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Why I Hate Infant Formula Companies!

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: The recent recall of millions of bottles and cans of Similac infant formula has sparked a Senate inquiry. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, issued a letter to Abbott Laboratories, the maker of Similac, asking why the company waited so long to issue a recall after discovering that their product was contaminated with beetle parts. Concerned parents had been making complaints to the FDA for weeks before Abbott did anything. Urgh!

mad looking woman
I hate infant formula companies. I should also tell you that I rarely use the word "hate". It's a word with no open door. "Hate" shuts down any chances for revision and interpretation that the phrase "don't like" hints at. But I also hate dead babies. 

Here's the deal: Corporations who make artificial infant food are never going away. Formula is vital to nursing mothers who are forced to work long hours and need to supplement their breast milk. It's a godsend for women who may have suffered sexual abuse and who have PTSD-like panic attacks when their breasts are touched. And it's vital for foster and adoptive parents. (Although I'm sure that if I ever adopted, I would take the money normally spent on formula and impractical frilly baby dresses and put some nursing mother in business as my own private dairy. But that's me.) Shouldn't those populations of mothers be enough for formula companies? How greedy must they be? 

What I hate about corporations that manufacture formula is how they tell lies and create markets for themselves, while putting infant lives at risk. The World Health Organization issued an international breastfeeding code that calls for, among other things, enforcement of honest advertising and product claims. It breaks my heart when a product so inferior to human breast milk is compared to it in any way. 

Formula is mostly protein, fat and water. Breast milk contains hundreds of nutrients designed by nature to fuel a growing body and brain. It cannot be replicated. But you wouldn't believe that if you read the label of most any formula bottle or can. That's only one small reason why I hate formula companies, though. I mostly hate them because of the "free" samples they give in hospitals. It's usually a two-week supply -- just enough time to dry up a mother's own milk and interrupt nature's most sophisticated system for infant survival. 

And as if that weren't enough, they do it in poor countries where mothers have little money to purchase the product themselves. So mothers water it down in an attempt to stretch out their free sample, or they mix the powder with contaminated water. Babies slowly starve or get terrible infections that kill them. And you know the most heinous thing about this inhumane capitalistic marketing strategy? In some of those countries, breastfeeding is the only form of birth control available to women. So formula companies contribute to the infant birth rate and the infant death rate. 

In their book "Milk, Money and Madness," Naomi Baumslag and Dia L. Michels give hard evidence. "This widespread use of formula means that worldwide, 1.5 million babies die every year because they were not breastfed," it says on page 93. "And this does not only happen in developing countries. One study estimates that four out of every 100 babies born in the U.S. each year die because they are not breastfed. That adds up to thousands of infant deaths a year that could have been prevented by breastfeeding." Naomi Baumslag is a clinical professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical School, as well as the president of the Women's International Public Health Network. She knows what she's talking about!

Here's my advice for profit-hungry formula companies: If you must make money off mothers, manufacture breast pumps and accessories. Give those women in poor countries jobs sewing totally cute breastfeeding clothes and nursing bras. Manufacture nipple guards and breastfeeding pillows. Since you're a drug company, put money into research for drugs that might help a mother increase her milk supply or fight postpartum depression. Support nature. Don't interfere with it. Please. Babies' lives are at stake!

next: What If Your Kid's the Bully?
97 comments so far | Post a comment now
Trish October 6, 2010, 7:33 PM

I proudly breast feed my 8 month old little boy and if you guys want to feed your babies bug parts and plastic and who know what other contaminants, then that is your choice. I understand and respect the fact that some moms cannot breastfeed but for the people who just choose not to because it is too much work, did you think having a baby was just gonna be fun and games?? Seriously people!!

Karen October 6, 2010, 9:15 PM

A lot of defensive mothers on here! The author wasn’t attacking mothers that use formula. She was mainly pointing out the negative effect their sample products have on mothers in poor communities.

It is a simple concept. Who in their right mind would let two weeks worth of nutrition be wasted? The problem is some mothers haven’t been educated enough to understand that by using it their supply will dry up. Then they are kind of stuck relying on formula. I could keep going but the different issues with that are too numerous to write about.

I breastfed for 10 months. The great part of it? It was free, and it made me actually take breaks at work so I could pump. Also, no period for 14 months after delivery (woo woo!)

