Like cigarette smoking, breastfeeding is a public health issue, not a freedom of choice issue. Obviously, US women feel free to choose not to breastfeed; most of them do. If women were actually intimidated into breastfeeding, we would have a breastfeeding culture. Instead, we have a bottle-feeding culture in which 67% bottle feed. Only 33% of mothers breastfeed. If there is, in fact, any social pressure to breastfeed, it certainly is not effective. I would argue, that the social pressure is to bottle-feed.
CHOICE IS A FORMULA TACTIC
The tragedy is that the breastfeeding choice issue is a formula industry tactic. Here’s how it came to be. When, in December 2005, the Massachusetts legislature became the first in the US to prohibit formula sample bags in hospitals, then Governor Mitt Romney pressured the Public Health Council to rescind the ban. The council successfully resisted his pressure until he fired and replaced three members just prior to a vote on the ban; in May 2006 it was rescinded. Less than two weeks later, Romney announced a $66 million deal with Bristol-Myers, the world’s largest formula manufacturer, to build a pharmaceutical plant in Devens, Massachusetts.
In June of that year, Massachusetts state representative Helen Stanley (D-Second Essex) introduced House Bill 2257 to protect a new mother’s right to receive formula sample bags in the hospital. The wesbite, momsfeedingfreedom.com—created to oppose the Massachusetts ban—hosted a petition in support of this bill.
At the time, the website, momsfeedingfreedom.com, was registered to eNilsson, an international web consulting firm whose clients included Romney for President. Now it openly states that it “was made possible by a grant from the International Formula Council. “A mirror site, babyfeedingchoice.org, is copyrighted by the International Formula Council.
INFANT FEEDING IS POLITICAL
The US accounts for half of the $8 billion a year global formula market. The formula industry spent $50 million dollars in one year to undermine the US Health and Human Services Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign (June 2004 to April 2006). In 2006, the formula industry spent $100 million on formula advertising in the Philippines (nearly half of the Philippine Health Department’s entire annual budget of $239 million) to overturn new health department regulations that would have prevented formula companies from targeting children under two with advertising.
LOOK A GIFT HORSE IN THE MOUTH.
It is naïve to believe that the formula industry’s distribution of formula to you is an innocent gift. A “gift” of formula is like a “gift” of a pack of cigarettes when you’re trying to quit smoking; it will undermine your resolve. The formula company has bought your name and address from the hospital, without your knowledge, and will now solicit you for sales. Do you really want this commercial intrusion into your life?
Free formula samples are a social justice issue because they involve the exploitation and objectification of women, the very issues that feminism resists. These are issues around which all women and all thinking citizens should be united. When one spouts the choice issue while, at the same time, feigning support of breastfeeding, one becomes an unwitting pawn of the formula industry. Does it really need any more help?
And, don’t forget to sign the Public Citizen petition. Nearly 16,000 have signed it so far.
Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and was its editor-in chief until 2012. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.