by Heidi Green
January 02, 2008
Go, Mothering magazine!
According to The Patriot Ledger’s Dana Barbuto, “more than half” of the images in Mothering magazine show mom breastfeeding baby. She thinks this is cause for concern. If you ask me, it is cause for applause. Over the decades since breast milk substitutes (a.k.a. infant formula) hit the market, images of babies with bottles in their mouths have become ubiquitous. They have become expected. Bottles have become associated with babies the way peanut butter is associated with jelly, Abbott with Costello, ants with picnics. The formula industry doesn’t spend billions of dollars a year in advertising for nothing.
In fact, in an amazing turn of events (and thanks in large part to all of this slick advertising) bottle-feeding has come to be seen as normal, even more normal than breastfeeding. I cannot think of one other substitute that has so thoroughly replaced its original. Veggie burgers? No. Aspartame? No. Oleo? Don’t get me started.
This is especially amazing because infant formula is a poor substitute for the real deal. Yes, I know. Babies who are fed formula live and grow and even thrive. (I did.) But there is no denying that formula—even as scientifically-engineered as it is today—still lacks the nutritional and immunological properties of human milk.
So, why do some take such offense at the sight of breastfeeding dyads? Common complaints are that the images make formula-feeding mothers feel “guilty” for not breastfeeding or, as Barbuto puts it, “unworthy of motherhood.” In what seems like a topsy-turvy version of the three wise monkeys, these women don’t want to see, hear, or talk about breastfeeding. (As if breastfeeding were “evil.”)
Here’s what I think: Breastfeeding is (trite as it may sound) best. As parents who want what’s best for our children, we should weigh the many merits of breastfeeding when we make decisions about how we feed our babies. We can’t do that if there is a moratorium on breastfeeding images and discourse.
The formula industry has been very effective in its efforts to fill TV screens, pediatrician’s offices, and parenting magazines with images of formula-feeding mothers and their babies. There is no breast milk industry to spread the word about breastfeeding (although the national government has made a rather limited attempt.) If I can help to do so simply by talking openly about breastfeeding… well, it seems a very minor thing.
You know what? If there’s one thing I have learned over the past five years, it is that much of parenting is about making choices. Will you circumcise your son? Vaccinate your daughter? Co-sleep with your baby? Use cloth or disposable diapers? Send them to public or private school? The list goes on and on. Breastfeeding or formula-feeding is just another one of those parenting decisions. We should be able to read about it and talk about it as we do the other decisions, without the baggage of hurt feelings.
And (dare I say it?) maybe we should give pro-breastfeeding discourse a bit of leeway. Through decades of marketing, the formula industry has given it a tremendous handicap.
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