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Catherine Connors

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Catherine is a mother, writer, recovering academic, the author of Her Bad Mother, and Editor in Chief of Disney Interactive Family.

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Shame And The Mom: On Formula, Lactivism And Why, It Seems, We Can’t Just All Get Along

By Catherine Connors |

I breastfed both of my children. I breastfed Emilia on park benches and in restaurants and in libraries and on airplanes. I breastfed Jasper in front of a crowd at BlogHer ’08 – while I was speaking – when he was eight weeks old. I breastfed Jasper by Guy Kawasaki’s swimming pool, while sobbing and wiping baby shit from my pants. I breastfed another woman’s child. I wrote many thousands of words about breastfeeding. I launched, with a good friend, a campaign against Facebook for removing photos of women breastfeeding, and then, from that, an entire site (now, sadly, defunct) devoted to mom-activism and defense of mothers against nonsense like Facebook’s hypocritical policies on breastfeeding photos, whereon we posted a breastfeeding manifesto, and hosted – don’t laugh – a Breast Fest. I considered myself a breastfeeding activist. I still consider myself a breastfeeding activist.

But some would argue that I’m not a breastfeeding activist. I am, according to certain arguments, a bad breastfeeding citizen, perhaps even an enemy of the breastfeeding cause. In this view, all of the work that I’ve done to support the nursing cause amounts to zip, diddly and squat, because I work for a media property – this one, the one that you’re reading right now – that accepts advertising from formula companies. The money that I earn is, on this view, “blood money,” because it comes from a company that accepts such advertising. Formula advertising is, after all, indisputably evil, because formula itself is evil. So. You can’t, according the parameters of these arguments, be a breastfeeding activist if you’re not against formula, never mind accepting blood money – blood money, you guys – from companies that aren’t opposed to formula. You’re probably evil if you do this. I’m evil. I should probably just accept this.

Because herein resides the problem: I’m not against formula advertising. I’m just not. I’m against bad formula advertising: I’m against misleading formula advertising, and formula advertising that actively and explicitly undermines breastfeeding, and I’m against formula advertising to vulnerable communities. But I disagree with the hard line of many breastfeeding activists that any and all formula advertising is by definition – because it is the advertising of formula, full stop – bad. I disagree with the position that any and all advertising of formula is uniquely deceptive and sinister; I disagree with the claim that the very existence of formula advertising meaningfully undermines breastfeeding. Yes, I know that the World Health Organization recommends against the advertising of formula. But the WHO recommendations were developed primarily to address real problems with the marketing of formula to vulnerable communities – problems that are being widely addressed by most formula companies. Mothers in the North America are not, by and large, a vulnerable community. And the choice to formula feed, freely made, is not an terrible one, nor is any mom who cannot for any reason breastfeed and is therefore compelled to formula feed harming her child. And so I’m discomfited – disturbed, even, to say nothing of insulted – by the claim that my disinclination to disavow formula advertising in its entirety nullifies or even diminishes any claim that I might have to being a good citizen in the community of mothers.

Because here’s the thing: advertising is part of our cultural discourse. Advertising provides consumer information. As a consumer, I rely to some extent on advertising to keep me aware of the variety of choices that I have in a variety of markets. I know what variety of strollers are on the market because of advertising. I know the specs on GM’s latest Chevy vehicle because of advertising. I know when Old Navy is having a sale because of advertising. I know which brand of beer has that chill measurement thingy on its can because of advertising. I know what allergy medications are on the market, what birth control pills are out there, and that there exists treatment for erectile dysfunction because of advertising. I know what political platforms are being put forward by candidates for office, when the latest X-Men movie is coming out, when the new season of The Walking Dead premieres and whether ballerina flats are still in style because of advertising. I live in a culture in which a pretty large share of social discourse is informed, and sometimes even driven, by promotional narratives. Which is why debates about censoring certain forms of advertising always provoke intense debate: advertising, or commercial speech, is understood, rightly, as a part of public discourse and a domain of speech that should, barring a very few extreme exceptions (tobacco, firearms) and given certain codes of reasonable and acceptable conduct, remain free.

So. The censorship element of the ‘no formula advertising ever’ argument rankles me as liberal (and, I should add, as a former political scientist. You have no idea the self-control that has been required to not veer off, here, into dissertations on John Stuart Mill and the fallibility of UN organizations.) But as a woman and as a mother, it insults me. The push for a complete ban on formula advertising rests upon the assumption that mothers are not capable of understanding formula advertising as advertising – it assumes that they will be confused by it, those poor, silly mothers, and mistake it for unbiased, non-commercial speech – and that they are therefore vulnerable to being ‘duped’ by formula advertisers in a way that they are not from, say, Budweiser or McDonalds or General Electric. I’m a grown-up, you guys. I know what commercial speech is. I am capable of parsing information from advertisers. I am not stupid. I can make up my own mind.

But here’s the further problem: those who see all formula advertising as inherently evil see it as such not just because they think that I am, as a mother, uniquely vulnerable to the advertising message, but because they see the product itself as dangerous and so want to limit my exposure to any messaging that reminds me that I have a choice about whether or not to use that product. Using formula, in this view, is dangerous: it’s on a par with smoking cigarettes and using firearms. They believe that the choice to use formula is problematic enough that women should be prevented from seeing images or text that suggest that it is anything other than fully ill-advised – or, at best, a desperate last resort for unfortunate mothers who – regrettably, lamentably, pitiably, shamefully – cannot manage to provide their babies with the life-preserving sustenance that they so deserve. This is insulting for all of the reasons that I cited above, but it’s also disturbing because it shames any and all mothers who, by choice or otherwise, use formula. The message at the core of the ‘ban all formula advertising’ platform is simple: formula is bad. You should not use it. You should not even think about using it. You should not look at words or images that in any way suggest that you are not a terrible mother if you choose it. Giving your baby formula is akin to sticking a cigarette in her mouth. If you use formula, you are a bad, bad mother.

This is nonsense. This is pernicious nonsense that is harmful to mothers, inasmuch as it undermines mothers’ powers of self-determination and calls into question their ability to make the best choices for themselves. It is harmful, because it shames mothers. It shames working mothers who have to bottle feed because they can’t be with their babies all day and it shames mothers who are unable to breastfeed and it shames mothers who truncate their breastfeeding relationship with their babies for the sake of their mental health. It shames any mother who has paused and wondered, even for a moment, whether things wouldn’t be easier for her, whether she mightn’t be better able to cope, whether she mightn’t be happier (because isn’t a happy mom best for baby?) if, maybe, just maybe, she didn’t breastfeed. It shames any mother who regards the method by which she nourishes her babies as her personal choice. It shames me, a woman who struggled with her choices, but who regards the fact that she had those choices – unlike other moms, in other places – as a privilege beyond measure.

Shame drives us to silence. Shame drives us apart.

Shame disempowers us, as individuals and as a community. Shame closes off the possibility of civil, productive discussion about the ways and means by which we promote not only breastfeeding, but the art and craft and work and community of motherhood generally. At Babble, we’ve been working on a plan to involve members of the community in an ongoing discussion about what Babble can do to promote breastfeeding and a culture of discourse in which all maternal choices are respected. But there are members of the community who refuse to even consider being part of that discussion unless we ban formula advertising entirely. And because we won’t ban formula advertising – not because of money, but because we believe – I believe; I cannot stress enough how hard I believe this – that the demand to ban formula advertising is problematic on too many levels, a full and inclusive discussion is not possible.

This is a shame, because there are tremendously important conversations to be had about how we reconcile the seeming solitudes of breastfeeding advocacy and choice advocacy. There are important conversations to be had about what a ethical culture of formula advertising should look like, given that there is, as WHO itself acknowledges, a legitimate market for formula. There are important conversations to be had about whether a mom who uses formula can be a breastfeeding advocate, and about whether a breastfeeding advocate can allow space for discourse about formula that does not demonize it. There are important conversations to be had about respecting each others’ choices as mothersmeaningfully respecting these choices, and not just paying lip service to them.

We’ve fought hard for these choices. We’ve fought hard to have public conversations about these choices and how we live them. Let’s not lose this ground.

Thanks all – yes, all – for the fascinating conversation. I’m closing comments now, because I simply don’t have the bandwidth to continue to participate in the discussion. We’ll continue to draw from the input and feedback in the discussion as we move forward, and believe me when I say that we appreciate everyone’s engagement here.

Update: a note from Rufus Griscom, Babble’s CEO:

Thank you, Catherine, for your wise, level-headed post and series of comments. There are many other great points made in the comment section… it’s an interesting conversation. It’s always been our objective here at Babble to encourage lively discourse on all things parenting, so it’s gratifying to see full-throated discussion of an important topic.
One broader comment: We at Babble have always welcomed feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, both from our users and experts in the marketplace. Most parenting sites do not engage in these conversations; we make it a policy to operate transparently and share our thinking with the community. Though we do not see eye to eye with the more extreme lactivists — I think Catherine articulates our position extremely well above — we are responsive to rational and constructive input.
Last year, following a discussion on the subject, we made it a policy to make sure formula ads don’t appear next to breastfeeding content. That policy has been in place for almost a year now. Someone noted in comments that if you search for breastfeeding, you sometimes see formula ads next to the search results. That’s a great point that had not occurred to us — unfortunately we cannot control what ads appear next to specific search results. However, we can exclude ad campaigns from all search results, and we made a decision last week to change the settings to make sure that formula ads, going forward, do not appear next to any search results.
We have reached out to lactivists, among other thought leaders, to be part of a panel to help guide the expansion and revision of our breastfeeding content. Many of the lactivists in this conversation have taken the position that they don’t want to participate in a conversation with us because, like all family-related websites over a certain size, we run formula advertising. That is disappointing, but we will continue to engage other breastfeeding advocates, pediatricians, and of course our wonderful and outspoken users, in our continuing effort to make Babble as good as it can be. Thanks for reading and posting.
– Rufus, Babble ceo

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About Catherine Connors


Catherine Connors

Catherine is a mother, writer, recovering academic, the author of Her Bad Mother, and Editor in Chief of Disney Interactive Family. Read bio and latest posts → Read Catherine's latest posts →

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192 thoughts on “Shame And The Mom: On Formula, Lactivism And Why, It Seems, We Can’t Just All Get Along

  1. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:


    I would never question whether you are a breastfeeding advocate. I know that you are. I think that there is room for us to disagree on the mechanics of the best way to support breastfeeding without that meaning that I (or anyone else who disagrees) believes that you are not a breastfeeding advocate.

    I disagree, for example, that mothers in North America are, by and large, not a vulnerable community. Have you looked at the breastfeeding rates in much of the United States? Especially among mothers of colour? Since mothers in the United States often don’t have access to maternity leave or affordable health care, they have extra breastfeeding hurdles thrown in their face.

    You say: “I’m against bad formula advertising; I’m against formula advertising that actively and explicitly undermines breastfeeding.” If you are okay with formula companies offering breastfeeding support, then we obviously have a very different definition of what it means to undermine breastfeeding. The Similac ads on this site definitely fall into the category of “bad formula advertising” for me, as do other ones I’ve seen on Google that offer “Breastfeeding Help: Need some professional advice for your baby”, with a generic sounding URL, which then magically turns into the Similac Welcome Club when you click on it.

    I’m not against information about formula. I think that information should come from unbiased third parties like health care professionals. If formula companies had proven that they could act responsibly, then perhaps I would have a different view on this and perhaps I would agree that an outright ban on formula advertising is going too far. However, the formula companies continue to take every opportunity that they can to deceptively and pervasively market their products to breastfeeding mothers.

    You are right that the WHO does recognize that there is a legitimate place for formula. Yet it is also the WHO that recommends no formula advertising. So I fail to understand your argument that “The message at the core of the ‘ban all formula advertising’ platform is simple: formula is bad.” I think that is simplistic, demeaning, and divisive.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      See, I don’t see how you can praise someone for refusing to accept ‘blood money’ from a program run by company that accepts formula advertising (even – especially – when that program was entirely underwritten by Energizer) and not condemn me for accepting such ‘blood money’ as an employee of that company. Blood money is blood money, no? You condemned everyone – especially every woman, and mother – who works at Babble.

      On vulnerable communities: it’s not breastfeeding rates that make a community vulnerable. Lesotho, for example, has high breastfeeding rates, but is a vulnerable community because of poverty, illiteracy and lack of access to good prenatal care. These things exist in North America, yes – but at far, far lower rates. Mothers as a community, here, are not vulnerable. NOT breastfeeding does not make them vulnerable – to suggest that it does is to further promote the suggestion that not breastfeeding is inherently bad.

      On bad formula advertising: how is a formula company promoting breastfeeding or offering breastfeeding support (if you call that number, you get a lactation consultant. They offer good advice. I’ve called it) undermining breastfeeding. They are promoting breastfeeding. They’re very, very explicit about promoting breastfeeding. So how does promoting breastfeeding undermine breastfeeding? Because it’s a formula company doing it? You’ve said before that it’s deceptive, but this is where I see things sliding into distressingly insulting territory – the formula company isn’t pretending to not be a formula company. It’s not publishing or circulating misleading information about formula. It’s just THERE, and that seems to be what you’re against, and the only reasons one ever opposes advertising is because 1) they believe that the target audience doesn’t have sufficient reason to recognize it as advertising (hence calls to ban fast advertising aimed at children), and/or 2) they believe that the product is so inherently harmful that it should be kept from public view. So. Which is it?

      End of the day, the issue here is that a deep line was drawn in the sand: Emma refused to even engage in conversation with us (and shut down a wonderful, pro-breastfeeding discussion on the Mominations page) – conversation that we wanted to have to get feedback, to talk about finding common ground, to talk about how we could use the Babble platform to promote breastfeeding in the biggest possible way – unless we banned formula ads wholesale. And you praised for that decision, said that it was the right one, and basically made an argument that stated pretty explicitly that you agreed that unless Babble took your line that it was unworthy of engaging in discussion. And then you took it to Twitter, to rile people up and get them angry at Babble. Babble is me, Annie. Babble is Alisa, who is a breastfeeding mom and a passionate breastfeeding advocate. Babble is Rufus, the father of three breastfed boys and a breastfeeding advocate. Babble is Mira and Jack and a bunch of other caring, passionate people who want to do the right thing, and who have ideas about what constitutes the right thing, and you demonized us all in one fell swoop.

  2. Dee Brun says:

    No woman should ever feel SHAME for making a CHOICE on what, how or where to feed her child…
    So many women in this world have no CHOICE on what to feed their babies, because they have NOTHING…

    As people squabble over good, bad or other…advertising…babies die by the thousands of hunger…

    To be frank I think this whole thing is a pile of Horse Shit…

    The FIGHT should simply be…to ensure that every man, women and child on the planet…has SOMETHING to eat…even those pesky advertisers….


  3. Karen Bayne says:

    Thank you, Catherine. I think we need a more nuanced view than the ones we all very commonly take up. The divide in the birth & babies world is too great. It leaves families stranded looking to navigate. You know that I am a birth doula and childbirth educator. I promote and teach breastfeeding. I believe in it. When my middle son was more with a medical condition that required the use of formula, it shattered me – because I was worried for his health, but also because I worried about the solution. I was also sad about the breastfeeding – about weaning, really. It changed my world – being on the receiving end of they type of judgements that moms get when they have a baby with a bottle full of formula (oh, my kid also got juice out of a bottle and solids at 4 months, so I was committing many breastfeeding crimes). It made me weep because I already felt bad enough. I wanted to feel good, but I felt bad. I knew I was doing the best thing for my kid – and it hurt. The extra layer of judgement just hurt all the more. I truly hope before I had my Henry that I never said or did anything to make a mom who chose formula to feel badly about her choice. I don’t know if that is true. What happened to me changed me – in the very best of ways – I became more knowledgeable as a doula and educator, I became more compassionate, and I became more of a mother-advocate than a breastfeeding advocate. I am very comfortable now with my stance. Others in my field may take exception to my view, but I will never go back. Thanks for speaking out.

  4. Mrs. Wilson says:

    I agree. Completely. I see formula advertising as an if-I-need-to-use-it sort of thing. And, therefore, if I don’t need it, if breastfeeding is possible and going well, I will not need to use it. Many ads I’ve seen say something like, “Breast is best, but this is second-best”. I haven’t seen the ads on this site (or I haven’t paid attention to them), but I would not have any sort of problem with them. The shame. I am so sick of the shame. The shame given to a mother by someone who is not the mother of that mother’s child. Formula is not evil. Mothers who give formula are not evil. Mothers who choose mental/physical health over breastfeeding are mothers who have had to make a very hard decision (one I may have to make, so I therefore have even more respect for such mothers).

    Thank you for writing this.

  5. pgoodness says:

    Simply, I call malarkey.
    I’m all for breastfeeding, I think it’s great. Did it work out for me? No. So of course I used formula…because it was best for US. I wouldn’t call anything that kept my kids alive “evil”. Come on.

    I think it’s absurd to think that you should be called out for getting paid for a JOB because one of the advertisers happens to sell formula. Where are these same “morals” when it comes to freaking out about advertising soda or lunchmeat or batteries or whatever other product is out there that could be considered BAD? Is there this same kind of uprising when it comes to products like Ensure or Pediasure or vitamins? These are things that provide nutrients, why are they immune?

    I think the work you’ve done for the breastfeeding “cause” has been fabulous. I can’t truly wrap my head around negating that because you write for a site that has ads for formula. Seriously. You’re not selling it, you’re not promoting it (although, who cares if you did?!), you’re doing a job.

    Although, I suppose if those who are so troubled by you being paid because of the ads on a site are willing to supplement your income instead, that’d be another story. :)

  6. thepsychobabble says:

    Thank you. It is nice to see a breast feeding activist who DOESN’T condemn the use of formula outright. Or begrudgingly accept it’s use in certain situations, with a lengthy list of qualifiers.
    It’s also nice to see a lactavist who doesn’t assume that I’m too feeble minded to make the best decisions possible for my family, without being swayed by pretty advertisements.

  7. Sandra Guirguis says:

    Thank you for writing this post. Thank you from all of the mothers like me who often felt like the worst mother in the world because we chose/had no other choice but to formula feed our babies. We were not duped by the advertising companies, we were not lazy, we did not care for our babies any less than breast feeding moms. Motherhood is challenging enough without constantly being judged by other mothers. Seeing only one side of a story and being extremely rigid in a point of view is very dangerous. Your piece is such a balanced well
    written view from both sides and for that I am grateful. Thank you.

  8. Makyo says:

    Thank you Catherine for writing this, and for doing so in such a thoughtful way. I am a breastfeeding mama who supplemented with formula, and I am not just insulted but enraged by the suggestion that doing so was evil. I won’t go into the specifics of my situation, because I don’t think it’s anyone’s business, but I think when you see a mother feeding her child – in whatever way she deems best – your reaction should be one of compassion and support rather than judgement and insult. For a community that speaks so loudly about inclusion and acceptance we sure are quick to condemn our own.

  9. Tommy Galloway says:

    I am admittedly not a mother (I’m a father). We admittedly never used formula (both daughters hated the few attempts). I admit that we were fortunate to have my wife work from home, before she left that position to care for our two daughters full time. As such, being a breast-milk house was a relatively easy choice. These are my disclaimers.

    But was it easy? No. My daughter had severe colic. Dr. #1 said “she’s a real pistol”, Dr. #2 said, “she’ll grow out of this by month 6″, Dr. #3 (at month 8) said, “I’m sorry, but this is the hand you were dealt”. I woke up 4-6 times a night for well over a year. The *one* thing I know, more than anything else, is that parenting is hard. Hard baby, easy baby – it’s HARD. Work from home vs. work at work – it’s HARD. Daddy or Mommy – it’s HARD.

    I’m lucky to have a job designing products for mothers and babies. I will never apologize for a product that helps a parent in some way. Criticize formula companies all you want (I do not work for or with one), they make a product that is necessary. They make a product that is a reality for many mothers; something that helps parents navigate a difficult parenting experience. Sounds good to me. Sure, they need to lay off the heavy advertising in some places. I agree. Blame them – not the mommies.

    Or…we can all stand around pointing fingers.
    “She’s fat and will never be able to run around a park with her kids – BAD MOMMY!”
    “She had a beer and I KNOW she’s nursing – BAD MOMMY”
    “He went out with friends and didn’t see his kids much today – BAD DADDY!”
    “They homeschool and their kids will grow up to be anti-social militia KKK commie nerds – BAD PARENTS!”

    Whatevs. It’s like we all never left high school.

  10. LaTomate says:

    As a mother who was unable to breastfed her child exclusively – I have felt and still feel the shame factor. Massively.
    Been accussed of poisoning my child, of not providing for her, of not giving her the best.
    I felt it 3 years ago, and I feel it again now.

    I didn’t chose to use formula because of advertising – I chose formula based on one simple fact.

    I wanted my child to live.

    Had I not supplemented with formula, she would have perished.

    I did not have this thrust on me by the formula companies, the advertising campaigns, the evil corporations.

    This was a choice that was taken from me, something I could not argue or fight or barter with – and formula saved my child from malnutrition and yet formula is deemed to be poison.

    Forget advertising – Stop pushing guilt and shame onto people who had no option.

    Where’s the support for mother’s who want to breastfeed and can’t?
    Whose bodies are unwillingly to cooperate despite the lactation consultants, the LLL, the domperidone, blessed thistle, the fenugreek…

    You don’t think that mother’s who try and fail don’t feel enough shame, guilt, sense of failure?

    Don’t blame advertising – try being supportive!!!!!!

    Commercials on TV and freebies or advertising isn’t what drove us to formula – it was a necessity to keep our children alive.
    That’s not melodrama – that’s fact.

    We get that breast is best – we know that – why do you think so many of us tried?

    So don’t punish or belittle – SUPPORT!!

    Three years later, it still riles me to read opinions of formula being “poison”. But it kept my daughter alive when my body failed her.

    Why don’t people try being against the more immediate threats against our children? Poor diets – processed foods – lack of activity.

    These affect our children *NOW*!!!
    Nestle peddling their processed sugar laden “fruit snacks”. Teenagers believing that macaroni comes from cows.

    You want poisin? Try looking at the boxed snacks and treats.

    Try looking at your own attitide towards formula. That’s poison right there. I didn’t poison my kid. I saved her.

    I did it. Not the advertisers. Not my broken malfunctioning breasts.

  11. Katherine @ Postpartum Progress says:

    This makes my heart hurt.

    I understand that Annie feels so strongly about breastfeeding and its importance. She explained to me once, at BlogHer in New York, about how mothers in third world countries are convinced to formula feed when they don’t need to. Then, why they were perfectly able to breastfeed but no longer can because the supply dries up, they are beholden to paying for formula when they can’t afford it and the rest of the family suffers because there is no money left so they can eat. When she explained it to me that way, I could really see why this is such a problem.

    I also understand Catherine. She and I have both been in a place where we were unable to breastfeed because of our mental health. NOT that women with postpartum depression cannot breastfeed, because many can, but I couldn’t and Catherine couldn’t. That is a very painful place in which to find yourself. And then to see people you respect and genuinely like boycotting websites that run formula ads … well, it makes you feel as though you’ve done something horribly wrong to your child. Even though I know that’s not what Annie means.

    I hate that this debate continues on and on. I hate that some formula companies have ever misled consumers. I also hate that women who have used formula are often made to feel, by the subtle, indirect and perhaps unmeant indictment of their actions, that they have done their babies wrong.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      The situation that Nestle perpetrated in the global South is why WHO developed its code – there’s no question that for a time, a long time, their practices were deplorable. And there were deceptive practices by formula companies in the global North, as well – my mom formula fed me, in part, because formula companies insisted that formula was better than nursing. But formula companies – here, at least – don’t do that anymore. (And things have changed dramatically in the South – in Lesotho, for example, where the case can be made that formula IS better, because formula-feeding is the recommend course of action for HIV+ moms, moms are encouraged to breastfeed instead because it’s more sustainable, given their poverty.)

      I’m all for making sure that formula companies behave ethically. But I don’t believe that there should be a ban on their advertising, because, as I said, such a move is demeaning to mothers who formula feed.

      And the thing is, I think that ‘formula = doing something wrong to your child’ is what many lactivists mean, including Annie, if we go by her recent post, in which she uses terms like ‘blood money’ and frames that debate as one between good and evil. If formula is evil, I think that’s a pretty clear statement on the quality of parenting of moms who use it.

  12. Kim Gaudet (@Shoe_Mom) says:

    This is an excellent post. As the mother os a healthy 8 yo son, I had to supplement my breastfeeding with formula from the beginning. He wasn’t getting enough nourishment from me. I agonised. I fretted. And I fed my baby. I AM an advocate for breast feeding. But I do not feel shame that I gave him formula AND breast milk. And to censor formula ads is insulting. Thanks for posting this!

  13. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:


    1) The people who work on the Similac feeding line may call themselves lactation consultants, because that is a term that anyone can use. It isn’t regulated. The designation of “International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)” is regulated and those people are prevented by their Code of Ethics from working for a formula company.

