I woke up this morning and innocently flicked through my most boring twitter account in the interwebs™ (hashtag that) over a cup of tea and Weetabix spatter. Suddenly I stumbled upon an excited tweet imploring me to check out this great Huff Po. piece. Fantastic! All of my favourite things before 9am; tits, tea and feminism.  I was bitterly disappointed to see that it is in fact the same old tired cliché ridden nonsense.  The stuff lactivists tell themselves so that they can avoid doing anything to actually help women but make themselves feel better. In this case it’s being deployed once more to defend Alison Thewliss MP’s recent bill

Lactivists defend the indefensible by ignoring the difficult bits about supporting women and families.  Things like the treatment of 81% of women who want to breastfeed or the 80% of women who cite pain as the reason they regretfully stop breastfeeding, discriminatory work policy or safety and effectiveness of breastfeeding policy in hospitals. Instead they construct a stereotypical formula feeder who can make them feel good about themselves. She’s uneducated and poor, unable to see past cute animals and numbered boxes and the defenseless prey of global conglomerates. This way they can swoop in with a spot of legislation and save us poor women from our own intellectually challenged selves.  We are but victims of ‘the system’ of course, and not people who deserve bodily autonomy. 

The writer of the article describes herself as a feminist which is odd.  Much like the writer of that article, I too am a woman of reproductive age and I too identify as a feminist.  The difference is that for me feminism is about choice, not hiding things that I personally dislike so that other women can’t see it. That’s paternalism.

To start with the dull and utterly unimaginative:

Every breastfeeding mother is business lost, and every act of peer breastfeeding support threatens the profit margin.

Here’s a bit of Marketing 101; no company will go out of their way to target people who are not interested in their products. They just won’t, because it costs too much for little return. This is not great business.  Formula companies are looking for women who already want to use formula and as long as the information they give out is true, which is already looked after and enforced, that’s OK. Women must be trusted with choice.  If you were angry about the  bic pink pens for girls debacle then you should also be angry about this. 

I think we also need to talk about the fact that formula itself isn’t some massive money spinner for these companies.  They are enormous corporations where formula is a small % of revenue, even for Danone who make Aptamil and Cow&Gate and command 51% of the UK market, infant nutrition makes up something like 21% of their sales. Between them all these companies make medicines, baby food products, dairy products, probiotics, chocolate and toiletries. Everyone also knows that there will always be a need for formula milks to exist, so they don’t need to run around doing aggressive and expensive marketing. To suggest that they invest endless resources on targeting breastfeeding women is just fantastical narcissism. To throw yourself around like you are the great protector of women who make a different choice than you because you believe that they couldn’t see past a teddy on a box, also absurd. 

Moving from the unimaginative to the unbelievable:

…the creation of online communities. On Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and their own websites, formula companies pose as a friend, connecting mums together with the bond of mutual product consumption.

The irony of this is astounding, just replace the word formula with breastfeeding.  It would appear that this kind of thing is absolutely A-OK as long as you’re following a breastfeeding page who coerce you into breastfeeding like the La Leche League, Healthy Start or pretty much anywhere you look on the rest of the internet. Of course only un-feminist, easily led women like formula feeders enjoy reading family recipes, unless of course they’re recipes for lactation cookies. We must also all remember that all of these people and companies (gasp!) are altruistic and have no interest in selling you breastfeeding equipment like pumps, bras, creams, tops, books, cushions onesies etc. etc. of course.  Breastfeeding Mamas are smart but for formula feeding Mums this is NOT OK, got it? Not OK.

To the unjust and unreasonable:

Formula marketers are not an objective source of infant feeding information and support – tightening regulations sends the message that we as a society find it unacceptable for pregnant women and new mothers to be treated as a target market.

So where are women supposed to be getting this information from then? You see I speak to women who are either exclusively formula feeding or combo-feeding daily and hear things like this:

I never felt any pressure to formula feed and actually, when I needed to formula feed, the only place I could find info about it was on the side of an Aptamil bottle and that made me anxious because somewhere I’d been told “formula companies are evil”. I’m sure they can be and I am an anti-capitalist but I just don’t get this angle.

When release day finally came I got no advice on formula prep, bottle hygiene or introductions to any support groups.  When we got home my husband and I had to do research as quickly as possible so I could feed my son.

Just look at the actual first hand experiences of people who have been brave enough to share their experiences on this blog. It’s more of the same.

In my own experience of supplementing my eldest with formula I was ditched by a midwife when I told her about the formula top up I’d given the night before (‘you might as well as not bother now, you’re on a slippery slope’).  Qualitative research gives us the exact same story, women feel ashamed and don’t know who to get help to formula feed. So you tell me, where are you supposed to turn? 

Instead of making constructive policy that respects bodily autonomy and listens to what women are saying which would involve writing the bill four months after opening and inquiry asking women for their views, not the other way round. Lactivists write articles like this that take a quick and easy pop at women by trying to restrict them. It’s far, far easier to support uncontroversial policy that wastes everybody’s time, does nothing to improve infant feeding culture and further entrenches inequality, who can disagree with what already exists? How irresponsible can making comparisons between formula milk and tobacco be, right? 

But new mothers, particularly those struggling with breastfeeding difficulties, are vulnerable. Many report feeling isolated or afraid of being judged by other women.

Here I have to give credit where credit is due, well done for actually listening. For someone throwing around words like ‘sisterhood’ and finger pointing, things to this point have been remarkably tone deaf.

The shame and isolation is created by other women who tell them that they’re too stupid to walk past a teddy on a box. By other women who are supposed to be their care providers and yet compare life-saving formula to crack. By other women who tell them that their pain is unimportant, who tell them that their feeding difficulties are only in their heads. By politicians who only vaguely attempt to listen to them after they’ve already published the bill. By having the food that they feed their babies compared to tobacco and nicotine products both in policy and on parenting forums. By women who sigh if only there was more support before kicking them to the curb. By people who recast them as a stereotype, a problematic type of woman who needs to be solved so that they can get some clicks on their articles. Breastfeeding sells, we know.  

To the only truth:

They are manipulative, abusive, coercive, exploitative, misogynist steamrollers.

This is the only truthful part of this article and it’s truthful because it’s projection. This is what lactivism is doing to women every single day.

As we’re dealing in tired old tropes I’ll finish with one of my own:

I’m angry as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.