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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
Anonymous October 8, 2010, 1:45 PM

it saddens me how so many women who choose not to breastfeed feel offended by the mere mention that breastfeeding is proven better in every way to formula. Why do they comment calling every mom who knows how wonderful benefits of breast milk nursing Nazis. I don’t call women who think formula is some how better than what god created formula Nazis.

TheFeministBreeder October 8, 2010, 2:05 PM

Yes. All of us who grew up on formula are SOOO healthy. That’s why we’re dying from cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc. You know… because we’re SOOOOOO healthy. Starting us out on a processed-food diet certainly has nothing to do with our sky-high healthcare rates, and our dismal results for the money we spend.

Yeah. Formula fed and fine. Let’s see how long we can keep that lie going.

Keri October 8, 2010, 2:17 PM

Seems like some readers need get a little more educated. As a dietitian and a lactation consultant breastmilk is far superior than any other substitute. Our NICU is working on eliminating formula and offering breastmilk or donor breastmilk for all our NICU babies. This is documented that it will decrease death rates and infection rates caused by formula. Increasing breastfeeding rates would save lives. Seek the CDC for specifics as well as millions of $ in healthcare costs! You can eat normal and still have all the health benefits in your breastmilk. Formula babies can be happy and healthy. But formula can have very different short term and long term negative effects that every parent needs to be aware of!

Saga October 8, 2010, 2:29 PM

I agree - I think it is obscene to even try to compare breast milk and formula! It’s like comparing a salad of fresh, organic vegetables with a vitamin pill and some sugar. It just doesn’t work, they can’t be compared.

And formula companies definitely need to learn their place. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon with the current climate of parenting where anything natural, emphatic and normal will be written off as craziness and hippi-ish, and anything that comes in a plastic box is ok and parents shouldn’t be “made to” feel guilty.

Pray tell me, the many of you who took this article personally, how is calling a formula company irresponsible critizing mothers?

wildhoney October 8, 2010, 3:06 PM

Thank you, Dr. Wendy, for telling it like it is. I largely formula fed my first due to my milk drying up when I unexpectedly became pregnant at 3 mo postpartum, but that does not mean I am or was under any illusion that is an equally good way to feed a baby as breastfeeding, or even close.

Carolyn Pujo October 8, 2010, 4:02 PM

Why is it so offensive to state a fact? Formula can never be as good as breastmilk…that is a fact. This is true even if the mom has poor nutrition. Formula is not even close. If you believe that formula is the same as breastmilk, well, the formula companies have succeeded.

dcardona October 8, 2010, 4:34 PM

I liked this article quite a bit. Dissenters, please read the following article about formula ingredients:

BTW, my daughter was formula fed from the time I dried up at 7 months after returning to work full time until her first birthday when I switched to cow’s milk.

Finally, I would like to reiterate that there is a place for formula - but that we should demand a formula product with better quality and honest advertising - and which doesn’t seek to become a so-called “convenient” breast milk replacement for the majority of mothers who are able to breastfeed yet come across almost insurmountable social obstacles to continue (as I did). Women are only superficially supported in attempts to breastfeed/pump.

Alex October 8, 2010, 4:35 PM

It is frightening how many people are content to bury their head in the sand. Every mother is free to feed her child whatever way she chooses. However, she is entitled to be informed about her choice. Formula has never been and will never be even remotely close to breast milk. My mother formula fed me and I am completely healthy. But I know people who drive a car without wearing a seat belt and they have never been hurt. Does that mean we should forego seatbelts? Feeding your baby formula increases the risk of a HOST of chronic diseases and illnesses. Wake up people. It’s not a guarantee, it’s an increased risk. We’re not saying don’t formula feed- we’re just saying DON’T PRETEND that it’s as good, or even remotely close to breast milk. These are the facts, they are not a judgment. If you saw a mom smoking around her baby, wouldn’t you tell her the risks? We don’t do the same for women who formula feed. You’re buying the formula companies lies. They are putting the health of your baby last and their profit margin first. Would you rather live in ignorance or know the facts? If you feed your baby formula because you think it’s similar to breast milk, you are in no way a bad mother. But you are an ignorant one.

HM October 8, 2010, 5:22 PM

Don’t attack this article because you feel bad for not breastfeeding. Breast milk is better than formula PERIOD. No one can make that argument. Choosing to formula feed is choosing to give your child sub par nutrition. That’s all there is to it.

Ingrid October 8, 2010, 6:21 PM

The whole argument of “I was formula fed, my daughter was formula fed, we’re just fine, thanks” reminds me of my own mother saying “I’ve smoked for 30 years, and I’m just fine, thanks…” that is… until she died of lung cancer a few years later. Whatever.

