Formula marketing practices are wrong - no need to take sides

Recently, someone I know said something to me about hating formula.

Really? Why?

Formula is an inanimate object. A food. It keeps many babies alive. Including this one:

Yes, my son was formula-fed and it was pretty much our only option for feeding him. I never planned to use formula. We had to buy bottles and formula on the way home from the hospital, in fact. My mother used to share stories of how special she felt her time breastfeeding was and I wanted that too. However, less than a week before Brandon’s birth I was told by a nurse/lactation consultant in my pre-op appointment that having PCOS could mean I’d have problems with low supply.

This is why the “I hate formula” attitude rubs me the wrong way - it feels so superior. I’m tired of the formula feeders versus breast feeders debate. As someone who had no option other than to give my child formula, it’s deeply disturbing to me to see the comments that some women make about moms who feed their children formula and the risks expose their children to for “convenience”. (Sorry, paying $30 a can wasn’t at all convenient!)

For well over a year of Brandon’s life, I didn’t know that there was a boycott of Nestle products that had been (and still is) going on for decades. I only found out when I saw this post go up in September 2009 and watched the flurry of tweets, comments and commentaries. Back then, I didn’t really understand the issue and it prompted a lot of questions - many that had to do with some of the things that were being said by some of the more militant supporters of the boycott - particularly when people like me raised questions. Fortunately, in addition to Annie, there are many cooler heads who will answer questions and concerns with patience.

Even after reading post after post about this issue on Annie’s blog for nearly two years, I still couldn’t bring myself to fully embrace the boycott. Though I used Nestle formula only once - when the grocery store didn’t have our regular brand - I still had the overwhelming feeling that this was a formula feeders versus breast feeders issue and I didn’t want any part of that. It was just too emotional for me, given that breastfeeding wasn’t even an option for me. I didn’t want to feel like an inferior mother.

When Annie wrote this post last fall - Is shame a barrier to social change? - it changed my view completely (and immediately). I knew I needed to read carefully after the first paragraph:

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations over the past few days about shame, guilt, and social change. Without going into excruciating detail, I heard a lot of people say that calls for formula marketing to be restricted makes formula feeding moms feel shamed because if formula marketing needs to be restricted, then that means that formula is bad, which means that formula feeding moms are doing something wrong.

I can hardly begin to tell you how well I identify with this line of thinking. It’s how I felt for nearly 2 years.

Annie goes on to say:

We live in an imperfect world. We all make choices, on a daily basis, with imperfect information and in imperfect conditions. Every single day, I make choices that I wish I didn’t have to make. Every single day, I try to make better choices. It is a balancing act between progress and reality. No one is perfect. No one should be expected to be perfect. No one needs to feel guilt or shame for being imperfect.

So, here’s the revelation that I had when I read Annie’s post about shame being a barrier:

PhD in Parenting | Why I Protest Nestlé’s Unethical Business PracticesFORMULA isn’t bad. It isn’t the evil culprit it gets made out to be in so many posts that are advocating for better breastfeeding support or boycotts against Nestle for its marketing practices (usually in the comments - that’s where it can get really ugly).

Is formula the best thing to give your child? No - we can all agree on that and set aside the whole “breast is best” argument.

BUT I did what I had to do to keep my son alive, healthy and growing. Just like every other mother out there, I want what’s best for him. I want what’s healthy for him. In our circumstances, that turned out to be food from a can, whether I liked it or not. I felt a lot of guilt and shame for a long time after Brandon’s birth. He’ll be four years old this year and I still have trouble accepting what occurred.

My hope is that more breastfeeding advocates and formula marketing critics will use greater care in how they get the message out about their cause - much like Annie and Amber (and I’m sure many others as well). Hearing that breast milk is best for a child isn’t objectionable. Having the worst-case scenarios (low IQ, obesity, death, etc.) of feeding a child formula is highly objectionable. It also muddies the issues around formula marketing and leads to the question: Is formula bad or are the formula marketing practices unethical?

It has taken me over two years to get past the inner conflict of being a formula feeder to see that boycotting Nestle doesn’t mean I’m condemning my own actions.