Why do 'lactivists' want to ban baby formula advertising?

The Globe and Mail

(Thinkstock)

Cigarettes. Firearms. Formula?

A lesser-known element of the breastfeeding v. formula debate – the argument over whether formula advertising should exist at all – has had a very public airing this week in the online parenting community.

Influential Canadian blogger Catherine Connors characterized the anti-advertising stance this way:

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“The message at the core of the ‘ban all formula advertising’ platform is simple: formula is bad. You should not use it. You should not even think about using it. You should not look at words or images that in any way suggest that you are not a terrible mother if you choose it. Giving your baby formula is akin to sticking a cigarette in her mouth. If you use formula, you are a bad, bad mother.

“This is nonsense. This is pernicious nonsense that is harmful to mothers, inasmuch as it undermines mothers’ powers of self-determination and calls into question their ability to make the best choices for themselves. It is harmful, because it shames mothers.”

The topic arose after another influential blogger, Ottawa-based Annie Urban of the PhD in Parenting blog, mentioned the issue in a post. Long an advocate of the World Health Organization’s recommendation that formula ads be banned, she applauded a “lactivist” for turning down an award from a website that runs formula ads.

In the post, she quotes an e-mail from Emma Kwasnica, of the global milk-sharing network Human Milk 4 Human Babies.

About why she turned down $5,000 in “blood money” from the parenting site Babble after she was nominated for their “Momination” contest:

“Women cannot count on formula ads to give them unbiased information about formula feeding; it is an impossibility for women to make any kind of an informed choice regarding the feeding of powdered infant formula, or learn about its inherent risks, simply from seeing/reading formula adverts. The only way I would consider participating in the Momination contest, is if Babble were to instigate a zero tolerance policy for all formula advertising across the site – no exceptions. This is a question of ethics; the advertising of formula to pregnant or new mothers, in any capacity, is unacceptable.”

After Ms. Connor's retort – her blog is now part of the Babble family – her comment section lit up with impassioned responses from all sides of the issue, including a number from Ms. Urban.

“Is there a way to criticize companies that are doing things that may be harmful to mothers or children without that automatically being equated with shaming of mothers who have purchased the products that those companies sell or promote?” she wrote in one of a series of exchanges on Ms. Connor’s blog. “If so, are there tactics or approaches that you would suggest?”

Do you think formula advertising should be banned? Or are new mothers informed enough to come to their own decision on the issue?

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