    2) I think it is great if formula companies direct mothers to breastfeeding resources. They should not be the ones who are directly providing those resources though. That creates a conflict of interest. Back when Evenflo complied with the WHO Code, they included a card with their breast pumps that directed mothers to resources like La Leche League,, and directories of IBCLCs.

    3) You said that there are only 2 reasons to oppose advertising: “because 1) they believe that the target audience doesn’t have sufficient reason to recognize it as advertising (hence calls to ban fast advertising aimed at children), and/or 2) they believe that the product is so inherently harmful that it should be kept from public view. So. Which is it?” If those are the only two options, I would say that it is closer to the first. But I think it is more complicated than that. It isn’t that moms don’t have sufficient intelligence to see it as advertising, it is that the temptation factor is high when you are frustrated and sleep-deprived. The same way that advertising for fast food tempts me when I’m having a really bad day, even if I have promised myself that I will lay off the fast food. The vast majority of moms want to breastfeed. The vast majority of moms do not meet their own breastfeeding goals. Formula samples, formula ads, etc. have been shown to have an impact on a mom’s decision to supplement.

    4) Yes, I praised Emma for her decision. As someone who works very hard to ensure that babies have access to breastmilk, it would be inappropriate for her to be taking money from a company that accepts money from formula companies and to have her work promoted with formula company ads next to it.

    5) Am I condemning you and all of my other friends who work at Babble? That’s a complicated question. Obviously I wish more people felt the same way that I do about issues that are important to me (this is one, but there are others too). I accept that not everyone feels as strongly as I do about the things that I feel strongly about. I know that other people feel strongly about things that I do not feel strongly about and I respect their passion and accept their critique of the choices that I make. I know and love lots of people whose moral compass is not identical to mine (by not identical, I don’t mean better or worse) and while I may wish to change their mind on certain things (and they may wish to change my mind on others), it doesn’t mean that I condemn them and it doesn’t mean that I’m paying lip service to respecting people’s choices.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      A few things: a ‘conflict of interest’ is different from ‘deceptive.’ But even then, it’s a matter of debate as to whether, within the context of corporate social responsibility (or even strictly within the context of commercial speech), it is in fact a conflict of interest. We don’t call it a conflict of interest when car companies promote green alternatives. We don’t call it a conflict of interest when a fast food company promotes healthy eating. Formula companies benefit from promoting breastfeeding, not because it allows them to dupe mothers with a bait and switch, but because of the brand lift of being a good mothering citizen. The formula company that does the best work in promoting breastfeeding is going to be the formula company that wins.

      On temptation and advertising: all advertising aims to tempt. So, do we ban all advertising? No, because we take it as given that adults are capable of recognizing advertising as commercial speech and are and should be self-determining in deciding whether to act on the temptations of consumer culture. UNLESS we believe that a product is inherently bad, and that adults should be discouraged from giving in to the temptation presented by that product. Tobacco. Firearms. We don’t ban advertising of alcohol, even though alcoholism kills so many people, and drunk driving kills so many people, because we recognize that most adults can make decisions about alcohol responsibly. So, formula: worse than alcohol? Almost as bad as cigarettes?

      On supporting and celebrating Emma’s decision and how that doesn’t translating into condemnation of me or anyone else at Babble: you celebrated that decision because you saw the alternative as accepting blood money (again, even though there are no formula ads on those pages, and the entire campaign is underwritten by Energizer, and even though that decision involved refusing to even talk to us.) How is it blood money if formula isn’t bad? And how can I be earning blood money, working at the company that you went after aggressively yesterday, and not feel condemned? You are not respecting my choices. You have been urging people to see them as bad, even evil, choices. How is this supporting choice?

  14. alison kramer says:

    I love how when we start our discussions about breastfeeding, we list the places we’ve fed and for how long. Street cred, i think that’s called :)

    I am a breastfeeding advocate and a feminist and a vegetarian and a mom who owns a business…and all of things tend to require a lot of qualification, because they are labels for a human – a creature undefinable by one word. When i write about breastfeeding, i am always careful to say that i am not “pro breastfeeding versus formula feeding” i am pro-choice. pro love, acceptance, education and support. When you look at my personal choices, my ideal is obvious. But that is different than taking that personal story to make broad sweeping decisions for everyone – that is the route of too many evils. Shame and judgement are our enemies, both as parents and as humans.

    As parents, we need to teach our children to be critical of advertising. We live in a time when McDonald’s can sponsor the Olympics, cosmetic ads use teenage models, and weight loss program marketing runs beside donut shops. An ad is not editorial content. And i agree that overly controlling it shows a lack of respect for women being able to discern the difference and make their own choices.

    That said, breasts rarely run marketing campaigns and ad dollars all too often affect editorial content. It is because i know you, and your vision for the site, that i trust this will be an environment that can truly affect change and provide a safe space for women to learn, connect, share and grow.

    I understand why some breastfeeding advocates do not want to work with a site that contains formula ads. That is the beauty of the breadth of the internet, there are plenty of spaces for discourse. i do feel that the right people to engage in the kind of conversation you are looking to promote, will. Independent of the advertisements on the side.

  15. Hammy says:

    So tired of breastfeeding debates designed to make me feel inadequate. What overwhelming hubris (is that redundant?) to promote that there is only one choice, one way for every woman and every baby.

    I hated breastfeeding. I tried and tried for weeks with my first – there were some physiologic issues; he wasn’t growing as well as he should and I was miserable. So we switched to formula and never looked back. Partly due to the virulence of the breastfeeding advocates and support workers I was exposed to first time around, second time I went straight to formula. No questions, no discussions; full stop at the bottle.

  16. Jill Amery says:

    Thank you for being such a proponent of reason and respecting the power of women to make their own decisions – both in feeding their children and evaluating the validity advertising that affects us in our daily lives. There is far too much judgement in our parenting world.

  17. Stephanie says:

    It isn’t interesting how all moms feel judged for their feeding choices, isn’t it?

    I’ve encountered some very rude people during my 15 months breastfeeding my son. I’ve also seen friends get the same reactions for using formula.

    I think the formula companies advertise too much (the 30+ cans of formula I’ve received during pregnancy and my son’s life prove that), but I’m glad there is a feeding option for every child.

    We need to trust parents to make their own decisions regarding their children’s health and wellness. Who am I to tell some mother that she MUST breastfeed? How is this any different than a cosleeping/crib discussion? If we don’t trust parents to raise their kids then we are in for a world of hurt.

  18. zchamu says:

    This is a tough one for me, not in the least because this is an issue being discussed publicly between two people I love dearly. And who are both right when it comes to this issue.

    The way I look at having formula companies run a breastfeeding help line is rather like having the foxes run the Henhouse Protection line. While those who answer the phones may be genuine in their desire to help, the entire motivation behind the sponsorship of the line can – and should, in a wise and questioning society – be questioned, because it’s not really in the foxes’ best interest to have the henhouse be impenetrable. Nor is it in formula companies’ best interests to fully support breastfeeding.

    I do, however, think there are better ways to sort this out than public verbal campaigns, particularly since these are people who all know each other. Advertising is advertising, and we all should be naturally skeptical of it- but it’s here, and it’s not going away, and rather than draw divisive lines between us because of it we should be able to have thoughtful conversations around what that advertising symbolizes to each of us.

    I speak as a person who had unsupportive formula-pushing nurses destroy any possibility of me breastfeeding my child. I think there is danger in believing that formula companies are not out to get as many children on the bottle as possible – and yet, I think there is also danger in believing that people are ultimately only vulnerable to advertising and not to their own beliefs and instincts or, indeed, to each other.

    I think this is a real opportunity for dialogue. (she says, all squishy squishy give-peace-a-chance-y).

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      See, I think that it IS in the formula companies’ interest to fully support breastfeeding, because supporting breastfeeding is supporting MOMS. Th eformula company that bests supports breastfeeding is the company that most moms are going to support as the choice for moms who don’t breastfeed, or who switch to formula, or who supplement. And a company like Babble is in a position to work with those companies to help them do that. But we are – I am – being told that we shouldn’t do that. That there’s no conversation to be had. And, further, that WE shouldn’t be spoken to, because we are unwilling to stop the conversation with formula companies, because we are unwilling to do it the way that the hard-line lactivists want us to.

      That shames us, and any other mom who shares our view. And it closes off conversation.

  19. Sara B. says:

    Thank you Catherine! Please, let’s take the future of breastfeeding and activism out of the hands of one very vocal minority who do NOT represent the rest of us out here! I am very passionate about breastfeeding but also capable of understanding why it’s not an option for certain mothers and why they have as much of a right to information about formula as we do information about breastfeeding. And Annie (above) — you can hide under all of the statistics that you want, but at the end of the day, you are operating under the assumption that mothers who use formula because do not care enough or try hard enough or are just too dumb to know better. SHAME ON YOU. If you ever thought yourself to be leading the charge in empowering women, then you’ve really lost sight of that goal. Forget Babble–I think it’s time for you to take a good look at what you are doing and rethink what you are putting into the world.

  20. Mara says:

    Thanks for writing this. I was unable to breastfeed my first child due to her latch. Bleeding and in intense pain, the lactation consultants and la leche coach told me to ‘soldier on’ because it was best for my baby. Finally my pediatrician asked the question: are you happy? Is she happy? I said no, but… And he said: it’s not shameful to give formula. This is your choice.

    We fight so hard for choice and then judge when we are advocates, when we don’t like the choice someone makes.

    We can blame the formula companies for their advertising or misrepresenting the breast-feeding advice, but as a society , it’s allowed. We allow ourselves to become influenced, just like in the ’60s the women were told nursing was bad, and made to feel guilty if they did breastfeed.

    We have fought so hard for choice. Legs make sure it’s still available and respect choices that may not be our own. There isn’t anything wrong with fighting against bad corporations, as long as this fight doesn’t hurt the individuals who need to make choices.

  21. Sara from the Momzelle blog says:

    I really respect your post Catherine. I have just recently started writing a breastfeeding blog and am currently pregnant with my first child. I consider myself a breastfeeding advocate. I love reading blogs, promoting breastfeeding and sharing people’s experiences. I am so excited to begin my breastfeeding adventure. I want to breastfeed exclusively and “bad formula advertising” definitely riles me up, but I really think your article makes very good points. I am just learning about the formula vs. breastfeeding debate. It saddens me to see either side feeling alienated and shamed. It seems that the bottom line should be that loving and caring for our children is the top priority. People may have different opinions, but can we really judge if we have the same intention.

  22. Lisa @ Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy says:

    This is by and large the best, most balanced piece I think I have ever read from a breastfeeding activist. I have never understood why so many can demand their rights for breastfeeding while damning all of those who can not or do not chose that route.

  23. Devan @ Accustomed Chaos says:

    I have just recently started writing for babble (well, technically i start later this week) & i had debated in my head for a long time on if i would be ‘ok’ with writing for a site that is advertising formula. I am all for the WHO Code – stand by it and agree with it. I would also consider myself a breastfeeding advocate.

    I do however feel there should be access to information for families who are using infant formula. The ad that i see here on Babble – for the similac infant feeding help line in my eyes is not promoting their formula. there are no misleading claims, no talk about formula in the ad (other then SIMILAC) and when you click through it states ANY & ALL breastfeeding questions (according to the disclaimer) are directed to lactation consultants “provided by a third party”. The info they have in their breastfeeding FAQ section is all good info – as is the info provided on how to correctly feed with formula. I think it is important for women to have access to safe information on how to use formula.

    The recent target of Babble and that one ad has me scratching my head a bit. I understand its a slippery slope on what we think is okay for formula advertising but this is certainly not the only site using them. Blogher just started a campaign for advertising displayed on many of their ad network affiliates that IS advertising FORMULA and compares it to breastfeeding. I see that a bigger and more pressing issue then a site that has one ad that promotes a feeding help line for families using formula.

  24. nic says:

    catherine, i applaud your voice and appreciate your view point. what burns me up is that we still even have to have this discussion. will it ever end?

  25. R. says:

    Wow, so you pretty much took something good someone had done and made it about you. Props Catherine. You’ve definitely taken selfishness to a new level.

    Perhaps you should take a refresher on the WHO code. This isn’t about you or Emma or Mary down the street who couldn’t breastfeed or even Susan who is the “lactivist.” This is about companies being ethical, which formula companies and babble are not.

  26. Julie Marsh says:

    Thank you, Catherine.

    Bottom line for me is that no one should suffer petty judgments concerning feeding choices that are not simply a matter of will. Advocates who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that fact frankly do their cause harm by alienating mothers who, *for whatever reason*, use formula.

  27. mysanityblog says:

    Thank you for this post, it boldy reminds us that we used to not have choices and now we are overloaded with what kinds of peanut butter to buy. We should support each other and know that we all make choices that are best for us and our families. We should not be ashamed of our choices. Formula is not the evil, giving mothers misleading information about formula or breastmilk is. Knowledge is power!

    My Son’s “Private” Conversations

  28. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for this post. I agree that breastfeeding is best but that formula, in the absence of being able to breastfeed, is better than starving your child (a bit dramatic, I know). The shame factor is real and often unbearable even many months after stopping breastfeeding. Once of the most discouraging moments I had was at a lactation clinic at the Durham Region Health Department just east of Toronto where they told me Nestle was evil (and therefore if I stopped breastfeeding I was succumbing to the forces of evil). Really now? How deplorable a message to tell very new mothers who are struggling with breastfeeding and all facets of new motherhood of which breastfeeding is just one very complicated and challenging part. I don’t fault you for a second for being a breastfeeding advocate simply because your employer allows for formula ads any more than if Babble publishes ads for grocery stores that don’t sell organic foods or companies that don’t sell cloth diapers.

  29. Michele says:

    I had to feed my son formula, because he was a preemie and could not handle breast feeding, and my supply never fully came in so pumping never worked out. I was fortunate. Not one person in my life ever gave me one ounce of grief over that choice and it appalls me that women, and maybe some men, can be so cruel to any mother making this choice. In my case there was no choice. I needed to feed my son, and formula by bottle was the only option. But who cares. Regardless of why mothers make this choice, and it is a choice, most are going to make it fully aware of the options. Sure, some might make it for the wrong reasons, but most of us are just trying to make it all work. Having a baby is hard, we don’t need to make it harder for ourselves or anyone else by loading a guilt trip on a new mom. I appreciate all the women who work to make it OK to breastfeed your child wherever and whenever you want, to take away the stigma, but I also appreciate being given the room and support to make whatever decision I need to make to feed my child.

  30. Christine says:

    Here’s where the problem lies with formula advertisements on your site: I search breastfeeding help, breastfeeding supplies, pumping supplies, etc. … EVERY SINGLE SEARCH has formula advertisements more noticeable than the red letting on white contrast you have. Blinking “why is she still crying, I just fed her?” With Similac in bright gold letters on a black background.

    Really? That doesn’t flag down vulnerable parents, in your eyes?

    It’s not about choosing to breastfeed or not. It’s about supporting women TO breastfeed, not throw traps in the way of making it a success.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      That shouldn’t be happening, because we have things set up so that formula advertising doesn’t appear next to breastfeeding content, and we DO want to hear from the community when that happens, because we want to fix it. And this – and the larger question of how we promote breastfeeding – is exactly why we want to have a conversation with the community about how to better manage this stuff. But when lactivists say, we won’t even talk to you because you won’t just outright ban the ads entirely, then it shuts down the opportunity for discussion and the possibilities for doing this better. Why can’t we work to make the approach better? Why can’t we talk about it?

  31. Feyella @ Parenting ...smh says:

    Catherine, you have made such valid point throughout this discussion. I am a breastfed both my boys for as long as I could. Being a working mom, I was unable to keep it up. Both times, when I eventually had to stop, I was overcome with feelings of disappointment and to your point “shame”. That has since passed I have come to resolution that as mothers we do what is best for our children, and there is no hard an fast rule which determines what that is. The most disturbing thing to me about the debate, is that it is a debate at all. Medical science has already deemed breastfeeding best, however, it is not always a possibility for all mothers for varying reasons. As mothers, we are all in the same boat and should be trying to support each other and not condemn one another for making decisions that we don’t agree with. For my kids, I have breastfed and used formula but I consider myself a breastfeeding advocate. I support the choice to breastfeed wholeheartedly and would guide any expectant mom in that direction. Does that make me a hypocrite since I have also used formula? Let’s look at it another way. I am an African American woman and I consider myself an advocate for the uplifting and support of rights for African American women, however, that it no means translates to me being against women of any other race. Support, or being an advocate for one thing does not equate being against its parallel or opposite. We can continue to support and be advocates for the things we believe in however, it is preposterous to take to the level of condemning the adverse as well as those who support it too.

  32. Alli Worthington (@AlliWorthington) says:

    Beautifully said, Darlin’. Well done.

  33. Lindsay B says:

    Thank you for this post! I am a breastfeeding stay-at-home mom of a 6 1/2 month old. Most of my friends and family members use formula for their babies. I think that a lot of people choose to formula feed for three reasons:
    1. They don’t want anything to do with breastfeeding from the get go
    2. They started nursing when the baby was born, but it got tough to keep supply up when they went back to work
    3. They had the idea that breastfeeding would come naturally and be easy

    Breastfeeding is hard work. Rather than being angry at Formula companies for doing what is in their right do, let’s focus on information sharing and making sure every mom-to-be knows what to expect! I had latching issues from the very beginning because no one at the hospital helped me! I got lessons on how to pump, but no lessons on how to breastfeed. Thankfully I was able to figure things out after a few months, but not everyone has that kind of determination. The baby’s health is number one, but so is Mom’s sanity!

  34. Jodine Chase says:

    Huh. I know how to get them to stfu. Let’s shame the shamers. We’ll shame the activist moms for making formula moms feel ashamed. No-one wants to be accused of shaming!

    That’s last-month’s guilt argument repackaged for fresh consumption.

    And so it goes. The shelling continues on the front lines, each side dug into its fox holes, while the generals sit in comfort manipulating their war figurines.

    Infant formula companies choose these tactics because

    a) they work – breastfeeding initiation and duration rates drop when women are exposed to infant formula marketing tactics and

    b) because they can – in most democracies we are reluctant to curb marketing and advertising for fear of harming our freedoms.

    Let’s move off shelling each other and start aiming at the generals here. If you want’s *owners and executives* to know you are serious about them keeping their breastfeeding and newborn information free of manipulative infant formula advertising, tell them here. You can also tweet about it at

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      So, are hardline lactivists NOT shaming moms? Read the comments here and on Twitter to see how many moms ARE shamed by the rhetoric.

      And I’m still not clear why formula ads should be banned, based on your reasoning here – because they’re allowed to advertise, and because advertising works? There’s a legitimate market for formula. Many, many moms choose formula. You’re saying that they shouldn’t, and that they shouldn’t even be allowed to see advertising around that choice? And that’s NOT shaming them? Still unclear on this.

      I am a Babble executive. I’m Director of Community and Social Good. I’m fully involved in the discussions about how to make Babble a better breastfeeding citizen. So, by your rhetoric, I’m a general in this war, *on the wrong side.* And I am, by the terms of the discourse set out in Annie’s post, not worth talking to.

  35. alison kramer says:

    i disagree that it is in formula companies’ interest to fully support breastfeeding. i understand the comparison to cars and fast food using healthy choices in their advertising to make themselves look good. but i think that is different than having the value at heart. We may look at a car ad that supports the environment as a step in the right direction, but we understand that it is not really in their best business interests to move away from cars to a more environmentally friendly alternative. it is a dupe, they are not fully supporting anything, they are simply including imagery and language to appeal to possible new customers.
    i do think that shutting down conversation over an issue does us no good. it just causes marginalization and makes everyone feel alone and shamed. for the sake of context, i do not know the back story of the debate or what happened.
    i have retailers and colleagues who refuse to go to trade shows or sell products that go against who. But it has been my experience that if the product is popular enough, this conviction lessens.
    I truly believe that seeing formula ads is not even in the top ten of reasons why more women do not chose to breastfeeding. But i may be wrong.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      I think that this is a really important conversation to have. I can see the arguments that view advertisers more skeptically (believe me; I’ve taught classes on media literacy). But let’s put it this way – whether they currently recognize it or not, I think, end of the day, that the ongoing education of formula advertisers should involve convincing them that it is in their interest to support and promote breastfeeding. Sure, the simple math is more moms breastfeeding = less moms formula feeding, and that impacts their bottom line. But in culture where most moms are pro-breastfeeding, the company that stays onside with those moms – through corporate social responsibility – is the company that is going to be chosen by pro-breastfeeding moms who by design or necessity choose to breastfeed. That company benefits. The company that alienates pro-breastfeeding moms alienates a potential customer base (me, for example – I breastfed mostly, but had to stop early, and supplemented with formula. I also supplemented with Emilia because I was teaching and couldn’t produce enough breastmilk by pumping to feed her in my absence. I wanted to choose the most BF-supportive company in purchasing formula. I think that most moms like feel or have felt that same way.)

      But maybe formula companies aren’t there yet. In which case, the solution is, I think, to work with them on that. Not pretend that they don’t exist.

  36. Jodine Chase says:

    PS – to clarify, Catherine, Annie did not use the phrase “blood money”, that is Emma’s phrase. Annie did not take the campaign to Twitter, that was me.

  37. R.J. McLauchlin says:

    “I’m against misleading formula advertising, and formula advertising that actively and explicitly undermines breastfeeding.”
    Right. Ads more subtle than that, the ones which passively and implicitly undermine breastfeeding, they’re OK. Breastfeeding is better and it’s free. That’s why you breastfed your children. Formula is an inferior and expensive alternative. We can sugarcoat that fact, but in doing so we lose the message. Bottom line: if we say breastfeeding is best, it follows that formula is worse. Formula companies don’t like this logic and seek to counter it. In order to counter it they need to undermine the first message and imply that formula is just as good as breastfeeding. It’s not. As for the shame of women who are forced to formula feed, I give women more credit than that. I give them credit for making good choices for their children and living with those choices.

  38. Gena says:

    I’m still reeling from the blood money comparison. Seems insulting when considering the true evils of this world. They are formula manufacturers, not meth dealers or terrorists. Yes they are trying to make a buck but formula is not illegal or a danger to society. It may be less than “perfect” nutrition but it seems to be keeping more people alive than dead. I’ll reconsider when I read the study that correlates formula-fed babies to criminal activity or vastly shortened life spans.

  39. Lisa says:

    This is difficult.

    I’m not against formula advertising per say, but I am against misleading advertising. Like a formula ad that has the headline “I just fed my baby? Why is he still crying” or sites that talk about the three options for feeding on the go: expressed breast milk, powdered formula, and ready formula.”. Can we agree those are misleading? The first I saw on Babble. The second I saw on the Nestle site. So yes, formula advertisers need to clean up their act. Beyond that, a lot of the advertising doesn’t bug me.

    But I do need to raise two points to your Catherine. One is that you now have a big ol’ conflict of interest in this situation. (What with you being an employee of Babble)

    The second is your statement that mothers are not a marginalized group. As a whole I agree – especially moms who you read yours or Annie’s blogs. However, lots of mom’s are marginalized: lower income moms due to a variety of reasons. These women are marginalized. And formula is expensive. I think you and I currently live in the same city (a large Canadian city with three – now four! – universities). Then you know as well as I that formula is kept behind the cash in drug stores and groceries. And while it’s not addicting, its use is – once you go formula full-time there is often no going back. What are formula rates for marginalized moms who can’t afford formula easily? How does advertising affect them?

    And I don’t think we should ban ads. But I do think the mothers community should raise hell when we see an ad that is misleading and demeaning and demand they take it down. That is both sides of “free speech”.

  40. Beth says:

    When I first read this post I didn’t actually make it all the way to the comments (sick kid; priorities). I had no idea who we were discussing, but I could easily relate to the guilt and shame that you discussed.

    And then, when I came back I saw the first comment and I was thrown back two and a half years to my own feelings of shame and doubt that were brought on by a thoughtless comment by that self-same person. She claims to support all women, but she doesn’t. She supports those women, companies, and websites who fit her narrow view of what is acceptable parenting.

    I’ve long since given up trying to please people in that vein. From her perspective, it would have been better for my daughter for me to die so that she could have breastmilk. I just checked in with Katie (2 1/2), she likes having a mama. I am not a snake in the grass. I am not a failure. My body was neither designed to deliver babies nor feed them, so fortunately for them cesareans and formula exist or they would have died and so would I.

    There isn’t space for someone like me in Annie’s narrative though. It would be easier for *her* if I had died so that I don’t complicate the picture. There are many, many women like me. More than she, and many others, give believe there are. I’ve heard their stories. I know their pain. I know the pain inflicted by well-meaning people who have an agenda that moves beyond caring for women and babies and moves into advocating for a particular way of doing things.

    We all win when we move back to center on this one and advocate for women and babies. Calling it “blood money” is the same histrionics that had her calling formula feeding women snakes at one point (it was in the context of a joke and she did retract it, eventually). I do understand her passion.

    Personally, I’m a feed the baby activist. Whatever works to feed the baby works for me.

