Thoughts on breastfeeding and the giveaway bag

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Going into this motherhood thing, breastfeeding was NOT something to which I was looking forward. That's an understatement, actually--I really, really didn't want to do it. However, I believed (and still believe) the research about the benefits of breastfeeding, so I was determined to give it a try. In the back of my mind, though, I expected to have problems and ultimately to have a reason not to do it and to convert to formula feeding.

So far, it hasn't worked out that way. More so than really any other aspect of pregnancy, childbirth, or new parenthood, breastfeeding has gone really, really well. Buzzy emerged fully willing and able to nurse, and he taught me how to do it. My supply is good, and though there was definitely some discomfort in the first couple of weeks, it was nothing compared to the pain I was expecting. So, at this point, my month old baby is exclusively breastfed, and I don't see that changing unless/until circumstances do. I started pumping a couple of weeks ago and he takes a bottle of expressed milk just as well as he takes a breast, so, even when I return to work (and more on that at a later time...), so long as I can pump enough, he should be able to continue with breast milk until he starts solids.

None of this is to say that I enjoy it--I don't. I find it boring and relentless. I dislike being a food source. I dislike not feeling as if I am the primary owner and user of my body. It gives me no warm and fuzzy feelings. But it's bearable.

Even more than was the case before I started actually doing it myself, I've become really aware of all of the rhetoric surrounding breastfeeding. Everybody has an opinion, from those who think that anybody who doesn't breastfeed is abusing her children to those who think that breastfeeding is disgusting. People are really pushy about it, too--in a way that strikes me as completely inappropriate both in regards to a personal parenting decision and in regards to a personal decision about how a woman chooses to utilize her own body.

One thing I heard quite a lot about before going through this experience myself was how awful the formula company giveaways were--these giveaways, I was told several times, were engineered to build dependency on formula and interrupt a given woman and a child's breastfeeding relationship. Having formula around, the logic went, made it much more likely that a given woman would end up not breastfeeding. At some hospitals, I was told, even the giveaway bag for breastfeeding moms would be a not-very-well-disguised attempt to build formula dependence.

(For those who aren't aware of what I am talking about, formula companies routinely sponsor freebies for expecting/new moms, including vouchers for formula and bags of freebies given out by doctors and hospitals.)

The birth center at which I delivered Buzzy had a choice between a "breastfeeding" and a "formula feeding" giveaway bag, both sponsored by Enfamil. Expecting that I would be doing mixed feeding, I chose the breastfeeding bag.

bag outside.jpg

The contents:

bag contents.jpg
-insulated bottle carrying bag
-8-oz can of Enfamil powdered newborn formula
-2 2-oz Snappies containers for collecting and storing expressed breast milk
-reusable ice pack
-single-use sample packet of Boudreaux's Butt Paste diaper rash ointment
-March of Dimes pamphlet with vaccination schedule
-$15 rebate coupon for Enfamil formula
-registration form for Enfamil Family Beginnings program
-informational card about Enfamil bottle nipples
-instructional card on how to use the ice back and bottle bag for formula or expressed breast milk transfer
-"Tips for Breastfeeding Success" booklet, which includes a coupon for Enfamil infant vitamin drops and a $15 rebate coupon for any breast pump

Clearly, the bag is a promotional tool--Enfamil wants you to use their products. If you decide not to breastfeed after all, or if you decide to supplement with formula, they want it to be their formula. Thus the inclusion of the can of newborn formula. However, with that exception, I found the rest of the items in the bag to be really useful for a new breastfeeding mom--assuming that she, like me, will be pumping. The Snappies containers are great, and hard to find for purchase. The ice pack and bottle bag are useful for transport of expressed milk. And the $15 rebate offer on a pump is a great boon. I can't fault any of those inclusions.

It turned out that, at least in Buzzy's first weeks, formula wasn't useful for us. I still have some around, including the can of Enfamil from the bag, and I'm saving all my formula vouchers until I can be sure we aren't going to need to supplement for day care down the road, but having it does not force me to use it, and I can honestly say it hasn't even been a "temptation." For me, this is the heart of the controversy over these bags--whether or not you think offering a free tool that may or may not end up useful presents so much sway over the new mom that it is more harmful than helpful. In my case, I'd say no. However, this bag is not the only thing I received at the hospital--I also got a packet full of breastfeeding information and several meetings with a lactation consultant, heading off any potential problems Buzzy and I were going to have with nursing at the pass. Had that not been the case, or had I had problems anyway, the Enfamil marketing would likely have been a lot more successful. And, given the still fairly low rates of breastfeeding in this country, it probably is successful in a lot of cases.

I'd have preferred if the bag given to women who plan to breastfeed hadn't included formula. If the can of formula were replaced with a tube of nipple cream, for example, I think the bag would have been better. However, judging completely on my personal experience as a new-and-newly-breastfeeding mom, and as someone for whom the idea was extremely frightening and not appealing beforehand, I just can't get all that worked up about formula company freebies standing in the way of breastfeeding. It seems to me that there are much more serious systemic barriers in place--most notably the lack of support for pumping in the workplace and the bizarre and archaic ideas and policies a lot of folks have about nursing in public--and those are what we ought to be concerned about, and fighting against.

