I’ve been asked for my views on an incident in which Cynthia Mosher, the discussion board administrator for the Mothering site, banned a woman from selling her formula bottles second-hand on the trading forum. This decision was, Mosher stated, in accordance with the WHO code of practice on promotion and advertising of breastmilk alternatives (which, for those who don’t know, was set up in response to some decidedly
shady practices on the part of formula manufacturers aimed at trying
to get mothers who would be perfectly willing and able to breastfeed to
use formula instead). The code also, I have now learned, covers containers designed for getting said breastmilk substitutes into babies. (Incidentally, it does not – despite what Mosher states – mention pacifiers. Not that I could find, anyway. That seems to be a rather liberal interpretation of ‘teats’ on the part of Mothering.com.)
This particular interpretation of the code was, apart from any other considerations, a touch ironic. The bottles in question had in fact been used not to provide a breastmilk substitute but to provide breastmilk itself. The blogger in question, faced with breastfeeding difficulties that would have had the majority of women reaching for the formula in a heartbeat, had instead become an EP-er – an exclusive pumper. EP-ing is a near-heroic solution to the problem of wanting to breastfeed but having a baby who, for one reason or another, can’t physically nurse – these mothers actually pump the breastmilk for every feed and then feed it by bottle. It’s a hell of a job and I am in awe of any woman who manages it, and I can easily see why, after going to these lengths to keep her baby on breastmilk, Estella felt Mosher’s decision to be a slap in the face.
In fairness, I do have to point out that Cynthia Mosher presumably didn’t know the precise history of these particular bottles and was unaware of Estella’s whole EP-ing history, and, thus, her response probably wasn’t intended to be the two-fingers-up-at-EP-ing that it effectively came out as. I can also see where she’s coming from – we live in a society where, unfortunately, formula-feeding is seen very much as the norm rather than the exception, and this in itself, in a vicious circle, has an unstated but powerful influence on mothers’ decisions over breastfeeding. I can see the importance of actively trying to counteract this, to change the messages and images permeating the culture. Within this context, I can see why Mosher might want to keep the Mothering site as a place where breastfeeding is so much the norm that bottles just don’t even put in an appearance.
Having given due and careful thought to these points, I have reached the conclusion that she’s being a narrow-minded jobsworth.
After reading Estella’s post, I read the full Code and some explanatory comments, trying to clarify for myself as much as possible what the Code actually said. While I recognise that precise interpretation of words like ‘advertising’ and ‘promotion’ in this context is up for debate, it does seem to me that the Code was intended to apply to circumstances where baby product companies are writing advertisements designed to imply that bottles have some sort of non-breastfeeding-related advantage for babies, disregarding possible consequences in the pursuit of their goal of maximising their own profits. I could be wrong, but I don’t think it was intended to apply to simply making parents aware of a source from which bottles can be purchased. I don’t think the World Health Organisation or the International Baby Food Action Network actually intended baby bottles to become a controlled substance only purchasable in shady backroom deals between buyers and sellers permitted to communicate with each other solely by exchanging furtive whispers on street corners.
And there’s also another point here that I find quite ironic – namely, the extent to which they’re preaching to the choir. Mothering.com is a powerfully AP-oriented site that bills itself as ‘a magazine of natural family living’. In other words, it’s pro-breastfeeding in the way that Germaine Greer is pro-women’s-rights. So what sort of readership can we expect such a magazine to have? The sort of women who are passionately pro-breastfeeding, highly informed both about the disadvantages of formula and about the pitfalls that lie in wait to trap the unwary would-be-breastfeeder, and determined to continue breastfeeding even in the face of difficulties, that’s what sort of readership. Precisely the sort of women, in short, whose resolve is not going to crumble purely because a passing advert reminds them of the existence of bottles.
It’s possible, of course, that Mosher seriously thinks that her readers are so incapable of making their own informed choices on the subject that they do indeed need to be shielded from any mention of Those Objects Not To Be Named, and that going along with this sort of nannying is ultimately in everyone’s best interests. It’s a lot more likely that her thinking didn’t go much beyond a quick "formula Bad, WHO code Good" that left no room for the possibility that a code worked out in response to interactions between large professional companies and poorly-educated, vulnerable women living in poverty might possibly be somewhat less appropriate or applicable in different situations.
But I also have to wonder how much of it was about snobbery. Bottles? Well, we don’t have any of those nasty artificial things here. Not on our nice forum. We are Not That Sort Of Mother. Mosher may or may not have intended her caveat as an insult to EP-ers and to other women who’ve used bottles for any reason, but I agree with Estella on this one – that’s sure as hell the end result.