I finally got around to sifting through the mountain of clothing and ephemera in the baby’s closet last week, and I made an amusing discovery: a small backpack given to us at the hospital with a card stapled to the outside touting the benefits of breastfeeding and filled inside with infant formula, both bottled and powdered.
It reminded me of the time I stopped by a drugstore to buy a pack of breast pads. When I checked out, the Catalina coupon machine at the register gave me a coupon for Enfamil. I’m sure the technology is only as sophisticated as “category: baby care,” but it made me laugh.
There’s a recurring theme of mixed messages to new moms. That one is “Breast is best, but here’s some formula.” And before you think me a sanctimonious breastfeeding advocate, let me assure you that my disgust with that particular mixed message is on behalf of moms who don’t. Or can’t.
For example, one mom I know has a rare, terminal disease called Cystinosis. She’s 27, and statistically she shouldn’t even be alive. But she is, and against all odds, she has a healthy 15-month-old daughter. She wanted desperately to breastfeed, but the medications that keep her alive prevented her from nursing. Another friend has a sister who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis after the birth of her second child. She’s now pregnant with her third, and she also will be unable to breastfeed because of medications.
And what about all those moms who try – really try – and just can’t do it? My take on that very common situation is that we don’t have the right kind of support to help new moms overcome obstacles, and these mixed messages are exactly what I mean. Our culture says, “You must attempt to breastfeed, but you will probably fail.” So when things get tough, it’s a lot easier to turn to the bottle – with a heaping dose of guilt.
I realize that there are moms who just don’t want to breastfeed, and to me that’s the most justifiable reason of all. It’s a personal choice, and I don’t think my choice is better than anyone else’s.
I wish that backpack of formula hadn’t mentioned breastfeeding at all and that separately the hospital handed out maybe a trouble-shooting guide and contact information for a lactation consultant.
There are lots of other mixed messages about motherhood – how to discipline, how to approach sleep, how to educate. Enough for a book. I guess this one bothers me because it’s so intertwined with profits for formula companies. That little backpack I found? It was made by Similac. Excuse me if I don’t take their encouragement to breastfeed seriously. It just strikes me as condescending.
I don’t care if they market their product, but I do care if they do it by encouraging and capitalizing on mommy guilt.