Feb. 20th, 2010

theatokos: (Default)
I'm 2/3 of the way through The Politics of Breastfeeding. The author is at her best when discussing the social history of breastfeeding and the rise of the formula companies. The snark present when talking about women and choices is absent. It's worth reading these chapters. The back of the book has a quote comparing this book to Fast Food Nation at al, and this is where I can see the comparison.

If a mother has a healthy baby, adequate sanitation, access to clean water and reliable refrigeration, using formula is relatively fine. I think anyone reading this knows that. However, the vast majority of the profit of formula companies comes from the developing world, where women do not have the last three very important components for making formula. The evidence the author documents is HORRIFYING. For example, Nestle, until the 80s had a practice of dressing up saleswomen in Africa as nurses and sending them round hospitals and clinics encouraging women who had just given birth to use Nestle formula. The women believed that medical professionals had given them advice based on their personal situations. In Nigeria, which had had a good/low infant mortality rate thanks to a history of breastfeeding, medical professionals had to come up with a new name for the formula-induced diarhhea that started killing babies en masse. The aggressive ad campaigns used in Africa were deliberately misleading - particularly if you were a relatively uneducated woman in a developing country.

It makes me ILL to think that I supported this industry, albeit in a small way. I will work doubly hard to not need even the slightest amount of formula next time around.* More and more I really believe that the Medical-Industrial Complex** hates women and children. How else could formula companies so blatantly disregard the lives of these babies? Another example: between 1978-79 a formula brand took out all the salt from its recipe, causing many babies to suffer from problems brought on by lack of sodium chloride. After the case went to court in the US, the company won approval from the USFDA to 'donate' the recalled formula to the Third World.

So.... Hi. A happy, uplifting post to start your weekend.


*I hope by now everyone knows that I feel very differently about mothers who cannot breastfeed, and I recognize that your politics may not be my politics.

**Patriarchal in general, for though there are doubtless women who work for these companies, it is historically the work of men who created and continue these practices. And I don't think that all men are complicit in this.
theatokos: (Default)
It's easy to get all judgmental about women who 'choose' to use formula. But the more I read the less inclined I am to see this as the appropriate place for blame. Nor do I think that women have as much choice as we're led to believe.

I know there are women who choose of their own accord to use formula, women who have perfectly functioning breasts and access to health care and support. But I think that formula use is much like the c-section divide between women. I think these 'mommy wars' are encouraged by The Powers That Be (like media and corporations, et al) to keep women at each others' throats in order to divert that energy from the actual issues.

Many women have to go back to work shortly after giving birth. Pumping can be hard and demoralizing. The US has no maternity leave plan, lactation support is generally hard to come by. Even in my former workplace, an organization that was as family friendly as I could ever hope a place to be, I ended up pumping in the bathroom. Basically, US law, business, and social life don't encourage breastfeeding, or family life for that matter. If WIC and other sources provide it for free, why wouldn't you use it?

It's just like the cascade of interventions that often lead to c-sections. I have read articles on women who schedule c-sections, and it's always a judgmental screed about how those women don't have their priorities straight. If you are a career woman, trying to do it all, high powered business may not wait for you to birth when the baby's ready. But I'm guessing that those women are the tiny minority. The rise in c-sections has a strong correlation to medical practices and attitudes. But the Medical-Industrial Complex doesn't want the boat rocked, or their bottom lines challenged, or their subsidies from formula companies taken away.

In the end, keeping women blaming each other is just a divide and conquer technique keeping us from the issues that really matter. C-sections and formula aren't evil in and of themselves; it's the much larger and much more insidious practices of our governments and big business that places women and families in positions where they think they have a choice, but do we? Really? An isle of 36 different shampoo choices isn't really a choice. 10 different kinds of formula isn't a choice.

I also think that because of the lack of power and authentic choice in the lives of most women (and here I also want to add families of color and low-economic status), excoriating other choices is a way for them to feel safe and like they made the Right decision. In a world of uncertainty, well, at least I didn't use formula, so my kid won't be diabetic/obese/stupid/insert fear here. I would never put my baby at risk, unlike those dirty hippies who have home births, so my baby will just fine.

We're all just trying to do the best by ourselves and our families, but damn, the deck is stacked against us. This also relates back to the rape post. Women/other marginalized people blaming other women/marginalized people. This only divides us and prevents us from making actual positive change.

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