Go ahead ladies, ignore piles and piles of research studies that show formula is highly inferior to breast milk. It’s the same prideful, self serving and highly ignorant thing that many smokers do to the piles and piles of studies that show smoking is not good for you either. They have a term for this and it’s called, being in denial.

Here’s the thing - your “perfectly fine” daughter can still develop a disease later in life related to her not being breastfed. AND - you will never know whether that diseases later in life might have been prevented by breastfeeding her. And you’re the one who has to live with that.

There has never been a study done that has concluded formula is *as* healthy as breast milk for a developing baby. Sorry, not a one.

Some women can’t breastfeed, some women adopt, some women choose not to for very personal and legitimate reasons. It IS a choice. And it’s good we at least have an option like formula for those cases.

But just don’t choose not to breastfeed because you’re ignorant or in denial of how incredibly unhealthy formula is. Have a good reason. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s “just fine”… because it’s not. Read up on it. Do your research. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of studies about this.

Nicole October 8, 2010, 7:19 PM

And some very VERY amazing women choose to induce lactation to breastfeed their adopted babies rather than give them formula.

Amy October 8, 2010, 7:21 PM

Ugh. I went to see my OB for my first prenatal visit a few weeks ago and received a “nutrition gift” for what purported to be “breastfeeding and supplementing moms.” Inside it were samples of Enfamil infant formula, coupons for formula, vitamin D drops, and informational pamphlets. This “gift” is a clear example of how formula companies are working to torpedo the efforts of women who intend to breastfeed by sending the subtle message that breastmilk alone will not be sufficient. I’ve known many new moms who, in those early postpartum days have doubts about their supply and start supplementing—and then they’re never able to establish a sufficient supply. After a few weeks, or maybe a couple months, they give up breastfeeding and feeling like failures for not having met their breastfeeding goals. THIS is what infuriates me about the practices of formula companies. You want to, or for whatever reason need to, feed your baby formula, fine—there are legitimate reasons for this choice, and you shouldn’t be criticized for doing so. But you want to breastfeed, and you try to breastfeed, but fall back on formula because you have been given formula samples and misleading information about how it will “help”? Formula companies are preying on the insecurities of new mothers and are helping set them up to fail, period.

Jessica October 8, 2010, 7:54 PM

Wow.Formula feeding never once entered my mind. I know it is necessary in many cases but it just wasn’t something I ever considered. I figure God (or nature, however you look at it) made human beings mammals with the ability to nourish our young and that’s what he would want me to do. Simple as that. If we weren’t meant to breastfeed, why would we be mammals? I have done a lot of reading on the subject, but that by no means makes me an expert. I firmly believe that all pregnant women should take a course on breastfeeding in order to make an INFORMED decision before the birth of their child. It is quite obvious to me that many of the formula feeding women making angry posts here do not know the facts about breastmilk or formula. Whether this is from intentional ignorance or guilt or just plain not caring doesn’t matter. SCIENCE and RESEARCH show the facts. If you don’t know the facts you shouldn’t be going around bashing breastfeeding mothers for stating the TRUTH. At the same time, breastfeeding mothers don’t need to be going around bashing other mother’s for formula feeding. It is their own business and doesn’t make them worse moms than a breastfeeding mom. That’s silly. I was bottle fed and I don’t think there is anything wrong with my mom.
Formula companies DO need to be held to the highest possible standards, and obviously they are not being held to those. And by the way, as a breastfeeding mother I was not given any samples or other formula information in my hospital. Before giving birth I filled out a form they gave me saying I had chosen to breastfeed and did not want any staff at the hospital to offer a pacifier or bottle to my infant that could interfer with breastfeeding so it wasn’t by any means pushed on me in the hospital.

Sara October 8, 2010, 10:21 PM

I was warned by someone not to read the comments…. I fell into the trap. :)

Breastmilk is always better for a baby. Always. Even premature babies can have breastmilk - it just sometimes has to be pumped because the babies have a hard time doing the nursing thing. But it’s possible. For women who adopt - guess what? There are breastmilk BANKS where women who have been cleared by their drs and their kids’ pediatricians have donated breastmilk for mothers who can’t physically give it to their babies.

As far as formula being nutritionally equal to breastmilk… WRONG. I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite because I have had to supplement, but that’s as far as I go with formula. If I am home, my son gets my milk, and that’s it. Babies leech what they need from your bodies prenatally and before they wean. If you don’t get enough calcium, that’s on you, because your child will take it through your breastmilk. Yes, it’s important that nursing mothers eat wholesome foods, but babies will take what they need.