I’ve got to admit at 10 months (when I dried up) I tried giving my daughter formula because cow’s milk is ‘strongly discouraged’ before they turn 1…. but she wouldn’t touch the stuff. I tasted 1 drop and understood why. It was super nasty to the tastebuds!! So although I gave my child the benefit of 10 months of breastmilk, I erased all of that by starting cow’s milk 2 months early. Start the harrassment now ladies :)

I respect all of you mothers, and I wish healthy lives to all of your children. To each her own!

SS October 6, 2010, 10:17 PM

I’m so tired of the bickering between these two groups. It’s nobody’s business if you nurse, use formula or a do combination of both. Of course formula companies are corrupt to some degree. Most major corporations are.

annonymous October 7, 2010, 1:50 AM

wow i should NEVER read the comments. and why are all you uneducated ppl who LOVE yucky formula even reading an article like this. So you can get up on your soap boxes in the comments? i do not understand, breastmilk is the very best thing you could ever feed your baby, there is a MASSIVE difference between formula and breastmilk. i feel sorry for your babies who you deprived of their right to breastmilk.

Ainsley October 7, 2010, 1:50 AM

The thing is that formula is inferior period! Your children may all appear to be fine but in adult life problems may creep in. I was formula fed and appear to be completely normal but I have recurring thyroid problems, which can be attributed to formula feeding. My partner who was formula fed appears to be healthy but has always had digestive trouble. Probably down to the fact that his gut never received all of the goodies from his mother’s milk. My children are all breastfed, healthy, happy, asthma, exzcema free!
Formula is suggested for underweight babies as it puts on unatural amounts of fat, not good either, setting them up for lives of obesity

milly October 7, 2010, 2:27 AM

Oh dear, the author was just stating the truth about formula companies, not attacking formula feeding parents, yet there are so many defensive responses, why?
I am also rather offended at this ‘nursing nazi’ stuff, its hideous. I breastfed my children, and never considered a bottle. Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing. The idea of putting a plastic bottle in a newborns mouth is heartbreaking. Yep, I had cracking, bleeding nipples, mastitis, thrush, blocked ducts, and my eldest was jaundiced and wouldn’t latch on for the first 5 days, not helped by the stress the hospital was putting on me, and pressuring me to give her a bottle.

I’m rather insulted at probably being labeled nursing nazi. It’s horrible.

Breastfeeding is normal and natural. What us wrong with stating the obvious? I think people really need to be netter educated and less insulting when it comes to this. Formula is always going to rate lower than breastfeeding,obviously, because its not the natural way. Get over it.

Moz October 7, 2010, 4:29 AM

Panic…someone mentioned formula…they must be referring to the fact I formula fed my baby and I must defend the fact I’m a good mother because secretly I feel guilty!!!…Build a bridge and get over it. Formula companies are evil corporations who DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR STUPID SPECIAL SNOWFLAKES: They care about MONEY. They would soon as stick rat poison in the formula milk and tell you it would make your kids poop smell nice, if it would make you buy more of it. Honestly; you people are so blinded by marketing. You have no concept of what goes into your products. Formula companies are not even required to tell you how they make their formula because it’s patented and other formula companies may steal it. They can do what they want. Which is why 100’s of babies died in China…why this has happened in the US and why it WILL happen again, next time it might be your kid that dies. Formula serves a very important purpose and until the governments see it for the fact that, unscrupulous, greedy formula companies will continue to put babies lives on the line to make sure they get that Porsche that they want and your kid lies in a coffin.

Alia, MD October 7, 2010, 5:18 AM

Thank you Cassandra for being the most logical person on here.

Let’s all take a moment and examine who and why this article was written. A clearly anti-formula blogger wrote this to create a stir - and everyone has played into it. She wanted to rally all the breast feeding nazis (not those of us who are just regular women who chose to breast feed)

Also, I think as mothers we really need to examine all these “studies” about breast milk vs. formula. These studies choose to leave out HUGE factors, such as women who breast feed tend to be from an higher income bracket and can afford better PRENATAL care and that’s why their babies tend to be healthier. These are women who can afford to stay home longer or in some cases permanently so their infant’s exposure to daycare germs are lessened, once again decreasing the illness factors. These women also can afford better post natl care and afford to maintain a healthier diet - all these factors are MAJOR contributors to the baby’s health - not just breast milk.

As a nurse turned doctor, I can assure you that difference between breast milk and formula is vitually none. Both provide nourishment for your child. If you feel your milk is superior, breast feed. If you feel more comfortable with formula - use that. It really doesn’t make a difference in the long run.

Free samples of formula don’t force women to use it any more than the nurses who try to force crying moms to breast feed make them want to breast feed. I think we need to stop seeing ourselves as these “helpless” victims.