  41. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:


    I will speak to anyone about anything. I’d be happy to set up a time for a call.

    I will not, however, agree to be on an advisory board, to work for, or to accept advertising from a company that participates in the promotion of formula, especially using ads that I consider to be deceptive. That is what my moral compass dictates and I understand that other people have different moral compasses (which again are not necessarily better or worse, but different).

    Since Alisa clearly said that “we have run advertising campaigns on Babble with formula companies in the past and we expect that we will do so again in the future,” it seemed as though Babble had already solidified their position on that issue. If that is not the case, and if Babble is interested in discussing options for the future, I would be happy to participate in a no-strings-attached call.

  42. Ann Douglas says:

    If governments enforced the WHO code, mothers wouldn’t have to have heated discussions about the unethical marketing strategies used by formula companies.

    Every mother I know supports breastfeeding.

    Every mother I know has varying degrees of discomfort with the actions taken by formula companies.

    This disagreement isn’t between mothers. Let’s not lose sight of that fact, PLEASE. Relationships can be damaged by hurtful words on blogs — often irreparably. It’s not worth it.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      A big part of my argument is, though, Ann, that I don’t think that the WHO code is appropriate for North America. I don’t think that there should be a ban on formula advertising. I think that there should be an ethics of formula advertising. No one is disputing that we should work to make sure that the culture of formula advertising is an ethical one. What I’m disputing is that formula advertising should be banned.

      Governments don’t enforce the WHO code because it is not legally enforceable. It’s not a regulatory body; it’s certainly not a legislative body. It can only make recommendations; sovereign states decide whether or not to follow those recommendations. The US and Canada don’t ban advertising of formula because such a ban doesn’t meet the standards set by our expectations of free speech.

      And it is a disagreement between mothers. Hundreds of mothers are weighing and saying that they feel shamed and judged by the lactivist hard line. Are they just wrong?

  43. Ann Douglas says:

    Love this comment from Alison Kramer:

    “breasts rarely run marketing campaigns and ad dollars all too often affect editorial content. It is because i know you, and your vision for the site, that i trust this will be an environment that can truly affect change and provide a safe space for women to learn, connect, share and grow.
    I understand why some breastfeeding advocates do not want to work with a site that contains formula ads. That is the beauty of the breadth of the internet, there are plenty of spaces for discourse. i do feel that the right people to engage in the kind of conversation you are looking to promote, will. Independent of the advertisements on the side.”

  44. stacy h says:

    well said, zchamu:
    The way I look at having formula companies run a breastfeeding help line is rather like having the foxes run the Henhouse Protection line. While those who answer the phones may be genuine in their desire to help, the entire motivation behind the sponsorship of the line can – and should, in a wise and questioning society – be questioned, because it’s not really in the foxes’ best interest to have the henhouse be impenetrable. Nor is it in formula companies’ best interests to fully support breastfeeding.
    I do, however, think there are better ways to sort this out than public verbal campaigns, particularly since these are people who all know each other. Advertising is advertising, and we all should be naturally skeptical of it- but it’s here, and it’s not going away, and rather than draw divisive lines between us because of it we should be able to have thoughtful conversations around what that advertising symbolizes to each of us.
    I speak as a person who had unsupportive formula-pushing nurses destroy any possibility of me breastfeeding my child. I think there is danger in believing that formula companies are not out to get as many children on the bottle as possible – and yet, I think there is also danger in believing that people are ultimately only vulnerable to advertising and not to their own beliefs and instincts or, indeed, to each other.
    I think this is a real opportunity for dialogue. (she says, all squishy squishy give-peace-a-chance-y).

    —If the Evenflo commercials aren’t evidence enough that deceptive advertising still happens in NA, I don’t know what is. We may not be in such an economically vulnerable community/country, but we’re still easily misled. Obesity rates? Childhood cancer rates? The problem seems to be our inability to believe we’ve anything left to learn. We just go with the status quo in so many things and believe if it’s on the shelf, it’s safe and it’s good. To question or challenge is to be extreme. To speak up is to shame others.

    I’m thankful for the women that I never met in real life, who spoke up, sometimes passionately and mostly kindly. If not for them I wouldn’t have put together what happened in my first birth and learned from it to be happier in my second birth/breastfeeding. I wish everyone the ability to learn and become confident in their decisions, regardless of what those may be.

  45. Issa says:

    Every night I see 15 different adds for medications I’ve never even heard of. I never think to myself, oh I must have that right now. Possibly because I’m not three. My son is nearly three. Every toy add he sees, he thinks he needs.

    At 31 years old? I’ve grown out of that. I believe we all do at some point. We can distinguish between need and want. We don’t necessarily make out choices on what ads we saw on TV last night.

    I have a medical condition that makes it impossible for me to breastfeed. No really. I am lucky to be able to have babies in fact. I used formula with all of my kids. It was a necessity. One that I didn’t even feel bad about. Because the, thank god I was able to have them part, was more important to me.

    Taking down ads for formula just makes it seem like there is something wrong with me or my kids for needing it.

  46. Pam Dillon @writewrds says:

    I wonder about the nature of this conflict. Is it really about advertising and formula?

    Thank you so much for your wise words, Catherine. As a mother I am grateful. And often rendered mute, flummoxed by the pervasive culture of mother judgment that only begins with breastfeeding. Although it has been over 15 years since I breastfed, I still remember the divisive ordeal surrounding it. There was pressure to breastfeed and pressure to bottle feed. Relatives and friends – all women –asked pointed questions and were vocal and righteous in their pronouncements. My personal choice for my baby was a matter of random public discourse.
    My children are teenagers now and still, mother-driven mother judgment persists. I wonder why we give ourselves and each other permission to be so harsh? I wonder what evolutionary purpose this intransigence has served?
    As a community of mothers, we have such enormous power, potentially transformative power, for good – whatever that may be. Perhaps some first steps in collectively exercising that power are to welcome the conversation, listen and most importantly – as you say – respect each other’s choices as mothers.

  47. Lisa says:

    Glad to hear you and I are largely in agreement, Catherine (re your post at 12:06pm).

    I do disagree the statement that “most moms are pro-breastfeeding”. I think that most privileged-moms are pro-breastfeeding, but in my experience I do not see that that translates into marginalized groups.

    In the end, it’s a horrible shame cycle. Moms are shamed for breastfeeding (I know I am, repeatedly over and over). Moms are shamed for formula feeding (You just have to read the comments here). but that’s not he only case – Moms are shamed for spanking. Moms are shamed for permissive parenting. Moms are shames for following gender roles. Moms are shamed for breaking them… etc etc etc. It’s indicative of a society that does not value the inherent worth and value of a woman’s power and opinion as a mother. Shaming mums is wrong. And that is a feminist issue, if you want to go there.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      I do want to go there. I think that we SHOULD go there, about how mums, women, are shamed.

  48. zchamu says:

    I simply don’t think the motivation behind most formula companies’ advertising is to truly assist breastfeeding moms. Nor do I believe that their breastfeeding assistance lines are truly objective in their advice. People like you and me – people who choose formula companies based on their ethical and pro-breastfeeding stance – are not the norm. While I agree that it is in their best interests to support breastfeeding when it comes to appealing to people like us, the reality is that we aren’t the average person the advertising is aimed at. But really, that’s kind of not the point; the point really is that everyone – *everyone* – here is trying to do *good*, and we do better at that when we work together.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      It may not be their motivation, but I don’t think that motivation is the issue. Commercial speech is motivated to promote a product. When a beer company says ‘drink responsibly’, it’s possible to argue that they don’t really mean that, because they profit from people drinking more (read: irresponsibly.) But it doesn’t diminish the fact that the message is a good and useful one to have in the public space, regardless of what the motivation behind that message was.

      Politicians promote causes, often, to gloss their own image (celebrities do this too). But I wouldn’t say that someone’s cause message (say, ‘support aid to Haiti’) is a bad one because it is selfishly motivated. We cut off a HUGE field of discourse if we move to dismiss promotional speech, or speech with anything other that pure motives. Most speech is that, arguably.

  49. becca says:

    I really appreciate your viewpoint.

    I think rejecting formula advertising can be praiseworthy, but accepting formula advertising shouldn’t be blameworthy (I agree that the phdinparenting post was verging a little too close to the later, inasmuch as “blood money” is a pretty loaded term, although the scare quotes arguably mitigate it a bit).

    I actually take a harder line on advertising than you do- I’m not really happy with any pharmaceutical products being advertised (they are regulated very heavily for a reason, and I really am not sure I *need* to know there’s a product for ED unless I actually go to Pubmed and search on ED because I would like to know more about it).

    (also, for the sake of argument, I would bet $ that sleep deprivation-as legendarily characterizes new parents and perhaps especially breastfeeding moms- renders one more susceptible to advertising than usual. At least, I *think* that’s the only explanation for how all those absolutely hilariously awful 4am infomercials mange to get anyone to buy their products!)

    If I felt that, on balance, I got more useful stuff than misleading stuff out of advertising, I might feel differently. But I’m not a huge fan, and I do believe that you should take some due-diligence to trace where the money is coming from (i.e. if you say you oppose child labor, don’t buy clothes made in India, or an iPhone made in China). If you oppose the advertising of formula, don’t take money from formula companies. That’s a fine moral position to take.
    The issue here is that seeing the opposition of formula advertising as a necessary condition to qualify for “decent human being” or even to qualify for “breastfeeding supporter”.

    In otherwords, it’s fine to say “in order to maximize my efficacy in supporting breastfeeding, I can’t take formula advertisement money” it’s quite another to say “if you take formula advertisement money, you are not a REAL breastfeeding advocate and/or you are doing it wrong”

    Sidenote: “We don’t call it a conflict of interest when a fast food company promotes healthy eating.”
    I sure do. I’m not alone. Try googling “pepsigate”

    “We don’t ban advertising of alcohol, even though alcoholism kills so many people, and drunk driving kills so many people, because we recognize that most adults can make decisions about alcohol responsibly.”
    I suspect it has a lot more to do with how successful the alcohol industry has been with the American public and congress vs. how successful the tobacco industry has been. The idea it necessarily has anything to do with perfectly rational assessment of ‘badness’ is a bit naive, to my thinking.

  50. [...] has been a lot of attention recently about a popular website having ‘formula advertising’ on their website. A spark that came a breastfeeding [...]

  51. Jayme says:

    I always wanted to breastfeed, it was my intention from the very beginning. But it was HARD. Like, crawl up in a ball and cry because my nipples are bleeding and nipples shouldn’t bleed, hard. We stuck with it, scabby boobs and all, and I’m immensely glad that we did (13 months and counting). But I’m a tad ashamed to say that I stuck it out in large part because of the stigma attached to formula feeding. I didn’t want to put up with the looks, the judgement, the condemnation of other women once they saw the formula container come out. And that’s sad. It’s not sad that mothers are divided on the issue (I don’t know any two women who agree on all parenting related issues), but it’s sad, not to mention dangerous, that we as a community are made to feel like bad mothers if we make the choice, by necessity or convenience or both, to nourish our babies in a different way. In my opinion, the problem isn’t the advertising. To me, the problem is that we’ve found yet another way to tear one another down and and condemn mothers who are only trying to do what’s best for their own children. Breast or formula, SAHM or working mom, co-sleeping or crib sleeping, there is no wrong choice if it’s the one that’s right for you.

  52. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    Those weren’t scare quotes on the “blood money”. They were actual quotes. I was quoting Emma Kwasnica.

  53. zchamu says:

    Apropos of nothing: I wish these comments were threaded. Someone get on that. ;)

  54. Agustina says:

    Imagine this scene. You really really want to run a marathon. You have prepared yourself for months and months in anticipation for this moment. Not only you enjoy running, and being surrounded by other women who also like to run marathons, which gives you a sense of bonding that is beyond fulfilling, but let’s say also that running a marathon gives you immense health benefits that you could not get any other way. Unfortunately, you live in a society where people don’ run anymore, and they don’t understand why the heck you want to do that. Every time they see you reading or practicing they question you, undermine you, mock you and even humiliate you. You are new at this but and are feeling low but the negativity around you, so you join a runners support group or a forum. Only that they are all covered in escape routes from running, but that is ok, you are determined and you can ignore it. You join the only support group that is made for people like you. It is awesome, it is nice, warm and welcoming, the hour that it last you feel bursting in happiness but soon you have to go back to face your immediate supportive world, and sometimes that one invigorating hour is not enough to keep your chin up until the next meeting.

    The day of the marathon comes and you start all energized and happy. To the sides of the running tracks you see the same old ads you have seen a thousand times inviting you to quit, but you are set to do this. As the marathon goes your knees start hurting, you are not doing as well i you hoped or expected, you are tired, in pain and the ads by the track are starting to look more and more prominent. The negative voices start getting loud in your face and the escape routes start looking more and more enticing.

    Informed choice has requisites. Not any choice is an informed one. Knowledge about options and alternatives and the consequences of each course of action are some of this conditions. But there is also a mental and psychological component, a person making an informed choice needs to be in the right state of mind, ‘competent’ to do it. When we are doing good, and feeling happy and successful with our mothering, when we have in real life all the love and support that we need, we don’t really join parenting sites looking for support. We come to reach out, to find help, love, support, when we are vulnerable and need somebody that understands and doesn’t judge. And we find that, but we also find this flashy formula ads, that pop out when we are not in our best moment. Formula ads in parenting sites are like those escape routes ads by the running tracks when you are feeling in pain, weak and tired.

    Talking to your friends or pediatricians or IBCLC about formula, with a conscious and deep talk about risks and consequences, in a supportive -not pushy- environment of your breastfeeding choices, that is informed choice. Misleading, bright, ads of formula showcasing the happiest babies on the block, assaulting your eyes in vulnerable moment is not informed choice, it is sleazy, manipulative, unethical and just plain immoral.

    In university, in my political communication and political campaign classes, and in my years of working in politics, I learned that to be cost-effective and vote-effective you have to tailor your message to the undecided section of the voters spectrum. Tailoring your message to your loyal voters is a waste of resources, they will vote for your candidate regardless. Tailoring your message to the loyal voters of your opponent is a waste of resources, they wont vote for your candidate anyway. You tailor it to those that right now will not vote for your candidate, but they might in x time if you carry out effective communications.

    The formula industries know this principle too well. We don’t need ads to know that the choice of formula feeding feeding exists. During pregnancy, your OB your midwife, your nurse will discuss infant feeding options. By the time a woman has a baby, she will know that she has choices. And if she doesn’t, as soon as she expresses her discontent, difficulty or inability to breastfeed, her health care provider will discuss formula for her. The purpose of the formula ad is not let women know that the option is out there. Women who want to formula feed, know where to find formula. The ad is not the beginning of their communication strategy, it is the end, the grand finale. Before the ad there is a deeper mechanism that involves politics, and lobbying. We have all seen the cable form wikileaks lobbying in Philippines to block breastfeeding friendly laws. In a society that is educated and supportive of breastfeeding, nobody buys the happy formula baby. First they set up a legal, social and medical environment that is supportive and unloving of her choices. Then, when women feel the emotional impact of that and they come to in need to sites like this, only to find more formula ads, you are not giving them a choice, you are serving their heads in a silver tray.

    It is not about choice, it is about marketing, and about money. They pay big bucks to place ads. Sites like this, that attract a more natural kind of mothers, is the perfect wolf trap for formula, it brings to them mothers that want to breastfeed, that want to do different, but that live in painful unsupportive places. And here they will find the formula ads and the site owner that will make a big post self congratulating herself about her achievements in lactivism, but not in a rhetoric lactivist enough to put off that same segment of undecided women, reaffirming that the ads are here to support them in their choices. Not only that, but woman are actually smart for not being disturbed about formula ads. Mind you, you won’t find similar ads with happy pink breastfed babies beautifully bonded to their moms to actually make of Babble a fair fight about choice. Catherine, you are a smart woman, and I will assume that the big pieces missing in your debate, real informed choice, formula lobbying, and why you only advertise certain choices (coincidentally the ones that give you the most money) is not an innocent omission, but rather that you know exactly to whom to address your message.

    Kudos to Emma, and here is my appreciation to all those women that give their time to support women unconditionally, by offering love, support, opportunities for real informed choice and the tools to achieve what they set themselves to achieve in the first place. I wish for this world a thousand of networks like HM4HB, carried out graciously by women, for women, with the only purpose of helping and supporting each other. My hope for the future is that one day this kind of networks multiplies, and sites like this, commercially driven booby traps that guide women to profitable exits and calls them support, don’t fool women anymore.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Agustina – all advertising is about marketing, and money. All political speech is promotional. All communication aims to influence. If marketing and influence are bad, then all advertising is bad. There are countries that ban advertising on that basis. Cuba. China.

      But in North America we only ban advertising of products that are harmful, because we recognize commercial speech as speech that should remain free. And the bar for ‘harm’ is set pretty high, because it needs to be in a culture that values freedom of speech and freedom of choice.

      And what I keep hearing from a few people is that formula advertising needs to be banned *just because it is advertising.* People keep skirting the issue that the very very clear implication that the primary reason for banning formula advertising is because formula is bad. We live in a culture that accepts commercial speech as part of the our cultural discourse, so it’s not just that advertising, with all of its manipulative practices, is bad, otherwise you would be arguing that we ban most advertising. But formula is singled out. Because it is viewed as a problematic choice, a choice that women should not only NOT be tempted into, but actively discouraged. And that undermines the very principle of choice. THAT’S what I’m opposed to.

      You’re accusing me directly of a callous mercenary interest. You’re denying that it’s possible for a breastfeeding mom and breastfeeding activist to NOT oppose banning formula advertising. Which is to deny a thinking mom her freedom and right to decide upon these things for herself. Either you think that she can’t, or she shouldn’t. Which is it?

  55. Laura Mayes says:

    This is the best conversation (post + comments) that I’ve ever seen on this topic. Thank you.

  56. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    Okay, Catherine. Let’s have that conversation about shame.

    Is there a way to criticize companies that are doing things that may be harmful to mothers or children without that automatically being equated with shaming of mothers who have purchased the products that those companies sell or promote?

    If so, are there tactics or approaches that you would suggest?

    I recognize that we all make decisions and live our lives in an imperfect world. Every day I make purchases that I wish I hadn’t made or do things that I wish I didn’t do. Every day, I try to do better and every day I try to advocate for conditions that would make it easier for me and for other parents to do better. Not to live up to someone else’s standard, but so that we can each try to live up to our own standards.

    There are an awful lot of things that stand in the way of me being the parent and the person that I want to be. I believe in personal responsibility, but I don’t think I should have to be a martyr. I think it should be easier for me to do the right thing and to make good choices, so I advocate for a world where that is possible.

    P.S. – Totally agree re: threaded comments.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      I think that it is possible to have that conversation, and I think that it’s important to have that conversation, but we need to begin that conversation by establishing what we define as harm. The argument that formula companies harm women is based an the assumption that formula is harmful, that the use of formula causes harm, that a mother’s choice to use formula is one that is harmful. We aren’t harmed by deception or manipulation unless deception or manipulation causes us to act in a manner that brings us harm, leads us to make a choice that harms us. That’s why we don’t ban advertising of anything other than obviously harmful products, like tobacco and firearms.

      And this is what I have a problem with – the position that formula is by definition harmful. Formula is harmful to a mother/baby dyad when formula does not adequately meet nutritional needs, or when the mother cannot afford formula. Otherwise, what is the harm? Breast is better, yes. Much better. But here’s where I think that the conversation becomes misleading: you’ve stated repeatedly that you’re not saying that formula is bad. But you think – or, your argument suggests – that the choice to use formula does cause mothers and babies harm. And that’s what upsets a vast constituency of mothers, who use formula by choice or necessity – your argument holds at its core the message that their decisions are harmful.

      If formula is not harmful, then lets talk about how formula advertising is harmful. I welcome that discussion. And I welcome the discussion about how formula is harmful. But let’s be clear about it. WHAT, exactly, is harmful, and who is being harmed, and what are the implications of that argument for the mothering community.

      Here’s where I think that we share common ground – the breastfeeding cause is vulnerable in a culture where formula companies have free commercial speech. Creating a culture that celebrates and promotes the breastfeeding mother is difficult when the cultural discourse about feeding babies is dominated by formula advertising. ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY. I’m passionate about this cause. Babble is passionate about this cause – we spend hours talking about it. But where you see the solution as banning formula advertising – removing that commercial speech from the conversation – I do not. Because I’m opposed in principle to banning any form of speech other than that promotes hate or harm, and because I think that banning formula advertising sends the wrong (shaming) message to formula-feeding moms, I think that we need to find a better way. I think that companies like Babble have an important role to play in using their platforms for good, and we’re so, so motivated to do that, and promoting breastfeeding culture is one area of good that we want to do everything we can in. I also think – because I have a long history of working with and studying companies and corporate social responsibility and social good, I think that I have an informed opinion on this – that it is possible to work with formula companies to find a way forward. Not as the only solution – we should not expect formula companies to lead the charge – but as part of it, as part of an effort to create a vibrantly pro-breastfeeding culture, in which breastfeeding is celebrated while at the same time mothers who formula feed aren’t made to feel that they’re part of something dirty and shameful. We need to build a mothering culture in which we celebrate choice.

      You know that I respect your passion. I just think that on this particular issue, banning formula, your position is too extreme, and hurtful. You characterized Babble – and by extension, me – as corrupt on this issue, simply for not agreeing with a ban, which by extension paints any person who disagrees with an outright ban as corrupt – or at least misguided. And the issue has been painted as one on which there can be no conversation – you want nothing to do us unless we agree with you on the defensibility of banning, and act on that. Which is an extreme interlocutive position. So we can’t even get to the conversation about harm – which begins with the question, is formula harmful – because we can’t get to conversation to begin with. Which is why I am frustrated. Which is why, I think, so many women are frustrated.

  57. Nicole says:

    Thank you for this. I couldnt breastfeed. Not much was coming out, kiddo hated it, my state of mind couldn’t handle it. The lactation consultant shamed me. It should not be that way.

  58. Angela says:

    I am not capable of making another person feel shame or guilt. No one is. YOU are the only one that can make yourself feel that way. If, as a mother, YOU do not want to feel shame or guilt for how you feed your child… don’t. No one is making you. The decision is entirely yours.

  59. Lindsey @ Campfire Song says:

    I’m a baby-feeding advocate. Breastmilk or formula, whatever – a woman should be able to find support in whatever method she chooses. Parents should be credited as intelligent enough to make the choice for themselves.
    I’m on kiddo number four, and I ignore almost everything I hear. I make sure I support the crap out of every first-time parent I meet.

  60. Maria @amotherworld says:

    I’m surprised that this is a topic for discussion. I too work at Babble (Famecrawler) and I didn’t even think twice that this would be considered an issue.
    I’ve worked with new moms through a non-profit organization and one of the biggest concern they have is their fear of being judged about whether they will breastfeed or not. Although breastfeeding is advocated, there are simply some who can’t or choose not to.
    I breastfed both of my kids for over a year each and I’m all for attachment parenting and breastfeeding. But I fully realize – these are MY choices. Doesn’t work for everyone.
    It’s wrong to judge others for their parenting choices. It’s really too bad that women are still doing this to one another.

  61. Susannah says:

    This might stir me if I had any patience for this breed of defensive prattle–and I won’t even touch the lack of editorial integrity inherent in the interesting intersection of this article’s LOCATION and SUBJECT (anyway…)–but really… really?!
    It’s never a good sign when someone (in any context, not just this one) begins a rant by listing his or her “credentials”: I breastfed this many babies for this long etc. For one thing, experience is no substitute for sound argumentation. Secondly, it is possible to inhabit an identity or to engage in a behaviour without opting to be that act’s defender (see: activist): one can be woman but not a feminist or one can breastfeed without being a lactivist.

    Activism demands a full understanding of the issues surrounding your cause and a will to protect your cause from stigma, misinformation etc. Claiming, for example, that formula marketing can occur without harm to a nursing relationship only highlights the speaker’s ignorance of 1) advertising, and 2) basic “lactivist” precepts (“it only takes one bottle” comes to mind).

    Now, any claim that advertising’s merit can be judged on the basis of content alone, without consideration for things like form, medium, placement, audience, subtext, etc, is just so painfully shortsighted. This lack of awareness extends to the mushy-mouthed acceptance of “good” advertising (whatever that means) from “bad” purveyors. That is to say, we can all agree that similac samples dispensed in clinics and hospitals is “bad form” (bad advertising), and most if not all formula companies engage in such behaviour. Yet, somehow, if one of these companies proposes a seemingly benign advert (“breast is best, but here’s an alternative”, which is itself problematic), the company’s acts of “bad form” and its overall ethical reptutation (WHO code et. al.) is of no consequence. That’s like saying this angry dictator commited heinous war crimes, but he is ordering his lunch so politely! What a nice guy.

    And on the subject of ‎”Mothers in the North America [not being] by and large, a vulnerable community.”? Your privilege? It’s showing.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Okay, I’ll bite: how are mothers in North America, taken broadly, vulnerable in the same way that, say, mothers in Lesotho are vulnerable? I’m OWNING my privilege there. I think that it’s insulting to consider ourselves vulnerable in comparison to women in the Global South.

