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CIGARETTES & FORMULA: THE SECRET CONSPIRACY

There’s only one way to start this blog and it’s like this: I don’t give a shit how you feed your kids. I don’t care what decision you make and why you make it. Whatever your decision, as long as your babies are fed, I don’t care whether it’s fresh from source or formula, whether it’s boob or bottle. This is not a blog designed to incite bitching and moaning about breastfeeding vs bottle feeding. It’s an argument that’s sooo 2013 and frankly we’re all bored. I’m starting from the premise that, as mothers and women we are all on the same team and therefore passionate about supporting each other in the decisions we make.

That said, there is something I wasn’t aware of that has blown me away. My struggle to breastfeed my first born has been well documented on this blog – we don’t need to drag that sorry story to the surface again – but it’s important to say that the whole experience left me traumatised and depressed. Bullied by health visitors, judged by other mothers, vilified by other bloggers…my decision to throw formula at my breast-based problems was not an easy one to make or to deal with the fall-out of. Not only was my self-esteem at an all time low, it affected my bond with my baby and my perception of my abilities as a mother.

I’m not the only one that felt like this. Recently, there does seem to have been a turn in the tide regarding this. With the birth of my second baby, the discussion of breast vs bottle amongst my midwives and health visitors was a much more balanced affair…but then, I was more balanced. I was more confident in my role as a mother and in the decisions I was going to make. If breastfeeding worked second time around then great, if not I was going back to the bottle and the formula and I was totally at peace with that.

As it turned out, breastfeeding did work the second time around. Not a crack, a blister, a drop of blood in sight. No mastitis, no thrush infection in my nipple. I can’t tell you why my second experience was so wildly different to my first. I’m sure the stress free birth had something to do with it, the fact that it wasn’t my first rodeo also probably helped but essentially, my second baby was a different baby and things turned out differently because of this.

The reason I’m banging on about all of this, I suppose, is to reinforce the fact that I’m not here to promote any version of feeding. Yes, I support women’s right not to breastfeed if they don’t want to or can’t, but I also have loved breastfeeding my second baby. I’m more about supporting mothers and what’s best for them than a idealogical ‘truth’ that has been constructed amongst the medical world with little thought for the real women it’s affecting.

So, imagine my surprise when a midwife-in-training (i.e. someone with up to date information) told me that midwives are not allowed to suggest formula as an option to any mama. If hospitals want to be eligible for a UNICEF rating, this rule must be adhered by. Of course, if a mama asks for formula then they are allowed to provide it but I know that as a first time mama in hospital, I wouldn’t have dared asked for formula and yet maybe if I’d been offered some I would have put less pressure on myself, I would have felt less anxiety and maybe, just maybe, my breastfeeding journey would have been a bit different if I’d been presented with an option other than, ‘Just keep feeding through the pain and the blood and the thrush and the mastitis.’

But the conspiracy against formula feeding doesn’t end there. Supermarkets are not allowed to promote it. They are not allowed to provide offers on formula. They are not allowed to visually merchandise it. In other words, formula must stay firmly on a shelf at the back of a shop. They are not allowed to include the cost of formula in any loyalty programmes. One woman complained to the head office in Tesco once when she didn’t get fuel vouchers even though she’d spent enough money to warrant them. Their response? “We don’t include the formula in the costs because we feel that formula feeding is unethical.”

Wow. Who knew Tesco was such an expert when it came to the nutritional needs of babies? Nice of them to take it upon themselves to dictate to mothers what they should and shouldn’t feed their babies.

It doesn’t end there – have you ever noticed how any advert on TV or in magazines for formula is always for ‘Follow On Milk’? In other words, it’s just about ok to promote formula after 6 months. But here’s a secret: follow on milk is more or less exactly the same as formula you would give to a newborn. They only reason it exists is because formula companies are allowed to advertise it. Without a ‘follow on’ product they wouldn’t get a slice of the advertising cake. Formula aimed at newborns and babies under 6 months is not allowed any advertising space on TV or in magazine or, in fact, anywhere. Even when they are allowed to advertise, it’s not permitted without the ‘caveat’ that breastfeeding is best for your baby.

All this got me thinking…you know how people bang on about ‘nipple confusion’? The idea that if you’re breastfeeding and you give a baby a bottle or a dummy they will, all of a sudden, lose the ability to breastfeed? We hear it all the time, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it worried me with my second baby. Breastfeeding was going so well, but as a self-employed mama, I had to go back to work almost immediately and the only way I could do that was if I gave Bo a bottle. I worried that I would ruin this breastfeeding experience before it had even started and so I put off giving her a bottle. In the end, it was completely fine. I mean, there was absolutely no fall out. Nothing at all. Nearly five months on she drinks formula from a bottle and happily guzzles on my boob too. But, knowing what I do about the conspiracy to keep formula as far under the radar as possible, I can’t help but wonder whether this ‘nipple confusion’ thing is just another way to keep formula down.

