The “Choice” to Breastfeed or Use Formula Is Actually Not a Choice At All

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I am utterly speechless that there is a baby formula shortage in the richest and most powerful nation in the world. After two+ years dealing with a pandemic in which we never seemed to have what we really needed—disinfectant cleaning products, paper towels, toilet paper, COVID tests and the list goes on, I am gutted that mothers are running around to ten stores trying to find food for their babies.

And then there is the odd chorus saying: “Just breastfeed.”

Infuriating.

It is no secret that I am a huge breastfeeding advocate. I’ve written about it several times on this site. I sincerely believe (in a perfect world) that mothers should be able to make a fully informed choice in how they feed their babies. Breastfeed or formula? That last sentence seems really simple, but it is not.

Lack of maternal support in society

We live in a society where there is no federally mandated paid maternity leave. Breast pumps, which are a necessity to breastfeeding mothers, were only covered by insurance starting in 2010. Congress had to pass a law to provide mothers with (unpaid) break time to pump for their babies while at work. There are other laws protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public.

The choice to breastfeed or use formula

We’re telling mothers to “just breastfeed” while they get harassed for doing so and having to pass laws to protect it.

Make it make sense.

No federal support

Not to mention that without federally mandated paid maternity leave, there are mothers going back to work within days and weeks of giving birth. I physically hurt when I think about that. Why is society so barbaric when it comes to this? Wait. I think I know the answer to this.

Without protecting women and the medical event that is giving birth, mothers do not actually have a “choice” in how to feed their children.

“Breastfeed or formula” is even more complicated now

It takes time and effort to learn to breastfeed. I am an extremely privileged person (and I’m saying this as a Black woman with parents who grew up poor, and one who immigrated to the US). I was able to take breastfeeding classes when I was pregnant, hire a lactation consultant to come to my home, and buy every single contraption I needed to breastfeed and pump. I also had paid maternity leave and once I went back to work, I started part-time and pumped in my office. I was able to nurse around the clock, establish a “supply” and keep it going when I was away from my baby. It was “easy” for me with all of this and yet it was still hard and time-consuming. There are some mothers who, despite it all, cannot produce enough breastmilk (or any).

Meanwhile, there are other mothers standing and working 10 hours a day a week after they give birth.

And then someone has the nerve to say “just breastfeed.”

How?

There is no actual choice here.

We must prioritize support and accessibility

The richest and most powerful nation in the world must make putting formula on the shelves a priority. A no-brainer. Instead, society puts ANOTHER burden on women to be superhuman—to take on all the work and the pressure to do things that should be fully supported by our Government.

And even with this so-called “choice” a mother never has to breastfeed if she does not want to. She does not have to weigh it. She should be able to go to the store—any store— and buy what she needs.

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