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

breastfeeding, formula, in the news, baby health


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betha... bethany169

Yikes!!  I agree that it sounds like a positive step forward in theory, but it's kind of like affirmative action and healthcare reform here in the US--it just makes everyone "buy into" the system, but doesn't do anything to fix the broken system.  In Indonesia's case, the "system" is the miseducation and lack of support--telling people they have to do something without giving them the tools is just crazy. 

Jeann... JeannieMS

I'm very pro-breastfeeding and think this is a bad idea. Education, sure. But punishment? Crazy.

nonmember avatar Jen

Very bad idea but I'm not surprised. I'd hate for anyone or any country to keep their nose out of how a mother feeds her baby.

On bullying, um no, it's not debatable whether or not you're bullying when you trot out that any mother, first time or not, should "give it a shot" then start extolling the benefits. It's pushy, rude and annoying. Breast is best we all know that. But again (and again and again and again) it's absolutely none of your business, or anyone else's, how any mother anywhere feeds her baby.

Xakana Xakana

Punishing the mom with no education? No. Punishing those miseducating her? A part of me just can't feel bad for those people. I agree that education is the most important thing and that the law should have been to require all care providers of women and children be PROPERLY educated in breastfeeding and how to treat issues without resorting to forumla that don't require it. THAT would effect some change.

Freela Freela

I'm very pro-bf'ing... but no, no no! How is jailing an infant's mother in the best interest of that infant? What about EDUCATION??? There are significant risks to formula in countries with compromised water supplies... why not start there? Why did they not limit the propaganda that formula manufacterers have been bombarding these mothers with years ago? Talk about blaming the victims!

Charlotte M Spurrill-Kayser

I agree with the other commenters. This law is crazy. Of course women should be breastfeeding, especally when living in conditions where formula feeding is so extremely dangerious. But harsh punishments like JAIL TIME is stupid.

It's not just like handing your 14-year-old the car keys and getting mad when they crash, it's like handing your 14-year-old the car keys and demanding that they drive their younger siblings from Florida to Alaska at night in the dead of winter with no car seats and telling them that if the car has so much as a scratch on it and thier siblings aren't happy and healthy when they arrive, they're going to spend a year in jail.

Cafe Amy Cafe Amy

This is absolutely nuts.

CoolR... CoolRelax

We don't always get it right here - but I'm awfully glad I'm an American.  This sounds like a nightmare for the moms. 

Jan Jolley

Here's a crazy thought - how about they prohibit all advertising and samples by formula companies first before punishing women for believing what they have been told is true. Just doing that would increase the breastfeeding rate without jailing mothers. I'm as boob nazi as they get but I can't even support this!

nonmember avatar lisa Northover

From what I have read about the law it is not the mother that faces jail or a fine, it is anyone who stands in the way, i.e. formula companies pushing formula, or employers not giving breastfeeding brakes

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