My first baby was breast-fed, even though I was working full-time as a teacher. My daughter’s caregiver lived a quarter-mile from school, and I was able, when she was tiny, to buzz over and feed her during my planning period, mid-day.
By the time she was six months old, and eating cereal (with breast milk), I could stay at school all day, and feed her after school. She drank from a cup at eight months, and I was off the hook shortly after her first birthday.
But I was always aware of how fortunate I was to have support—at school, at day care, and at home—that made it possible for me to feed my child. Being given a third-hour prep period, attached to lunch, for example, because I asked for it—I have known school administrators who would balk at that. I’ve heard horror stories from teaching moms who have to pump their milk in the only staff restroom, and much worse.
My second child—adopted at three months—was bottle-fed. He was lactose intolerant and had to have a special, soy-based formula that wasn’t available every place. We had to remind well-meaning people never to feed him Similac or Enfamil. And we had to cope, for the first time, with the need for clean water, sterilizing bottles, heating them in the middle of the night, and securing a stock of his special formula. Not to mention getting out of bed.
He was worth every bit of that trouble, of course. But I’ve been thinking about current shortages of baby formula, and how they have re-started the old, tired Mom Wars, the judging of mothers for all kinds of choices: medicated childbirth, smoking/drinking during pregnancy, scheduled C-sections, caffeine consumption and going back to work.
Breast-feeding is just one of those choices. Or so you might be led to believe.
Somehow—like so many things—this all gets laid at the feet of women, including the ‘choice’ to maintain a dangerous or unwanted pregnancy. But it’s really not about choosing, is it?
Many times, what is labeled choice is actually set in concrete by interlocking layers of policy, built up over time. The answer, for example, to why more women don’t breast feed—it’s easier, it’s free, and ideally suited for the baby, after all—is buried under dozens of reasons, beginning with our capitalistic system that doesn’t provide adequate, compensated time off for the birth of a child.
Of course, there’s no choice at all in needing to work to have food and a roof over your head vs. living in a homeless shelter with a newborn. From San Antonio, TX:
The shortage has been a challenge for families across the country, but it is especially palpable at grocery stores and food banks in San Antonio, a Latino-majority city in South Texas where many mothers lack health insurance and work at low-wage jobs that give them little opportunity to breastfeed. Across the city, baby food aisles are nearly empty and nonprofit agencies are working overtime to get their hands on new supplies. Republicans have seized on the widening anxiety among parents to blame President Biden, arguing that the administration has not done enough to ramp up production.
There are reports of on-line stashes of formula being offered at four times the retail price—and even more for specialty formulas, like the one we used. How low can vendors go to make a profit? And why aren’t there enforced policies against that?
How do we understand decisions that compel women to proceed with an unwanted or medically threatening pregnancy? With centuries of policy, hoarding power and control.
Derek Thompson, in an interesting piece in today’s Atlantic, asks: What if we invented a technology to save the planet—and the world refused to use it?
Baby formula is, indeed, a useful technology, a way to provide nutrition to infants whose mothers are unable—for any reason—to feed them by other means.
The problem is not that world has refused to use infant formula, but that corporations have used advertising to make it essential, then let other marketing technologies (just-in-time supply chains, for example) control a good that they have made indispensable. Congress hasn’t seen fit to provide parental leave, like virtually all other first-world nations.
If we’re going to point fingers, leave mothers out of it.