Booby Traps Set Up Breastfeeding Moms for Failure

Many mothers start out with the best of intentions when it comes to breastfeeding. Health experts agree that “breast is best” and the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother are numerous. Yet while a lot of people give lip service to the importance of breastfeeding, there isn’t a lot of support for women once they make the decision to breastfeed. In fact, our society offers very little support to breastfeeding moms and often sabotages breastfeeding altogether.

How many times have you heard about a mom being told to cover up her nursing child on an airplane or at an amusement park or at a store or at a restaurant or even asked to leave or had the police called on her? How many times have you seen formula ads in parenting magazines and on television? How many times have you read a magazine article giving incorrect breastfeeding advice (or should I say formula advice) or heard of a well-intentioned pediatrician giving parenting advice that compromises the breastfeeding relationship? Has a can of unwanted infant formula ever mysteriously appeared at your doorstep?

The examples above all have one thing in common – they are Breastfeeding Booby Traps. Best For Babes (a non-profit that believes “ALL moms deserve to make an informed feeding decision and to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt, whether they breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months 2 years, or not at all”) describes Breastfeeding Booby Traps asthe cultural and institutional barriers that prevent moms from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals.”

Some Booby Traps include:

  • sending moms home from the hospital with a “gift bag” of formula,
  • having family and/or friends who are uncomfortable with you nursing and ask when you are going to give the baby a bottle,
  • or having a pediatrician who is unable to answer your questions about breastfeeding.

This post is not to debate breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding. Parents have the right to decide how to feed their baby. But they also have the right to be presented with factual information and the right to not have their feeding decisions undermined. Best For Babes is working to help accomplish that.

Here are some more Booby Traps that have set the blogosphere abuzz.

Amber from Speak Her Truth wrote Marketing and Breastfeeding, Who Hasn’t Been Duped? and said she is not going “to join in on this back and forth bashing of breastfeeding vs formula feeding mothers.”

As long as we fight amongst ourselves on this one symptom we cannot unite against the disease. The disease of markets that profit solely on the belief that our bodies are not good enough, not good enough to be sexually attractive, not good enough to give birth and not good enough to nourish our babies afterwards. A simple statement that could bring down this entire empire of insecurity: “Not only are we good enough, we are better just the way we are.”

Maya from Musings of a Marfan Mom wrote about Babble’s partnership with Similac – in which Similac sponsors Babble’s Breastfeeding Guide – after first reading about it on PhD in Parenting. Maya said:

You might ask why I care whether a formula company sponsors a breastfeeding portion of a website. I care, because I want women to have a choice in how they feed their children. I care, because women aren’t being given proper information on nursing, which sabotages the attempts of women who want to breastfeed. I care because, believe it or not, formula advertising has been shown over and over again to have a negative effect on breastfeeding relationships. Formula advertising not only affects women’s choices in how to feed their children, whether they are conscious of it or not, but it results in drastically higher costs for families who choose to feed their children formula (who do you think ends up paying for the “free” samples given at the hospital and sent in the mail, as well as all those commercials and Internet ads?). That affects their choice as well.

Tumbling Boobs pointed out its not just parenting websites promoting Similac’s latest marketing ploy and included screen captures of a few medical providers that are actively promoting Similac’s feeding hotline to moms seeking breastfeeding help.

Annie from PhD in Parenting also pointed out that even WebMD’s breastfeeding guide is sponsored by Gerber (which is owned by Nestle). There are six Gerber ads on the page that is supposed to help mothers with breastfeeding! Annie, who said, “There has to be a way to stop this incredibly unethical and predatory infant formula marketing on websites pretending to offer breastfeeding support,” urges her readers to take action and lists a few ways to get involved.

Jem wrote a review of the book The Politics of Breastfeeding (which I will be adding to my must read list). She believes the book should be read not only by nursing moms, but by all women.

Reading the book frustrated me on so many levels. I’ve talked before about Nestle’s marketing practices before, but it goes beyond that. The origins of formula; unnecessary death of babies in both developed and ‘third world’ countries; the undermining of women because we’re “not good enough”/”not reliable enough” to maintain life; the supplementing with formula without permission from mums; the strange habit of separating babies from their mums in hospital, etc.

