Baby Formula is Not Rat Poison

Filed under: Opinions


Do you think we could maybe take a break from beating up non-breastfeeders? Formula is not rat poison. The moms who use it are not Simlac abusers. In fact, they are the majority of us: Only 14 percent of American women are exclusively breastfeeding at the six-month point. They must have some reason beyond massive indifference to their babies' health.

Like, maybe it's hard to do? Or it hurts? Or, as with two of my dear friends, the whole thing never kicked in, despite the desperate days they spent attached to miniature milking machines? Or maybe some moms actually have to go back to work and don't want to sit in the coat closet with a pump and a copy of People?

There are plenty of legit reasons for not breastfeeding, and yet formula moms are often portrayed as selfish jerks who don't care if their babies live, die or end up allergic to dubious studies that make moms feel guilty. I'm allergic to those, too.

The latest one appears in this month's Pediatrics, saying that each year 911 babies (what an evocative number!) die from the infections and/or illnesses they might have fought off had they been breastfed.

Let's leave aside the scientific problems with this study -- most saliently the fact that it is impossible to separate the benefits of breast milk from the benefits of having a mom so health-conscious that she breastfeeds. These two factors are "confounded," as Joan Wolf, assistant professor of Women's & Gender Studies at Texas A&M and author of the forthcoming book, Is Breast Best?, puts it. In other words: It's quite possible that it's the upbringing and not the milk that is conferring the rather minimal benefits we associate with breastfeeding.

Minimal? Yes and don't jump on me! Dr. Michael Kramer, a professor of pediatrics at McGill University and breastfeeding consultant to the World Health Organization, tells London's The Times that the benefits conferred by breastfeeding in terms of kids avoiding leukemia, lymphoma, bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, heart disease [and] blood pressure are "weak." So are breastfeeding's benefits when it comes to allergies, asthma and obesity.

Breastfeeding does seem to cut down some on ear infections and diarrhea. But then again, formula feeding helps fend off rickets.

Every day we make decisions about how to raise our kids, factoring in risks and preferences. For instance, city kids are more apt to get asthma. So do families immediately relocate? Says Wolf, "Most couples would say the costs are too great." Staying put is a small risk they're willing to take. Or what about the fact that more kids die as car passengers than from any other cause? Do we immediately stop driving them, because five or six die each day? Or, says Wolf, do we make a calculated decision that the minimal risk is worth the convenience of driving?

No one questions our choice to live in the city, or to drive the kids to grandma's house. But when it comes to choosing formula, suddenly we are heartless hussies.

Interesting, isn't it, that we focus so harshly on the one part of parenting that only women can perform? A part that society uses to determine whether or not a mom is doing the right thing, as if there aren't a thousand decisions we will make in the next 18 years?

Babies need love and they need food, which they can get from the breast or the bottle. Next subject please!

(And, in case you were wondering, I breastfed.)

Related:
Is Any Baby Product Safe Enough?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.