I have, what some may consider, a radical view about infant formula. I believe that formula should be available by prescription only. This would benefit all children and families in the long run.
How, you say? The reason I believe infant formula should be made available by prescription only is that there would certainly be a higher demand for knowledge and support of medical personnel and the community for breastfeeding under that scenario. In order for that scenario to work, many changes would need to come about, like more breastfeeding friendly guidelines, advice, laws, and societal norms. For example, better and more wide spread mother- and baby-friendly birth practices, greater access to lactation consultants, more maternity (and paternity) leave, on-site daycare, and a general movement towards more family friendly societal norms. And would all that be such a bad thing? I think not. In addition, if formula were not readily available, more children and mothers would experience the benefits of breastfeeding as a result of the changes necessitated by its absence.
What about choice, you say? Well I am of the belief that mothers deserve choices about how to feed their child, but I do not believe that should come at the expense of the child. And, yes, about three quarters of babies are breastfed in the beginning, but that number drops significantly and quickly. We should establish laws that lessen the decrease in the number of breastfeeding mothers over time.
What if a woman experienced abuse, and would be subjected to symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post traumatic stress disorder as a result of breastfeeding? I think there should be exceptions to every rule, including this hypothetical one. Not many people fit into the one-size-fits-all governmental and societal laws, and this would be no different. But for the woman who wants to formula feed because “it will make her breasts look bad”, sorry, I do not think that is a valid enough excuse to deny a child the benefits of breastfeeding.
If infant formula were available by prescription only, I would hope to see an increase of maternity leave to at least six months, if not a year. I would hope to see pediatricians suggest supplementing with formula less quickly and instead give a referral to a lactation consultant, if necessary, or information about where to find donor breast milk. I would hope to see general practitioners informed about common breastfeeding problems and how to correct them. I would hope to see a woman breastfeeding in public smiled at and not frowned upon or shooed away. I would hope to see OB/GYN’s practice breastfeeding friendly birth methods and techniques like more immediate and longer skin-to-skin contact, even after a cesarean section, more encouragement for natural labor and birth, and less impersonal/robotic care.
In addition, more breastfeeding creates less need for “cry-it-out” sleep training, which I believe is harmful to children. Breastfeeding also makes sleeping for the mother easier. There would be no need to get up out of bed several times per night to make a bottle of formula for a breastfeeding mother.
Making infant formula available by prescription only would create more support among family and friends. So many women rely on their mothers, grandmothers, and friends who are mothers for advice and suggestions when they find themselves with a problem to solve. Many women in America today do not know the basics of breastfeeding, let alone how to fix a breastfeeding problem. But, after a generation of higher breastfeeding rates, when a new mother turns to family or friends, she is more likely to find advice or suggestions that are applicable and helpful, rather than being told to “stop stressing out, and just use some formula.”
Besides, infant formula is only the last item on the list of what is the best nutrition to provide a baby. The list, in descending order of nutrition, goes as follows:
1. Human breast milk directly from the breast
2. Pumped breast milk
3. Donor breast milk
4. Infant formula
As an aside, I believe formula advertising should be made illegal. Every single time I access a certain profit-driven website specifically made for expecting women or women who are already mothers, I am bombarded by formula advertisements. I have not specifically looked for formula advertisements elsewhere, but I am sure it is ingrained in the media in the U.S. Formula companies’ advertising practices really deserves its own post.
Choices are important. But some choices should be made for the general public, especially since educating oneself about what is best for one’s baby does not seem to be of importance in America. We have laws about abuse, theft, weapons and car safety in order to protect society as a whole, so why not protect society from disease and mental illness by making breastfeeding mandatory, barring a legitimate medical reason? It is really frustrating to see how far behind America is in terms of family friendly medical practices, laws, and societal norms, given that we hold a prominent place in the world’s eye, at least militarily, if not financially and politically. Every child deserves a better chance at experiencing the benefits of breastfeeding, even if it means limiting some choices.