In recent months I've been following the Fearless Formula Feeder blog, a blog that… actually, I was trying to think how to summarise what it's all about in a quick phrase or two, but in fact since the main point of this post is to (hopefully) clarify the blog's philosophy I'll skip the summary. If you're interested, do check it out, and with an open mind. Anyway, in the past few weeks a lactivist by the name of Alan has started some debates in the comment threads which have run into a number of posts, and things have been getting pretty heated, though with an overall civility which is impressive to anyone as used to internet debate as I am. Inevitably a lot of different and overlapping points are getting debated, and, if I get the chance, there are a few I plan to jump in on myself. But what I want to write about in this post is this particular comment of Alan's.
In response to this comment from Brooke, a reader defending the site, Alan wrote:
@Brooke: Thank you for your post,
because it shows clearly that despite the disavowals of some here, at
least one of you (and I'm thinking quite a few more than one) *is*
pushing an agenda of promoting formula feeding for people struggling
with breastfeeding (the same potential "converts" the
formula companies are after). So if there are people on the fence,
not sure what to do, and you are whispering sweet nothings in their
ears about how formula's been unfairly demonised, it's not so bad,
they ought to just try it, it may be the solution to all their
problems…well, I want to be there giving another perspective.
Firstly, a few words about the issue of whether formula has been 'unfairly demonised' and is 'not so bad'. You've indicated elsewhere in your comments that you feel this attitude has been proved wrong by the medical evidence showing breastfeeding to be better than formula feeding. You know what? Both those beliefs are correct. There is indeed solid evidence that breastfeeding reduces the risk of a variety of short- and long-term illnesses and problems – but I've also seen plenty of lactivist scare stories and hype that claim benefits that aren't actually backed up by evidence and/or go way beyond what the impartial evidence supports in the way they present formula. There is no contradiction in believing that Y is genuinely worse than X but that propaganda has exaggerated the differences between the two.
And now the main point I wanted to address: the accusation that some of the people on the site are 'pushing an agenda of promoting formula feeding'. This was in direct response to a comment that clearly stated 'No one here is trying to make anyone formula feed, just question the
dogma that pervades certain parts of our society.' Why was Brooke nevertheless accused of pushing an agenda of promoting formula feeding? Because, it seems, she wants women to feel able to try formula if they feel that something is going wrong with breastfeeding. This, as far as I can see, is what you classify as 'promoting formula feeding'.
Here (at the risk of sending this off on a massive detour into a completely unrelated and even more heated debate) is what that attitude reminds me of: the arguments about the pro-choice position on abortion rights that always crop up in the abortion debate.
I am a pro-choicer: this means that I believe that all women should have the right and the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to continue their own pregnancies. Back when I used to discuss such matters on debate boards, I would regularly see pro-lifers accuse pro-choicers of being 'pro-abortion' or imply/state that we were trying to push women into abortions. And, over and over again, we would try to explain that, no, that is not what the pro-choice position is meant to be about. It is meant to be about the belief that women should be allowed to make informed, unpressurised choices about whether or not to continue their own pregnancies. I believe that abortion should be available for women who choose it, and that women shouldn't have barriers thrown in their way if they seek abortion. Those potential barriers include exaggerated or incorrect information about potential risks of abortion, and a stigma of shame and guilt attached to it. I want to get rid of those barriers, and I want a society where a woman who is unhappy with being pregnant can explore her options and can choose abortion if she genuinely feels this to be the right option for her.
And that is not at all the same thing as being 'pro-abortion' or promoting abortion. What I'm promoting is informed choice. My beliefs do not mean that I would ever tell a woman that she should consider abortion or try to push her towards that solution. In fact, I would be flat-out against doing any such thing, because that would be just as anti-choice as trying to push a woman into continuing an unwanted pregnancy against her wishes. Not only that, but I'm very much in favour of implementing the measures (better access to effective contraception, better social circumstances) that could reduce the overall need for abortion. I would be delighted to see a drop in the number of women ending up in a position of wanting to have an abortion; I would not be delighted to see a drop in the number of women wanting an abortion and being able to get accurate information and unbiased support in helping them make the best decision for their own circumstances. In being pro-choice, I am not promoting abortion. I am promoting abortion rights. Get the difference?
Hopefully you also get the analogy, but I'll spell it out to make it as clear as possible: Believing that women should get accurate and non-demonised information on formula, believing that women should have the option of being able to ask questions and consider formula as an option, believing that women with qualms about breastfeeding shouldn't be pressured into continuing if they genuinely feel that that is the wrong option for them… those beliefs are not the same as 'an agenda of promoting formula feeding'. I believe that most or all of the people who follow this blog, including myself and, I am guessing, Brooke as well, do not believe in 'promoting formula feeding' and are in fact all in favour of women breastfeeding, just as I as a pro-choice advocate am all in favour of women continuing their pregnancies. Now, anyone from the site who feels I'm incorrect in thus speaking for them is more than welcome to speak up now and set me straight. But, the way I see it, we don't try to put pressure on women to try formula; we try to stop everybody else putting pressure on women to use any particular feeding method (whether that be formula or breast). We don't try to talk women out of breastfeeding. We just want to be sure that they feel freely able to stop it themselves if they want to do so.