Monday, July 5, 2010

Selling Coke and Artificial Milk

I've finished with the feature film section of the Australian Screen website. Now I'm on documentaries. I watched some clips from a 1996 documentary called Advertising Missionaries. It's about advertising western products to remote communities in Papa New Guinea.

In this clip, some performers do a live advertisement for Coke. It's disturbing. It's sad to see an unhealthy product being pushed on people, and it's also sad to see the enthusiasm of the audience.

I'll admit it. I love soda. I drink too much of it. I've given it up at times, but have since given up on giving it up. I figure it's bad, but not as bad as other bad habits. HappyOrganist would probably disagree with me.

I understand that companies need to make money. And since a lot of people already LIKE soda, I don't think it's awful to push the idea that your company's soda is the most awesome. But I think it's wrong to introduce knowingly unhealthy products to people who aren't yet users.

The video clip reminded me of the infant formula issue. Despite what nature purists believe, sometimes breastfeeding does not work. The baby can't latch on correctly or the mother doesn't produce an adequate amount of milk. Without infant formula, these babies would most likely die. So infant formula is a life saver. It's something to be thankful for....to a point.

The thing is it's gone too far. We've been brainwashed by infant formula companies.

When I was pregnant with Jack, a coworker gave me some canisters of infant formula. She told me she had problems breastfeeding. I guess she figured I'd likely encounter the same. It was very generous of her. Maybe one day, someone will hand me a hearing aid. Hey, I lost my hearing. It might happen to you too, so here you go. Or maybe I'll get free glasses or a free wheelchair.
At the hospital, I was given a cute little diaper bag that contained free samples of formula. From what I remember, that diaper bag also contained breastfeeding information. So, I wasn't supposed to complain. These formula companies are pro-breastfeeding. Why else would they provide breastfeeding information? Yeah. Right. The message of those diaper bags: Breast is best, but since you might not be able to do it....here's something to help you along.

I'm not against free stuff or donations. But if the formula companies want to be generous, why not give the freebies to mothers who already KNOW they can't breastfeed. Why give it to mothers who are just starting out? Why give mothers the message that they're likely to fail?

The thing is breast milk works on supply and demand. The more the baby sucks, the more the milk is produced.

My belief is that SOME moms who think they are milk-handicapped were simply tricked into believing that by well-meaning (yet ignorant) medical staff.

Here's how things can go wrong. First, you give the mother the message that she might not be able to produce milk. Friends may tell her of their own failure. The obstetrician and/or pediatrician might make little comments. Then someone might tell the mother she should put the infant immediately on a schedule. Feed it every 3-4 hours.

After the birth, the baby is taken away to the nursery. The mom needs her rest! This might be the last chance she gets to sleep. The baby is brought back at 3-4 hour intervals, and the mother tries to breastfeed. With this amount of feedings, the boobs get the idea that not much milk is needed. They produce less. The baby gets less. The doctor gets worried. He tells the mother she needs to supplement. She can still breastfeed, but she also needs to use formula. Because the baby is using formula, she breastfeeds less and less. Less and less milk is produced.

I can't say for certain. Each case is different. But my guess is that most mothers like this WOULD produce enough milk if, from the beginning, they breastfed on demand. This might mean you're sticking a baby on your breast more frequently than every hour.

I breastfed on demand. I had read that SOME babies will feed every two hours. It seemed like this would be the frightening maximum. It turned out I was lucky if I could get Jack to go two hours between feedings. That kid wanted to breastfeed almost all the time. He was boob addicted. In turn, my boobs did a great job at producing. Although let me note that when I pumped, barely anything came out. So for moms who believe they don't have enough because the pump tells them so. The pump lies...sometimes. Jack was a chubby infant, so I know enough milk was getting into his body.

What I'm thinking is that lack of milk is probably NOT usually the fault of the mother's body. It's probably the fault of misinformation being provided....and it's sometimes the fault of the baby. I mean not that we should point our fingers at cute little innocent infants. But some babies are NOT like Jack. They're lazy when it comes to eating. They might not be interested. They might not latch on to the nipple correctly. Whatever the reason....they don't eat often enough, and the production of milk slows down.

Now all this is not too awful when it takes place in industrialized nations like America and Australia. Despite what the boob fanatics tell us, using infant formula is not the worst thing you can do to your child. They'll probably end up being fine. Hey, I wasn't given an ounce of breast milk. Look how wonderful and brilliant I am.

There's a lot of questions and controversy over the benefits of breastfeeding. Studies show breastfed babies are healthier and smarter. But some say, it's correlations without causation. They say maybe mothers who have the genes to produce smarter and healthier children also happen to be ones who breastfeed.

Let's say for arguments sake that breastfeeding is no healthier than formula-feeding. You still have the matter of cost. Infant formula costs money. For middle and upper-class families, this isn't a huge deal. But what if you're short on cash? Some families have this problem. And some of them end up doing a little trick. They dilute the formula with more water so it lasts longer. This is NOT a safe practice. It can lead to major malnutrition.

What if you live in a place where clean water isn't readily available? Is it okay for a company to come in and convince you to use formula?

Now it might be option for mothers who truly don't have enough milk. I don't know. Maybe charities manage to somehow get them the sterile water needed. But what about mothers who WOULD have had enough milk if someone had given them the right information and advice? These mothers could feed their babies for free for the first six months. They'd need to supplement with other foods after that time, but they'd have the free breast milk for the child's early years. In communities where nutritious food isn't guaranteed, that would be a huge gift.

Yes. I did say years...not months. Humans are meant to breastfeed for 2-7 years. Much of society believes it's absolutely wrong to breastfeed beyond a year. Why? How did that idea come about? I might have read the answer to that question at some point. I used to do a lot of reading on breastfeeding. But I forget. My theory (and it might come from something I've forgotten I read  and not just my own brilliant formula-fed brain) is that formula is expensive. It's cheaper to buy regular factory-farmed cow milk. So as soon as it was relatively safe, families would switch over. An idea was formed that babies should be weaned by the time they are a year-old. This became what's normal. Breastfeeding beyond that became creepy.

The funny thing is that some of the top American formula companies now sell special formula for toddlers. So is this saying that some parts of society are now getting the idea that toddlers benefit from drinking something more nutritionally specific to their needs than plain cow's milk?

Breastfeeding is not for everyone. There ARE mom/baby pairs who have medical issues that prevent it from easily working out. For some mom's, breastfeeding is too painful and/or exhausting. For other's it's too weird and embarrassing. Not breastfeeding doesn't make someone a bad parent. And if the family has money and good resources, formula-use will probably work out fine. What I want though is for mothers and medical professionals to be better informed. I want people to not breastfeed because they don't want to (or they truly are medically incapable) and not because they've been given the misinformed idea that they can't. I want mothers to wean early because they're damn sick of breastfeeding, and not because they feel it's wrong to continue.

Now I'm going to jump down from my soapbox, and grab me a sip of soda.