      Look, I’ve taught classes on media literacy. I’m not arguing that advertising is benign. I’m saying that it’s a part of our cultural discourse and that we accept it as such in all but the most extremely and obviously harmful cases. So what you have to show me, if you want to make your case for banning formula advertising in North America, is how formula qualifies. If it’s because formula itself is harmful on a par with, say, tobacco, then say so. Own that. If it’s because the community it’s marketed to is incapable of rational decision-making in response to commercial speech (on a par with children), then own that. But don’t make the rhetorical case that formula is FINE and that it’s NOT a bad choice for mothers, but that mothers should not exposed to the advertising of it. That just doesn’t make sense.

      And I’m not sure what the editorial conflict is here. I’m a Babble executive. I published this at Babble. Am I not entitled to do that?

  62. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:


    You said: “And what I keep hearing from a few people is that formula advertising needs to be banned *just because it is advertising.* People keep skirting the issue that the very very clear implication that the primary reason for banning formula advertising is because formula is bad.”

    You are making an assumption here and it is the same assumption that continues to create divisiveness in the mothering community. The implication is not that “formula is bad”. The implication is that formula ADVERTISING is designed to undermine mothers who want to breastfeed. Breastfeeding can be incredibly difficult (not always, but often), but most mothers want to do it. Most of them try incredibly hard and go through very rough periods to meet their own breastfeeding objectives. If every single time they search out breastfeeding support, breastfeeding help, breastfeeding sisterhood, it is surrounded by formula advertising and formula samples, it weakens their resolve.

    If formula advertising wasn’t trying to convince moms to give up breastfeeding and if breastfeeding information on formula company websites wasn’t full of inaccurate and dangerous information, then maybe I would feel differently about this. But the formula companies have a horrible track record in this regard and I could show you one example after another of the ways that they undermine breastfeeding mothers.

    I don’t know how many different ways I need to say it before it gets heard, but FORMULA IS NOT EVIL. I’ve never said that, I don’t believe that. I’m sick of people reading things between the lines that are not there or deciding for me what I believe and don’t believe.

    However, the business practices of formula companies do undermine breastfeeding mothers. That is what I object to.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      What’s the dangerous information on formula websites? If formula is not dangerous, if formula is an acceptable choice for a mother, then where’s the danger? This is why this is a rhetorical issue that I don’t think can be had both ways. If formula is a defensible choice for a mother make, how is it dangerous or bad for that choice to be marketed to moms? The logic fails here, Annie. Every mother who has felt shamed by anti-formula rhetoric feels that. If formula is not bad, then why can it not be part of advertising culture alongside alcohol and allergy medication and fast food and erectile dysfunction treatments and gas-guzzling cars? It’s like saying that you’re pro-choice, but that you’re against Planned Parenthood making promotional efforts, and that you believe that women seeking abortions should be given counseling before being allowed the procedure because they’re vulnerable to influence and can’t reasonably be expected to make the right choice. You’re nominally supporting the choice – if they’re really, really determined to make that choice – but you want to actively discourage it. Actively discouraging a choice is anti-choice.

      I said in my immediately previous comment, I totally get – and support – the argument that the breastfeeding cause struggles culturally, and that the long history of formula hasn’t helped that, inasmuch as it has promoted bottle culture. Totally agree. I just disagree that the answer is to ban the latter. I think that we should be working toward a cultural discourse of meaningful choice, wherein breastfeeding is fully and widely promoted, AND formula feeding is seen as an entirely acceptable and respectable choice.

    2. Catherine Connors says:

      I would say further to this – and I may be repeating myself here – that the rhetoric about women who WANT to breastfeed being duped out of breastfeeding and into the choice to use formula is demeaning to women who make that choice. It presumes that any choice to stop breastfeeding is somehow made by the mother against her own wishes. It attributes an agency to formula advertising that really just isn’t there – you’re suggesting that the advertising somehow compelled a mother against her will to stop doing something that she wanted. Why not just leave it at choice, and respect the integrity of the choice? Again, this whole argument reminds me of anti-choice arguments around abortion that push for counseling and seeing pictures of the fetus, etc – no good woman could possibly make the independent, informed choice to have an abortion, if she had full and correct information about abortion. She’s been duped by the pro-choicers into making a terrible choice that she’ll regret!

      Again, I just don’t see how you can respect choice, and support choice meaningfully, AND make arguments that suggest that women are being deceived into making the wrong choice. I’m not trying to be difficult. I really just don’t see it.

  63. Pam @writewrds says:

    A response to the wonderful Ann Douglas: (Her comment made at noon, Sept. 13)
    Ann, you said (in part), “Every mother I know supports breastfeeding.
    Every mother I know has varying degrees of discomfort with the actions taken by formula companies.”
    What about the millions of mothers you don’t know? What about the moms who feel strongly about formula feeding? The moms who just want to take care of their babies, based on their individual life circumstances and values — not yours or mine? The ones who don’t care about the politics of formula advertising?
    The ones who can and will make choices and recognize advertising and formula companies for what they are?
    Formula is an option. It’s not the devil.
    I remember, when my youngest was still a babe in arms, going to lunch with a friend who was a breastfeeding activist and had been quite vocal about it through our pregnancies, which occurred at the same time. The baby was sitting in her lap, sucking on an icing-sugar dusted mini donut. And swallowing juice “drink” from a sippy cup. Sure, the breast was out but so was the junk.
    I worry that breastfeeding is being associated with good parenting and formula feeding with bad. That’s not the case – and not fair.
    (If I sound strident, that’s not my intent.: )

  64. Agustina says:

    you change the debate and you turn in into a false dichotomy. Again I think you are very smart and know how to get the reaction you want from the people you need. But you and Emma and Annie,me and others are having different debates. We are talking formula advertising, not formula feeding. We say, ban formula advertising to protect women, we don’t say ban formula feeding or dialogue about formula.

    You are confusing the ad with the choice. With your logic, breastfmilk is not a choice at babble because nobody paid to advertise it. Women are being undermined because nobody is advertising human milk for them to choose!

    If there is no formula ad, and we leave the formula talk for informed dialogs between mothers and health care providers, the result is that some more women will breastfeed and others will still formula feed. The difference is that formula companies will have less power, women struggling will be more protected. Oh yes! And companies that profit from formula and formula ads will receive less money.

    My country is third world. It also has very high education and literacy. I would say the average woman is pretty educated and smart -another false dichotomy of yours, in your painting of first world vs third world. The who code is law and there is no advertising of formula, formula cans even have a disclaimer. The breeastfeeding rate at 6 month is around 49%. Most women formula feed. I think it is pretty clear that women are still choosing. Some choose in pregnancy to never breastfeed, others for whatever reason decide to stop, they call their health care provider and they learn about formula. Because women are smart, they don’t need an ad rubbed in their face everywhere they go to know that they have choices. Thinking that banning an ad is undermining choice assumes that women are so stupid that if somebody doesn’t pay for them to see ads, they wouldn’t know what to do. That is ridiculous.

    In my country breastfeeding rates did go up, why? because the women that wanted to breastfeed but were in vulnerable spots where protected from falling prey of formula companies. Like I said before, this are the women that formula companies go after. They are the ones that as breastfeeding advocates we need to protect and support the most. Babble is failing this women. If you want to debate, you owe them an honest debate without all the emotional diversion you are trying to do here. YOU mentioned shame, YOU involved bottlefeeding to get your cheering crowed, Emma and Annie talked about formula MARKETING, they never mentioned formula feeding. Unicef, WHO, many other health organizations and countries in the world have found evidence that formula advertising manipulate and undermines women, what can you show to prove that they are wrong and that this babble stance is not about money?

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Again, if formula feeding is a respectable choice, then why is it a problem to advertise that choice? And if we don’t get consumer information from advertising, if all advertising is not only manipulative, but unnecessary, why is it allowed at all?

      And why is it so invalid to ask these questions that my doing so MUST mean that it’s about money?

      There are countless comments here – and many hundreds on my Twitter stream – from women who say that they have felt shamed and/or insulted by the lactivist hard line, women who have no relationship to Babble. If you follow the links in this post, you’ll see that my position on this was established long before I came to work at Babble. Why is it so hard to accept that women might hold this position? Are we all formula apologists? Are all of the commenters here and on Twitter formula apologists? Why is their argument being rejected as corrupt?

  65. FMB says:

    I find this article odd. While I don’t disagree with some of the points (not ALL formula advertising is bad, nor is formula inherently evil in any say), I fail to understand how an educated person can fail to see the deceptive nature of breastfeeding support being offered by formula companies. While formula advertising may not be inherently bad, there is an inherent conflict of interest there. That should not be so hard to understand and anyone claiming naivety here really seems to be deliberately obtuse. Not every breastfeeding advocate has to fight every battle, and we don’t all have to agree on formula advertising. There is probably room in the world of breastfeeding advocacy to have people work within and outside of the mainstream, including places like Babble where there IS misinformation at times and where there ARE deceptive formula ads. In the meantime, you have your position, so own it. You work for a company that has made questionable advertising decisions. You’re okay with their decisions, and that’s your right. I can understand why you’d be offended that someone who took a much different position than you is praised, but your response here just makes you sound really defendant. There is a highway between being shamed about formula use and someone calling you on the carpet for working for a company that runs deceptive formula ads. This has nothing to do with patronizing or “disempowering” women. Not everyone looks hard to see if that’s a lion in sheep’s clothing; we’re pointing that out. Meantime, nobody even called you out personally. You took very personally praise for something that had nothing to do with you. That’s fine. But it’s your defensive posture and absurd claim that the ads on this company’s website aren’t “deceptive” that are actually undermining your credibility.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      FMB – I didn’t say anything in my post about formula advertising – here or elsewhere – being uniquely ethical, I just took the position against banning it. All advertising is manipulative. Manipulativeness is not the standard for banning advertising – the harmfulness of the product is. But, yes, I have been asking people to explain more clearly what they mean by deceptive and harmful, and to consider how their read on this reflects upon the adult women who make the choice to use formula. How are women harmed if they’re influenced by an ad to use formula, unless the choice to use formula is itself harmful? Where’s the trick or the deception in advertising, if the ad is clearly an ad and the market is adults who understand what commercial speech is?

      And I did feel called out personally, because Annie knows about my role at Babble and knows that we’ve been working internally to develop the best possible standard of practice around promoting breastfeeding and working with formula advertisers.

  66. Jodine Chase says:

    We’re soothing our own consciences when we avoid the facts about infant formula (and infant formula marketing practices) because we don’t want women to feel guilt or shame. It’s an effort to make ourselves feel better. Who wants to be branded as a shamer, as someone who makes a mother feel shame over her inability to breastfeed, over her choice to use infant formula?

    And so we use positive messages – breast is best. We hasten to add, “but formula is fine!” in case we cause shame. We pat women on the head when they make good choices. We don’t criticize when they don’t, or can’t, lest they feel shame. As if women are little children, not capable of taking responsibility for their own choices, not capable of acknowledging they have made a difficult parenting choice, or perhaps have been forced into a parenting decision that took their child down a riskier path.

    Where in this don’t shame mentality is there room for discussion about WHY every health authority advises us to breastfeed exclusively for six months, something the MAJORITY OF WOMEN IN NORTH AMERICA FAIL TO DO. Are they just all out to shame us?

    But we can’t have that discussion, not even here, because we’re too busy politely talking about freedom of choice and how infant formula is not bad and doesn’t cause harm, and isn’t anything remotely like tobacco or liquor or guns. We can’t say, “infant formula causes harm.” Even though it’s true. Because saying infant formula causes harm will cause feelings of shame for mothers who made that choice, and especially for mothers who had no choice.

    Infant formula marketing practices targeted at new mothers will result in a reduction of the duration of breastfeeding. If that causes no harm, then who cares?

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if offered its readers an unconditional choice to have a formula-free environment – if it let its readers turn off the ads? What if only gave the ads to readers who opted in. “Yes, I have chosen to feed infant formula and I want to see ads.” What asked, “would you like neutral third-party medical advice about when and how to feed formula…or would you like formula company ads?”

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Jodine, I have to applaud you – and I am being totally sincere here – for taking a clear and honest stance here. You believe that formula feeding is harmful, and you’re willing to say so. That opens up the possibility for a clear discussion about how and why we disagree about our choices. I really actually appreciate that. Because I understand the basis on which you and I disagree, and I am comfortable with that disagreement, and find it easier to have a conversation about what it is that we disagree on, when I understand what it is that we’re in disagreement about. I don’t believe that formula is harmful – but I am HAPPY to listen to an activist who believes that, and can respect her position if that is what she believes. By all means, if you believe that formula is harmful, argue that formula advertising should be banned. That position is logically coherent to me. I’ve felt the urge to call for bans of things that I believe cause harm, too.

      And! Your suggestion of reader opt-in/opt-out is also interesting. I don’t think that it’s technically possible, but it’s a fascinating suggestion. THIS is the kind of conversation that I want to have – what are our options, given that many of us disagree? How to we navigate our differences, how can we have a conversation about this, think about how to move forward, think about different things too, even if we disagree on certain core issues? CAN we reconcile these solitudes – or even just have them live side by side?

      Thank you.

  67. Ahmie Yeung says:

    Sorry, I could not finish reading your defensive screed of formula profiteering being OK after the 3rd paragraph or so. Especially when you said “Mothers in the North America are not, by and large, a vulnerable community.” That was an extremely ignorant statement, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t a WILLFULLY ignorant statement. I am in graduate school as a sociologist, my dissertation is planned to be on families receiving WIC assistance and what factors influence their breastfeeding to the guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics and a whole host of other authorities. Not vulnerable? I’m smack-dab in the middle of North America here in Ohio. In my state, MORE THAN 50% of babies’ births are paid for by Medicaid, meaning that their families are financially vulnerable. WIC does not supply enough formula to actually meet the full nutritional requirements of an exclusively formula-fed infant, therefore if a family “chooses” formula feeding over breastfeeding, in order to meet the baby’s actual nutritional requirements they will have to take resources (food stamps or other household income) to pay for that additional formula away from something else they likely needed that resource for (like better quality food for another member of the family). This “choice” is more often than not made for them by societal pressures, and as any breastfeeding activist knows has been pushed on them by various “booby traps” at least since they got the positive pregnancy test if not way before, say, when they were little girls and had bottles for their dollies and never saw anyone ever breastfeed a baby – as is common among my generation and especially among minorities. Add on top of that the fact that powdered formula is rarely mixed according to recommendations – it gets diluted down by people too poor to afford more of it so the baby doesn’t actually get all it’s supposed to be getting, or they use tap water with all kinds of stuff in it that can cause later health problems possibly through pipes old enough to leach other things like lead into the water, etc etc etc.

    To say that North American formula fed babies are not “vulnerable” is to speak from a place of ignorant privilege. You are now no longer ignorant of a piece of your privilege. You (and I) are privileged to have been able to have the REAL choice to breastfeed our babies (I am still breastfeeding my 3rd child, who is 15 months old, and breastfed my elder two until they were both past the WHO recommended minimum age – that recommendation, in my opinion, is NOT based upon environmental factors like sanitation etc but on what is BIOLOGICALLY NORMAL for our species. It is BIOLOGICALLY ABNORMAL to wean a young mammal to an adult diet before the young mammal has a full set of teeth).

    If you have no control over the funding your employer takes, then you should not feel guilty for wanting to be employed and provide for your family. If you are part of seeking out that funding from formula sources, then I, as a breastfeeding activist and researcher, am ashamed of you and DO consider you a hypocrite if you continue to defend formula marketing based upon your perceptions of “vulnerability”. When we know better, we do better. If you’ve read this, you now know a little better. Do better.

  68. Tanya says:

    I have been a lactivist for several years now, and have been involved with many lactivists online and in real life. I have NEVER actually seen somebody call formula “evil”. That doesn’t even make sense. An inanimate object can’t be evil.

    I’ve never seen anybody call formula companies “evil”, either. They are, after all, trying to make a living, and aren’t we all? Unethical? Absolutely. Manipulative? They sure can be! Not because they MAKE formula, but because of how they market it.

    Those who think that new mothers and mothers-to-be aren’t vulnerable are living in a dream world! I was an educated, well-supported first-time mother, and I was definitely vulnerable! When you’re exhausted from 54 hours of induced labour, have a pounding headache from your epidural, and your baby has been nursing for 4 hours straight because the second you unlatch him, he screams bloody murder, formula is pretty darned tempting! How many new moms are dealing with PPD, with a toddler they are trying to cater to as well as their newborn, with a partner who freaks out when the baby cries, and innocently suggests “maybe just try giving him ONE bottle?”, with grandparents who sweetly offer to take the baby and give him a bottle so that she can sleep, with absolute exhaustion, with the uncertainty whether or not her body really CAN make enough milk for this little human she has brought into the world?

    Yes, women are perfectly capable of making an informed decision to feed their baby formula. When women do this, and know the risks and benefits to both options, they do not feel guilty about it. I have met MANY women who have made the decision not to breastfeed, and they are fully aware of what the differences are. They needed that information in order to make an informed decision, and that’s exactly what they did. For whatever reason, breastfeeding wasn’t the best option for them, and they are fine with it.

    In my experience, the mothers who feel guilty about formula feeding are the ones who WANTED to breastfeed, but were unable to do so. Often, this is due to a lack of knowledge, a lack of support, conflicting information, prolonged separation of mother and infant, or medical issues. I see so many of these women falsely blaming themselves, when many times, it’s the system, or our society, that doomed their breastfeeding relationship from the start.

    I am 100% pro-choice, and would never want a woman to feel forced to breastfeed. But, so many women have felt forced to formula-feed, and that is JUST as wrong!

    The WHO Code is absolutely warranted. There is NO need for formula to be advertised in the way that it is. Let’s not forget, formula companies DID agree to this Code when it was created. They were THERE! And now, they blatantly disregard it. And yes, those who allow formula advertising through their business, are disregarding it as well.

    The Code does not infringe whatsoever on a woman’s ability to choose not to breastfeed, nor does in inhibit her ability to research different formulas and choose the best one for her baby. As far as I know, there is nothing in the Code that would prevent women from asking companies for free samples or coupons, either, if they were choosing to formula feed and wanted to try different brands.

    There will ALWAYS be babies who need formula. But formula companies marketing their products to moms who plan to breastfeed is incredibly wrong and it NEEDS to stop.

  69. Jenny says:

    I’m sorry, you just don’t get how powerful and destructive formula marketing has been over the years. Even if it appears ok now, it has already made it’s mark on society and undermined breastfeeding well enough that it’s job is pretty much done.
    There is a big flaw in the shame/guilt argument: It’s said that women are smart enough to not be duped by adverts, but they are *made* to feel guilty by ‘lactivists’. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways – either you’re powerless enough to be *made* to feel an emotion by everyone (including lactivists AND formula companies) or you’re smart enough to make your own informed choices about what you feed your baby and what you feel about it. No one makes you feel anything.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Jenny – I do understand how destructive formula marketing has been in past years. I used to do development work, and I currently work with organizations for maternal health globally. I’ve sat down with breastfeeding activists in the remote corners of Lesotho. But I also know that formula companies have been working to change this – working being the operative term there; this is all very much a work in progress. I did not once say that formula companies were angels. I did not say that their advertising was unbiased. I said that I disagreed with the banning of formula advertising.

      Intelligence and emotion are not the same thing. I can rationally understand why someone might be angry at me, but still be hurt and upset by their anger. I can believe that I’ve made a rational choice in my parenting, but still feel stung or shamed when someone suggests to me that it was a bad decision. I can be empowered intellectually and still vulnerable to hurt.

      (And, wow – no-one makes you feel anything? Let’s lift all those limits on hate speech, then! Because it’s your own problem if you’re upset by someone saying hateful to things to you! NO-ONE CAN MAKE YOU FEEL ANYTHING! Might as well stop those anti-bullying campaigns, too – silly children, getting their feelings hurt! THEY’RE responsible for their own feelings! PSHAW!)

  70. Carina says:

    This article is full of mis-leading untruthful information. As well as the formula companies mislead mothers into thinking formula is just as good as breast feeding. It’s propaganda. All to make $.. Breast is best. If a mother feels shame or guilt bc she CHOSE formula over what her baby really longed for, breast milk… That’s bc she knows in her heart of hearts that wasn’t the right choice. Alot of times it’s out of pure convenience and ignorance on the mothers part. When in reality, breast feeding is way more convenient and if the child could speak, they would beg for breast milk!!!!! I’m against formula, formula ads, and the people who support that powdered crap. Breast is best/pumped milk, donated milk 2nd best. Period.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Carina – this, again, is a position that I can respect. You believe that I am wrong. I believe that formula is not harmful. You do. Fair enough. If I believed that formula was harmful, I would ABSOLUTELY support circumscribing or even banning formula advertising. So I can respect your position here.

      (I do agree, by the way, that breastmilk is superior. Absolutely. I disagree that it’s always easier and more convenient. Working moms, for example – what are they to do? And moms who can’t produce milk, or HIV+ moms, or moms on medications that preclude breastfeeding?)

  71. Becky says:

    Thank you, this is the most intelligent article I have ever seen posted on this site.

  72. Leslie says:

    Catherine, Please don’t encourage formula companies to promote breastfeeding. There are plenty of other groups who can handle the breastfeeding advice. I don’t need to hear from someone who IS CLEARLY trying to sell me something that is the OPPOSITE of what I need. Really. They can advertise all they want to Moms who want formula, but they should not be allowed into the breastfeeding arena. It’s that simple. Keep out the foxes. Please. I fully support everything that Annie does in this regard.
    Many people commenting here are defending their choice to feed formula, this IS NOT a discussion about whether formula or breast milk is better or worse. This is a discussion about advertising. Annie has stated numerous times that she understands why women need and feed formula and is not judging anyone for doing so.
    Breastfeeding is HARD, we all know this, and the last thing any struggling Mom needs is a formula company trying to help her when there are FAR MORE useful resources that can probably help her more quickly and more effectively. A formula company giving advice about breastfeeding is just… ridiculous. It’s something they would only choose to do to STAY IN THE ARENA. They don’t want to leave, all the Moms are in there! But PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep them out.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Leslie, we absolutely don’t allow formula ads on breastfeeding content – we made that change after community feedback last year, because we recognized it as problematic. (I should actually say ‘they’ – I wasn’t here for that.) And that’s part of what we’ve been actively working on, honing our policy around where formula advertising is acceptable and where it is not, and how we can work to give breastfeeding promotion a BIGGER voice than formula advertising, and, hopefully, the biggest voice outside of sites devoted to breastfeeding. We really have something to contribute here – ours is a big platform – and we’re actively working on that. Which Annie actually knew before she wrote her post – I told her that we were really working on this, that we were SINCERELY working on this. But it seems that few hardliners are willing to have a conversation that doesn’t begin with ‘yes, we are banning all formula ads everywhere.’ We’ve removed formula advertising from breastfeeding content. Based on information we received today, we removed it from all search results that involve the term ‘breastfeeding’ (we didn’t know that this was happening.) We want to talk about what kinds of formula ads are perceived as unacceptable. But the answer from some corners is ALL OF IT, AND NO DISCUSSION UNTIL YOU BAN IT. And we/I disagree with banning it outright, for all of the reasons that I outline here.

      So where does that leave us? We continue to be committed to this cause, but unfortunately we will be working on it without input from that community. Not because we didn’t ask, but because they refuse.

  73. Kristen @ Birthing Beautiful Ideas says:

    I often wish that these conversations weren’t framed in terms of “formula-feeding moms vs. breastfeeding moms” or “formula-feeding moms vs. breastfeeding advocates”–or simply “moms vs. moms.” Catherine and Annie, I adore both of your blogs and much of the work that you have both done, and I think that you both take strides to avoid pitting mothers against other mothers. And that’s because (I assume) you both recognize that it’s often social, cultural, political, and other forces that create problems for mothers’ lives: forces whose continued existence often depends upon mothers fighting “amongst themselves” instead of finding common goals and values and interests to challenge those forces.

    So a few things: I think it’s perfectly compatible for a company to a) facilitate programs that really, truly do some good in the world and b) prioritize making a profit over any other goal or commitment within that company. It also seems to me that most (if not all, but I’ll say “most” to give some wiggle-room) advertising that said companies use to promote their product would serve b) primarily and a) secondarily. And these seem like reasonable assumptions to make when it comes to any large/multinational/etc. corporation or brand within a capitalist society.

    So how do I think this all applies to formula companies and advertising? I don’t doubt that some, or even many, individuals within these companies intend to HELP moms. All moms. To support them. Heck, even to offer support to breastfeeding moms. But at the same time, it seems impossible that this is their primary goal. Unless someone can correct me, it seems that their primary goal would be to sell more formula and increase profits for their investors. And I’m not quite sure how dramatically increasing breastfeeding rates (and even breastfeeding support) would serve this goal. But branding breastfeeding support with their company logo, with ads, and with hospital “breastfeeding” bags filled with formula samples–and thereby *subtly* undermining breastfeeding for *some* women–*would*. Or so it seems to me.

