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Is There Really Breastfeeding Mania?

Over at The Daily Beast Dr. Saunders, a pediatrician who claims to be supportive of breastfeeding, wonders if support for breastfeeding is going too far. In a country where only about half of babies are breastfed for 6 months, and just barely 1 in 4 are breastfed to the minimum one year mark that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, how could this possibly be true? If fully 75% of babies are fully fed formula with no breast milk at some point in time (and more than 85% get formula at some point), how can it be possible that there is “breastfeeding mania” at all, let alone that it has gone too far? Dr. Saunders’ evidence?


The percent of hospital labor and delivery units that give free formula samples dropped from 73% in 2007 to 32% in 2013, this according to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control.

Wait, let’s clarify this information a bit more than Dr. Saunders did…that is the percentage of breastfeeding mothers who were given formula samples…they did not measure the percentage of women who intended to formula feed who were given samples. There seems to be an idea that the Baby Friendly USA Initiative will ban hospitals from giving formula to ANY mothers, including those who either must formula feed, or those who choose to. That is not the case at all. In Baby Friendly Facts: Setting the Record Straight, the folks at the Baby Friendly Childbirth Initiative state that women should be counseled in a respectful manner about the differences between breastfeeding and formula feeding, and if they have made a choice to formula feed, they should be provided with formula while in the hospital to feed their babies. They can probably also be sent home with a gift bag full of formula samples as well.

Except that the formula companies aren’t really targeting women who have chosen to formula feed with the samples, since they are already “sold” on the product. They want those bags going to women who plan to breastfeed, since giving the samples has been shown to reduce the duration of breastfeeding. If breastfeeding duration is reduced, of course the result is that more formula is sold–formula that is most often the same brand as the sample the mother was given in the hospital.

I agree that whether one breastfeeds or not does not determine if one is a good parent.

BUT…after counseling parents of toddlers on feeding toddlers vegetables and fruits…do pediatricians hand the parents a box of Dole Squish-Ems and say “now just in case the ‘healthy food thing’ doesn’t work out for you, here is a sample”? No. We all admit that giving our kids fresh fruit & veggies is the best thing for them, but once in a while we pull out the “squish.” The squish has nutritional value…it’s not complete junk food per se…it’s just not quite as good as what God made. Likewise…formula has nutritional value, it’s not junk food…but what God made is better. But we certainly don’t expect our doctors to be giving it to us.

“Among nursing’s most ardent advocates, choosing to give your child formula is accorded roughly the same respect as announcing you plan to feed the baby a steady diet of Brandy Alexanders.”

Wow. I’ve got to say, I do hang with some of “nursing’s most ardent advocates.” I count among my friends several La Leche League leaders, the spokesperson for the Lehigh Valley Breastfeeding Coalition, and a former president of the International Board of Certified Lactation Consultants. I’ve never heard any of them say anything even remotely like that.

On the flip side…I routinely find women who have been told they “can’t do THAT here” because it is “like urinating in public” because they have tried to breastfeed their babies.

I find pediatricians who are too quick to prescribe 1 oz “supplemental” formula feeds…which really aren’t “supplements” when they are given 10 times per day to a baby that would only drink about 14 oz of milk in a day! What those “supplements” are is a one way ticket to a woman loosing her milk supply. I’ve seen supplements like that prescribed when the infant weight loss is as little as 5% of birth weight, even though it has long been known that up to 8% loss is “average,” and the “concern” level does not come until the weight loss is over 10%. And even then, “concern” does not have to mean supplementing, it can mean more frequent monitoring and offering support to the mom in all areas of her journey. If baby isn’t gaining weight…it may be that mom needs more than a lactation consultant–she may need a postpartum doula…which, ironically, the average postpartum doula will provide 5-6 hours of in-home support for the same price as one 90 minute lactation consultant visit.

I’ve had clients who were “ganged up on” by multiple nurses in the hospital postpartum unit and told they really should just give up on breastfeeding because they were having difficulty with latch.

Yes, the primary goal is to feed the baby. And women should be assured that no matter how they feed their babies, if they’ve achieved the goal of feeding, they are good mothers. But I’m getting tired of this drummed up script that somehow formula feeding mothers are being marginalized by efforts to encourage women to breastfeed.

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Posted in Birth in the news and Breastfeeding and Home and Parenting 3 years, 6 months ago at 9:20 pm.

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