This book has changed the way I look at so many aspects of birth and infant care.

Taking a more light-hearted approach to the subject is Dou-la-la who’s humorous, but also disturbing post Breast is Best, Sponsored by Simfamil: Don Draper Explains It All For Us is sure to be enjoyed by many a Mad Men fan. Heck, I thought it was awesome and I’ve only watched about 15 minutes of Mad Men.

What is the solution? How do we stop undermining breastfeeding moms?
I think the best start is if formula companies would start following the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes. We all know formula exists. We all know where we can get some (even for free), if we so desire. The marketing and the deceit need to stop. If you are upset about the Babble/Similac partnership or the WebMD/Gerber/Nestle partnership, follow Annie’s lead and take action. Let the companies know you disagree with their choices and why and then spread the word.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

More Breastfeeding Booby Trap Posts:

Photo by benklocek via Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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15 thoughts on “Booby Traps Set Up Breastfeeding Moms for Failure”

  1. I LOVE this article!! I totally agree. They automatically tell you in the hospital that it’s okay to supliment! What?? No, it’s not okay! Not at first anyway, not if you want a good strong milk supply and a baby that’s a strong nurser!! I Breastfed all eight of my kiddos, never purchased a can of formula. The formula from the hospital, I either refused or donated! My mother-in-law used to say (ya all 8 times) …the only problem with breastfeeding is I cannot help. And how come bottle fed babies never eat in the bathroom! They have to say “breastfeeding is best,” on formula commercials, for a reason!! I am a new follower.


  2. I’ve been loving the various posts recently on this topic. I managed to breastfeed all 3 of my kids, and the youngest hasn’t weaned yet at 20 months old. It just amazes me how many challenges there can be to successful breastfeeding.

  3. I think a huge part of the equation is the lack of maternity leave over 6 weeks. How are we to expect women to nurse, recover from birth (over 40% of them with a c section), and adjust to having a baby and then send them back to work in as little as 6 weeks? Why does almost every other country in the world allow for at least 6 months of maternity leave. I have suggested this on other pro bfing sites and I was met with a huge amount of angry responses about women using the system. I am from Canada and we are allowed a year long maternity leave..There are provisions in place to make sure the system is not abused, and it works well for everyone and has been proven to be best for the child and the mother. Our return to work rate is extremely high and I know many women who probably would have had a much more successful BF relationship if they had been allowed a longer maternity/parental leave.

    I think it’s sad that this solution is so overlooked and it’s so obvious this is a huge reason why (working) women fail at bfing.

  4. Totally agree with you, my friend was given formula as soon as she had given birth, the nurse just made it up for her, didn’t even give her the option to breastfeed.. as my mum always says breastfeeding is best, even when she had her third and went back to work at 6 weeks she went over at her lunch break to breastfeed and express more milk..

  5. I just want to say that the pediatricians themselves are not the booby trap. The problem is that medical schools and residency training programs do not teach anything about breastfeeding. I am a pediatrician AND a breastfeeding mom of twins. I knew so little about BF until I did it myself, and then I realized how many people I gave bad advice to. The only way to change this is to advocate for better lactation education.

    I also wholeheartedly agree we need to lobby for better maternity leave. I struggled to pump enough for my twins and sadly had to supplement because I went back to work at 8 weeks because I had no other way to support my family. Luckily I kept going and I am still nursing my 15 month olds, but I wish I could have done it differently.

  6. Great post, Amy, this is a REALLY important topic to address!!

    There are SO many “Booby Traps” it is no surprise only 13% of mothers reach the ‘minimum’ recommendation of 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Although there are definitely certain cicrumstances and conditions that make it extremely difficult or impossible for some moms to breastfeed their newborns, most moms who wind up stopping invariably are left to feel discouraged, guilty or even upset at breastfeeding moms, when in fact they were just innocent victims of one (or many) of the ‘booby traps’.