Listen, to give Tesco some credit, they are bound by the law as is every other supermarket and retailer in the UK. Our very own government has put these laws in place, in a silent but deadly effort to promote breastfeeding. But here’s the problem. All too often, breastfeeding isn’t a choice. Sure, some women choose not to breastfeed for personal reasons. Fine. More often than not though, women don’t breastfeed because they can’t. When I say ‘can’t’, I don’t mean that they physically couldn’t…I mean that, when they balanced up the pain and trauma of breastfeeding against their own mental wellbeing they decided that the maths didn’t work out. That is just as much ‘not being able to breastfeed’ as having two dry norks.

You know the other product that is allowed absolutely no advertising space? Cigarettes. Yep. Apparently, the government feels that formula must be as damaging as cigarettes; so much so that it is a crime to advertise them. Even if that’s not what they believe, that’s the message. Even cigarettes were allowed a front row spot in the shop until recently which is more than formula has ever been given. And, while I’m no expert, I’d hazard a guess that buying half price Vodka at record low prices is likely to be more damaging to anyone necking it than formula is to a baby but that doesn’t stop shops piling it high and selling it cheap, it doesn’t stop it being plastered of billboard and magazines and it doesn’t stop every other advert being for an alcoholic drink.

Of course, the government makes a shit load of tax from cigarettes and alcohol though doesn’t it. Silly me.

So why does this outrage me so? It outrages me because it removes our choice. It undermines our right to make our own decisions about how we raise our children, and how we use our bodies. It is government-sanctioned manipulation of an entire sector of people that are enormously underrepresented in the institution implementing it. It’s another example of the patriarchy issuing control over something that is not theirs to control. It’s a PR campaign based on fear and lies and it’s wrong.

I’m not suggesting that we should be offering half-price formula (although that would be nice!) but let’s set up a level playing field. Why shouldn’t formula companies be allowed to advertise? Why shouldn’t parents using formula be allowed access to a deal here and there? Why is the government so insistent on making formula a dirty word? Formula is not a dirty word, it’s a choice and it’s outrageous that mothers are being made to feel like shit because the perception of formula as a terrible thing is being reinforced on a daily basis by those in power.

 

 

16 thoughts on “CIGARETTES & FORMULA: THE SECRET CONSPIRACY

  1. Linds says:

    The advertising ban on formula is a relatively new thing you may think it’s an uneven playing field field but my tits don’t have an advertising budget there isn’t a vast number of accessories that can be sold by companies to make money out of breast milk though God knows they’ve tried. I’m making myself feel old but I remember life before the ban when every bounty pack and Emma’s diary was littered with white powder suggesting that you go on try it first bottle’s on the house. Playing on sleep deprivation with adverts suggesting someone else can do the night feeds, tired mum’s thinking I’ll do a combi feeding but the adverts failing to mention that your own supply may dwindle. i had the opposite issue to you with my eldest – 4 separate midwives offering me a bottle the night she was born no one was available to help see if the breastfeeding was ok.
    So I’m glad they aren’t allowed to advertise milk replacement because while I’m glad it’s there and available for those who need it, it’s not better than breast

    Liked by 1 person

  2. justsayingmum says:

    Oh my word I am so shocked by this and feel so out of the loop as mine are teens now. When did we become so backwards? When did we become so antiquated in our approach? I am seriously dumbfounded! I like you had different experiences – to feed my first was a dream – latch and suck – just like that – easy – no pain, no blood, no issue. My second, a whole different ball game – mastitis, blood, cracked nipples you name it – all of it – and I persevered with that for 5 very long painful weeks – too scared to even suggest that I try formula – terrified by the negativity I would receive. In the end my Health Visitor begged me to stop as as I was becoming ill – what a saviour! But why all these years later has the guilt not even started to shift a little for mothers? So unfair. Oh can you tell I’m a little outraged – apologies for the very long comment but such a thought-provoking post and just brilliantly said!

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  3. S says:

    If it’s promoted, the overall price goes up to cover the ‘promotional price’. In America formula is $20-$30 a tub which is insane!

    Also if you’re on a low income you might be tempted to buy whatever’s on offer, as all formulas are different (the level of nutrients has to meet a standard but the ingredients making those targets such as ground fish bones for iron vary) and can make babies very ill switching from milk to milk.

    I’d recommend reading ‘the politics of breastfeeding’ it’s so interesting whatever your feeding method. And addressed the patriarchal aspect of infant feeding- it covers the whole sordid history on men taking over child rearing in the 1800’s it’s soooo interesting! It’s a really good piece of feminist text.

    I combi fed my first, had never come across nipple confusion. Ha! And then I mostly breastfed my second. My best mama friends ff, I have no judgement. But I don’t think you’ve researched the topic enough really.