And it is absolutely NOT fair for these formula companies to do what they’re doing… formula needs to be marketed as a necessity, not a convenience. It’s not fair to the mothers, and it’s not fair to the children. Besides, breastfeeding can greatly reduce mother and baby’s risk of breast cancer. There’s another big up. So… before you back something up, do a lot more thinking about it because you’re making yourselves look quite ignorant.

Natural Mama NZ October 8, 2010, 11:15 PM

Oh wow! It is so disheartening reading the comments from defensive formula feeders! We are talking about FACTS, if you want to remain ignorant, well that’s up to you, but don’t you think your child would want you to investigate what is the best nutrition for him/her?

Breastmilk contains immunological properties, that can not be mimicked. Infants that are breastfed for atleast 6 months have a 47% lower rate of gastrointestinal disease, 34% lower rate of respiratory illness, 56% lower rate of ear infections. Breastfeeding also protects against childhood cancers, insulin dependent diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, and allergies, to name a few.

Is that alone not worth it? There are so many other benefits, just go ahead and research it!

Someone asked why ‘pro breastfeeders’ bother trying to convince other mothers to breastfeed. It’s because we have educated ourselves on the facts, and knowing how immensely breastmilk outweighs formula, it’s just frustrating that babies are missing out, because mothers are not educated on the facts, or supported by their family or community. We bother because we care about infants wellbeing.

Natural Mama NZ

Jessca October 9, 2010, 6:41 AM

Wow. I didn’t see anything in here that was bashing formula feeding moms. Formula feeding mothers: please, there is no need to get defensive. This blogger is targeting the big companies to help instate better practices in making formula better for OUR precious little ones. We formula feeders should be the first on the bandwagon promoting change. Please lets use real information to educate ourselves instead of believing the ads we see in magazines SELLING this product.

My first child was formula fed, and my second is breastfed. I don’t think formula is poisonous, but have any one of you seen the ingredient list on the back of the formula can, or are you just going blindly by what the formula ads tell you. As a small example, the B12 vitamin included is the cheapest thing available and connected to a cyanide molecule. Are you also going to be feeding your child Gerber toddler meals based solely on what they advertise it to be, or are you going to actually look on label and see that it contains more sodium than a medium order of french fries at McDonald’s. Same type of thing.

No, formula isn’t the main cause of obesity and disease, but it’s certainly not a natural food. It’s starting kids off as babies eating processed food touted to be nutritional, but actually isn’t. Big food companies do not care about our babies and children. They care about the bottom dollar.

And a mother’s breast milk will be the same (except one or two types of vitamins) in women who eat healthily and those who don’t because the vitamins and minerals are taken from the mothers supply making the baby the priority. Still superior to formula.

Anonymous October 9, 2010, 9:21 AM

ok so lets say formula and breastmilk are nutritionally equal (which they arent, as has been discussed)
would you rather give your baby something which costs 1000 dollars and is produced in factories that don’t have to be controlled independantly to check everything is ok with the product and the production of which takes up valuable resources, polluting our planet before during and after it has been made? (cows need a lot of food and livestock is the biggest factor for co2 emissions, the production chain uses lots of energy transporting, manufacturing and packaging which then ends up in landfill)
or something that has come no further than your breast and you know exactly what has gone in your body to produce it. theres no carbon footprint either. and it doesnt cost a cent.

besides, you dont have to sterilize, wash, pack bags with enough of the stuff to go and waste half down the drain when it doesnt get drunk….

hmmmm…. which oe would you choose???

Carolyn October 9, 2010, 4:28 PM

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

Alia, can you back this up?

And please tell me that you don’t tell this to your patients.

Natural Mama NZ October 10, 2010, 1:06 AM

I can not believe a ‘nurse turned doctor’ would be so irresponsible to say ‘there is virtually non difference between breastmilk and formula’! Either you are lying (you aren’t a doctor), or you aren’t trained on breastmilk in comparison to formula.

Calling yourself a Dr does not impress me in the slightest, doctors get trained so little in vital preventative measures such as nutrition and breastfeeding, it’s not surprising you know so little on the subject.

If you were to call yourself a lactation consultant, now there’s some credentials of someone who should be making statements here.

Natural Mama NZ

memaw October 10, 2010, 8:11 PM

My father has been smoking a pack a day for 40 years and drank himself into oblivion for 20 and he’s still alive and kicking- he’s a testament to the benefits of substance abuse… I think its time we get our kids smoking and drinking too so they can be healthy like my Dad

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