    One more thing (before I write a novel): I think that there might be a way to resolve the “formula is harmful, therefore formula-feeding moms harm their babies” situation. On an individual level, formula-fed babies can be very, very healthy, happy babies with parents who give them just as much love as breastfeeding parents do and who IN NO WAY intend to harm them. Full stop. No questions asked. But from a public health perspective–that is, on a macro level–breastfeeding has been shown to confer benefits upon babies that formula-feeding either does not, or does not to the extent that breastfeeding does.

    To me, this seems to demonstrate the need increase breastfeeding support and visibility in the most empowering, non-judgmental way possible. To avoid misleading and undermining information at all costs. And at this point, I’m just not convinced that formula advertising serves this goal. (PURPOSEFUL shaming of formula-feeding parents doesn’t serve this goal either. And I don’t think that Annie does this at all.)

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Kristen – I appreciate your comments here. I agree totally with everything that you’ve said here. I DON’T think that formula advertising is the way forward in promoting breastfeeding – I think that that requires an effort that excludes formula companies, for the most part. But I do think that it is responsible for formula companies to promote breastfeeding, and I do believe that it behooves them to do so, because despite the fact that they earn more if they sell more, they get greater market share if they’re seen as good breastfeeding citizens. From a competitiveness perspective, it makes total sense to work to be good such citizens, in the same way that it makes sense for a company that sells alcoholic beverages to promote responsible drinking, even though IRresponsible drinking will better line their coffers. Corporate social responsibility is, in many cases, undertaken because it makes good business sense. So I think that it misunderstands business to argue that their primary goal must be to aggressively or deceptively convert non-formula feeders to formula. Which is why I think that it’s potentially fruitful to engage these companies in discussion, rather than ban them from advertising and take an adversarial stance.

      That said, the point for me is whether it should be banned, and I think that it should not, as I’ve been saying over and over again. I believe that circumcision causes harm, but I’m reluctant to call for a ban on circumcision, because I’m uncomfortable with banning anything or in any way dictating parents’ choices. And I do believe that it does shame women for choosing or requiring formula – the evidence is all through these comments, and all over my twitter stream – when we suggest, by calling for such bans, that formula feeding is the wrong choice.

      I think that the solution should be to build a culture that celebrates and promotes breastfeeding, that gives it a wide media platform, that educates and informs and promotes. We can do that, I think, while still allowing formula advertising to exist (abiding by certain parameters) in the public space. I want this conversation to be about choice, meaningful choice, but I believe, strongly, that we undermine that conversation when we start it from a place that asserts that one of those choices is problematic. We can talk about breastfeeding being a BETTER choice – we should talk in those terms – but not the only reasonable choice, and I don’t think that we should should frame formula feeding as a choice that women need to be protected from.

  74. Agustina says:

    it is a respectable choice with health risks. Known health risks, that are indisputable, You can ask your doctor about ativan after seeing a commercial and make a somewhat informed choice because the ads have to list side effects and risks, But there is no warning or anything in formula ads. Are you going to say that the FDA patronizes the entire american population because psych drugs must be advertised with good information?? should we campaign against them for informing us too much?? We don’t treat formula with the same respect.. why? I will fight today, tomorrow and the next year for informed choice, Give me a formula ad that quotes the impeccable studies and the risks, in numbers, and I may have a different position, I may negotiate. But the ads you have as hey stand, they are uninformed, and they are there for the sole purpose of money making. I would respect your choice if you told me ‘hey, they give me money and i need it/want it’ But this circus you are making with arguments that fall apart and miss the point, I have no respect, i don’t even believe it. Nobody is so obtuse unintentionally, not to the point of not seeing why it is an issue for some people.

  75. DadCAMP says:

    Yay, your boobs worked. Your kids liked them.

    Doesn’t happen that way for everyone. So back off!

    Breast is best, full stop, but … not everyone can.

    Yes, the American medical system ushering women back to work weeks after delivery is part of the problem, but physiology plays a part too.

    Stop the name calling and support each other, everyone loves their kid and, with proper education, is doing what’s best for their family and situation.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      DadCAMP – Yep. That was part of my point.

  76. Lisa says:

    Re: Technical ability of an opt-in/opt-out ability to see formula ads.

    This is totally doable. It requires a splash screen, an internet cookie and some if/else statements in the website code. It would be a “minor” release.

    One note on Babble not putting the formula ads on breastfeeding info pages – but they do run on the main Baby page – meaning someone who is navigating the site to find breastfeeding info will see the ad on their way. And since the ad I’m seeing when I click on “Baby” says “I just fed her, why is she still crying?” this means a mother who wants an answer to that question may click the link and be on a formula-based website before she even had a chance to see the Breastfeeding support on Babble.

  77. pgoodness says:

    Re: the formula ad asking “I just fed her, why is she still crying?”

    You sure don’t give women very much credit. Why can’t a mother click the link, see what it says and move on to the breastfeeding support? Maybe it has good information but still won’t cause her to buy formula.

    Just because there is an ad, doesn’t mean it is swaying women to choose formula over breastfeeding.

    In general, people are not idiots and advertising is not a guarantee of purchase! I see ads for many things that I don’t buy!!

  78. Lisa says:

    I give women tons of credit. But ads work. That’s why they are on the site.

  79. Ruth says:

    Very well written. Kudos! I struggled immensely with Breastfeeding. I was pumping blood then skimming it from the bottle so I could feed my child. It was hard, painful, and heartbreaking for me. I formula fed my first born and cried with shame the moment I opened a can of formulal. That does not
    make me a bad mother.
    I love this article. It is very well written, emotional, straight forward and honest. Thank you.

  80. Mom3boys says:

    You hit the nail right on the head. There is the elephant in the room that most lactivists will not cop to… That formula is horrible. Use human milk for human babies, use expressed milk, use friends milk …. Blah blah blah. Hey, I breastfed exclusively for over 6 years with 2 different children, and supplemented for 6 weeks with my oldest. I get it. I also work with post partum moms who sometimes need a break from breastfeeding because they are at risk for harming their child. Should I tell them to suck it up because Emma and Annie have issues with it? Or should I help them and SUPPORT them because that is what they need? I hate the fact that sharing milk is pushed on us so hard. I find it gross. Sorry. Call me a pro formula mom or whatever, but I won’t eat my placenta either. Annie and Emma have to stop trying to “save us” and get on with their own lives! God forbid something horrible actually happen to them or their children… Really! Moms are not stupid. We make choices. We deal with them. Seriously ladies, try walking in someone else’s shoes before you get all high and mighty about what *I* want or need, or what *other* moms want or need! Kudos to you Catherine! Emma didn’t deserve that “momination” anyway. I know that she has made me feel like crap in the past.

  81. Mom3boys says:

    Oh, and I had one more point. Some of the people on the comments are posting about how we are vulnerable in western north America….and maybe there are some minority groups that may be at a higher risk… But let me ask you, are they reading babble blogs, or googling? Ummm. No. Because they don’t have access to the Internet. Get a perspective and figure out how many people actually have access to a computer or the Internet…. It’s a lot less than you would think!

  82. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    This conversation is getting confusing, so I’ll leave a couple of comments and try to address one point in each one.
    Catherine: You said: “It’s like saying that you’re pro-choice, but that you’re against Planned Parenthood making promotional efforts, and that you believe that women seeking abortions should be given counseling before being allowed the procedure because they’re vulnerable to influence and can’t reasonably be expected to make the right choice.”
    That is not at all what it is like. I am not against independent third-party organizations (like Planned Parenthood) providing information and support to women for all available options. I would, however, have a problem with for-profit abortion clinics directly and continuously targeting women who have already decided that they want to have the baby.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Annie – the pro-life community believes that Planned Parenthood isn’t neutral, that it’s pro-abortion, and that it does aim to convince women to have abortions that they wouldn’t otherwise choose if they understood what the stakes were. (I believe that they’re wrong, obviously, but that doesn’t change the fact that their position is not unlike the some of the positions stated here.) They believe that women are being manipulated into thinking that PP is neutral, that they are duped, when they go into PP for advice on dealing with a pregnancy, into making decisions that they wouldn’t make if all the correct information was available to them. They believe that abortions are too easy to get, that we live in a pro-abortion culture, and that women aren’t capable of understanding the choice that they’re making. The question of monetary profit is incidental, I think (although pro-life activists do believe that PP profits from abortion, in the form of government funding) – the issue is the charge of manipulation, and the idea that women are uniquely vulnerable to having their decisions dictated by third parties. I think that there are some uncomfortable corollaries here. (I do NOT think that formula feeding is like abortion, I hope that’s obvious. My argument is about choice, and about how choice can be undermined by people claiming to know what women REALLY want and what they WOULD decide if they knew better and that women are being manipulated because they can’t think for themselves.


  83. Kristen @ Birthing Beautiful Ideas says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Catherine.

    I just want to clarify that I don’t think that any formula company’s primary goal is to deceive breastfeeding mothers (or any mother) into choosing formula. The primary goal is to make money. I also think that a formula company can be 1) comprised of *individuals* with absolutely wonderful intentions and 2) *on the whole* market their product aggressively and mendaciously. (And, truth be told, creatively. Ads wouldn’t work as well as they do if they didn’t “sneak” their messages into our heads. Case in point? I’m a perfectly rational being who nonetheless “believes” that the rest of my life would magically resemble the serenity of a photo out of a Pottery Barn catalog if…well, if I simply purchased the entire Pottery Barn catalog. Just like the company wants me to. ;-)

    I will admit–though I “enforce” the WHO Code on my personal blog, I really, truly do appreciate the dilemma faced by those who at least *appreciate* the WHO Code yet choose to write for a large audience in a forum whose advertising policies don’t always comply with the WHO Code. I also appreciate how valuing free speech complicates this matter even more. (It all makes my head hurt, and if I weren’t 21 weeks pregnant, I’d be pouring myself a BIG martini right now.) The thing is, if formula advertising LOOKED different than it does now, I don’t think I’d have that much of a problem with it at all. But…I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the way that MUCH (though not all) of it looks now makes it seem, again, aggressive and mendacious. (And, again, creative. I’ll give them that.) And to criticize this type of marketing–to call *it* harmful–it not to simultaneously or necessarily claim that formula-feeding parents have all been duped, or that they’ve made the wrong choice, or that they are literally harming their infants. (They’re FEEDING their infants!) In other words, it’s not a criticism of the product or the people who buy it: it’s a criticism of the way in which that product is promoted.

    With that being said, I’m still trying to work out in my head (and have been for quite some time) how to promote breastfeeding AND frame the breastfeeding/formula-feeding conversation in a way that doesn’t a) pit mothers against each other and b) lead to feelings of guilt or shame. (Those feelings exist–some for more rational reasons, others for less–whether we breastfeeding advocates like it or not. Better to address them than to ignore or belittle them.)

    When I find that magical communication key, I think I’ll have earned that much-yearned-for martini.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Kristen – again, though, it simply doesn’t make sense to me (and I say this a former lecturer in philosophy who maybe gets too hung up on logic and coherent syllogisms) to say that advertising is harmful but the product being advertised is not. What harm does the advertising cause if the product that it promotes is not harmful, if that product is *choiceworthy*? This is the standard for evaluating restrictions on speech – does it cause harm, and if so, what harm? We ban tobacco advertising not because advertising is manipulative (all advertising is manipulative; as you point out, Pottery Barn advertising is manipulative), but because tobacco is harmful. So the call to ban formula advertising carries the very clear message that formula is harmful. Proponents of a ban may not MEAN that, but that’s the message they send. If formula advertising is harmful because advertising manipulates, aims to make influence peoples’ choices, and you think that warrants a ban, BAN ALL ADVERTISING. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about only banning formula advertising, and the only thing that distinguishes formula advertising from other advertising is that it markets FORMULA. You see my argument? I’m not trying to be difficult. I just want us to be clear about what we’re saying, and what are the implications of our arguments. I spent too much time studying and teaching Socrates, and maybe it makes me a little insufferable when it comes to teasing out an argument, but I feel strongly that clarity is needed if we’re to try to find that magical communication key of which you speak.

      And damn, I do want to find that key. I will buy you a lifetime’s worth of martinis if you find it :)

  84. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    Catherine: You asked “What’s the dangerous information on formula websites?”
    There are plenty of examples here from Nestle’s website:
    They vary in terms of severity, from making breastfeeding seem inconvenient all the way to saying that a nursing strike in a 3 month old might mean that “she’s ready to give up nursing”.
    Sometimes it is not on the formula company websites directly, but is on websites (like this one) that are sponsored by formula companies. The breastfeeding guide on WebMD, for example, is flanked on all sides by Gerber (Nestle) ads and has some pretty horrible, inaccurate and antiquated breastfeeding advice. Perhaps if they didn’t have Nestle sponsoring the section, they would have been able to get an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to help them with the content, instead of a doctor who obviously has insufficient training in lactation.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Annie – I totally agree that some tactics by formula companies are problematic, I absolutely do, and I think that Nestle is the obvious case. I do have trouble with the rhetoric of danger, though, in many cases, and my point in asking the question is about that – framing the issue as one of danger is EXACTLY what formula feeding moms experience as shaming. If the suggestion to a mom that she might consider formula is a *dangerous* suggestion, how does that not imply that formula itself is dangerous and that any mom who has chosen formula has made a dangerous move?

      I agreed fully with criticism of the Evenflo ads that implied pretty brazenly that the solution to being made to feel embarrassed is to hide the boob and use the bottle. I wouldn’t characterize it as DANGEROUS, because I don’t believe that using a bottle is dangerous, but would characterize it as shaming of nursing moms, which is horrible. I agree fully with being critical of formula advertising more broadly – being engaged, reasoning consumers DEMANDS that we do that – and I agree that there are cases in which that advertising really needs to be called to task. But I disagree with the rhetoric of danger and harm – I passionately disagree with that rhetoric, because the shame that it heaps on formula feeding moms – and I disagree with outright bans.

  85. Nicola says:

    I want this article tattooed on my back!

    The “lactavist” forget that we had to fight for the right to CHOSE! Why are we bringing the feminist movement back 60 years?!?

    I could go on all day but won’t.

    Beautifully written.

    Thank you.

  86. Kris says:

    Am I the only person who isn’t missing the whole point?

    The person who pulled her nomination is running a MILK SHARING organization! Her whole purpose is to let people know that there is an alternative to formula. She has stated that breast milk is not a scarce commodity.The statement that a baby who doesn’t receive formula will starve is not the way it has to be. There are thousands of women who would love to feed their children breast milk. The reason they don’t is because of lack of access and the stigma attached to using another woman’s milk. This stigma has been successfully perpetuated, at least in part, by formula companies.
    When you keep in mind that nature of the organization, it is not a stretch to see how accepting money from a company that gets it’s revenue from formula companies can easily been seen as a conflict of interest.

    Oh , and speaking of choices, it is totally her choice to accept or deny this prize. She is taking a stand based on her beliefs . Whether you agree with her opinions or not, you can’t fault her for following through.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Kris – I don’t fault Emma for making the choice that she did – nobody at Babble does. I can absolutely respect someone standing up for their beliefs in that way. This post isn’t about Emma deciding to to take this stand – this post is about characterizations of Babble, and by extension me and the other breastfeeding moms and pro-breastfeeding dads here, as a recalcitrant organization that refuses to do the right thing and refuses to accept feedback on its choices and refuses to engage with the community on these issues. We wanted to talk to Emma! We wanted her feedback! We wanted to have a conversation! She said no conversation until we banned ads. So she ended the conversation, and other lactivists supported the decision to refuse conversation, and I think that sends a deeply troubling message to mothers and formula feeding mothers in particular (we can’t even TALK about formula ads, formula is that bad). THAT is what my post is about.

  87. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    Catherine, you said: “And I did feel called out personally, because Annie knows about my role at Babble and knows that we’ve been working internally to develop the best possible standard of practice around promoting breastfeeding and working with formula advertisers.”
    I guess that we both took different things away from the conversations that we had. My understanding was that Babble was discussing the role of formula advertising and considering its options, including potentially discontinuing them . I took that as good news. So I was surprised when Alisa said that “we have run advertising campaigns on Babble with formula companies in the past and we expect that we will do so again in the future.” If Babble was considering its options, she could have left the door wide open, sought input, invited discussion. Instead, she made it fairly clear that there was no change planned in that regard moving forward.
    I did give you the courtesy of checking in with you first to ensure that the information I had was accurate and I was really hoping that you would tell me that the information wasn’t accurate. I also let you know that I planned to post about it and sent you a link when my blog post was up.
    My article wasn’t intended as a personal attack, Catherine (although I must admit that I’m seeing your article that way given the assumptions you made about what I believe). It was intended to highlight Emma’s choice (which was in line with her values) and to underscore the fact that, I believe, Babble has more to gain from turning down formula ads than it does from retaining them.
    I’ve made similar arguments about other organizations in the past and you’ve applauded and/or thanked me for it. You’ve even thrown your support behind the WHO Code in other instances, which is why this whole conversation is incredibly surreal for me right now.
    A lot of people have criticized me for my decision to continue attending BlogHer events despite the fact that they accept sponsorship from Nestle. It was an issue I was conflicted on, and that I wrote about at length. However, I also found the time, head space, and heart to celebrate people who made different decisions – i.e. those who decided to boycott BlogHer over the Nestle sponsorship. I believe that I can celebrate Emma’s decision to ask to be removed from the Momination contest, while at the same time understanding the reasons why many of my friends choose to work for Babble despite quite a few questionable business decisions (the formula ads are just one).
    I do work for organizations that are not perfect. I am not perfect. We all make mistakes and we all need to be guided by our own moral compass. I don’t think that means that we need to shut down all conversation about what is right and what is wrong.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      I don’t believe that the whole WHO code should be thrown out. I think that there’s much that’s great and necessary about the WHO code. I agree that some formula companies make dodgy choices. I think that formula companies should be scrutinized, and criticized. I think that any company – including and especially Babble – should consider carefully how they work with formula companies. I DON’T think that banning formula advertising in the Global North is a good idea; in fact, I think – as I make clear here – that it’s a very bad idea, because of the messages that it sends (mothers stupid/formula bad). I’ve spoken out before against shaming moms who use formula. I’ve also spoken out – in disagreement with you, Annie – about the fuzzy logic of boycotts and the problems of calling other women for making different choices (for example, the bloggers who went to that Nestle event in the interest of engagement.)

      The door was not left open for conversation with Emma – it was opened enthusiastically and with a warm welcome and milk and cookies and a ‘please, why don’t you come in and sit down because we’d love to hear what you think and why.’ But because Babble refused to state at the outset that we would ban formula advertising, that invitation was rejected. Alisa said – in a private correspondence – that she expected that we would not be moving to ban formula ads. That doesn’t mean that we’re not interested in getting feedback from people who think that we should reject such ads, or who want to talk about what kinds of ads that we do accept – we emphatically are, and we asked Emma in particular for that feedback – it means that we could not and would not make a commitment to Emma to ban ads. For reasons that I outlined above. So when you characterize Babble as not willing to talk or consider its policies, you’re making an entirely misleading characterization – we haven’t changed ONE policy, although we’re happy to talk to people about it, and invited Emma to talk about it. We’ve continued, actively, to adapt and change things when we agree that we’re in the wrong – Babble changed its policy last year, and moved formula ads off breastfeeding pages. Yesterday, we moved quickly to remove to remove ads from search pages on breastfeeding – not to appease people, but because we agreed, when it was pointed out, that it wasn’t appropriate. The closing off of the conversation has come from those taking the hard line that there’s no conversation to be had unless we ban formula ads, which I think sends a deeply troubling message to the mothering community about the lactivist view of formula.

  88. Jean says:

    WOW,WOW,WOW! Best post ever on this subject that is unfortunately an ongoing debate that will never end. How I wish this forum had been around thirty years ago when I had my first child.
    I was not a successful at breast-feeding my first child, due to many factors. I was determined to do it and soldiered on. When the Dr.informed me at my sons three week check-up, that my big baby had not regained his birth weight I felt like the biggest failure ever. I was told to nurse on both sides and then supplement with formula. That made me feel even worse. Yes, those were my feelings and at no time did my Dr and his staff make me feel like a failure. THAT came from the Lactation and LeLeche women sent to “help” me. At a time I needed support the most I received nothing but condemnation and tsk tsking that anybody can do it if they try hard enough. Hmmmmm not necessarily. I’ll never forget the looks of abject horror when I told them I would continue to supplement because the difference in my baby was like night and day. He was not hungry anymore. So I go with other comments on this discourse- I support a fed baby. They tend to grow better!
    And Annie, yes you are entitled to your opinions as am I and others. Please be aware that while your intent is good your strident, judgmental, and rigid ways of stating your views are hurtful and cause more harm than good. It doesn’t have to be your way or no way. We can all disagree and still get along. Parenting is a hard, hard job without all of this needless discourse. Very few parents set out to be bad parents. Even those of us that didn’t or don’t do it breastfeeding exclusively. And at the end of the day it is no ones business. There is a place for all of us and our differing opinions.

  89. [...] Who are Changing Your World” contest.  Now has responded to this news through this post by Catherine Connors titled “Shame and the Mom:  On Formula, Lactivism and Why, it Seems, we [...]

  90. Joy says:

    *slow clap* re: Susannah’s comment on Sep 13 11 at 3:28 pm.

    Annie, thanks for your continued advocacy. It is appreciated.

  91. Sam says:

    Formula is absolutely necessary. When a woman can’t breastfeed or just does not want to, it is important that she has an alternative. In this day and age, breastfeeding can be very hard for some people. I will NEVER tell a mother that she didn’t try hard enough. I don’t care how you feed your baby, only that you feel that you are informed and happy about that choice. If you feel grief or guilt over how you feed your baby then I sympathise whole heartedly.

    That is entirely seperate from the issue of *advertising*. Advertising formula is neither necessary or ethical. Where formula companies are able to push their product on mothers, breastfeeding rates are lower. Knowing this, why does Babble take money for advertising this product? Because they want lower breastfeeding rates? I doubt that. Because those companies pay BIG money for the privelege?? I would guess that has a lot to do with it. And just WHY do they pay so much to advertise their product? Because they know it WORKS, that’s why!

    It does NOT work because mothers are “stupid”. Women are most certainly NOT stupid. Everyone is affected subtly by advertising at some point, no matter how intelligent they are. Advertising is subtle and powerful. Wording and images are chosen VERY carefully with one goal in mind. *****To sell that product.***** For formula companies, this means doing everything they can to ensure you stop breastfeeding – because if you breastfeed, you will not be buying their product. When a company advertises its product to you, it is not altruistic. It has NOTHING to do with providing mothers with useful information on HOW to feed formula safely. It is about MONEY.

    Formula companies do not want you to breastfeed. They want you to believe that breastfeeding is BEST. Surplus, elite, special, EXTRA, a lofty goal to strive for, difficult, inconvenient, temporary. They want you to stop breastfeeding and buy their product. Their every advert will be geared to this end. Not only do they succeed in this on a gargantuan scale, they also succeed in convincing intelligent, passionate lactivists that advertising their stuff is AOK. You’ve got to hand it to these people…. Health issues aside, that is pretty impressive stuff.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Sam – on this logic, all advertising should be banned, because all advertising manipulates. Seriously. Where alcohol is advertised, rates of drinking go up; where fast food is advertised, rates of fast food consumption go up; where cars are advertised, rates of driving go up; where credit cards are advertised, rates of debt go up. All of these things are less than ideal, but we tolerate them, because banning commercial speech is problematic, and because we believe that adults are or should be capable of parsing the information presented to them in ads. (We restrict advertising to children because we believe that they can’t parse such information.)

      I’m not defending formula companies. I’m opposing bans on their advertising. There’s a big difference there.

  92. Jenn (twitter - @JennAbitbol says:

    This is a very interesting article and I had to spend the night, and my morning shower, collecting my thoughts. I consider myself to be a lactivist, and like many others, I do not disparage formula feeding mothers, but the unethical practices of formula companies.

    As usual, any discussion about formula companies always turns into a breastfeeding vs. formula feeding debate, but that really is not the issue here. When we look at the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, and breastmilk itself, we come to the common moniker or tag line – “breast is best”. When you, me, anyone sees that, the implication is clear – breastfeeding is best but any other form of infant feeding is totally fine (kind of like Acura is best, but Toyota is fine – really, I want a luxury car, but my family is totally fine and cool in my regular, “normal” car). With respect to breastfeeding, this is incorrect advertising. Breast is not best – it is normal or standard – in the same way that breathing is normal and standard while using oxygen from a tank is a deviation from the norm. That oxygen from a tank saves lives and if you have to use it, by all means do so, but it is inferior to just plain old breathing. Because of this whole “breast is best” campaign, people are falsely under the impression that breastfeeding ADDS something when the opposite is actually true. Breastfeeding does nothing – not breastfeeding takes things away and puts people at a higher risk for various things. Women, mothers, people, are not told this routinely, because no one wants to hurt feelings of vulnerable people (mothers who turned to formula for whatever reason). And Toyota is totally fine anyway! ;) (With respect to cars, the base model is the norm, and luxury is added – with breastfeeding, it is the opposite. Breastfeeding is the base model, and things are taken away when it isn’t breastmilk).

