Breastfeeding At Risk
Formula marketing and biased media undermine public health
Recent media coverage of the infant formula shortage and of new breastfeeding guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics have undermined public health.
Coverage of the infant formula crisis has largely focused on mothers shaming one another because of their feeding choices, rather than on criticism of formula manufacturers for creating and expoiting the crisis. The truth is that mothers are helping each another. “The National Emergency Breastmilk Share” increased donations of breastmilk to Milk Banks — much of which is distributed to mothers in need. In addition, informal networks on Facebook and Twitter help local families share pumped breastmilk with formula feeding families.
In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated their breastfeeding recommendations. For years they have urged exclusive breatfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to one year or longer. The new recommendation “supports continued breastfeeding until two years or beyond, as mutually desired by mother and child.” Rather than highlighting the fact that the lack of family-friendly policies in the US discourages breastfeeding, the press mostly framed the AAP recommendation as an impossibility for mothers.
Free choice or health imperative?
The press regularly supports the formula industry narrative that breastfeeding is an issue of free choice and consumer sovereignty, but can it really be free choice when the industry spends billions of dollars annually to erode confidence in breastfeeding? The $55 billion US formula industry — half of the global market — spends $480 million a year in advertising. In contrast, the combined annual budgets of the two top breastfeeding advocacy groups in the US, La Leche League and the US Breastfeeding Committee, total less than $1.5 million.
According to the CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card, while 84.1% of US babies have been breastfed at some point, only 58.3% are breastfeeding at six months (26.6% exclusively) and 35.3% at one year. Exclusive breastfeeding is important because the health benefits afforded by breastmilk apply only to exclusively breastfed babies. The addition of formula changes the baby’s…