That said, I do feel formula companies owe it to moms and babies to make certain their practices and formulas are of the highest quality.

Kara October 7, 2010, 5:22 AM

Ainsley reagrding this:My partner who was formula fed appears to be healthy but has always had digestive trouble

Pediatricians are now recommending SOME formula (even for those breastfeeding) because studies are showing that eariler exposure to other milk products (such as cow’s milk in formula) DECREASE digestive issues. It’s been ALL OVER the news recently. Just an FYI.

D October 7, 2010, 5:57 AM

Kara, could you please link me to one of the articles? I’ve tried Google but didn’t see anything.
That makes no sense to me. Cows milk protein is passed through breast milk anyway.

Kate October 7, 2010, 9:15 AM

It is TRUE that no matter how poor the diet of the mother is, breastmilk contains amazing nutrients, stem cells, antibodies and other super things that NOTHING else can compare to.
I have researched lactation and breastfeeding for many years and you CANNOT compare formula to it.

Leah D October 7, 2010, 11:56 AM

Everyone, go to the kitchen and pour yourself a nice glass of wine and relax! ALL of us moms love our babies, and whether we formula or breast feed we are all doing what we think is best. Happy, healthy moms will equal a happy healthy baby - so stop all the hate/anger and just do your own thing.

andrea October 7, 2010, 1:27 PM

women dont even understand the natural bond created with brestfeeding. i think the world is a horrible place when mothers dont bond with their babies. i use formula 1x a day to bost my 6 month old as he is only 11 lbs i went 24 hours a day holding him for the last 6 months since he was born and fight to keep my supply up because i understand he needs the bond to grow into a strong emotionally secure adult. that will never come from formula. for all the breastfeeders out there you rock! and the “extended” breastfeeding mothers are too cool, youre my idols :) formula should be RX only

Bethp October 7, 2010, 8:54 PM

It costs pharmaceutical companies 16 cents to produce a can of formula. And they sell if for?? The profits are ENORMOUS. They use inferior ingredients, and no can of powdered formula, I repeat NO CAN OF INFANT FORMULA is sterile, meaning it contains bacteria that could harm babies.

Formula is an option, and often the right choice, for many families. But it carries many more risks than breastmilk, and people who are choosing it for their infants should have all of the information, not just what the billion dollar marketing budgets of the formula companies tell them.

These are corporations, people. Not family-owned business with someone who is accountable. They are accountable to their share holders.

Jennifer October 8, 2010, 5:25 AM

“formula should be RX only”

That statement alone destroys your credibility.

Anonymous October 8, 2010, 1:24 PM

It is completely possible to

Anonymom October 8, 2010, 1:27 PM

“As a nurse turned doctor, I can assure you that difference between breast milk and formula is vitually none.”

Wow. So the difference between the biological norm for humans that contains antibodies and stem cells and that changes to meet the needs of the baby from day to day and a product based on another species’ milk with added calories, fats, and not-as-bioavailable vitamins that stays the same day to day, month to month is negligible? Really? Because that statement doesn’t even seem logical to me. And I don’t understand why it’s so terrible to say that one is the biological norm and one is not.

It’s a shame that facts are shot down in favor of untruths, willfully presented or just misunderstood. Formula has risks. If you’re comfortable with those risks, more power to you. If you need to use formula, then you can hold your baby close while bottle feeding so you both get oxytocin, and you can work to counteract the risks in other ways. But don’t spread lies and don’t believe the hype.

CClark  October 8, 2010, 1:36 PM

I’m not sure why people are taking this so personally! The article is not talking about formula users, rather the companies themselves! As consumers, we should be able to have a high quality product that we feed our children!

Nikki October 8, 2010, 1:37 PM

I don’t care if you take your kids to McDonalds for dinner. Mine gets a plate of chicken, broccoli, and rice. That’s how I view formula. It’s “food”. But is it as great as all you are making it out to be? I’m proud to breastfeed my - smart, healthy, never sick child - and I am a breastfed human being as well who is never sick. I’m thankful to my mom for breastfeeding me.

Robbin October 8, 2010, 1:43 PM

Bravo, Wendy!

Another excellent book on the subject, or partially on the subject (it covers a few other areas as well) is Nancy Scheper-Hughes biting ethnography called Death Without Weeping. It’s about life in a Brazilian shantytown, and there are at least two chapters detailing the use of formula and the startling infant mortality rates there. This is a topic that cannot possibly receive enough mainstream attention.

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