    X

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  4. julieroxanne says:

    Follow on milk is not regulated. Contains more sugar than newborn formula. Often costs more. Has more calcium carbonate in it nope…not needed. Not required. Yep..stick to from birth formula til 13 months then it’s cows milk. Enjoy ur rant..that’s all it is.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Breastfeeding does not have a massive advertising budget so how is it a level playing field?? I’m not saying mums shouldn’t use formula if they need to and as a Mum myself I understand you do what you’ve got to do! However formula companies do not care about you making the right choice for you and your baby…they care about sales and making as many mums as possible use formula. Those promoting breastfeeding are not generally trying to make money at the expense of people’s health. Also there is a very good reason why supermarkets are not allowed to sell formula on offer – as mums would switch frequently between brands potentially making their babies ill.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    ‘The politics of breastfeeding’ by Gabrielle Palmer would be an insightful read for you about why these laws came to be. I agree with you that it is completely unfair that the mothers are the ones that end up feeling guilty when they end up using formula. As a breastfeeding counsellor and midwife in the NHS, I have no doubt that the solution is more breastfeeding support and more training for midwives, doctors, MCA’s and the general population. Breastfeeding does not need to be difficult but we have made it so.

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  7. Ada says:

    I don’t think advertising would even the playing field as you suggest. Advertising has an insidious effect on the brain (there’s a lot of evidence for this) and allowing advertising of formula for newborns would influence many women , young and old, in particular those who have no peer models of breastfeeding around them to think that formula is the healthiest best choice for their baby. I think you should focus your efforts on encouraging hospitals to support women’s choice, although I am happy for them to encourage breastfeeding it shouldn’t be militant.

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    • littlebug says:

      A good friend of mine really horrified her sister by trying to breastfeed. Her sister told her it was really weird and only “poor people” breastfeed. I think her attitude was informed by her mother, who was influenced by a generation that allowed formula advertising. It’s a bigger problem in developing countries but still a problem in parts of this one.
      Totally agree btw bf support should not be militant – there just needs to be a lot more support out there! It’s society failing women, not women failing.

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  8. Missy Logan says:

    This is so well written. And I love
    How supportive you are of all mothers choices. I also agree with these comments. I wonder if the industry has just swung way to far to other side. Formula is still pushed on moms in US hospitals with little breastfeeding support and yeah it’s because no one makes money from breastfeeding. Formula is a big money maker and I wonder if there’s not a conspiracy between the sugar industry and the formula industry. So many America. Formulas first ingredient is sugar. Get those babies addicted from day one! Maybe that’s another blog post! Haha. Wasn’t there a big deal with Nestle advertising formula to mothers Africa saying it was better than breast milk? I’d love to see a follow up article on this topic. I had no idea all these laws and rules were in place.

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  9. Rae says:

    An interesting article. But more research on the subject would answer many, if not all, of your questions on this topic.
    Our government put these sanctions in place on the research and advise of UNICEF and WHO.
    If we look at countries that have taken a stricter stance in formula companies and their devious methods, we can see the benefits it has on breastfeeding rates.
    Even a basic level of research and further reading in this topic would greatly benefit you.
    Spread education rather than conspiracy theories.

    Like

  10. Katie says:

    I’ve carried out a vast amount of research on the health benefits of milk in general. Worryingly I found that there is a even more mind blowing conspiracy behind dairy than the proposed one you’re referring to. Research has suggested that cows milk is meant for baby calfs only and animal milk actually contributes towards many horrible human illnesses due to the huge qualities of liquid animal protein that it contains. We are the only species on the planet that drink another species milk, and additionally we are the only species that drink milk into adulthood. If cows milk was a vital substance that humans required to be healthy, it’s been doubted that nature would hid it in the nipple of a cow. Why a cow? It’s a bit random. Its been said that in the past mothers used cows milk in a desperate attempt to feed their babies when breast milk wasn’t available to them back in the old days. Understandably any mother would do so if it was a matter of your baby dying of starvation. Some say that over time milk has become confused as a substances that is good for humans to drink and vital to maintain a healthy diet. Actually milk and illiness make for big business and the two things go hand in hand. So it’s possible that milk and cigarettes both contribute to being deadly to a humans health. There is a awful lot of information on this topic available, you may find it interesting, but also a bit daunting to read. I saw things I wish I didn’t and was stunned now brutal the diary industry was. I was particularly bothered when I realised that all milk producing cows are mothers (hence why they make milk) – during their life time they are repeatedly made pregnant, there baby’s immediately taken from them and the milk bottles up for our babies rather than theirs. Just doesn’t seem that kind or right. There are many other types of milks available to give our babies besides others species milk. Shamefully I love the taste of cows milk and ignore all the above and drink it anyway in my tea. It fascinates me though how we are all led to believe milk is good for you just because we are told so by the tv, books or doctors. It’s just doesn’t add up or make sense when you look into it.

    Nipple confusion happened to my first son. I expressed more than I breastfeed and he started to prefer the bottle to the breast. In the end I had to trick him back into the breast with nipple shields and about two weeks of effort. Formula doesn’t need to have anything to do with nipple confusion and from my experience was very real.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Speaking as a mum of one child who never had a drop of formula and another who is almost exclusively formula fed, I agree with what you say about supporting women in their choices and there are certainly health professionals who could show more compassion to stressed, anxious and guilt ridden new mums. Having said this I do agree with the advertising ban. Much as I would love to get a deal on Aptamil once in a while I do feel that it’s a slippery slope and that something needs to be done about the low bf rates in the U.K. Also I worry about profit driven companies influencing vulnerable women, particularly in less affluent countries. We need more (but non judgemental) support for mothers on feeding their babies, however they choose or are able to do it.

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