No, You Boob, Government Support for Breast-Feeding Is Not a Threat to Our Freedom

What Women Really Think
Oct. 29 2013 3:59 PM

No, You Boob, Government Support for Breast-Feeding Is Not a Threat to Our Freedom

170820840
Freedom fighter.

Photo by LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images

The breast-feeding mafia is irritating. They exaggerate the benefits of breast-feeding and lay unnecessary guilt on mothers who can't or won't do it. That said, Jennifer Doverspike at the Federalist is completely wrong to be concerned that the promotion of breast-feeding in the U.S. represents a legitimate threat to our personal liberty. 

To Doverspike, the push for breast-feeding is just another attack on freedom. She complains about the surgeon general's 2011 Call to Action, saying it "reflects the absurd lengths to which these activists will go to justify government involvement in infant feeding practices." Her evidence that the jackboots are on the verge of kicking bottles out of parents' hands? The creation of an interagency task force to promote breast-feeding and the suggestion that civil servants get paid maternity leave. It takes a lot of time in the libertarian bubble to start arguing that the right to take some time off work amounts to a substantial loss of freedom. 

Advertisement

Doverspike also objects to New York City's program to encourage breast-feeding at hospitals, which she characterizes as treating formula like it "must be guarded and distributed with roughly the same precautions as addictive and harmful narcotics." The problem is that a sober-minded assessment shows that no such thing is happening. The program basically bans aggressive formula advertising and pushes nurses to have a talk about the benefits of breast-feeding before they give new mothers formula. Yes, the formula is in a locked cabinet, but so are all hospital supplies, last time I checked. 

While the benefits of breast-feeding are exaggerated, that doesn't excuse Doverspike for ignoring the one major upside that has been repeatedly demonstrated: Breast-feeding, particularly in the first few weeks, improves immunity in babies. Jennifer, look at this from a cost-cutting perspective. Sick babies are expensive. Pushing nurses to take a few minutes to talk over breast-feeding with new mothers who may not be fully educated about it could go a long way to preventing illness and lowering health care costs. 

Unable to make a substantive case that the U.S. is letting breast-milk mania destroy our freedoms, Doverspike turns her ire on the World Health Organization. The WHO laid out standard regulations in 1981 preventing formula companies from aggressively advertising, regulations that have been adopted by 84 countries. It's worth noting that this in no way restricts parents' rights to choose formula, though it is a restriction on a corporation's right to advertise. In addition, some countries put more controls on formula to make it harder to get. 

What Doverspike fails to mention is why the WHO wrote out these regulations in the first place, something a quick Google search reveals. As reported at the time by the New York Times, researchers had discovered that poor parents were stretching out formula by watering it down, which was leading to malnutrition in infants. In addition, places that lack clean drinking water are places where formula feeding is downright dangerous. There are substantial benefits, particularly worldwide, to creating a culture where breast-feeding is the go-to way to feed children, and formula is only viewed as a supplement for cases where breast-feeding isn't working. Of course, that does cut into formula company profits, so if that's your priority, by all means, bash the WHO's efforts to keep babies healthy some more.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Television

See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 11:25 AM Naomi Klein Is Wrong Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 10:59 AM “For People, Food Is Heaven” Boer Deng on the story behind her piece “How to Order Chinese Food.”
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 10:48 AM One of Last Year’s Best Animated Shorts Is Finally Online for Free
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.