formula promotion and defense of the legitimacy of widespread formula use. Billions of women worldwide grow up knowing there is something wrong with them or something can go wrong any time where it relates to getting pregnant, giving birth, or nursing a child. Formula as a brainchild of scientific and technological progress is pitched as a knight-in-shining-armor savior of the “damsel in distress”.

Formula feeding fits perfectly in any society that routinely separates women and children, separates public and domestic spheres of life, forces women to choose between children and public life and/or work, views breasts as sexual objects for male gratification, and taboos visible presence of breastfeeding women in public spaces. Formula solves each one of the barriers for breastfeeding in a society that is set up to prevent breastfeeding from happening in the first place.

Formula feeding is good for business. It supports both medicine and pharmaceutical industry. It allows for control by medical experts as well as further medical and pharmaceutical treatment of the consequences and side-effects of formula feeding both during infancy and later in life. Formula feeding fits neatly into the context of scientific and technological process and allows to make up for the lack of control over the unpredictable nature of breastfeeding by women as symbols of nature. Formula feeding is standardized for all, measurable, and available for expert control.

Formula feeding promotes financial and physical dependence of women from buying formula, drugs to treat consequences of formula use, as well as medical services to supervise and treat formula feeding. In a sense, forcing formula feeding onto women is depriving women of the autonomy and independence in using resources readily available to them when raising children.

Breastfeeding substitutes

Late 20th – early 21st century brought yet another threat to breastfeeding – breastpumps and breastmilk formulae. To date only one organization worldwide has addressed the issue of undermining nursing at the breast by marketing breastfeeding pumps, nipple shields, pads, pacifiers. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action issued a Position Paper on Breastfeeding-Related Devices and Pumps.

Today in many Western countries feeding expressed breastmilk from a bottle is equated to nursing at the breast. Colloquial speech, the language of research and public policy does not differentiate between nursing at the breast and feeding expressed milk. This in itself can constitute deceit and an act of violence against women who value personal relationships with their children and are forced to concede that medicine and government supported them by providing pumps all whilst separating them from their children thus effectively precluding breastfeeding. The United States in early 21st century sees an unprecedented rate of breastmilk harvesting at the cost of breastfeeding sacrifice. Breastmilk expression is much less satisfying to women, much more burdensome to women than breastfeeding, and much less effective in maintaining breastfeeding relationship or breasmilk supply than direct nursing at the breast. Vague and absent definitions of breastfeeding vs breastmilk feeding allow for women to be exploited and deprived of the pleasurable experience of breastfeeding.

Breastmilk formulae is the new beast on the market. They are heralded as much superior to conventional cow-milk formulae and are made out of human milk. Women are swindled out of milk to enrich stakeholders of new corporations that use technology to alter human milk to conform to standards set forth by medicine for feeding sick and premature children.

Breastfeeding friendly society

What are some possible solutions?

1. Recognize the difference between nursing at the breast, feeding mother’s expressed milk from a bottle, feeding donor milk from a bottle, feeding human-engineered breastmilk formula from a bottle, and feeding formula at the breast via SNS, or formula from a bottle.

2. Advocate for legislative implementation of all provisions of WHO Code of Marketing.

3. Advocate legislative regulation of breastfeeding paraphernalia marketing.

4. Advocate healthcare workers to be aware of the impact of breastfeeding paraphernalia on breastfeeding.

5. Research impact of breastfeeding pumps and other devices of breastfeeding relationship and burden on women.


Written by Medical Nemesis

April 18, 2015 at 12:15

2 Responses

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  1. Another great essay Natalie! You’re connecting all the dots that no one wants to connect. It’s giving me so much to think about, thank you.

    Devon Miller

    April 20, 2015 at 09:49

  2. Thanks for the link to my Prolacta article. I appreciate the way you unpacked these issues. I do think it’s important to point out that “breastmilk formula” doesn’t necessarily exist in the way you describe it. The product produced by Prolacta is not a formula meant to be fed to babies, but rather is a human milk fortifier designed for micro-preemies who may need more than normal breastmilk or formula may provide. In the past, those infants would have simply died. I just want to make it clear that my article doesn’t address the worth of the product itself, which likely does save many lives, but rather the way in which Prolacta has, in the past, solicited women for their milk. I can’t speak to their current tactics. I had hope after meeting and speaking wtih their CEO (who is obviously genuinely passionate about his company) that they might enact some changes, but shortly after the meeting they cut off contact with me, which was unfortunate.

    Knocked Up - Knocked Over

    April 20, 2015 at 13:08

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To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

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