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Shamed Into Breast-Feeding

Photograph by Getty Images

Sweden is a lot of things, including the third largest country in Europe, home to lots of blonde residents, and a believer in extraordinarily generous maternity leaves—and now it can almost officially add formula-phobic to its list of famous traits.

According to The Local, Sweden’s ministry for rural affairs is drafting a law that would make it illegal for photos of babies to be used in the marketing of baby formula in an effort to discourage mothers from formula feeding instead of breastfeeding. Furthermore, ads for formula would only be allowed to appear in scientific journals and “in publications specializing in infant care,” and free formula samples or discounted formula would be prohibited outright. And finally, formula packaging could in no way suggest that formula is ever better than breast milk, while at the same time it should advise parents that formula should not be administered “without a person with the appropriate training.”

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that breast milk is the preferred form of nutrients for infants, particularly in the first six months of life.

However, it does, apparently, take a human being to understand that formula is not actually poison and is the best—and in some cases, the only—option for some babies and their families. It is the lifeblood of too many babies to count, including babies whose mothers can’t breastfeed because they have a low milk supply or there is a latching issue, or because they were adopted and don’t have access to breast milk banks (or their parents are not inclined to choose that feeding path). Some mothers (although maybe not in Sweden, given their aforementioned generous maternity leave policies—and in Sweden, over 90 percent of mothers breastfeed anyway) must go back to work soon after giving birth and adequate pumping time is not a feasible option. Some mothers simply opt against breastfeeding.

For whatever their reasons, they are personal and mothers should not be shamed by the government or made to jump through hoops to give their babies the only food they’ll know in their first months of life. The most important thing is that babies are fed and loved. Formula is not illegal. It is not concocted by witch doctors. Mothers who do not breastfeed are not failures. Nurturing a child with love is of paramount importance.

Breast milk is preferred, yes, but what matters most in the end is that babies receive the correct mix of nutrients, which are hopefully accompanied without any amount of shame.

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