Mommy Wars. Yes, I went there.

It's all about the babes.

A formula giant whose name comes from the amalgamation of the first syllables of the words “Similar” and “Lactation” (LOL) spent some big bucks on a very pretty 7 minute “documentary” that has heart-rendingly high production value. As with any emotionally manipulative marketing technique the goal is to hit you right in the tenders. Your ovaries. Stop judging, end mommy wars, etc.


A mom in a breastfeeding/parenting group posts a link to an article/video/promotional whatever by “an artificial baby milk corporation that shall not be named”. She benignly asks opinions of the promotional whatever. Some object because the promotional whatever is obviously a marketing ploy. Others cry to heaven that “THE MOMMY WARS ARE TIRESOME AND MUST END”

End scene.


“Mommy wars”?

Most mothers feel guilty about not living up to the unrealistic standard that characterizes the contemporary conceptualization of motherhood. The archetypal mother, the mother that exists only in the realm of ideals, is one of the chattering birds that we can use as an effective means of beating ourselves up. This can be related to contemporary events, or more often, can be related to the frozen emotions that come from our past, unresolved baggage. All of this to say – the mommy wars that we wage within ourselves have existed since the socially constructed concept of what motherhood is existed.

 Patriarchy and the In-group versus out-group dichotomy

 Until very recently in human history women were part of an exchange of goods between father and husband. Kim Lock argues that this is an artifact of our patriarchal society and I tend to agree – the best way to keep someone distracted is to make them extremely self-conscious. This is the function of ad hominem attacks when you debate. You start out discussing a topic that is intellectual and make it about the other person’s failings, shortcomings, or their appearance.

The best way to discredit someone in an argument is to make them look insane and silly, and there are any number of logical fallacies in debate tactics that any deft user can skillfully deploy to win the argument. Logical fallacies saturate the internet...especially the dreaded comments section.

Ami Aylor has a great opinion piece on the topic of the false dichotomy of the mommy wars and she pretty much pwns everyone with this bit: “The conflict between economic policies and social institutions that set up systematic obstacles to women working outside of the home — in the United States, the lack of affordable, high quality day care, paid parental leave, flex time and so on — and the ideologies that support those policies and institutions, on the one hand, and equality for women, on the other hand. This is the conflict that we should be talking about.  Unfortunately this is also a conversation that is difficult for us to have in the United States where discussions of feminism always seem to boil down to questions of choice. “

Humans have an instinctual tendency to separate ourselves into groups. Anyone who went to middle school can attest to this. What better marketing strategy than to leverage the natural tendency for humans to group themselves into in- and out-groups? Let the women duke it out amongst themselves. I'm counting my Benjamins, over here.

Marketing is manipulative 


Marketing is by definition manipulative. The idea is to manipulate emotions by pairing say, things that we find unequivocally positive (a cherubic, cooing infant) with the product that is being marketed. Or, alternatively, pairing something that we have a negative reaction to with whatever product they do not want us to buy (see smear campaigns in our upcoming 2016 election year cycle….bleh). 

Every industry capitalizes on our ability to be emotionally manipulated. And our brains are designed to make moral judgments, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which sits between and behind the eyes, is responsible for the emotional aspect of moral judgment and is not only responsible for that “gut feeling” we are all familiar with, but also what contributes to our visceral reactions related to moral judgments.

This is not to say that all forms of marketing through manipulation are bad. I routinely do this with my own children by, say, immediately producing upon request while lavishly praising them on the awesomeness of making a good choice when they ask for ice water while having a lackluster and apathetic response with a long delay to fulfilling juice requests.

The thing about epidemiological statistics

So the thing about the artificial baby milk and the breastmilk, the finger pointing and reductionist labeling as a “lactavist” and therefore crazy, militant, and easily written off without any further cognitive load…it’s the biggest bait and switch. You can talk about the preventative public health benefits of exclusive breast feeding for a minimum of six months, you can recite the recommendations of public health agencies until you’re blue in the face. There is a strange intensity and visceral response to these dry facts, as if not meeting them is somehow a reflection of some personal shortcoming of the individual. 

Nrrrdwave does a great job parsing out the distinction between individual and systemic criticism, and I think it’s important to remember this when advocating for ANY health behavior change (stopping smoking, healthy weight management, physical activity, self-care routines to support mental and emotional well-being, breastfeeding, etc). It’s easy to turn it around and make it an individual thing, but population based epidemiological statistical analyses were never meant to be applied to the individual level because the unit of interest is the POPULATION, not the INDIVIDUAL. 

We are all connected


And here’s the squiggy part, right? That you have to conceptualize yourself and your own choices within the context of this larger organism that is humanity. That we are, indeed, all connected – all the individualist emphasis of American ideology be damned.