    And that brings me full circle back to the original article and the concept of vulnerability. I agree that women should have a choice, but when I make a choice, I want to be fully informed from unbiased sources at a time when I am of a sound mind to make those choices. We, as mothers, go to our prenatal classes, and are told all about breastfeeding and told it’s the best and we all plan to nurse. We are given our little bags of formula in pretty diaper bags or bottles from well meaning relatives at our showers and we tuck them away because we are going to breastfeed. And then we are in labour for 234233234 hours and we’re tired and we have no milk and we forget everything we learned in our classes and “breast is best”, but look at this cool diaper bag and the information in it saying that formula is ok, and we have a Toyota so we’re just going to give a bottle so we can sleep and be assured that baby isn’t starving, and then it’s 5 months later and we are able to make an informed decision, but that decision making time is over. You cannot (rarely) go back and make the decision to breastfeed months after you have formula fed. And then the guilt and the anger sets in.

    My dd was born at 32 weeks and thanks to the most amazing nurse in the world and a very supportive husband, I nursed her (for three years) – following a full month of pumping. I considered myself a total breastfeeding expert and a lactivist by the time I was pregnant with my son. When he was born very small at 37 weeks after a c-section, I was ready to nurse him, I did nurse him, but he was so very small, and had low glucose, and he “needed formula” and “you don’t want him to fall into a coma and die, do you”? Here I was, a lactivist, laying in a hospital bed, unable to move the lower half of my body, trying desperately to nurse, and being told that without formula, my son will likely die. I KNEW this was incorrect, I didn’t have the proof or the support or the ability to form sentences. He did get formula, but I fought back and nursed him for years. My point? I was a seasoned breastfeeding mom and a lactivist and I was still very vulnerable. Who wants to have to fight medical people after having a low birthweight baby at 37 weeks while unable to move in a hospital recovery bed? Who CAN do that? That night in the hospital, I phoned LLL and the (then) Newman Breastfeeding clinic (where I found out that the information I was given was inaccurate in the case of my son and his numbers). I was in tears, sobbing hysterically. Had I been on Babble, reading a magazine, whatever, and seen the Similac ad, and the LC number, I may have called it because I didn’t know that it was similac and I may have believed I was speaking with an IBCLC. Why should I have to get my bfing information from a company that wants me to feed formula?

    When products like infant formula are marketed the way they are to vulnerable people (and lets face it, most of us are vulnerable when the ads “work”), profits increase, and that is what these companies want. I do not see these companies competing against each other – they are competing against bfing all while pretending to support it. That’s unethical. And gross.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Breastfeeding is absolutely the norm. It’s the natural way to feed a baby. But I disagree that NOT breastfeeding is harmful or takes something away. We do a lot of unnatural things as human beings. God, dentistry is unnatural. Driving cars is unnatural. Taking birth control is unnatural. Drinking flouridated water is unnatural. Again, part of the problem that I have with some of these arguments is the rhetoric of danger and harm. The other is with this idea that mothers are uniquely vulnerable to advertising in a way that, say, alcoholics and McDonald’s fans are not. There’s a suggestion here that no mother could or should in her right mind choose formula. Never mind that she might HAVE to – because she works, because she’s on anti-depressants, because she finds it too hard and just doesn’t want to – the position seems to be that she SHOULD and that she can’t be trusted to make the right decision and that we know better than she does. That is the very definition of paternalism.

      Those who are willing to own that their position is paternalistic get some respect from me – I’m paternalistic on some issues; I believe that I’m just *right* on some issues. What I have a problem with is people saying ‘I’m not trying to tell women what to do, I’m not judging women who formula feed, I think mothers have the right and ability to choose how they feed their children, I think that mothers are smart enough to collect and process information – but I think that they should be protected from advertising that might influence their choice in the wrong direction.’ It’s logic fail. My point is that if you believe in respecting the integrity of women’s decisions and the meaningful right to choose and the defensibility of using formula, then the stance that formula advertising should be banned is flawed.

  93. dani Arnold-Mckenny says:

    regardless of your opinion about “good or bad ” formula marketing and advertisements, the truth is in the studies: ALL formula advertising and marketing directly interferes with breastfeeding initiation and longevity rates- world wide. Hence the creation of the WHO Code. ….and Shame? really? Do we shame families when we tell them to keep their baby rear facing in their car seat? NO, we are just relaying the facts: rear facing is safer. It’s not about “Shame”. It’s about acknowledging the facts and stating the truth. Formula marketing directly effects breastfeeding. Truth. You can dispute it, or put a fancy name on it, or misdirect it all you want. Truth is truth.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Your example of the car seat demonstrates my point perfectly, actually – front facing car seats have been deemed dangerous. We WOULD tell a mother who put her infant in a front facing car seat that it was contrary to her infant’s safety. I’m suggesting that sending this message to formula feeding mothers is problematic.

      And the argument that formula marketing has an impact on breastfeeding rates isn’t what I’m challenging – it’s the rhetoric of harm. I don’t dispute that formula marketing has an impact on breastfeeding rates. I’ve stated quite clearly here that I believe that there’s a lot of work to do around getting a bigger and better platform for breastfeeding. I just don’t think that a negative effort – banning formula ads – is the solution. I’d rather work on a positive one, one that aims to build conversation and expand the dialogue, not shut it down.

      But look – if you DO believe that formula causes harm, by all means, stand up for that. I don’t.

  94. [...] as I can remember, and quite often I try to steer clear of controversy. But with the more recent debate of advertising on Babble, and the cry to ban formula advertising all together, I feel the need to speak my mind.  And so I [...]

  95. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    I can’t speak for Emma, but I will repeat my position with regard to having a conversation with Babble. I said it above and I’ll say it again. I am willing and ready to have a no-strings-attached conversation. I’m willing to listen and to share my ideas.

    That is, for me, different from accepting money from Babble or accepting a position on an advisory board. Those are both things that would make me uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean that it is inherently wrong for anyone else to accept money from Babble or to be on an advisory board, but it is not something I would be comfortable doing.

    Dialogue, however, is something that I’m always open to.

  96. I think the whole banning of advertising is ridiculous. We as parents are smarter than this. I will and did make up my own mind. I had a nurse berate and try to humiliate me because I was feeding from a bottle- I was in my doctors waiting room. She was fired.

    We see advertisements daily for things that are questionable but we decide. I see ads all the time for antidepressants doesn’t mean I run out and ask for them. If I need something I want to know what my options are plain and simple.

    Catherine I see nothing run with running a discussion on a site that has formula ads. If you say every effort will be made to Kees the ads out of the forum were discussions will happen then I say good on ya.

  97. Mama Bear says:

    I wrote a blog response to this post, Catherine. I hope you read it. Two things to focus on: (1) “formula is evil” (it’s not) and (2) “vulnerable populations” (we are). Please read:

  98. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    I think the big difference between formula advertising (especially deceptive, underhanded and pervasive formula advertising) and advertising for McDonald’s, chocolate bars (or whatever else someone is trying to use willpower to avoid), is that I can slip up and go to McDonald’s and get back on my diet the next day and the consequences will not be dire.
    With formula, once moms decide to break out a bottle in frustration because their nipples are sore, their baby is crying, they just want some sleep, or whatever, that can be the beginning of the end of their breastfeeding relationship. Which, if that is what they want, is fine. But a lot of moms do not realize that skipping that night feeding by having dad give a bottle of formula can lead to your supply decreasing, which requires you to supplement more, which leads to your supply decreasing even more, and so on. A lot of moms don’t realize that a 3 month old on a nursing strike is not “self weaning”. A lot of moms don’t realize that a baby gulping back a full bottle of formula doesn’t mean that he was STARVING at the breast and that she isn’t producing enough milk. A lot of moms don’t realize that nipple confusion is, in fact, real and not just a myth. When a mom who wants to breastfeed gets convinced to just give formula a try, she may not understand the implications of that decision.
    You may say that I’m insulting mothers by saying that. I’m not. I spent years as a volunteer on a breastfeeding support board and there were many, many, intelligent women who just weren’t informed about the mechanics of breastfeeding and who were then completely distraught as they saw their milk supply dwindling as a result of supplementation. If you think I am insulting mothers by saying that formula promotion does convince them to make choices that they would not want to make, then you are the one who is insulting ALL of those mothers that I worked with over the years. Because obviously they were just stupid if they got duped.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      I don’t disagree that moms should have access to good information and that that information should be freely availably and promoted and OUT THERE. I am ALL FOR more breastfeeding promotion; I am PASSIONATE about more breastfeeding promotion and more information and more discussion. What I am not for is the banning of ads. We don’t ban advertising of alcohol because one slip with a drink could be deadly. We don’t ban McDonald’s ads because they might convince some families that fast food is a reasonable part of an ongoing diet. We don’t ban credit card ads because someone might go on a spending binge and end up bankrupt. We aim for education around those things.

      Annie, we don’t disagree on the need to get more and more and better information about breastfeeding out there. We disagree on the way to go about it, and about the implications of certain positions of the subject. Hundreds of women have been saying (here and on Twitter) yesterday and today that they feel shamed by the rhetoric around discouraging formula feeding and banning formula ads. I felt shamed. I’ve written about it at length. I would have had a healthier and happier first year with Jasper if I had not felt such guilt about breastfeeding. I am not alone. This is a real problem. I want to find common ground, I want to reconcile the solitudes. I want to assert that one can be a lactivist and not believe that banning formula ads is the solution. I want to assert that Babble can be a good breastfeeding citizen without banning ads.

      So if the position is simply that there can be no good breastfeeding citizenship unless one supports banning commercial speech around formula, then we just have leave it at that and accept our disagreement.

  99. Jenn (twitter - @JennAbitbol says:

    “Breastfeeding is absolutely the norm. It’s the natural way to feed a baby. But I disagree that NOT breastfeeding is harmful or takes something away.”

    This is a proven fact. By saying that breastfeeding is the norm, but that not breastfeeding is is not harmful and takes nothing away, you are contradicting yourself – or you are saying that they are equal (bfing and formula feeding). The simple fact is that when a person is not breastfed, their risk for various ailments increases. Some people do not see this as harmful – ie, a blank% risk of getting x form of cancer if child is not fed breastmilk is not a huge risk. If someone feels that way – cool for them – but they should be at least given the correct information. Breastfeeding does not give someone extra special benefits. Not breastfeeding may increase disease. Facts.

    “I believe that I’m just *right* on some issues.”

    I don’t believe, I KNOW I am – lolol! :) ie, wine is VERY good for you, right!

    “What I have a problem with is people saying ‘I’m not trying to tell women what to do, I’m not judging women who formula feed, I think mothers have the right and ability to choose how they feed their children, I think that mothers are smart enough to collect and process information – but I think that they should be protected from advertising that might influence their choice in the wrong direction.’ It’s logic fail. My point is that if you believe in respecting the integrity of women’s decisions and the meaningful right to choose and the defensibility of using formula, then the stance that formula advertising should be banned is flawed.”

    I am not going to lie – I do judge. I wish I didn’t, but I do. I can not understand how a person with full information will actually CHOOSE to do something that carries a risk. I also do not think that a lot of people have full information and I think that the reason for that is formula companies. I will be completely honest here – I am not adverse to all formula advertising. If Shoppers Drug Mart puts a formula on sale and places an ad in their flier, it’s not something I get all up in arms over because I feel that in those cases they are advertising to the person who is already using the formula. If advertising was in this vein, I would have a lot less problems. The main issue I have are things like the “hotline on breastfeeding” (why is a formula company offering breastfeeding info?, things that look like breastfeeding help, but when you click on a link, they take you to a formula website, bags of formula from hospitals, doctors, baby festivals, etc. And I do respect a women’s right to choose, but shouldn’t that choice be made through accurate information? If the information provided is full of untruths and half truths, then the right to choose is not really there because the choice is being hindered (ah, philosophy 101). In a realistic world, formula companies would compete with each other for advertising in their market, and all moms would be given accurate, unbiased advice from educated health care professionals so the choice would really be that – a choice!

  100. [...] resides the problem: I’m not against formula advertising. I’m just not. (Continue reading this post at Bad Mother Confidential. The conversation is kind of raging there. That’s kind of awesome, but also kind of [...]

  101. Jenn (twitter - @JennAbitbol says:

    “We restrict advertising to children because we believe that they can’t parse such information”

    Maybe we should consider this advertising to children because really it is FOR the children, right?

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      No, because the advertising isn’t directed at children – it doesn’t aim to influence children. That’s the standard. We restrict advertising to children on the basis that it unduly influences unformed minds. Moms have fully formed minds. We assume that they are capable of parsing information presented in commercial speech. The only exception to this as a standard for advertising restrictions is when the product is harmful or illegal. Tobacco and firearms are the only legal products that we fully restrict the advertising of.

  102. Jenn (twitter - @JennAbitbol says:

    “So if the position is simply that there can be no good breastfeeding citizenship unless one supports banning commercial speech around formula, then we just have leave it at that and accept our disagreement.”

    Absolutely not. I am completely open to dialogue and, as I mentioned previously, ads can be done in a way that would be better for all involved. If I were a formula feeding mom, I would like ads that spoke less about breastfeeding hotlines and more about why their product is cheap, good, and how to use it. Does that make sense? No one is marketing formula to formula feeding moms. Why? Because they are so busy martketing formula to nursing mothers! Again, does this make sense? To anyone?

    Are you going to go to McDonalds to get your information on healthy living? If you do, you could, throughout time, make an informed decision about how you eat and how you feed your family. Like Annie mentioned previously, the issue with breastfeeding and formula feeding is time sensitive. There is no “do over”. You cannot sift through information for a few months because at that point, bfing relationships will likely end.

    Again, how about formula companies stick to advertising their products to the people who USE their products. Maybe it’s just me or a few of us, but really, is it not obvious that by pretending to be supportive of breastfeeding in ads for formula, that the companies are trying to recruit customers. It’s deceptive at best.

    As for feeling shame, I am a strong believer that no one MAKES another person feel shame and if someone feels shame, they must examine why. I’m a two time c-section mom. I get a jolt in me everytime I hear about a great natural birth and all that goes with it – the pool, the yoga ball. The fact remains that natural births are safer than c-sections. That’s not me making things up. If I feel shame over my c-section, it’s not people who are talking about natural births and how they are better that are doing it, it is my own sense of shame because c-sections are NOT better. In my case, maybe it could have been done differently, maybe not, but I have had two c-sections and I accept it and move on. Natural births are still the normal and c-sections are still something that saves lives but an intervention that is not always necessary and that can cause problems and cost lives as well.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      ““So if the position is simply that there can be no good breastfeeding citizenship unless one supports banning commercial speech around formula, then we just have leave it at that and accept our disagreement.”

      Absolutely not. I am completely open to dialogue and, as I mentioned previously, ads can be done in a way that would be better for all involved. If I were a formula feeding mom, I would like ads that spoke less about breastfeeding hotlines and more about why their product is cheap, good, and how to use it. Does that make sense? ”

      YES! YES!

      We can have this conversation. I want to have this conversation. YES. THIS is EXACTLY the conversation that I think we should have.

  103. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    I had a fascinating conversation with a number of people on the topic of guilt and shame this morning. We came to the conclusion that we need less pressure to breastfeed and more support for those who do want to breastfeed.
    To me, part of that support includes minimizing the societal barriers to breastfeeding, which does include (among other things) deceptive formula promotion practices. If formula companies had demonstrated that they could be responsible in the promotion of their product, perhaps I would have a different opinion on this. However, it is their ongoing reckless attempts to sabotage breastfeeding moms and their disregard for guidelines issued by public health organizations and governments, that have led me to my position.
    Again, just to reiterate, that doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to having a conversation.

  104. Jenn (twitter - @JennAbitbol says:

    “YES! YES!

    We can have this conversation. I want to have this conversation. YES. THIS is EXACTLY the conversation that I think we should have.”

    :) Over wine I hope! ;) For real – I’m in Toronto area.

    I just thought of an analogy to hopefully make my point clearer. My dh and I were discussing our need and love of fresh fish for meals so this weekend we sat with all the fliers, Sobeys, Metro, Highland Farms and Longos, open on the kitchen table, reading over the best deals. In the end we went with Longos and bought some fresh fish. I would have been a bit upset if there was a huge ad from a meat only place advertising fish at an unbelievable price, but when I got there, they were out, but giving away free meat, but “don’t worry, fish is still cool”. Likewise, I am less upset when I see loblaws, shoppers, and toys r us, advertise that formula is on sale. I don’t even look or care, much in the same way, I don’t look or care that pork is on sale. I’m sure though, there are plenty of moms/dads who use formula who do care, because they want a good deal. If formula companies stick to advertising their product and prices to their target market, I would be a much happier mama!

    I agree with Annie on less pressure to bf. I hate to keep beating a broken record but when you tell people “breast is best, it’s for supermoms”, then I can see where shame and guilt can come in. Who really is a supermom anyway? More support for breastfeeding is so important. Support that is easily available, free of charge, would be even better!

  105. Pam @writewrds says:

    After reading here yesterday, I went to (cart after horse), read the background info and then read the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes FAQs doc. It’s understandable why Annie and other breastfeeding advocates champion the cause.
    This discussion is great. Very worthwhile and necessary.
    But it’s a complex issue. In reality, the code has no bite. It has existed since 1981 and has never, in 30 years, been adopted globally. Certainly, in North America, stakeholders – governments, manufacturers, distributors, professionals, NGOs and consumer organizations – do not follow it. Advertising of breast-milk substitutes is pervasive.
    Short of also boycotting all the many businesses — from Shoppers Drug Mart to Loblaws — that do advertise, always have, always will, is it fair to single out one website that welcomed a nomination and does, in fact, support mothers who breastfeed?

  106. gabrielle says:

    Thank you for this commentary. All my life I’ve dreamt of the day when I would deliver my first child and then breastfeed for a year or more. Unfortunately several months before TTC I was diagnosed with a chronic condition and in need of daily medication to keep the condition in remission. I am lucky my meds work and was so thankful to learn that they didn’t cross the placenta, and so, safe for me to take during pregnancy, but the next sentence from my doctor was ‘but it is excreted in breastmilk unmetabolized so absolutely no breastfeeding.’. I was crushed. I greived for many months, but my son is healthy and happy even though I was forced to formula feed. I’m ok with it now, and still mourn the loss of that special experience but would never do it another way. I am saddened when I feel judged by breastfeeding mothers – they sometimes give me the feeling that I’ve hurt my child for the sake of convenience, when in fact, my child is unharmed AND I am healthy due to my meds. Without my meds I couldn’t be the active and engaged mommy I am. Additionally, of course formula advertizing is manipulative — ITS ADVERTISING! By definition it is persuasive. Just be an informed consumer and get information from drs and other sources in addition to ads from companies. And for goodness sakes: don’t judge the mother sitting next to you shaking up a bottle of formula. There may be a whole story behind her choice, or as in my case need, to use formula.

  107. Kristen @ Birthing Beautiful Ideas says:

    Catherine, from one philosopher* to another:

    1. Public health data demonstrates that when considering large populations of mother/infant dyads, breastfeeding confers health benefits upon mothers and/or babies that formula-feeding does not, or at least to an extent that formula-feeding does not.

    1.1 This is not to say that formula-feeding ITSELF is harmful. Rather, it is to say that formula-feeding does not confer the same health benefits upon mothers and infants (or confer them to the same extent) that breastfeeding does when considering large populations of mother/infant dyads.

    2. We as a society care about maximizing these health benefits for both mothers and babies.

    3. Based on the aforementioned public health data, increasing breastfeeding rates will help to maximize these health benefits.

    3.1 In addition, not increasing breastfeeding rates will undermine the maximization of these specific health benefits.

    4. CURRENT formula marketing has been shown to undermine both breastfeeding initiation and continuation, thereby undermining overall breastfeeding rates.

    5. Therefore, current formula marketing undermines a society’s ability to maximize the health benefits that breastfeeding confers upon mother/infant dyads.

    It might be up to others to determine whether this means that current formula marketing is harmful (I think it is–at least undermining health benefits for large populations of mother/infant dyads seems harmful to me!) and whether, if it is harmful, this means that it should be banned (at the very least, I would like to see it changed).

    *If this argument invalid, then please let me know. Writing this thing out has given me flashbacks to my graduate logic course. :-)

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Kristen – I love that you did this. LOVE.

      I think that your reasoning is pretty solid here. And I agree that it’s in the conclusions that invite the most important discussions. We can agree, for example, that fast food advertising contributes to levels of obesity and heart disease in our society, and that alcohol advertising contributes to levels of alcoholism – but the conversation that we have around those things is how address and what limitations to put on those kinds of advertising and how to promote and sustain public education on those issues and the question of public health generally. And that’s exactly the kind of conversation that I think we should be having about formula advertising, because, YES.

      Thanks so much for engaging in this way on this.

  108. Maranda says:

    I don’t see how the conversation about formula advertising is in any way “shaming” moms. I think this response has been sensationalized in order to draw attention away from the real issue, and perhaps in an effort to gain support/web traffic.

    I don’t agree with formula advertising, but I do agree with moms making their own decisions for their children, guilt-free and shame-free. There are no victims of informed decisions, but there are victims of deceptive and unethical marketing practices.

    Frankly this entire response disgusts me. It is not a conversation, it’s smoke, mirrors and diversions.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Maranda – sure, because all the moms here saying that they’ve felt shamed – and the many, many hundreds on Twitter – are just making that up. Smoke! Mirrors! Nonsense! That’s not a real constituency there! How could it be? Those moms must not matter.

  109. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    Pam: Just to clarify, the WHO Code has been legislated in many countries around the world, but not in Canada or the United States. The Canadian government has signed the WHO Code and “encourages” formula companies to follow it (but doesn’t require them to). The US hasn’t even signed it. Some countries that have not adopted the WHO Code have nonetheless legislated restrictions or bans on formula advertising (this is the case in most European countries).

  110. Sarah @ says:

    As a general whole, I do not read Babble because I am very strongly against the
    violation of the WHO Code. I tend to believe that whether or not the WHO
    Code was developed for America or for Lesotho is beside the point – to me, this
    is a global citizenship issue. I fed formula to my daughter for awhile, so I
    understand that it fills a need and I don’t think it’s evil and I refrain from judging
    another mother’s choices on infant feeding given that I’m not in her shoes, but I
    do think that formula advertising can undermine a mother’s resolve to nurse. I
    don’t think it’s demeaning to mothers to say that at all – I think it’s a simple fact.
    I very honestly believe that formula companies should be legally banned from
    advertising at doctor’s offices, hospitals, etc just as I believe that medications
    should not be advertised at those places. I think it’s a bad idea to put any form
    of advertising in schools, medical facilities, and other locations as such. Of
    course I believe that parents are capable of making decisions of their own, but
    that doesn’t stop me from realizing that as long as formula advertising and
    breastfeeding advertising are inequal, formula advertising will be undermining

    I think that’s probably what it comes down to. If Babble were willing to not
    only ban formula advertising in some circumstances but also actively advertise
    breastfeeding equal to formula, then I would probably consider it all neutral so
    I would read Babble again. And I suppose they are probably willing to, but the
    fact is that breastfeeding isn’t as large an industry as formula feeding and as a
    result breastfeeding-specific companies tend not to have as much money for
    advertising. It doesn’t seem fair to give the underdog preferential pricing, but
    then again it seems like the only way to even the playing field.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Sarah – “I very honestly believe that formula companies should be legally banned from
      advertising at doctor’s offices, hospitals, etc just as I believe that medications
      should not be advertised at those places. I think it’s a bad idea to put any form
      of advertising in schools, medical facilities, and other locations as such. Of
      course I believe that parents are capable of making decisions of their own, but
      that doesn’t stop me from realizing that as long as formula advertising and
      breastfeeding advertising are inequal, formula advertising will be undermining

      Totally agree on this. Totally. NO QUESTION. I/we just don’t disagree that banning formula advertising is the answer. Keeping pressure on formula companies to do better – sure. Working to have an ethical policy on formula advertising – hell yes. Promoting breastfeeding on a level the meets or exceeds promotion of formula – abso-freaking-lutely. We’re actively working on all of that. And we want to engage the community on all of that. But some don’t even want to talk about the latter unless we change our minds about the former. Which defeats the cause that we agree on – promoting breastfeeding – don’t you think? We have a really big platform to promote breastfeeding, but you can’t support that effort because you disagree on the banning formula issue. Isn’t that a form of cutting off your nose to spite your face? You’re effectively saying that a media property with an audience the size of Babble’s just shouldn’t even bother, because unless we do it exactly and entirely your way, YOU DO NOT APPROVE. So! Big win there for breastfeeding promotion!

