While We’re Waiting For Baby Formula, Let’s Make Breastfeeding Easier - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Andrea Freeman

Andrea Freeman teaches constitutional law, federal courts, and race and law at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law. She is a Fulbright Scholar and author of “Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice.”


Not knowing where your baby’s next meal is coming from is terrifying. Calls for women to switch to breastfeeding instead of using formula are ignorant and insulting. Parents make their infant feeding choices based on factors that they should never have to explain to anyone.

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People should respect every single one of these choices. And the government should make sure that parents really do have a choice.

For too long, policy has focused on pleasing the formula industry, not supporting new parents. This became headline news in 2018 when the U.S. threatened Ecuador with trade and aid sanctions at the World Health Assembly after the country dared to propose a resolution promoting breastfeeding that could carve into the industry’s profits.

More evidence lies in the two faces of WIC, the USDA’s program designed to meet the nutritional needs of women, infants and children. WIC offers breastfeeding support with one hand while using the other hand to supply new mothers with six months of free formula.

Generous rebates from the formula companies keep the WIC program going. The formula corporations get the better end of this deal. Moms on WIC use formula at much higher rates than moms who don’t participate in the program. And USDA endorsement of a formula brand — each state picks one — looks like a government seal of approval.

Formula companies also use hospitals and pediatrician’s offices to market their products. They give doctors and nurses free formula to pass on to their patients as “gifts.”

These gifts from medical professionals can be misleading. Formula must be as good as breast milk, or why would a doctor dispense it like medication or a lollipop?

Meanwhile, the formula industry pays for American Academy of Pediatrics conferences and other perks, creating a mutually beneficial relationship between the professionals and the corporations.

For parents that want to formula feed, giveaways can be a godsend. But what about those that don’t? They need structures in place to make their choice just as easy, even if no one stands to make money from it.

What they need is a society where breastfeeding is as common as formula. Since we’ve never had one, it takes some imagination to see what that might look like.

New parents who want to breastfeed need time and money to be at home with their infants after birth. (But really, this is something that every parent deserves, regardless of their infant feeding style). That means that welfare benefits should not depend on a mother’s quick return to work. Instead, welfare should recognize that parenting is an important form of labor that deserves the same support that other types of work get.

Parental leave and the ability to pump milk should not vary according to an employer’s whims. The federal government should make them standard across the country. Federal law should require every workplace, no matter how big or small, to give breastfeeding parents paid breaks, access to refrigeration, and a private space. The government should supply a pump, carrier, and bottles.

On top of this, day care should be free and universal, close to workplaces so that breastfeeding parents can nurse their infants during breaks if they choose to.

Let The Government Help

Breastfeeding is hard, so there should be government-funded support for it across the country.

Medical schools should train aspiring doctors to provide this support. They should dispel myths about who can and should breastfeed so that race and class assumptions don’t enter into medical advice or treatment.

Promoting profits for pharmaceutical companies has no place in health policy.

Breastfeeding in public can lead to harassment. We should understand the Constitution to make this type of harassment illegal (as the Fifth Circuit has done).

Public spaces like airports and shopping malls should provide comfortable, private spaces for feeding so nursing parents can participate in normal activities like shopping, flying, and socializing without fear.

The law should limit formula marketing in the ways recommended by the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes.

The Code does not allow health services to market formula by giving it away for free. It insists on product labels free of images of babies or breastfeeding moms. It doesn’t even allow formula companies to advertise to the general public.

The formula shortage is a tragedy. We can use this moment to improve social systems so that this history does not repeat or, at least, if it does, it hurts fewer families. The first and most important step is removing the formula industry’s influence on law and policy. Promoting profits for pharmaceutical companies has no place in health policy. Let’s put people first.

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About the Author

Andrea Freeman

Andrea Freeman teaches constitutional law, federal courts, and race and law at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law. She is a Fulbright Scholar and author of “Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice.”


Latest Comments (0)

The author raises some good points. We also need to make it more acceptable for moms to breastfeed. Moms shouldn't feel like they need to hide away in order to feed their babies.In addition, it would be helpful if more support were given to moms who want to breastfeed but have difficulty getting started or feel that their only option after heading back to work is formula. La Leche League is a wonderful organization that should be promoted at least as heavily as the formula companies.

Natalie_Iwasa · 1 month ago

"Promoting profits for pharmaceutical companies has no place in health policy"Unfortunately, by design that is exactly the case throughout the health care system dominated by for-profit insurance companies and the incestuous regulatory agencies of the FDA and CDC with employees migrating between industry and agencies compromising their integrity.Breast feeding, like the human immune system, are not profitable to corporations and therefor they are being threatened.

Joseppi · 1 month ago

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