In Adam’s supposed attempt to ruin mom shaming, he was in truth aimed at ruining breastfeeding.
Why not Adam Ruins Everything: Formula Marketing, or Adam Ruins Everything: Mommy Wars?
The episode Adam Ruins Everything: Why Formula Isn’t Poison (which originally aired on July 9th but you can watch it here) plays much like a formula advertisement. It reminded me of the infamous Similac one that aimed to dupe us into receiving it as some cute public service announcement when really, illusions dissolved, it was just a smartly manipulative attempt to sell formula.
A few questions raised by this episode: is it really necessary to degrade breastfeeding in order to prove formula isn’t poison? It’s true that formula isn’t poison, but can’t this fact stand on its own merit without comparing against breast milk?
Overall, Adam’s episode focuses less about how formula isn’t poison and more about how breastfeeding really isn’t all that great, apparently. The information here is incomplete at best, biased and inaccurate at worst.
Curious Things I Noticed:
1). About the demographics…
I’ll start with this: the inventor of infant formula is called “Albert Einstein.”
The ‘lactivist’ is a ditzy white woman who reacts to supposed ‘formula facts’ like a childish brat. She says stupid, entitled things that almost make us forget breastfeeding rates are much higher among educated populations.
The anti-public breastfeeding woman is black. I suspect the person in charge of casting was aware that black women’s breastfeeding rates are much lower than that of other races due to special social and healthcare barriers, and used this to their advantage in extending stereotypes.
The ‘good guy’ is the formula-pusher (Patty, whom Adam calls a “primary source”). Her attitude is pedantic and her manner of speech is denigrating. She’s what I view as a ‘pusher’ because if you know anything about how formula marketing works, you’d agree she’s basically a formula company personified.
Certain groups of parents aren’t even mentioned: those who exclusively pump breast milk, those who use formula and breast milk together, and adoptive and same-sex parents who use donor milk or breastfeed.
Adam frames this as strictly an issue (rather, fight) between exclusive breastfeeders and exclusive formula feeders. If only things were that simple!
Read: Help With Mixed Feedings
2). About public breastfeeding…
Agree with me or not, but I think formula companies just love publicly ‘defending’ public breastfeeding because it keeps the flames fanned on its controversy and in the meantime they reap the applause as a ‘mommy wars’ referee.
Formula-sponsored messages remind us how the breastfeeding lifestyle comes with public opposition and ridicule. Certain bottles are marketed with the suggestion “for when you need to feed baby on the go.” Nursing covers are normalized in their imagery (remember that Similac ad?). This turns the infant feeding decision into a fear-based one instead of a health-based one. It makes perfect sense when their business success depends on sales, and public acceptance is what sells.
In this episode, the lactivist is reprimanded by Patty for her negativity, but first Patty matter-of-factly states how breastfeeding is wonderful, natural, and great — therefore, we assume by implication, an unfair target of public shaming. By throwing in this nugget about breastfeeding being natural and great, it appears she’s earned the right to claim a ‘balanced’ argument. However, those of us with finer-tuned observation skills aren’t buying it.
This is the only mention of the wide range of criticism experienced by breastfeeders. Nothing about shaming for breastfeeding beyond infancy, for sharing personal breastfeeding photos on social media, for proudly celebrating breastfeeding milestones, for openly sharing what they’ve learned to help other moms…
And most interesting is no mention of The Booby Traps. The formula-feeding mother explains how a nurse recommended a top-off and from then on she had problems, but no mention of the often causal relationship between supplementing and difficulties with milk production.
For an episode that’s supposed to be about formula, a whole lot was said about breastfeeding… and by the end of the video we still haven’t learned anything useful about infant feeding!
3). About good guy vs. bad guy…
We’re expected to believe Patty is neutral given her claim to have breastfed one of her children — once, twice, for five years, with supplements? These details aren’t offered, but we all know one breastfeeding journey is unique relative to another and her experiences can neither be the standard against which to measure breastfeeding overall, nor the eraser of some unclaimed bias.
Courtney Jung is shown as an ‘expert’ with professional-ish soundbites. Curiously, she’s a political scientist — NOT a lactation or infant feeding expert of any kind.
The lactivist is not granted balanced quotes with relevant science of her own. She’s depicted as a sanctimonious airhead who pulls all her information from “mommy blogs” and supported with trendy buzzwords like oxytocin. The lactivist’s script is full of ridiculous, whiny things no one would say (“I hear there’s autism in formula” / “Breastfeeding makes your baby love you more”).
4). About those sources…
Adam’s list of ‘sources’ don’t include any of the science or research that shows the benefits of nursing or how breast milk is vastly different from formula.
Upon a little digging I see Jung wrote a book called “Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy.” Doesn’t exactly strike me as unbiased. This is when we wonder exactly how much ‘opinion as fact’ we’re meant to swallow.
