Why Formula Control Isn’t As Scary As It Sounds

You’ll be surprised by my response to a recent article published by Dr. Amy Brown on The Conversation: ‘Breastfeeding: five ways it can be encouraged responsibly’. Whenever I see headlines like this, I approach with caution. This is because I strongly believe that the current way breastfeeding is being promoted is at the detriment of formula feeders.

Our breastfeeding initiatives add far too much pressure to mums and mums-to-be and although I respect and acknowledge the greatness of successful breastfeeding, I feel these campaigns need to communicate in a different way. One that highlights breastfeeding and the challenges in a realistic light, not the idealistic, and be-all end-all message we currently get. Most importantly, there should be information and guidance given on all methods of feeding; breast, bottle, pumping, formula, supplementing, combination and tube feeding; so that one is not deemed ‘lesser’ than another. Education should be focused on keeping a baby healthy and fed and the mother healthy and happy. Not the pros of breast and the cons of formula.

Dr. Brown’s article hits the nail on the head for many reasons. It implies that campaigns are driven to place responsibility of breastfeeding success on the mother, when most problems occurring in a mothers feeding journey are caused because the government aren’t providing the support they require. This isn’t just healthcare and physical support, the article extends to discuss financial security during maternity leave so that new mums are enabled to have the leave they desire, not what’s financially feasible for their family. The piece also raises the crucial error behind the messages of accepting breastfeeding publicly. Currently, it pretty much only targets mothers. Mothers don’t need to be told this, we know feeding your baby whenever and wherever should be completely acceptable! The government need to push the message onto the wider public. As she states:

“Breastfeeding Welcome schemes – participating organisations displays signs saying they are supportive of breastfeeding – can play an important role here to reassure mothers, and also send a strong signal to potential critics.”

In an inclusive world, I would prefer the scheme to be an ‘Infant Feeding Welcome’ message. Signs only welcoming breastfeeding can have a negative psychological impact on a bottle-feeder who is struggling with her feeding journey. People forget that some people have to formula feed, breastfeeding isn’t always a choice.

It is only when you hit point 5 that formula is mentioned.

“5. Formula control

Formula milk is lifesaving for babies who cannot be breastfed but advertising these products is simply not necessary. Many of the claims made have already been challenged by health bodies as misleading or unnecessary – but numerous countries, including Britain, still need to stop companies from putting promotions out altogether.”

Dr. Brown used the words ‘formula’ and ‘control’ together. Brave woman! However, I don’t dislike this idea and here’s why…

Everybody deserves the right to choose their preferred feeding method and they should have respect and the full support of healthcare professionals (and their peers!)

I can predict many people reading point 5 will be enraged at the idea of ‘Formula Control’. But this isn’t about limiting formula as an option for women, it’s about standardising it via the authorities so that it doesn’t exploit vulnerable mothers, or indeed the confident formula feeder into paying extortionate amounts of money for ‘the best formula available’.

Formula is a breast milk substitute, and that’s exactly what should be provided to mothers and babies who rely on it. We shouldn’t have the confusion of ‘which formula is best for my baby?’ as they should all be the same (obviously formulas would be tailored for specific allergies or intolerances, just as any medical nutritional supplement would be). Asking which formula brand to use is one of the most common questions directed to our network.

By standardising and having ‘controls’ over how formula is presented to mothers, it would allow professionals to be able to provide guidance and support on formula, something they are currently unable to do because of the product differences and unpredictability of the market. I find it concerning that a main complaint I get from supporters is that they feel completely isolated when it comes to being a formula mother. This is often because advice seems a taboo topic with many midwives and healthcare professionals. The controls would surely allow open dialogue and education surrounding formula feeding and create national awareness as to why many women rely on using formula.

The other frequent issue raised to our support network is that the mother had to stop breastfeeding before she was ready. This often leads to a period of breastfeeding grief as she wanted but ‘failed’ to breastfeed for as long as she intended. All the proposals made by the author would be massive improvements for the position new mothers face.

So to anyone reading the word ‘control’ and panicking at the idea, it doesn’t mean more restrictions on the provision of formula. It would still be available for purchase, just not in a competitive market. If this is applied with sensitivity towards people dependant, or those who simply want to formula feed, I personally think that would be a welcome scenario.

You can read the full article by Dr. Brown here