Archive | November, 2013

Fear-mongering does not promote breast feeding

8 Nov
How the City of Ottawa views bottle feeding

How the City of Ottawa views bottle feeding

I was about to go to bed when I saw this post pop up on my feed from Fearless Formula Feeder about the City of Ottawa’s information page on “informed consent” when it comes to breast feeding. While I support efforts to encourage women to nurse their babies, I don’t think it should be done by scaring women who may be considering (or have already made) a different choice. The site lists Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and obesity in a matter-of-fact list as possible risks associated with bottle feeding, presented in such a way as to terrify new mothers. It also implies that women who formula feed will get cancer and “brittle bones.” It makes these appear to be foregone conclusions.

I work in communications for a living. I know the power of a bulleted list, of random factoids pulled from a series of unrelated studies. The way that the text is presented on the city’s website is purposely alarmist. It’s offensive and will do nothing to help women who are struggling to breast feed or who may be looking for guidelines on how to mix formula safely. It links to a page on formula feeding guidelines only after forcing the reader to scan through “facts” designed to convince women that they are terrible people if they cannot or will not breast feed.

Also? The list of “risks” is based on shaky science. As Hanna Rosin and others have pointed out, the majority of breast feeding studies do not take a wide array of socioeconomic factors into account. The reality is that wealthier or upper middle class women are more likely to nurse. They are also more likely to take their children to the doctor and have access to nutritious food and prenatal care. Their children are more likely to thrive and less likely to be “obese,”, no matter how they are fed. Breast feeding is wonderful when it works — it’s nurturing, promotes a healthy digestive system and is free to boot. But it’s not the only way to feed a baby and help them thrive.

When I switched to bottle feeding when Daphne was four months old, there were so few resources on how to do it safely and properly. I already felt like a terrible mother for feeding my baby the “poison” that the formula companies were clearly pushing on me (I got over that one fast). There was also so little discourse on the advantages associated with being able to share the task of infant feeding. Bottle feeding brought equality to my parenting relationship with my wife, in a way that I did not viscerally understand until I was finally able to get a little more sleep.

As a feminist and a mother, I am solidly pro-choice. And this includes the right to make a truly informed decision about how to feed your baby — one that isn’t coloured by fear-mongering, fatphobic, woman-shaming tactics. Women in Ottawa deserve better.

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