  111. Jodine Chase says:

    I see we’ve moved away from the rhetoric of equating moms who are concerned about infant formula advertising as shamers to some new devices.

    I wrote about the shame thing yesterday, “Shame is the New Guilt” over on my blog.

    Characterizing those who want companies to adhere to the WHO Code as calling for a ban on advertising isn’t quite accurate – to start with, in our part of the world the Code is voluntary. You can decide on your own whether or not to follow it. Some are asking to follow it. There’s a spectrum on this issue from what I can see – my twitter petition calls on to stop running formula ads on newborn and breastfeeding information pages. But if you back everyone against a wall and tell them you’re not going to follow it because you don’t believe in bans, you’ve shifted the argument to a different place.

    And there’s also another move this morning into “the rhetoric of danger.” You don’t believe infant formula causes harm, and you believe it’s the rhetoric of harm and danger that causes moms to feel shame. The word “belief” is an interesting choice, because it takes us away from a factual discussion that explores the evidence base and into a discussion of beliefs. Like we’re all standing around at a cocktail party smiling and nodding and saying “we all have our own truths.” But back to replacing harm with danger.

    Well, that ups the bar a bit, doesn’t it? Danger brings with it the implications of immediacy and a threat to life. Darn it, all of us would feel shame if we felt someone were accusing us of trying to kill our babies. Harm, that seems a little easier to take…more like a little injury. Maybe something inside that we can’t really see and so maybe it’s not there at all.

    We know some of the harm caused by not breastfeeding is due to the inferior nutritional components of formula. We know much of the harm caused by not breastfeeding relates to babies having compromised immune systems through a lack of conferred maternal immunity. The consequence of this harm might be immediate, and it might even be immediately dangerous (think of a preemie in a NICU at risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, or the baby airlifted to emerg with RSV), but it’s more likely to be subtle and not immediately life-threatening.

    It’s still harm.

    Want to up the bar and call it the rhetoric of danger? It’s still an argument for not talking about the harm from not breastfeeding because it will shame moms.

    I’m all for the discusion moving to meaningful, no-strings-attached, (and I’ll add transparent) dialogue. There has to be a better way to go about this!

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Babble doesn’t allow formula advertising on breastfeeding pages, nor on breastfeeding search. We allow it in the Baby section, that’s true. We are working, pretty hard actually, to develop out our breastfeeding section to better promote breastfeeding.

      And as I said – I can respect your belief that formula causes ‘harm’, that it represents a danger. At least you’re up front about it. But, again, look – I believe that alcohol is compromises public health generally, but I don’t going around insisting that we ban alcohol advertising and that people are denying facts if they don’t acknowledge that alcohol is harmful. We can acknowledge that alcohol carries certain health risks and that some people become addicted to alcohol and still acknowledge that we all have different views on drinking and that free *responsible* commercial speech around alcohol is worth defending because it’s speech and that we need to work to ensure that that advertising is responsible, etc, etc. I’m drawing a LOT of anger from a small group of you because I simply don’t agree with banning formula ads – full stop (not with not criticizing formula companies, not with not promoting breastfeeding, not with not promoting the best public). There’s a lot of dogmatism being worked here that just really is fundamentally intolerant of alternative viewpoints and THAT is what troubles so very many people. It’s an ‘either you’re with us or against us’ mentality that just doesn’t brook conversation.

  112. Carmen says:

    I am pro-breastfeeding too. Absolutely. But lets be real, people – not everyone can breastfeed…sometime the parts genuinely don’t work, sometimes the mom just can’t manage it emotionally (don’t judge), and sometimes – like me – the ability to breastfeed is a limited time. I am happy there are ways to “boost” a moms breastmilk, but for me…I was lucky to last to 7 months. Then I had nothing more. It starts as a gradual slide, but I persevere till there is no more. THEN I need formula….because my babies never ate real food well at a younger age, I needed something that would meet their needs. So to all of you who hate formula….THINK about it…we’re not all as fortunate as you to be able to nurse like you can. And before you ask…yes – I did everything I could to make breastfeeding last longer, but finally there were no options left.

  113. zchamu says:

    It’s really hard to separate ANY breast vs formula conversation from emotion. For many, the very decision was fraught with anxiety, and bringing it up at all can trigger anxiety or frustration or other complex feelings. I think there is a very legitimate conversation to be had around whether formula companies are opportunistic or even parasitic in their advertising towards mothers, and particularly those who are struggling with breastfeeding. The fact that it is a conversation about formula at all can be triggery – but nobody’s intent is to shame any mother about their own choices. It’s about asking legitimate questions about whether formula advertising crosses lines to a population they know is vulnerable, whether they take advantage of the fact that breastfeeding IS difficult in order to encourage people to buy their products. That kind of behaviour shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.

  114. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    Jodine: I really like this “In our part of the world the Code is voluntary. You can decide on your own whether or not to follow it. Some are asking to follow it. There’s a spectrum on this issue from what I can see – my twitter petition calls on to stop running formula ads on newborn and breastfeeding information pages. But if you back everyone against a wall and tell them you’re not going to follow it because you don’t believe in bans, you’ve shifted the argument to a different place.”
    Catherine: You did draw a lot of anger from me. It wasn’t because of your belief that formula ads should be allowed. We can agree to disagree on that, like we have disagreed on other topics before, and I’m completely okay with that. It does mean that I would not work with Babble in any official capacity (although I would still have a conversation) and I do think it is too bad that we don’t agree, but it wouldn’t make me angry.
    What made me angry were the accusations and assumptions that you made regarding my opinion of you, my opinion of formula, and my opinion of formula feeding moms. That was unfair, unexpected, and (in my opinion) out of character for you.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Annie/Jodine – I never said that we dismiss the code entirely because of the ban issue; on that contrary, I’ve said here repeatedly that I think there’s a lot of good in the code. I disagree with the ban, especially as applied to global north where we have established standards of practice around banning certain kinds of speech. I’m the one who’s pushing for the nuanced approach based on a spectrum of opinions. It’s the position that there’s no point in any engagement that doesn’t include a ban that pushes us against a wall.

      And Annie – as I’ve said a few times here, you (willfully, it seemed to me) mischaracterized Babble as being unmoving and unwilling to work on the breastfeeding issue. There was no reason to do this, other than stir up a controversy. Emma removing herself from a program – funded entirely by ENERGIZER – was a pretext, it seemed, for fomenting anger at Babble. You knew from me that we were working on policy and programming related to formula advertising and breastfeeding. You knew that Babble changed its practices after the feedback that it got last year. You knew that Babble was engaged and active on this issue. And yet you wrote a post celebrating Emma’s stand against taking ‘blood money’ (again! the hell that this isn’t a rhetorical flourish that shames) and stating that Babble was not changing its policies and not moving on this issue, when all you were going on was private correspondence in which Alisa and myself indicated that banning formula ads was not a change of policy – one of many – that we were moving on. You characterized explicitly as a question of good versus evil. It was DEEPLY hurtful to me and to us, who have been working with the very best intentions. And, yes, I *do* believe that a hard line, paternalistic, dogmatic stance on BAN FORMULA OR YOU ARE TAKING BLOOD MONEY is shaming – hundreds of women over the last day and a half believe this too – and so I *do* believe that a constructive conversation about how and on what terms we work together as a community *with different opinions* to promote breastfeeding while still respecting choice – and, not incidentally, respecting our societies’ and the western tradition’s principles of free speech (JS MILL IS SPINNING IN HIS GRAVE Y’ALL) – means NOT taking an adversarial stance against women who are doing it differently from you.

      You went on the attack against Babble. That’s just as much an attack against me as if you’d gone after Her Bad Mother. So, yes, I took it personally.

  115. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:


    I didn’t go on attack. I criticized a business decision. I also noted that Babble had removed the ads from the breastfeeding guide.

    This was not done to stir up controversy. It was done to highlight someone who was acting in accordance with her own beliefs and moral compass. It was also done in the hope that Babble would perhaps reconsider its stance on formula advertising.
    I can understand why women felt shamed over the past few days after the way you characterized the issue and my opinions in this post. I don’t think you can put the blame for that entirely on my head.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Annie, you cited and used inflammatory language – ‘blood money’, ‘good and evil’ – which I responded to directly in the post. I didn’t characterize your opinions – I cited the language used in the post, and then outlined the reasons why I see calls for bans of commercial speech on formula deeply problematic. You, on the other hand, willfully and publicly characterized Babble as the bad guy (the ‘evil’ side in a deliberation over the balance of good and evil), and as unmoving in our policies, policies on which you don’t have any current, public on-the-record statements. (I mean, should I expect you to withdraw from Blissdom Canada, and perhaps publicly criticize it, because BDC refuses to make a formal statement about not accepting formula sponsorships or having relationships with companies that accept formula advertising or who represent formula companies in marketing? Is that next? That seems the next logical target, if this is about policy.) And, most hurtful to the people who worked hard on the Mominations program and who are being honored by the Mominations program, you let people run with the idea that the Mominations program was funded by formula advertising money – it is not – and neglected to explain that it has a single sponsor – a single sponsor that couldn’t be further from formula – that ‘owns’ the program. All of which I take as at best irresponsible, and at worst hostile.

      And I still stand by the position that calling for an outright ban of formula in the global North and taking the ‘no tolerance/no engagement with companies that do not have policies that ban formula advertising’ IS taking a stance that shames mothers. I didn’t say ANNIE HATES FORMULA. I said, directly to you, here in the comments – you were not named in the post – that I believe that the *position* implies an severe judgment of formula that has a shaming effect, and that it seems to me hard for someone who takes that hard line position to deny that that position at least implies that they think formula is bad (and, indeed, some here said very explicitly that, yes, that what’s THEY mean, and what, for them, the lactivist position means).

      And to put the shaming of mothers on me – the way that *I* framed the issue, this week, by speaking of MY shame, and my reasoning for not supporting an outright ban – is to deny the experience of countless women who have stated that extreme lactivism HAS made them feel shamed, and really a dodgy move. It’s to not take responsibility for the way that extreme activism has framed the issue (against, I should add again, the statements of lactivists here in this thread that formula IS harmful), and to deny that there’s any reason for the movement to consider how its rhetoric makes women feel.

  116. Tracy says:

    Two things occur to me:
    1) Is there any solid evidence that banning formula advertising would improve breastfeeding rates? For example – do we have any statistics from countries who HAVE banned formula advertising showing an immediate rise in breastfeeding rates. If so I’d be interested to know what those rates are. I am under the impression that that there are many reasons and factors involved when women do not breastfeed and that formula advertising has little to do with it. However, I accept that this may be incorrect and would be interested in any evidence or argument to the contrary.
    2) I’m also interested in this argument that formula milk is somehow harmful to the health of babies. The premise for this, (as I understand it), is not that it gives them cancer or anything, but that it denies infants certain nutritional benefits that they can only get from breastmilk. You could say that it’s not “best practise”, and that feeding our children something that is not “best” is therefore the same as harming them. Does this then mean that other instances of not providing “the best” for our children is also harming them. For example would we agree that if studies showed that what’s “best” for children’s emotional development, is to be cared for by a full time mother, then working mothers who rely on childcare are harming their children. (Perhaps we should ban job advertising)? Or that if what is “best” for a child’s education is expensive private schools, then those who send their children to state schools are harming them. The point is that we all make compromises. Mostly out of necessity, and sometimes just because with the best will in the world we can’t always martyr our own lives in the name of doing “what’s best” for our children. I don’t think that we should be told that this is the same thing this as “harming” them.

  117. Sarah @ says:

    Catherine, I feel like your response to me was antagonistic and I don’t really understand why. I came here because YOU wrote this piece. I’ve been reading what you write since back when your daughter was Wonderbaby and didn’t believe in sleep. I have immense confidence in you, have immense respect for you, and am certain that I have never antagonized any of your choices or your beliefs even if we disagreed. When I came here, I read the comments and made the decision to write one of my own because I was offended by some of the broad accusations being levied against individuals who disagree with Babble’s policies. I thought they were insulting and unfair – everybody believes different things for different reasons. I have not once said or implied that I feel the solution to my personal endorsement of rests on them following my exact specifications. That’s ludicrous. I never even said or implied that I had a solution to the conundrum Babble has found itself in with regards to accepting advertising funds from formula companies. What I did say is that I personally would feel more comfortable if breastfeeding promotion was equal to formula promotion on – and I implied that I currently do not feel that is the case. I might draw that line in the sand at a different place than you do, but that’s how I personally feel about this situation and my current choices regarding Babble rely heavily upon my personal perspectives.

    I also said that I personally support universal international compliance with the WHO Code. I do. That doesn’t mean I’m incapable of compromise or that I’m foolish or contradictory, it just means I differ in this regard from you.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Sarah – I’m sorry if my reply to you seemed antagonistic/antagonized. I really am. I’m just frustrated, because some here seem to think that my position on the ban translates into wholesale support of formula companies and wholesale rejection of all the tenets of mainstream lactivism. It does not. And I EMPHATICALLY agree – everyone at Babble agrees – that breastfeeding promotion needs to be equal to formula promotion at Babble – it needs to EXCEED formula promotion, actually (I’m pretty sure that my/our lines in the sand on that are actually pretty close.). And you are absolutely right that that is not currently the case – we KNOW this. We SO KNOW THIS. We’re actively working on this. I cannot emphasize enough how much energy is going into this. We plan to invite members of the community to be involved in coming up with the best possible plan for promoting breastfeeding at Babble at the highest possible level. This a core priority at Babble. And Annie knew that before she wrote her post, which is why I felt betrayed. I’d shared with her that we were working aggressively behind the scenes on this, but it was not THAT positive, behind the scenes, private information that she put out in front of the world, it was the secondhand private information she got hold of that put Babble in the worst possible light that she put out there.

      If you’re not opposed to giving Babble input on all this stuff, we’d love to hear it. We want – really really want! – ideas from the community on how we can best use our platform for putting breastfeeding at the forefront. Email me anytime – catherine at babble dot com. Would LOVE your input.

  118. Scatteredmom says:

    I haven’t read through all the comments, and for me, the years of my son being an infant seem like another lifetime ago. (almost 16 years, to be exact)

    I DID NOT breastfeed. There was no support. But there was, at some time when I was pregnant, a workshop put on by a formula company and I was handed a can of formula. I put it away and forgot about it until Christmas Eve when my son was 4 days old, and I hadn’t slept since he was born. He also had barely nursed. It wasn’t working, I couldn’t get things going, he wouldn’t latch on, it was AWFUL. At 4 am, he was screaming, and I had no idea what else to do so I pulled out that can of formula, fixed a bottle, and gave him some. He drank it and promptly fell asleep, as did I. I didn’t want to bottle feed, but I was at the very end of my rope and that can of formula was my salvation.

    Turns out that I had a medical condition that caused my breast milk to be full of blood. I also had flat nipples, and Kevin (unknown to us at the time) had dyspraxia, or a motor coordination disorder that affected his ability to latch on. Even WITH support, I would not have been able to breastfeed as Kevin simply wouldn’t drink my milk (it was the color of prune juice, it was so full of blood). I know this because I expressed it for awhile into a bottle, and he wouldn’t touch it. Back then I was young, I had few mom friends, and I didn’t feel one ounce of shame about bottle feeding. I still don’t. He has grown into a healthy, smart kid who I love dearly and now that he’s almost 16 the fact that he was bottle fed really doesn’t matter. He ate. It was what worked for us. Yes, I would have rather breast fed but it didn’t happen. Now, should I have been given that can of formula? Was it predatory practice on the part of the company? Maybe. Maybe not. If there was breastfeeding support I may never have used it. But after 4 days without sleeping, hormones out of whack, a screaming baby, it definitely saved me from throwing myself off the porch and Kevin got the nourishment he needed.

    Everyone has a story. No bottle feeding Mom is evil, nor breastfeeding mom superwoman. We’re women. Period.

  119. [...] Connor of Her Bad Mother, and also a Babble Voices writer, responded with this post. In it she is quite upset and insulted by the use of the term “blood money” and that no [...]

  120. Becky says:

    Thank you, Catherine, for this post.

    Someone made the comparison to junk food, somewhere, and I have to say, I found that a little offensive. There’s a way of arguing that seems to consist of equating parenting issue x with terrible EXTREME thing y, that I don’t find helpful. I genuinely do not believe that feeding one’s child formula is the equivalent to feeding them (or yourself) MacDonald’s every day.

    I also agree with Catherine there’s a temptation in society at the moment to underestimate people’s intelligence and decision-making ability (Bill Bryson calls it the London, England syndrome). Sure, there are vulnerable populations, even in North America and Western Europe, but even the fact that this debate is taking place surely shows that Babble isn’t one of them?

    Formula advertising has been damaging in the past, undoubtedly. But I find it even more insidious, and almost viscerally upsetting that people (no, fellow women, let’s be honest) are telling me, with reasonable logic faculties, that I cannot make my own decisions.

  121. Cat says:

    I live in Georgia. When my daughter was born, my first child, and I kept her in the room with me instead of sending her to the nursery and nursed her, I had nurses coming in to check me out – it was that out of the ordinary.

    Each time one of my three children was born, I was loaded up when I left the hospital with free diaper bags, rattles, CDs and loads and loads of free formula samples and coupons. These are part of a marketing campaign. It is a long-term campaign.

    I was lucky to be well-educated about my child-feeding options and I was fortunate to be able to nurse my children. I was on WIC and food stamps. It was much cheaper to nurse my children. Many of the other women in my same situation tried the formula samples they were sent home with, their milk dried up and I believe that was the intent of the formula companies campaigns.

    In this area, it is a very common idea that breast feeding “ruins” the shape of your breasts and many mothers forego it for that reason. The high school drop out rate in my town is more than 50%. Yes, you read that right. That is about average in Georgia. There are many women here who believe formula is superior to breastfeeding. Their mother’s told them so. And that is not always the poor or poorly educated. It is also found in the more affluent suburbs.

    The formula companies create rather brilliant advertising campaigns. They start in the OBGYN offices before a baby is even born. Then there are free gifts that new mothers take home. Coupons and little gifts arrive in the mail at regular intervals- they know your baby’s age (so do the diaper companies for that matter).

    I do not at all agree that most mothers are well educated on the issue of breast feeding. Not in North America. More than 30 percent of North America still doesn’t have internet access I believe.

    Formula companies have crafted careful campaigns to sell formula. They bombard new mothers with advertising and much of it is found in doctor’s offices and hospitals. And now blogs. Every piece adds to a cultural “package”. It is not accident that the majority of children in North America are formula fed. Nor is it simply a matter of choice. Advertising is part of what creates cultural norms and in the case of North America, formula is still the cultural norm.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      I think that formula advertising and sample distribution in hospitals and clinics and doctors’ offices is entirely, entirely inappropriate – in the same way that junk food advertising in schools in inappropriate, etc. I totally agree with you there.

  122. Michele says:

    I am a lactivist, I am NOT against mothers who need to use formula, I AM against formula companies that LIE to mothers and undermine breastfeeding to make money! I AM against formula being advertised. Everyone knows formula exists, there is NO need to advertise it. And getting breastfeeding “advice” from a formula company is like getting sobriety help from an alcohol company. Formula companies do not care about your babies, the care about making money. They make their product as safe as it has to be in order to harm the least amount of babies to sell more product to make money. Yes formula will keep your child alive if they have no other food to eat, but that does not magically make it 100% safe. There are risks to feeding formula and that is a FACT. There are risks to eating fast foods, that is a FACT, yet no one seems to get in an uproar when that is pointed out. So why is it so bad to point out that formula has risks? There is NO guilt if a mother HAS to feed formula. But she should still know exactly what she is feeding her child every feed of every day. Ignorance will not protect children from the risks. So for a breastfeeding site to get money from formula ads is unethical. Formula companies are NOT going to tell you about the risks associated with formula feeding! So to claim that the ads are there to help parents make an informed choice if they have to feed formula is a blatant lie. I have many friends and family members that have formula fed their children. I have no problem with this as it is each parents choice to feed their child whatever they choose. I just want so called breastfeeding sites to be truthful about why they accept formula ads on them, it is for the money. I would respect that far more than them trying to cloak the issue in lies about giving parents “information”.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Michele – who said that Babble accepted formula ads on the basis of providing ‘information’? Nobody has said that. We know that it’s advertising. And yes, it’s for money. That’s how advertising works, and that’s how publishing and media work – they’re underwritten by advertising. Advertising is how we pay our writers and other staff (all parents, supporting their families.) It’s how we keep Babble running. No one has lied about that. But we have also said – I have said – that we weigh decisions about advertising carefully, and that we are having ongoing discussions about formula advertising. It’s not *just* about money, in other words – we wouldn’t carry advertising of porn or alcohol, for example. But because there is – as WHO explicitly acknowledges – a ‘legitimate market’ for formula and because we have an audience that includes parents who formula feed – that ‘legitimate market’ – we have accepted formula ads.

      As I’ve said to some commenters below, I can respect the ‘ban ads’ position of someone who does believe that formula causes harm greater than other products the advertising of which is not banned. I agree with the banning of tobacco ads, for example – it meets the standard of harm. So if you believe that formula is that harmful, and that it should not be used by choice, only by necessity, then sure, by all means, call for a ban of formula ads. I get that position. I disagree, but I get it.

      What I don’t get is the argument that formula is not harmful, and is a reasonable choice for a person to make, but that that choice should be discouraged, or that any consumer information that promotes that choice should be banned.

  123. Jodine Chase says:

    Further developments. See what was reported to Emma this morning by one mom, Jamie Parker. I have her permission to share and I’ve blogged on it some more (link below).

    “So, just now out of curiosity, I looked up the “Similac Feeding Hotline” number, and gave them a faux compliant. I said my 8 month old (true) isn’t seeming satisfied after nursing (false). Their immediate solution? “Why don’t I take your address and we can overnight you some samples, and then we can put in an order to ship direct to you? Then its just as convenient, you won’t even need to leave the house!” When I said that I wanted to continue breastfeeding, they said (direct quote here): “Your baby has all the benefits breastfeeding offers. After 6 months, breastfeeding and feeding quality formula are exactly the same.”

    My followup comments are here:’s Similac hotline is a big fat #fail

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Jodine – that is problematic, and we’ll look into it.

  124. Rebecca says:

    Great post and even better comments. I wonder why Babble has to put “breastfeeding at the forefront” and decide how to use your platform to promote it at all. I am a regular reader and an unashamed formula feeder (seriously, I have never not once ever felt shame or guilt about it). But it would probably turn me off if Babble made a serious effort to promote breastfeeding. I come here to read different opinions on a variety of subjects, not to be told the right/wrong way of doing things. Why not be a champion of natural childbirth, no crib bumpers, attachment parenting, organic homemade babyfood, etc., etc. Do you see where I’m going with this? Sure, I’ll read articles on women’s experiences with breastfeeding, just as I read those who ditched the boob and switched to formula. I’ll read an article by someone saying how awesome natural childbirth is, while silently being grateful for my two epidurals. But for Babble – The Company to take a stance on any one of those things? I don’t think it’s a good idea and I don’t think it’s necessary.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Bec – interesting point, thank you.

  125. Cynthia says:

    I have to wonder if it has ever occurred to the lactivists that the women who may (and I say “may” because I really don’t believe it to be a certainty) be influenced by formula ads are actually looking for someone to tell them it’s okay? That they don’t need to be miserable and unhappy, trying to do what they “should” be able to do? Personally, after four kids, I’m sick of hearing “breast is best.” That statement alone is responsible for shaming: you aren’t breastfeeding, so you aren’t doing what is best for your baby. A lot of the statements about the benefits of breastfeeding are VERY open to interpretation. It may be “less harmful” but so would living in an area with zero pollution, or never getting in a car, or never eating processed foods. Banning cigarette ads – fine. Banning ads for a sometimes necessary product because mothers are too stupid to be able to make an informed decision? Wrong.

    And guess what? I’m not going to attempt “street cred” by saying how long I did or did not breastfeed my kids. It’s no one’s business but mine.

  126. Vicki says:

    It’s not about the formula. It’s about the advertising. Expecting a formula company to give good, accurate breastfeeding advice is ludicrous. It is asking a company to not make money. Why should a formula company spend money on an ad that will take money away from them if it is successful? Does that sound like any kind of decent management strategy? Does Similac, a long-successful company, seem to anyone to be managed poorly?

    It’s a conflict of interest. Formula companies giving breastfeeding advice is a conflict of interest. So don’t support it. You can not support that aspect of Similac without damning all of formula and all formula feeders.

    And yes, I breastfed. And yes, I gave my children formula. And no, I don’t feel guilty, or shamed. And I don’t feel my formula feeding rights would be trampled on if Similac wasn’t allowed to advertise breastfeeding info. in fact, I resent the fact that SImilac thinks I would be so foolish as to expect to get good breastfeeding info from them. I’m not stupid.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      Vicki – the hotline was closely scrutinized and the integrity of the information found to be good (as many bloggers attested when this came up last time). BUT, if, as Jodine is reporting, it’s not, then we’ll look at that, absolutely.

