The Lactivist War on Formula Is a War on Women

Claiming formula is dangerous is like claiming abortion causes cancer

Posted Apr 17, 2016

Source: Katrina Brown/iStock

Opponents are clear; women don’t understand the risks. They aren’t giving informed consent because they aren’t fully informed. Sure, they may be counseled about the major risks, the ones that could kill, but deaths are rare. The other complications are so much more common. If women only knew of the myriad risks, they’d never choose it in the first place.

Opponents recommend far more extensive counseling, preferably counseling that takes place long before the decision needs to be made. They helpfully offer books and websites as well as in person counseling about all the risks, not just the ones that doctors deign to mention.

Think I’m talking about anti-choice advocates who work tirelessly to prevent women from choosing abortion? Think again.

I’m talking about lactivists and formula.

How are anti-choice and anti-formula advocates similar? Neither group feels constrained by the truth. Reasoning that the ends justify the means, both groups routinely exaggerate and even fabricate “risks.” Seeking, above all else, validation of their personal philosophical beliefs, both groups struggle to convince women who would choose differently that those choices are wrong. Both groups have little regard for what happens to women once they make the approved choice. They care about women up to the moment that they are forced into the “correct” decision; whatever happens afterward must simply be endured by the women they convinced.

There's another similarity:

The War on Formula is a war on women.

In its impact on women’s health, mental health, economic health, and ability to reach their fullest potential, infant formula is akin to the birth control pill.

Just as the Pill allowed women to control their own bodies, effectively separating the decision to have sex from the potentially unwanted children that could result, infant formula has allowed women to control their own bodies, effectively separating the decision to have and nurture children from the potentially unwanted need to stay with them 24/7/365 and therefore forgo income and career. It also has allowed women who cannot trust their own bodies to produce enough breastmilk to nourish their children just as effectively as if they were breastfeeding. Sure, breastfeeding has benefits, but in an industrialized society with clean water, those benefits are very small, limited to a few less colds and episodes of diarrheal illness each year across the entire population of infants.

The breastfeeding industry wants to go beyond a war on women’s income and women’s careers to a war on women themselves. Consider the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), a hospital initiative designed to promote breastfeeding to new mothers. The very name is deliciously humiliating and guilt producing, implying that women who choose formula don't care about their babies' wellbeing. How delightful to pretend that new mothers should be bullied into breastfeeding for the good of their babies when the people who benefit most are lactation consultants and their industry!

Make no mistake, I support breastfeeding; I’ve breastfed 4 children and I enjoyed it very much. But I also used formula, too and that improved the quality of my life and my children’s lives.

The War on Formula is not justified by scientific evidence. It's not about what's good for babies, but rather a sustained effort to shame, humiliate and bully women into breastfeeding regardless of whether it is the right choice for them, their babies or their families. And that's why, at its heart, it's the War on Formula is a war on women.

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