Sure, citing secondary source ‘mommy blogs’ (like my own) wouldn’t lend much credibility to any argument requiring factual input from experts. I would just expect any cited research to make sense, not be misleading, and removed from conflict of interest.
5). About equating formula with breast milk…
Sorry, but they’re not the same. Not even close. They’re equal in that they’re both food designed to nourish infants, but when we draw a wider net around the details the synonymous nature quickly disappates.
The best Jung comes up with? The benefits of breastfeeding over formula are “inconclusive.” Which certainly doesn’t mean they’ve been officially debunked. This would’ve been a perfect opportunity to discuss what’s actually in formula and to explain how these ingredients are a good alternative to keep some babies healthy and fed, yet there’s no mention of what’s in formula, except “chemicals” which we’re told are in everything and just fine.
“Literally everything is made of chemicals.” First, that’s not how it works. Second, can we say straw man?
In the video, we’re told the composition of formula is based on science. No, actually it’s based on the composition of breast milk, and science proves the processed ingredients still pale in comparison to the living liquid that is breast milk.
6). About the history of risks…
The mini history lesson on infant feeding paints breastfeeding as inconvenient and barbaric, while formula is presented as, according to the video’s caption and Patty, “a literal life-saver.” True, formula has saved lives. You know what else is a literal life-saver? Breast milk! (Just ask the parents of premature babies afflicted with necrotizing enterocolitis).
No mention of the deaths of formula-fed babies; only a brush-off comment that completely sidesteps the concern of formula’s safety and health risks.
“Babies grew up malnourished or died if their moms couldn’t breastfeed.”
True, this has happened, but babies have also grown up malnourished or died on a formula diet.
In developing nations, formula use has high rates of morbidity; it was estimated that one million babies died before their first birthdays per year in developing countries as a result of formula use. A recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that increased rates of breastfeeding could save 820,000 lives per year.
Consider that many families in poverty-stricken areas cannot afford formula so they must dilute it to make it last; sterile water for mixing and cleaning is scarce; children may have other medical problems worsened by not being breastfed; mothers may not have easy access to purchasing formula when needed; mothers may have trouble understanding formula labels and mixing instructions (Nestle’s international labels are written in English).
When prepared correctly in a safe, clean environment and given by caregivers who are educated in infant bottle-feeding, commercial formula is largely safe, nutritious, and (as originally intended) it can be a life-saving food. Thank goodness it exists because it can certainly help fix what’s broken! However, it also has the power to break what was never broken by preventing mothers from breastfeeding or interfering with the process.
THAT is why many mothers want to talk openly about infant feeding.
7). About the OTHER feeding options…
Before formula, apparently “there weren’t any other good options” to feed infants, according to Patty. Color me confused, but why no mention of donor milk and wet nursing as the other perfectly normal and healthy alternatives?
Commercial formula is NOT the only other option to nursing. In the past, babies did not starve if their mothers couldn’t breastfeed them. However, they may have starved if: their mothers couldn’t breastfeed them, and no one else was available to nurse the baby, the baby was also too young to consume solid foods, and/or had an underlying medical condition that would’ve contributed to failure to thrive even if formula had existed.
If formula is “a modern miracle,” we can call breast milk a timeless miracle, right?
8). About the scare tactics…
- “Breastfeeding takes 35 hours a week… forget about getting anything else done.”
Yes, it’s a demanding job to care for a baby. Breastfeeding is not just food, though; it is also for comforting, putting a baby to sleep, bonding, and more. If you take into account the number of hours per week a formula-fed baby is drinking from a bottle, plus the amount of time it takes to prepare the bottles, plus the number of hours baby spends with a nipple-replacement (pacifier/dummy, thumb, etc), being rocked to sleep, being cuddled and so on, I’m pretty sure the minutes would level up to the time-suck of breastfeeding.
Also, I’ll take a good excuse to not have to get anything else done! The pressure on modern mothers to do it all is overwhelming as is.
- “Fifteen percent of moms can’t breastfeed.”
This ‘fact’ is misleading. Historically, it hasn’t been that 15% of mothers couldn’t breastfeed, so why can’t 15% of moms breastfeed today?
Discussion of the Booby Traps, social and health influences upon breastfeeding, normalization of supplementation, applying formula-feeding methodology to breastfeeding, inadequate maternity leave, widely under-diagnosed postpartum mood disorders, and breastfeeding mismanagement are all left out.
So we assume all of these moms physically cannot produce milk, but the truth is only 2% of women were not physically built to produce enough milk for their babies.
- “Formula allows women to leave the house and join the work force…”
A need or desire to leave the house to go to work or anywhere does not necessarily preclude a mother from breastfeeding.
What about the many working moms who not only manage to exclusively breastfeed, but reach their nursing duration goals too? What about women like me who manage to leave the house every single day (without nurslings in tow) and have never needed to supplement or give bottles?
Formula may help some women who wish to achieve these things, but it certainly isn’t the answer for all.
