'Expert' Wants Formula to Be 'Prescription Only' -- So We're Forced to Breastfeed

Jeanne Sager

formula feeding
Shutterstock; design by Anne Meadows

File this under not surprising in the least: The author of an article recently published in the Guardian calling for baby formula to be available only by prescription has never breastfed, nor could he. That's right, the call for a global treaty to "phase out" this "unneeded product" is from a man named Erik Assadourian. And the way he sees it, women all make breast milk, so we better lock up all the formula, STAT! 

If you're looking at the breast vs. formula debate from the outside, maybe it seems that simple. Women make milk, and studies have shown the milk is superior to the factory-made stuff, so if we cut off the supply line to formula, surely we can drive women back to breastfeeding.

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It's one of the basics of economic theory -- limiting supply of one product can force demand of another. But women and babies aren't theoretical, and this reeks of a social engineering program that wrests women's control over our own bodies away from us based on someone's idea of what's best for us-- and our babies. 

Assadourian, who is the Transforming Cultures project director at the Worldwatch Institute, proposes the creation of a global treaty. He calls it the "Framework Convention on Formula Control" -- which he suggests be modeled on the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (yes, he's comparing baby formula to tobacco). Formula would become available only by prescription, and the formula industry would "shrink like an unmilked breast" (his words). 

But any mother who has struggled to breastfeed and turned to formula knows that the fact that formula is widely available on the shelves of your local grocery store is not the reason 20 percent of new moms don't breastfeed, nor is it the reason why two thirds of the women who plan to breastfeed past the three-month mark don't make their goal. 

Some women don't want to breastfeed, and that's their right ... her body, her choice.

Some women do, but they're challenged by health issues, by postpartum depression, by the work it takes to juggle multiple kids without a whole lot of help, by the fact that in this nation working moms are either the sole or primary breadwinner for 40 percent of families, by the fact that paid maternity leave is not mandated in the United States. 

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Assadourian pays lip service to the latter with his suggestion that paid maternity leave be mandated, but he glosses over the rest in favor of striking out at the formula companies, which he insists create an "unneeded product" that can be "replaced by breast milk, free and available to nearly all mothers."

Whether you love formula companies or hate them, breast milk is neither free nor available to all mothers. All the other aforementioned issues that keep moms from breastfeeding remain, and they're not going away anytime soon.

If Assadourian and his colleagues really want to help moms and babies, they could step away from the formula, stop mansplaining to women how our bodies lactate, and let us decide what's best for our families. 

Because at the end of the day, what matters isn't whether moms are breastfeeding or using formula -- but that we can take care of ourselves and our babies.

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breastfeeding, bottle feeding, formula