Happy World Breastfeeding Week, y'all.

15 Comments

I love this post! Glad to hear it's working out well for you and Buzzy!

Well said. I'm glad that things are going well.

For me, having the formula around was freeing. As in, I knew it was there and if things got too hard, we could do it and go from there.

All of mine were BF. My current bb has had formula from the get go,as well as bf, and I really love this arrangement, to be honest. Much much moreso than I loved exclusively nursing.

I'm so glad that BF has worked out well for you and Buzzy and was as good as it could be. :)

Wow, that bag is actually sort of pretty. Nice improvement on the plain black plastic and the Pooh bear bags in the past.

The contents of the breastfeeding bag are very interesting. I'm really glad you shared that. It seems odd that a container of formula and promotional materials from a formula company would be included in a breastfeeding bag, but I would imagine there would be no bags without a corporate sponsor, so perhaps we should be grateful there is anything.

I was reading another blog recently (http://notmolly.wordpress.com) and the author expressed similar feelings to yours about breastfeeding but discovered that by listening to audiobooks or NPR and getting intellectual stimulation during the process, that she found it much more enjoyable. I hope you can find a way that you can enjoy the process more rather just doing it for the health benefits.

Thanks for the post!

I'm glad it wasn't harmful to you. But evidence (studies, not just anecdote) has shown that automatically giving newborns formula actually does discourage breastfeeding. And some new moms who want to breastfeed might not know that if they use formula to "fall back on" or "our of curiosity" in those early days of breastfeeding, they are actually affecting their supply by replacing a feeding with formula -- and this can lead to more problems with breastfeeding. NOT that this happens to everyone who uses formula, of course. But it's a danger.

Most women who want to feed with breastmilk never need to use formula -- they can if they want to, of course, but medical reasons for them to need to are rare. If breastfeeding is difficult, a lactation consultant can often help. If breastfeeding doesn't work, pumping is an option. If pumping doesn't work, milk donation is an option. (assuming feeding breastmilk is important to this mom, I mean).

Again, because people have a tendency to misunderstand and feel defensive when they read things like this, I want to stress that I firmly support the right of moms to choose formula. But I do not support automatic "breastfeeding" gift bags that contain formula.

Formula should be given to moms who want to breastfeed.

It should not be given to moms who don't.

Oops! I think my post may have submitted twice, once with a typo that said "newborns" where it should have said "new moms." Sorry if that's the case! Feel free to delete the earlier comment (and this one). ;)

Once I figured out breast feeding while lying down, everything was golden. Sleep and feed! Read and feed! Wooooooo!

Of course, not having any issues with breast feeding - why would you turn to formula? The problem with the bags is that it is so easy for women who ARE having issues to open up the can, instead of seeking help for their problems, thus creating a possible "need" for formula. This is where I see the biggest issue.

It's very easy to say "Breastfeeding was easy for me! Evil formula was sitting there and I didn't use it! These bags aren't harming anyone! If I can do it so can everyone else!" when you did not really struggle in the first place.

@ Sarah- But I don't think Grace said "These bags aren't harming anyone! If I can do it so can everyone else!"

I'm totally on board with the arguments against formula give-aways in general, though they can be lifesavers for folks who in dire straits financially and who have problems with breastfeeding. Those same dire financial straits make accessing the supports that you need to overcome breastfeeding challenges (in the domains of time, stress, and money) even harder.

Jenny- Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm having trouble reconciling your statement that you support the right of mom's to use formula. But then the comment at the end...

"Formula should be given to moms who want to breastfeed.

It should not be given to moms who don't."

Sounds like you want to punish the bad judgement of those moms who want to or need to supplement with formula? Why else should THEY be denied the helpful free samples but the breastfeeding moms should not?

Ooh, bad typos in the above post. The first mom's should be moms and judgement should be judgment. Sorry!

obviously this is not my wheelhouse, but even my friends who breastfed sometimes supplemented with formula if they ate/drank something that was bad for a baby on a special occasion (i.e. one had a migrane and had to resort to meds. booze on a birthday, etc). I think it's a decent idea to have a backup as a breastfeeding mom. What if, in the middle of the night the kid is starving and won't breastfeed? Or a caregiver spills pumped milk? Seems convenient.

Also it's free. My parents taught you if someone gives you something and you don't like it, you smile politely and just throw it out when they leave. No harm! I don't think it's a conspiracy. :)

I got the same bag! I thought it was kind of cute. I was really glad to have the bag because I had a billion problems breastfeeding and it didn't end up working out. The hospital was wonderful about giving us free formula (it is expensive). I had not bought any formula so having some in the house after my milk hadn't come in after 5 days and baby was clearly very very hungry was great because having to run to the store on top of an already incredibly stressful situation would have been awful.

Plus the ice packs and travel cool bag have been awesome!

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