      On this, though: ‘Why should a formula company spend money on an ad that will take money away from them if it is successful? Does that sound like any kind of decent management strategy?’ It is, actually, an extensively studied management/business/marketing strategy. Corporate social responsibility more often than not involves companies supporting and promoting causes the support of which could, on narrow calculations of dollars, undermine their bottom line. But as a growth and market share and ‘brand lift’ strategy it is excellent, because the corporations most devoted to social good get more market share. It’s a competitive move – given a finite customer base, you want a larger share of that base than your competitors, and companies can gain a larger share by being seen as the good guy. It’s the same logic, for example, as increasing your manufacturing costs in order to create a more eco-friendly product – why increase your costs if people buy it anyway? That reduces your profit! You take on extra cost (or sacrifice a potential customer base) in order to be a good citizen and be seen as the good guy and be the ‘ethical’ choice (or at least not the bad guy) so that your existing market will choose you first. That makes money. It does. It’s been amply, amply studied. You can take MBA courses on it.

  127. Candace Sturgess says:

    This is an excellent debate that you have going on. In reading all of these messages I think one thing is forgotten and that is the role of the health care professionals. In pregnancy we are encouraged to take prenatal classes, but it is not mandatory, it is required to go and get check-ups (more frequently as the due date arrives), it is suggested that these check-ups be done by a specialist in the field or an OB/GYN, but again, that doesn’t always happen. I think most women know that they have a choice between bottle and breast, but in reality a lot of people trust that their prenatal caregivers and their pediatricians will guide and steer them in the right direction. Why not launch a campaign against them for giving out false information or samples in their offices? That is an area in which I think women are a lot more vulnerable than on the internet.

    As an individual who was bottle fed, my sister was bottle fed, and many extended family members, I don’t recall seeing much breastfeeding at all. If it was done, it probably was done in private, if it wasn’t, I’m not sure what the doctors were telling moms at that time. That being said, I knew that I wanted to try and breastfeed. I knew from information I’d heard or received and through prenatal classes that it was “best” for the baby. I am by nature an over-achiever and so thinking of doing anything else but the “best” thing wasn’t even an option. However, NOBODY told me how hard it could be. I went through three weeks of pain and torture, questioning myself as a women because it wasn’t coming naturally, questioning if this new person I was responsible for was getting enough food, questioning if this would get easier, and questioning if this was normal. I contacted people I knew, professionals, and went to mom’s groups where members had breastfed and they said yes, keep going, it will get easier, and so I pushed on with the promise that it would turn around. I had little to no sleep while I was feeding an hour on each breast, only to have to feed again an hour later. Waking every 2 hours through the night, only to develop mastitis and scabs so deep that they were black looking cracks. Through all of this I had the nurses and home care telling me to keep trying, I had them come in my home, evaluating my son’s latch to tell me it was fine, they showed me different positions that might work better, When I went to the emergency room wondering what was wrong with me and determined it was mastitis they started me on a routine of IV medication to get it under control. I told the Doctor that there was blood in my breast milk and if I take medication now isn’t that going to be in my breast milk too? He said yes, but that I could and should continue to breastfeed and that the medication was okay but might give my baby a stomach ache. I was physically ill by looking at my pink breast milk, and now the thought of my baby ingesting a powerful medication that it does not need was overwhelming. At what point do you decide that you tried, or to keep trying?

    I was a crying mess, I was in pain, I was tired, I was feeling like a failure. I walked over to the free can of formula that I had received in my Doctor’s office and started to read the label and instructions. The first line read “Of course breastfeeding is best”. I didn’t even make it past that statement as I put the can down, feeling like more of a failure. During this time, I was awake a lot, I was watching a lot of tv, I can honestly say that there was not one single ad in a magazine, on tv, or on the internet, that made me think “hey, my baby would be so much happier on the bottle”. or “Wow, I didn’t know formula was so good for babies, I’ll just do that!” or “Nobody knows what I’m feeling like right now except these formula companies.” Do I see how that can happen, sure, but I think that in the midst of the chaos, many moms need some objective advice on when enough trying is enough, on what is “normal” and reasonable, and in my experience I really wanted someone to say to me “you know, its not a failure if you can’t”.

    At my lowest moment I remember shouting at my son because he was hurting me so badly. I knew that it was a team effort and was so frustrated that our team wasn’t doing well. One of the points made was that once you try one bottle you are damaging the potential outcome of continuing to breastfeed for both yourself and your child, and that you might not get that chance back, however, you also cannot get that initial bonding time back with your child either. At some point in our lives as mothers we are going to look at our choices and realize that we could have made better ones or done things differently. When you are a brand new mom, you are not fully aware sometimes of the moral struggles and dilemmas that you might face, or maybe you are, but probably don’t expect it right out of the gate. Support and empathy are two things that you need at this time of vulnerability and if a superficial magazine/internet/tv ad is giving you more support and empathy than actual people/doctors/friends/family around you, that is more tragic in my opinion than running a formula ad. Maybe breastfeeding rates would soar if we could somehow as a nation of mothers and fathers actually support one another instead of judging.

    I am thankful for blogs, forums, and discussion groups (online or in person), because it allows you to find a network of like-minded people and debates from opposing forces, it allows you to grow and get advice. It allows you to feel supported. So, even though you should be mindful of where your paycheque comes from, I agree that formula companies are not that “evil” that people are dying at the hand of their products. In fact, I feel as though if we can have this conversation, learn, grow, and support breastfeeding initiatives, who cares if its on their dollar? Why not make it a mission to increase breastfeeding rates on their dollar? Report the misleading advertisements and their companies no matter what the product is, scrutinize the sites that you see the ads on, but at the end of the day, use your knowledge to make a decision on the information you’ve been given and if its a credible source or not. I’m not a consistent follower of this site (now I might be :) but from reading the thoughtful insight from both sides of the argument, I would consider any of these people knowledgeable resources and would take into consideration advice given on breastfeeding. I would however be leery of someone who wanted to push their own agenda onto me and disregard my personal situation. That is exactly how shame begins. I have read many of these responses and have thought to myself “wow, these are really educated, well spoken women” and in an effort to want to fit in, I would/could feel bad if I felt I didn’t measure up. Is that my issue…absolutely, but I am not the only one who wants to belong to a certain group or have an impressive label. I think in this case we all want to be “mom of the year”.

    My moment of clarity came through my own mother, who has been my cheerleader my whole life and continues to be, NOT from an ad for formula. She supported and encouraged my decision to breastfeed, although she hadn’t, and listened to me and heard my tears and frustrations. I called her after I had yelled at my baby to which she listened to me profess that I was the worst mother ever and how could I do such a thing to a little innocent creature. She said “you know, its not the end of the world if you can’t do it.” to which I said “I just know that its the best thing, and I feel like if I don’t do it I’m letting him down.” and she just said “Do you feel like I let you down?” I have an amazing relationship with my mom and although I could be slimmer today, have a reduced risk of cancers, or be overall healthier (I’m blessed to be healthy) had she chose to breastfeed, this specific choice isn’t even close to being on my radar when I evaluate her as a parent today.

    So are we vulnerable as mom’s…yes. Especially as brand new moms. What are we vulnerable to? Most women I know when faced with a problem or concern will try and research the subject, if it requires a professional and they have access, they will do that, but most commonly they try and talk to a friend, a family member, an acquaintance, or someone that they are comfortable with to discuss the situation, weigh the pro’s and con’s, and try and come up with a solution that they feel like they can live with. I think that most reasonable people know that an ad from any corporation has a motive to increase their bottom line, whether they do it through public opinion of them, through informational type ads, etc. I personally would rather have blogs, forums, events, etc. that allows people to congregate, learn and share…no matter what legally owned and operated company/group pays for it.

  128. zchamu says:

    @jodine – OUCH. Fox running the henhouse, indeed.

  129. Vicki says:

    Catherine, I have an MBA. And I’m a CPA. I get business. I don’t think that formula companies are spending lots of advertising dollars trying to appear as good community citizens to breastfeeding mothers. It doesn’t make logical sense.

    There is clearly, as demonstrated right here, a huge disconnect between breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers. The appearance of being a “good guy” by supporting breastfeeding is not likely to have much positive impact versus the cost of advertising. If anything, the chance of being perceived negatively seems much higher. I think most women, mothers or not, would say at an objective level they wouldn’t expect quality breastfeeding advice from a company that sells formula. They might be pleasantly surprised to get it, but they wouldn’t expect it.

    Advertising breastfeeding help is a nice way to remain in compliance with the WHO Code, and say that you are attempting to be a good global citizen. But it really does not make much marketing sense unless you expect to get customers from doing it. There is just too much left to some iffy concept of being “nice” to make up for the dollars spent.

    1. Catherine Connors says:

      I think that they do expect to get customers from doing it – I just don’t think that it’s necessarily the case that they’re doing so to get customers by converting nursing moms to formula feeding moms. They gain the customers who are averse to Nestle. They gain the customers who, like me when I began supplementing, want to support the company that is most BF friendly (just like I want to support the greenest companies, and the most charitable companies, etc, etc.) This is no small thing. Nestle loses customers by being a bad corporate citizen. Who gains those customers?

      I’m just saying, I think that it’s just factually wrong to suggest that the only way that formula companies gain customers is by converting nursing moms. Again, as WHO says, there’s an existing legitimate market for formula. Companies compete for market share. Beer companies compete for customers, but it would be silly to suggest that because the biggest area of market growth is untapped customer constituencies, like teenagers, their only or even primary business strategy must be to target teenagers, and that THAT is what they’re doing when they make commercials with bikini clad girls. And then to say, ‘but if they don’t get teenagers drinking, they’re losing out on profit they would earn from teenagers drinking, so they MUST be targeting them!’

      This is not to say that some formula companies DON’T target nursing moms, not at all. Just that it’s flawed logic to say that because they would profit from nursing moms converting, that that’s necessarily what they’re doing, and that there’s no other way for them to profit.

      It would make a fascinating MBA thesis, that’s for sure :)

  130. Cat says:

    I have Adblock Plus installed on my computer so I don’t see any ads on this site or any other site. I LOVE it. (I have absolutely no affiliation with whoever makes this software, which is free by the way.) So for those who do not want to see ads, there is software available (I’m sure there are others) that makes it all invisible. How thoughtful is that?

  131. Rebecca says:

    Again, Catherine, I really don’t know why Babble would even have conversations about formula advertising! (Porn, I get.) Instead of taking an editorial position on this ONE aspect of motherhood, shouldn’t you embrace your readers’ choices in how to feed their babies? If a drug company (legal issues aside) wanted to advertise their new-fangled labour pain killer would you have discussions about whether to run it because you think natural childbirth is better? Would you risk alienating your readers who want painkillers? Babble’s role, I think, is to host and facilitate articles and discussions on a wide variety of pregnancy/parenting topics. The Company really doesn’t need to – or shouldn’t – take a stance on one specific (granted hot-button) issue about motherhood.

  132. Vicki says:

    I don’t think they are getting customers by targeting nursing mothers to convert. I think that nursing is a complicated and not always successful endeavor for many mothers, and they are taking advantage of a prime potential market by advertising breastfeeding advice and support.

    I don’t mean that in a predatory sense, either. Statistically a huge number of mothers who start off breastfeeding end up formula feeding. Advertising on “mom” sites to aid breastfeeding mothers puts the company in touch with a large potential market without violating the WHO Code, etc. It is simply a fact that most breastfeeding mothers are potential formula buyers, and *that* is why is makes marketing sense for a formula company to give breastfeeding advice. They get their name and their brand out to mothers who are more likely than not to actually use their product.

    However, that is also why I think having the advertisement is a bad idea. If parents want to formula feed, there are plenty of coupons, incentives, sample packs, note pads, ink pens, etc out there to make brand names available for them to chose from. Offering breastfeeding advice is an attempt to use a mother’s vulnerablilty for brand recognition. Honestly, we all know it’s true. There isn’t any other reason for a formula company to offer breastfeeding advice, except to build brand recognition, and to build it particularly with a population that are potential customers. If they were successful at keeping mothers breastfeeding, it would be unethical to their stockholders and they would have to stop.

    If they are going to advertise, then do it on the basis of the benefits of their product over another formula product. Using breastfeeding is unethical on their part. And accepting advertising that promotes that kind of conflict of interest, to me, is also wrong. If companies didn’t buy it, they wouldn’t do it. They would find other, more appropriate ways to attract customers. This kind of bait and switch is insulting to women, and it’s unethical, in my opinion, and shouldn’t be supported.

  133. Michele says:

    Babble owners stated that the reason they have formula ads on the site is because they “believe in the right of mothers to make individual choices with all information available to them and that includes information about different formula options, provided both by our writers and advertisers themselves.” Certainly seems to me like they are saying they have the ads to provide information to mothers, when in fact they have the ads to MAKE MONEY. Of course a formula company is NOT going to tell anyone about the mercury, formaldehyde, melamine, BPA, Hexane, and MSG in their products. The reason these things are not listed on the ingredient lists is that they arrive in the formula via the manufacturing process and are not legally required to list them because of that. Do parents think that there are ANY acceptable levels of these things to feed a baby every meal every day?! The formula companies are LYING, wake up people and demand a better product if you need formula!!!! I just do not understand why formula feeding mothers are not raving mad about what is in formula. IF formula companies were non-profit then I would maybe believe they are doing it from the goodness of their hearts to save babies, but until that day they are just out to make money any way they can, no matter what the cost to babies.

  134. FMB says:


    When these ads first came out, or at least, when the story first broke about them, dozens of commenters discussed the fact that they were not board-certified LC’s manning the line, discussed whether or not they were giving good advice (without respect to intentional influencing, are they any good?).

    There seem to be two issues here. One is the objection to any and all formula advertising. I’m not among that camp. I don’t like formula and share the opinion of others that it is risky (though, comparatively speaking, hardly the biggest risk most mothers will be taking), but I believe a blog in the business of making money should be free to do so. And mothers shouldn’t be underestimated to the point that we feel they’ll simply become derailed at the mere sight of a formula ad.

    However. I remember when I was in the hospital for the first, how vulnerable I was, (despite lots of support and a firm backbone) to a single nurses’ suggestion that my son was nursing too long and too often, which indicated he was “still hungry.” She offered formula. How could this derail me? Well, in truth, it didn’t. But it certainly worried me enough to have a talk with my husband about the issue. I watched the same thing happen to my sister in law, but she was having trouble with her latch. Her LC wasn’t so great, didn’t recognize her flat nipples and help her deal with that, so the nurses suggested formula. Lacking another real option, she went for it. Her supply never picked up. Another friend of mine, as “crunchy” and hell-bent on breastfeeding as they come, was similarly pressured into formula by a well-meaning but not actually helpful nurse. Unlike my SIL, her supply recovered and the formula was a one-off deal. Some people think it will never matter and maybe it won’t. But the point is, it shouldn’t have happened. And the advice they got, as vulnerable new moms, was bad advice.

    Just because it happened to a few of my friends and family member doesn’t mean this happens to everyone, but examples of this exact type of situation are shared across the internet, from mother to mother, all over the place. Many moms never even know they were given bad advice. You hear it all over: I couldn’t produce enough milk. The baby was still very hungry. Or, he had mild jaundice so we couldn’t breastfeed. And when we ask questions, we are accusing people of shaming the very people we were hoping to help.

    Obviously, this doesn’t mean that low supply never happens. It doesn’t mean some people just can’t breastfeed. And it doesn’t mean it’s okay not to do it if you just plain and simple don’t want to. My very best friend never breastfed for a moment. Not even colostrum. She just did not want to and that was her right. She owns it. She’s not ashamed nor should she be. She made an informed choice!

    Anyway, this comment is getting derailed by my wandering thoughts. My point is that there are two issues. The first is an objection to any and all formula ads. And the second is an objection to the “breastfeeding guide” offered by the makers of similac. This is not a loss leader or a public service tactic. This is a very obvious decision to “be there” for a vulnerable mom struggling with breastfeeding. See, Similac can help you. Even if they DON’T offer undermining advice (which dozens of callers have reported back that they do), and even if they DO have board certified LC’s (which they don’t) giving the very best advice, it crosses a line for many people.

    Calling you out on your association with that kind of bad business is NOT the same thing as shaming somebody (again, I didn’t think anyone called you out personally – the “you” here is Babble, but now you’re shilling for them so much I have to include you). For you to draw those parallels says you’re either insecure about your employer or defensive about your decisions. Nobody went there. Formula feeders may be shamed in life, but this ain’t shaming them, honestly, it’s just shaming you.

  135. Kari says:

    I’m a lactivist. I also could not breastfeed. I prepared for my son’s birth with eager anticipation of our nursing relationship. I’d informed myself on all sorts of things from supply increasing supplements and techniques to things you should never ever do or your breastfeeding relationship will be ruined. I was very adamant that every woman could breastfeed, and so after my horrible birth experience, when my baby latched on within 45 minutes, I told myself that now we were down to the real motherhood part, and I would do this and do it well. 5 days of screaming hunger and falling asleep on the breast almost immediately after latching later, we saw an IBCLC who pointed out that his wet diapers (less than one per day) suggested severe dehydration, and who determined that even with a good latch and technique, my son was getting almost no milk. She basically told us that our son was so dehydrated that if he didn’t have a wet diaper before midnight, we needed to take him to the emergency room for IV fluids. And the only way we could hydrate him was with supplements. Formula was there, and while not “optimal” or “best,” it saved my baby’s life. I went home and fixed my baby some formula (fed by tube so it wouldn’t mess with our ability to latch), and sobbed at my guilt, shame, and failure. My body did not do what it was supposed to do. It failed my baby in a way that could have killed him. There was some hope that my milk was delayed, but would come in eventually. I went to a La Leche League meeting where I was told by the leader that I shouldn’t have given my baby any formula and that the IBCLC I was seeing couldn’t know anything about when a baby needs supplementation (not that she had seen his dessicated little lips or the red crystals in his extremely rare pee since by this time he was actually drinking and peeing and had some fluid in his body). I used fenugreek, goat’s rue, power pumped, had skin-to-skin time, woke up for every single feeding even though he needed a full bottle afterward, took nursing vacations, ate lactation cookies, took up breast compressions, ordered domperidone from a foreign country, and sobbed when day after day, month after month, my breasts and supply were unchanged.

    I was a member of several “breastfeeding support” boards and communities. Where I often dealt with comments about “formula is poison!” and how horrible it was that it even existed. I was being bombarded by the people I was looking to for help with messages that I was killing my baby and that the thing that had SAVED MY BABY’S LIFE was evil. I was being told in more subtle ways that I was a failure, that I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I didn’t want to breastfeed badly enough, or surely I would be able to. After all, “every mother can breastfeed.” So I guess that meant I wasn’t a mother in their eyes. And when I attempted to share my story, I was met with more criticism and rationalizations that formula was evil and that I should have somehow found enough donated breastmilk to support my large, hungry child’s entire appetite. We would never have qualified for milk from a milk bank because of my baby’s extreme health, even if it would have somehow been possible to afford it – and I could not justify taking precious breastmilk from a preemie or sick infant for my hardy and healthy child who never seemed to suffer any ill effects from its lack. We had no close friends who were nursing a child who might have had extra. We could not bring ourselves to solicit milk from strangers or acquaintances and give him unscreened bodily fluids from people we did not know well enough to do more than shake hands with.

    I have come to terms with this in my head. I chose to give my baby formula (generic, not from any brands that advertise, actually) instead of allowing him to waste away from dehydration. I chose not to pursue donated breastmilk because I had a viable option for sustaining my son and he did well with it. And yet I have not come to terms with this in my heart. I still weep at the thought of how miserably my body failed to provide for my child. I still fret anxiously about how I will try to breastfeed the baby now gestating happily within me – about what I will do if it goes badly again, and how will I deal with the emotional fallout from yet another failure. And even my friends who have heard my story and know my heartache still make offhand comments about how they want to harass formula feeding moms after hearing about someone being asked to cover up while breastfeeding – which feels very offensive and insulting to someone who would never ask a mother to change how she is feeding her baby and has no choice but to give her baby formula. And I still deal with the disbelief and incomprehension that comes from breastfeeding supporters who hear some part of my story and insist on more details to determine what I did wrong, or blindly insist that breastfeeding will somehow (magically?) go great this time.

    At no point, did I feel that some commercial convinced me to give formula. I didn’t even open the free sample canister of formula until after we’d been told in no uncertain terms how dehydrated my baby was and how desperately we needed to hydrate him. I simply did what I needed to do for my baby’s survival. And as much as it hurts that I needed to give formula, I still would not change that decision, no matter how much guilt and shame I (and others) pile on me.

  136. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    I’ve been at a conference all day, so I’m replying to a much earlier comment (8:51am on Sept 15).
    Yes, I cited Emma on “blood money.” That was an editorial choice on my part to ensure I was reflecting her position as accurately as possible. With regards to “good versus evil” that was the name of a post that I was quoting and the “good versus evil” wasn’t characterizing Babble as evil and some other entity as good, it was reflecting on the way in which companies engage in business practices that are both good (corporate social responsibility, charitable donations, fair trade, ethical sourcing, quality ingredients, etc.) and bad (practices that are detrimental to people’s health or well being, the environment, human rights, etc.) and that often companies seem to market the good things that they do as a mechanism to sweep the less desirable things under the rug.
    I will be at Blissdom this year. I have made a commitment to attend and as I have explained previously with the situation with BlogHer (, I am not going to let another organization’s decisions with regards to sponsorship dictate where I can and can not go. I also recognize, and applaud, the fact that others have come to different conclusions. I am confident that *my* moral compass works for me and I recognize that other people have a different moral compass.
    That said, I do look at the decisions made by companies and use that (as well as other criteria) to decide which spaces I want to participate in. There are a lot of conference out there, and if there were some that did put some guidelines or criteria in place with regards to the type of sponsors that they accept and/or if there were conferences that tended to have sponsors that were more aligned with my values, then I may be more likely to attend those than others.
    I’m not sure there is much else to say. You seem to think that formula ads on Babble are fine (and possibly that Nestle ads on Babble are fine too). I disagree and I think that it would be a good ethical AND business move for Babble to declare publicly that it is not going to accept formula advertising. Ultimately, I don’t get to make the business decisions at Babble, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have the right to an opinion on them.
    P.S. I wasn’t aware until your comments here that the entire Mominations program was underwritten by Energizer. While I’m happy to see that it isn’t formula ad dollars that are going directly towards that program, I do of course still disagree with the use of formula ads, especially on content that is aimed at moms of newborns.

  137. Bec says:

    Annie, your comment infuriates me. Babble shouldn’t accept any formula advertising? Why? Because you think breast is best? I advocate that women should have a CHOICE about what they feed their babies. And Babble has every right to run formula advertising – it can actually helpful for women – their readers – who are trying to decide which formula to use (oh and they can make money to keep this site running!). I think Babble should remain pro-choice on the issue of what mothers feed their babies and those who aren’t interested in the ads can just look away. (How about those predatory cord, guilt-inducing cord blood ads!)

  138. [...] This post became very popular last week and if you haven’t read it – go give it a read. The comments are also very interesting – lots of ideas being brought up and questions being asked. There are a few links within the post and in the comments and if you have those posts are also worth the read. [...]

  139. [...] same day, a blog post about breastfeeding came my way…or not breastfeeding…or evil companies…I really lost the will to care [...]

  140. [...] article: Influential Canadian blogger Catherine Connors characterized the anti-advertising stance this way: “The message at the core of the ‘ban all formula advertising’ platform is simple: formula is [...]

  141. [...] Editors Note: This piece was deemed excessively polemical and has been modified from its original version. Read here for one Babble editor’s views on breastfeeding. [...]

  142. [...] Some people don’t believe that formula marketing affects a mother’s decision to try breastfeeding or her ability to continue. It’s understandable: it is human nature not to want to believe that we can be so easily duped out of protecting and advancing our own and our babies’ health! So, before you read further, we urge you to please read this article on the 10 Most Successful Ad Campaigns of All Time.   Read about what ad campaign helped Miller go from selling 7 million to 31 million barrels of beer, which ad increased Clairol’s sales 800%, and how Nike’s market share jumped from 18% to 43%.   Now consider that in 2004, just as the U.S. government was rolling out its largest effort, the three-year, $40 million “Babies Were Born to Be Breastfed” awareness campaign, formula advertising almost doubled to $50 million annually. More importantly, the government’s campaign was diluted and rendered ineffective under the influence of industry lobbyists.  Further, under lobbying pressure, a valuable, national meta-study conclusively showing the association of breastfeeding and lower rates of disease was suppressed.  No surprise:  Breastfeeding rates went down.  Breastfeeding was outmarketed, and this is precisely why examples of successful formula marketing make it into marketing textbooks.  Try to remain objective while watching this extremely sophisticated formula commercial, and then consider it in the context of research showing that breastfeeding protects against SIDS and is critical in the NICU. [...]

  143. [...] media culture – seems to be, you know, all about the moms. Also, their boobs. Boobs come up pretty frequently in discussions about motherhood, and you know how that kind of thing can end up monopolizing a discussion. Anyway. MOVING [...]

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