Where the Real Breastfeeding Bullies Are

It's inevitable that when you tell people that the world is round, those who believe (or want to believe) that it's flat are going to call you cruel. The world of online mommyhood interactions has taught us the same. Discuss the benefits of breastfeeding or suggest that a first-time mom should give breastfeeding a shot and be told you're making women who couldn't breastfeed feel bad, or that you need to lay off formula feeders. Whether or not that's actually bullying is highly debatable, but when Gisele Bundchen said, "I think there should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months," people sure flipped out on her, even though it was obvious she was just using a cliche phrase and wasn't serious.

But Indonesia, on the other hand, is serious. In fact, they're serious enough that they just passed the law that Gisele joked about, with a punishment of a huge fine and up to one year's jail time for anyone who doesn't breastfeed.


Forty percent of kiddos under five have their growth stunted due to malnutrition over there. Their living conditions are incredibly unsanitary -- illness and disease run rampant. Indonesia, like the US, has not adopted the WHO and UNICEF's Code of Ethics for Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, meaning formula companies can advertise anywhere and say just about anything ... even when it hasn't been proven to actually be true. In countries like Indonesia, though, this can literally cause the death of many babies who desperately need the antibodies, and who are literally poisoned from contaminated bottles and bottle nipples, as well as the very water it's made with (which is often diluted as formula is prohibitively expensive).

Formula companies though have done such a bang-up job that when organizations go in to talk about how important breastfeeding is, the moms didn't believe that breast milk was better than formula. Breastfeeding rates in Indonesia dropped by 10 percent in two years.

Despite all this, I bet you'll be surprised to hear I don't support this law: it states that women must exclusively breastfeed for six months, or face up to a year's jail time and a fine equivalent to $11,000. Anyone who interferes with this (say your bad doctor or mother-in-law) potentially faces the same.

I'm sure there are stipulations for the 2-4 percent of women who physically cannot breastfeed and they include in this law protection for women who have to work, so that's not an issue. Telling women they absolutely have to breastfeed while not providing them with adequate education and support is setting them up to fail. Even with their three month's paid maternity leave, their breastfeeding education is even worse than ours in the US with less people to turn to in case of problems. It'd be like handing a 14-year-old the keys to the car and being angry when they crashed it -- you have to teach people how to do something before you can expect people to actually do it right.

Even in this country, with all the formula company lies and manipulation, women still have access to good support, but they have to choose to utilize it and often don't. Most women actually know very little about breastfeeding (often even those who think they do), continue to perpetuate myths that are damaging, and don't seem to understand the severity of the decision. Our country has relatively safe water, and you can sterilize bottles and nipples, so we don't see nearly as much of a downfall as more poverty-stricken third world countries. But even in our country, the choice has some severe consequences.

An Indonesian doctor stated that he thinks this is a good step in the right direction, and while I would love to agree with him, I just can't. Yes, women in Indonesia NEED to breastfeed because children are literally dying and being damaged for their entire lives because they're not breastfed, and I'm sure the moms have much higher rates of problems as well. But before you can tell women you need to do something, first you have to teach them how. Kick out the crappy formula ads that teach them lies, help them learn how to breastfeed, provide education and support for mothers, and THEN if you still want to, you can look at a law like this. But it makes no sense to punish people for failing at something that the country currently is set up to MAKE them fail at ... it's just illogical.

What do you think of their new law? Do you think it's going to help improve breastfeeding rates?


Image via Roslan Tangah (aka Rasso)/Flickr

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