What we should be doing is pushing for companies to give families a work leave that’s worth a damn. We should be pushing for acceptance of continued, biologically normal feeding upon return to work (regular pumping breaks, access to donor milk through insurance if needed, in-house childcares).
We should be pushing for society to accommodate MOTHERS and their BABIES instead of making us feel like we should be thanking big business for coming up with a decent yet still second-rate compromise.
- “Oxytocin is a hormone that gets released when you do things like hug and cuddle…That same hormone is also released when you do things like fire a gun or watch porn.”
So, we’re demonizing bonding hormones now? Is that really necessary? Couldn’t Adam have instead taken the positive route by saying formula feeding dyads can experience oxytocin bonding in their own ways too?
This is the same education given to breastfeeding dyads when dads insist on “their turn” to feed the baby: dads of breastfed babies can get intense oxytocin bonding by bathing, holding, babywearing, sleeping and playing with their babies — not only by participating in milk-feeding.
Oxytocin release is a crucial part of attachment for ALL babies, however it happens, and we need to keep talking about it.
9). About the origins of shame…
Thanks for trying Adam, but we don’t need you to save us (mothers who feed babies, that is) from judgment. Knowledge will soften the sharp panic of modern new motherhood, not continued censorship of up-to-date information to prevent hurt feelings.
The thing is, the episode is presented as anti-shaming, but there are so many examples of shaming originating from their ‘education’ attempts. Informing expecting mothers about breastfeeding isn’t ‘mommy policing,’ it’s mommy supporting.
Honestly, I’m sure Adam’s intentions were well-meaning. I just think there’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to the mucky, complicated, emotional world of filling the bellies of young humans.
It isn’t anyone’s place to judge others, but it is a natural, common, and purposeful human reaction. People have been judging each other’s parenting choices since forever, and while criticism is occasionally hurtful, it does serve by causing us to question old knowledge and shed unavailing routines. Our judgments can be informative and help us grow.
No one can make another person feel shame or guilt. Unsolicited advice can be good or bad. I think criticism (the expression of judgment) is the real problem, not judgment itself.
Example of judging: Thinking to yourself it was an awful idea for your friend to give her 5-month-old ice cream.
Criticizing: Telling your friend she made an awful decision by giving her 5-month-old ice cream.
Informing: Telling your friend about healthy infant food choices and recommendations and where to find more resources on the topic.
Empowerment is born from giving confidence to mothers without undermining their peers. There are much better ways to liberate formula-feeding mothers from judgment than by minimizing the impact of breastfeeding.
Something to think about: Every time a formula-feeding mother is faced with an article about the properties in breast milk that could never be replicated in formula, a breastfeeding mother is scolded for nursing her two-year-old because “enough is enough already!”
We’re all under pressure here. Really. It’s not just some moms sweating bullets over growing our kids on some kind of food, it’s all of us. And it doesn’t end when they’re done with milk! Then we have to worry about solid food, balanced meals, competing with cartoon characters on colorful boxes…
10) About this popular response to the video…
“I say if you want to breastfeed, go for it! If you want to formula feed, go for it!”
Except it’s not that simple. You can’t just tell a new mother “go ahead and breastfeed” (or “go ahead and mix up some formula”) and expect it to work out like magic. She needs education, support, and resources to make it happen.
Formula feeding is a learned practice too (hygiene safety is crucial to understand, and guidance is needed to pick the right formula for a child without marketing influence).
Telling a new mother “go for it, we support you” when it’s time for her to start breastfeeding is NOT helpful. If you truly support a mother’s choice, you’ll share information about HOW to feed her infant. Otherwise, the message between the lines is you don’t think it’s important whether she fails.
Your approval of the whole spectrum of infant feeding choices is appreciated, but new moms need far more than a thumbs up and a few words of agreement.
11). About censorship of the full picture…
Here’s how censoring discussions of biological norms does a huge disservice to families:
- They fall for the manipulation tactics of businesses.
- They’re set up for failure before they’ve begun, or when they’re most vulnerable to struggles.
- It normalizes feeding problems instead of solving or preventing them.
- It normalizes barriers to breastfeeding.
- It restricts development of increasingly safer and better feeding alternatives by claiming modern formula is basically good enough, healthy enough, not poison! Nothing will ever be good enough for our babies, and we should be demanding continually improved products instead of letting formula companies convince us the current stock is already perfect.
- It further promotes the #FedIsBest campaign, which undermines the importance of nursing or breast milk-feeding. What I think: Fed is the bare minimum, because every child has the basic human right to be fed. Formula-fed is a fine alternative, because every mother has the right to make decisions about her own body and breastfeeding isn’t best for a small number of babies. Breastfeeding is the standard, because it’s the biological norm intended and perfectly suited for our species.
Go ahead, leave messages calling me a Nursing Nazi, Breastapo, Sanctimommy — I’ve heard it all. Rest assured, those of you inclined to do so: you won’t be censored.
In conclusion: No, formula isn’t poison. Just leave breastfeeding out of it.