1950's, about 80% of babies in the US (the only statistics available at the time) were artificially fed(30). By the late 1960's, what we now call "formula" was created - a synthetic product based on cow's milk and augmented with certain vitamins, fed through a rubber teat from a glass or plastic bottle. This refinement is still going on today with scientists gradually discovering more and more about the composition of breast milk and attempting to synthesise these components into their formula milk.
From the very beginnings of formula milk, artificial feeding has been promoted by its manufacturers as the more up-market alternative to the "archaic" ways of breastfeeding. And sadly, even today, in many developing countries, we still find the situation where formula feeding is seen as a status symbol.
All of this movement away from the breast has been happening in tandem with the growing medicalisation of childbirth and the sidelining of midwives and our own mothers as primary carers and guides to motherhood. Instead of artificial formulas being used sparingly in cases of genuine need - such as infant rejection of mother's milk or maternal illness or death - formula feeding is still promoted in hospitals and early childhood clinics as a good option for women who experience difficulties with breastfeeding. By law in Australia, manufacturers of infant formulas are forbidden from inferring that formula feeding is superior to breastfeeding, and yet they still manage to successfully promote their products to the unsuspecting by giving free samples to hospitals, early childhood clinics, and directly to the customer via samples given out with cots, baby clothes and parenting magazines. If you have your baby in a large maternity hospital you will more than likely receive a free "Baby Parcel" upon checking out. This kit usually includes some information about health clinics in your area, the importance of post-natal exercise, emergency phone numbers, general tips for early mothering, a free baby magazine, some disposable nappy samples - all sponsored by a baby formula company. My advice is to politely refuse such blatant marketing propaganda and take home from the hospital only that mothering equipment which you have within you.
The availability of formulas and their some-time commendation by medical staff, is just like the situation of medicinal pain relief in childbirth - if it is available and offered when difficulties arise - it is taken, whereas if there were no options of artificial feeding for normally healthy babies and mothers, women would soon find creative solutions to their
breastfeeding difficulties. This situation has been validated in China, Saudi Arabia and Papua New Guinea, where tight restrictions on the advertisement and sale of artificial formulas were introduced. Soon after, breastfeeding rates increased dramatically. Conversely, after the Iron Curtain came down and free market commercialism was allowed into the Eastern Bloc countries, breastfeeding rates plummeted as women sought to emulate the wealthy Western women depicted in the advertisements they were now seeing.
So above we see the same old class-ridden and commercial power plays that have been slowly eroding the natural maternal order of things. Although prudery and medico-patriarchal concepts may have been the original factors for a move away from the breast, even with today's unanimous advice by health professionals that breast milk is far superior to its imitators, many women are still opting for artificial feeding these days. The constant rush of daily life; the early return to employment with its accompanying infant day care; the sometime discomfort of the nipples or breast size; the inconvenience of clothing adjustment; father-based share-feeding; personal and familial inhibitions; poor self esteem; confusion about the function of breasts and the sexuality of breastfeeding; the inability to surrender to motherhood as an experience primarily governed by the wellbeing of the baby; a dysfunctional home life; are just some of the conditions contributing to the rejection of breastfeeding which I will be addressing in the following sections.
One aspect which can be a significant factor against breastfeeding for some women, is the change in breast sexuality. For a first time mother, her previous experience of her breasts has been as ornaments, private items of pleasure, with free choice as to when to expose them. But when a new baby comes along, suddenly they become primarily functional, sometimes uncomfortable, frequently required on demand, and sometimes very public! Up until pregnancy, they were really only a part of your motherhood potential. Now that potential is realised, it is only natural that their intended function becomes paramount.
Breastfeeding is a time of growing up for a woman (and her man), of letting go of the little girl, the young seductress, the so-called shapely woman, and of allowing the mammaries to hang loose. This can be very difficult for the woman who is attached to a young and sexy self image,