I think it’s important to understand the context of infant feeding methods because we tend to view what we do now as some sort of mutually exclusive, independent event. We forget how things evolved, the indubitable interconnectedness of things. It’s easier to view artificial baby milk through the lens of what it provides to mothers here in the developed world where the relationship between infant feeding methods and infant morbidity and mortality is much less robust, and the long term health outcomes can become eclipsed by the lifestyle choices that happen in the intervening years before chronic health problems can be overtly diagnosed. 

But artificial baby milk is not produced in a vacuum. There are very real health consequences for infants and families in developing countries that some would like to gloss over, but how is that possible? You can’t produce and market artificial milk in the developed world and not have it trickle down into the developing world. We are inevitably, inextricably, interconnected.

The loss of the breastfeeding culture and breastfeeding as a public health concern


The existing body of literature points to breastfeeding as a public health concern rather than a lifestyle choice. There is no industry profiting off of promoting breastmilk. There are a few companies that are trying to make profits, which is to be expected in our sociocultural and economic structure. But one really just has to scratch the surface of the history of the artificial baby milk industry to be appalled at the predatory and cynical marketing tactics.

This is a consequence of the loss of the breastfeeding culture. In the 1950s-1970s, breastfeeding rates abysmal. Dr. Jacqueline Wolf explores the topic of low breastfeeding rates and public health in the 20th Century in detail. Economic and sociocultural factors that begin with the upswing of the industrial revolution in the late 1800s caused the beginning of the shift towards early weaning and feeding babies alternative milks. Artificial babymilk originated as a formula that was developed to feed babies in emergency situations – orphans, children whose mothers were unable to produce milk, etc. Indeed by the 1950s, more than half of the babies in the US were fed evaporated milk. 

By the early 1970s, three quarters of US infants were fed commercially-produced, powdered formulas.

Thus, a generation or more of women who do not know how to breastfeed. It’s natural, but it’s a learned skill. Personally, I never learned how to ride a bicycle (I know, it’s tragic). Guess what? I can’t teach my kids how to ride a bike. I can YouTube tutorial myself into oblivion but there’s just something about it that I don’t get. Some kind of intrinsic understanding of the process of balancing and pedaling simultaneously that I cannot parse in my head. My critical learning period of bicycle riding has passed. Luckily they can get by with scooters and kindly family members can lend me hand in that department.  

Mother-to-mother support and booby traps


From the perspective of a person who has offered mother-to-mother breastfeeding support for a few years now, you have to know where to go to get the good info. At your average breastfeeding mom’s luncheon, within the confines of a friendly chat, among web posts in unmoderated forums – you’ll get a grab bag of sometimes conflicting information. That grab bag will always include what is not best practices in breastfeeding. In fact you’ll get some advice or “this is what I do” that is a downright booby trap. I’ve seen it countless times and floundered with futility in unmoderated forums against a tide of just, really bad advice. 

IBCLCs are fantastic – they get 500-1,000 hours of lactation specific clinical experience, health sciences courses are required as a foundation, and they have to get 90 hours of lactation-specific education. They know boobs (for the most part, as with any profession there is a range of aptitude) – but they rely on the capacity of the breastfeeding mother to relay the details of the problems or difficultly. If you don’t keep track of what’s happening or lack the vocabulary to adequately express the scope of the problem, you might not end up with the support that you need. 

God forbid you go to a healthcare professional that has the equivalent of a 3 hour lecture on the topic of human lactation that encompasses the entirety of their lactation training, then you’re pretty much SOL.

All of us do the best that we can with the tools that we have. The reason I became moved to do mother to mother support is because I remember pregnancy and breastfeeding an infant as an exceptionally vulnerable time. I was tender and raw, as if recovering from a severe sunburn. It’s that whole mama bear thing, but it was expressed in this muted, distorted way because I was still at that point in my life struggling to squish my round peg into the square hole that I believed was expected of me in order to function in society.

To Err is human, to forgive, divine

Alexander Pope wrote a poem called “Essay on Criticism,” published in 1711. Perhaps we should take some of his sage advice, when it comes to judgment. Cultivate tolerance, avoid extremes of fashion or personal mood. It really is about population based health promotion. Don’t take it personally.

“Avoid extremes; and shun the Fault of such,
Who still are pleas'd too little, or too much.
At ev'ry Trifle scorn to take Offence,
That always shows Great Pride, or Little Sense;
Those Heads as Stomachs are not sure the best
Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest.
Yet let not each gay Turn thy Rapture move,
For Fools Admire, but Men of Sense Approve;
As things seem large which we thro' Mists descry,
Dulness is ever apt to Magnify.”


  1. Great post! I noticed the link to the Slate article was broken ("But one really just has to scratch the surface of the history of the artificial baby milk industry to be appalled at the predatory and cynical marketing tactics"). Here is the fixed link:

  2. Such a great article! Nicely done!!!


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