    I know this to be true because my wife Shari and I have taught thousands of clients how to successfully breastfeed, our success rate is multiples of the national average, we’re in NJ so MANY moms have C-sections and go back to work & successfully breastfeed…AND most of the 2nd, 3rd or 4th time moms who struggled or quit with their previous attempts to breastfeed realize in our class this time the exact “booby trap(s)” that tripped them up and left them incorrectly believing (fill in the blank…”the Hospital staff gave me really bad information/demanded I supplement formula within the 1st 24 hours/destroyed my confidence and handed me a bag filled with formula samples ‘just in case!'”…”I was unable to produce enough milk”…”I was unable to breastfeed without pain”…”my baby had nipple confusion and rejected the bottle”…”I received so much conflicting advice from my Doctor, the nurses, my family and my friends”…”I got a breast infection and I was told I had to stop breastfeeding”…”I had to stop breastfeeding because I had to go back to work and didn’t know what to do”, etc, etc, etc).

    @Shana you nailed it on the head, in addition to being a leading breastfeeding expert and educator, Shari is a certified nurse midwife, who like you, until she had our 1st daughter received NO formal education on how to teach new parents HOW TO breastfeed, and like you wound up giving out the same incorrect passed-on (like a bad game of telephone) information from other professional NON-breastfeeding expert to another. It was when she struggled miserably following the same poor advice she was givinig out and getting from other professionals she realized there needs to be a better way, and if “I am struggling, how are other moms supposed to know what to do??”

    You can hear Shari tell her story and actually watch her entire award-winning “Simply Breastfeeding” breastfeeding DVD class for free until September 30th thanks to the support of some really amazing breastfeeding-supportive companies.

    (my personal belief is what good is telling an expectant mom “Breast is Best” and cheering her on to do it, if you do not fully educate her on HOW TO be successful at breastfeeding, so she can make a truly informed choice with clarity and confidence…in addition to how to avoid the myriad of Booby Traps out there!)

    Here’s the link to watch Shari’s video:

    PS…we fully support Best for Babes, as you will see in her video! 😉

  7. I have breastfed all 3 of our children (our 4 month old still nursing) and have never used formula to ‘supplement’. Though I still get at least 5 formula ads & coupons EVERYDAY in the mail! I was 20 and a single Mom working full-time when my son was born and I didn’t even consider that the ‘easy’ thing would be to formula feed him. I knew, even as young and immature as I was, that breastfeeding him was the best thing I could feed him – that my body would give him all the supplementing he needed!

    I have several friends who have chosen to formula feed and when we’ve talked about why they didn’t bf, they said they were not educated enough on how easy bfing actually was! That right after their baby was born, just like Shana said, they were just given cans of formula and the breastfeeding option wasn’t discussed passed the initial question. No, formula is NOT the same as breast milk, and you are fooling yourself if your really believe that. Look on the package – do you honestly know what half the ingredients are? Yes, Moms can choose whether to breast or formula feed their baby, but that doesn’t mean they really know what the BEST choice really is.

  8. As an american living in Germany I an happy to say that things are much different here! Everyone, men, women and children think brestfeeding is the most natural thing in the world and you would never be asked to leave a public place if you were nursing. I was worried at my baby’s christening that I would have to breastfeed during the ceremony and the female pastor fully supported it. In fact, she said whenever she was around town with her baby and needed to feed, she would look for a church because it was nice and quiet!

    On the other hand, while flying to the US with my baby (alone) the man next to me asked to be moved due to my breastfeeding, which they quickly did. When I asked if I could move to the COMPLETELY EMPTY business class seats just to feed they promtly pulled the curtains shut and fastened them tight.

    In Germany, we also after birth have a midwife assigned to us who visits up to 10 times at your house. This is a huge advantage to having to go out somewhere to get breastfeeding support. They really support you during the first hard weeks when it REALLY hurts. I think this is when most american moms might give up due to the pain and lack of support and also due to having to return to work. I have seen this with my sisters. Just my two cents from across the pond…

  9. I’m glad you don’t want to start a ‘war’ between breastfeeding and non-bf mothers. I bf my older daughter with no troubles, but when my 2nd daughter was born with special needs, I had no choice but to bottle feed her: her oral muscles were much too weak for the work. I pumped for as long as I could, but her weak suckling made my milk dry up faster. I think it all comes down to women supporting other women in their parenting choices, and not being so judgmental of each other.

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