Do breastfeeding campaigns stigmatize bottle-feeding moms? Join the debate.

Do breastfeeding campaigns stigmatize bottle-feeding moms?

YES says Ellie Lee, Ph.D., co-author of the study “Mothers’ Experience of, and Attitudes to, Using Infant Formula In the Early Months.” As new mothers, women receive the message that bottle-feeding is a second-rate, risky practice. The United Nation’s Children’s Fund Baby Friendly Initiative promotes this idea, mandating that mothers-to-be only be told about breastfeeding. In our research, 48 percent of the bottle-feeding women were uncertain they were doing the right thing, and 32 percent had a sense of failure about not breastfeeding. Breastfeeding advocates in the U.S. have been forthright about their condemnation of formula-feeding. They see bottle-feeding women’s guilt as acceptable. Formula has come to be a source of tension because breastfeeding has become a measure of motherhood. Use of formula needs to be depoliticized and treated objectively rather than as a moral issue.

NO says Ruth Lawrence, M.D., professor of pediatrics and OB-GYN, University of Rochester School of Medicine, New York. Spreading information about the benefits of breastfeeding does not stigmatize bottle-feeding mothers. The recent U.S. campaign by the Ad Council, “Babies Were Born to Breastfeed,” said nothing about bottle-feeding. For many years, despite study after study showing its benefits, there has been an effort to bury information about breastfeeding and no active campaign to encourage it. All along, and despite the World Health Organization’s call to halt promotion of bottle-feeding worldwide, formula has been advocated in advertising. No one sponsored breastfeeding because there is no money to be made doing so. When the Ad Council took on the charge to promote breastfeeding, they decided that people already knew that mother’s milk is best for babies, so they focused on the risks of not breastfeeding: increased risk of ear infection, respiratory illness and diarrhea. Saying this campaign stigmatizes bottle-feeding is like saying formula ads stigmatize breastfeeding.— Mary Jane Horton