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The Lady Bucks Formula FastBreak Controversy

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

This is one of those issues that I hesitate to weigh in on, but I'm starting to see it pop up in more places, so I figured I'd best share my thoughts before the email starts pouring in. (Because wow, you guys don't let me miss anything these days...)

The "Lady Bucks" is made up of the wives, family members and employees of the NBA Milwaukee Bucks players. Their latest fundraiser is "Formula FastBreak." To let the Lady Bucks press release explain it:

The event will take place in Lobbies A, B, C and D at the Bradley Center. Donation barrels and cash collection tables will be located in each of the four lobbies. Fans are encouraged to donate any infant/baby formula product (powder or liquid), or cash that will be used to purchase formula. Donations will be accepted from the time the doors open at 1:30 p.m. through the conclusion of Sunday’s game, which begins at 2:30 p.m.

“We all know how expensive and valuable infant formula is,” said Sherrie Tussler, Hunger Task Force executive director. “Thanks to the dedication of the Milwaukee Bucks, Piggly Wiggly, and concerned Bucks fans throughout Milwaukee, mothers will be able to sleep soundly knowing their newborn children will receive the formula they need to be healthy.”

Now I don't know about you, but when I read this announcement, my first thought was "hey, helping single mothers is nice." My second thought was to read "formula they need to be healthy" and to think "I bet that's going to bug some people."

The thought that never crossed my mind was to be absolutely, 100% outraged by the very idea that a group of women would have the GALL to do a fundraiser that DARES mention formula because as we know, ALL women MUST breastfeed and ANY mention of formula that isn't preceded by "the mother had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer, and can't afford donor milk so she uses..." is cause for FREAKING OUT.

Apparently, that IS the thought that crossed many people's minds.

This perplexes me.

Breast milk is the absolute best food for babies and young children. There's no doubt about that. We need to increase breastfeeding support for new moms and make sure that there's protection in place for moms that need to return to work. We need to help educate people about the fact that breast milk doesn't lose it's value once a baby reaches six months.

What we don't need to do is to live in a fantasy world that refuses to acknowledge that some people can, and do use formula either by choice or by necessity.

Because really now...how does that help our cause?

I've read a wide range of criticisms about this program. Some are understandable and lament the fact that the group isn't raising money to help supplement lactation consultant fees or promoting milk banks ALONG WITH running the formula drive. Some simply claim that the group should raise funds or food products or school supplies for these families. Those don't really bother me.

What bothers me is the posts I'm running across that claim the only thing that is being accomplished by this drive is that the big bad formula companies (and yes, I do think they are big and bad) are getting free advertising and that the Lady Bucks are contributing to the down-fall of society by helping mothers get free or low-cost formula. They claim that instead of providing formula, the group should provide education and lactation consultants so that these moms can breast feed.

Ok, that's great...but what about the fact that there ARE women out there that are already giving their children formula (for whatever reason) and struggle to afford it? Shall we simply let their children starve and say "well, that will teach you...maybe you'll breastfeed your next child."

Think I'm nuts and totally coming at this from the wrong angle?

Ok, let me paint an analogy for you.

You know those "save the children" commercials that you see now and then? All those poor children living in the middle of nowhere with no food, no education, no job prospects, no medical care?

Let's stop sending them money. After all, by sending them money, we're helping them to eek out enough of a living that they can grow up and make MORE children that they won't be able to afford to feed. Maybe if we let them die out, they'd stop having babies that they can't afford to feed the people that were left would have enough food to go around.

Sound like a good idea?

Because honestly, I see the two lines of thinking as being pretty much the same.

Come on people. This is NOT how we're going to move the lactivist cause ahead. The greatest majority of moms in this country will formula feed at some point in time. In fact, that number stands at more than 85%. We are not going to win support by telling 85% of the moms in the world that they've damaged their children by giving them formula. We're going to win support by educating people with compassion and understanding. Yes we need to stand up for our rights, but standing up for our rights doesn't mean stomping all over other people's feeding choices.

As with the Super Nanny incident, I just don't see how pitching fits and writing letters about this one advances our cause. Let's save the righteous indignation for the times when a mom is tossed from a mall for daring to feed her child or when a day care center says "we won't accept your child" because that child is breastfed.

Let's leave the well-intentioned folks that are simply trying to help people out alone.


  1. Blogger Melissa | 7:54 PM |  

    I am a lurker, and I must say AMEN! to your post. Yes, that press release could be reworded, and yeah, the Lady Bucks could do something to promote BF. My thought is, the women that have made the decision to FF, for whatever reason, have made that decision. What do we want them to do? Relactate? I just don't see that decision happening! Let's figure out ways to educate before hand and then when a woman is armed with FACTS, not just the "facts" presented from the formula companies, let the chips fall.

    To be honest, I was on the fence about BF. Until I saw the formula costs broken out in weekly, monthly and yearly incriments. Then became a no brainer to me- if I had FF, DD would have been the only one eating!

    Thanks for this blog, it's amazing!

  2. Blogger Jennifer | 8:03 PM |  

    Melissa, thanks for delurking!

    Thank you also for your kind words about my blog.

    Your relacting bit was exactly what I was thinking. I mean really, once you are to the point that you are fully formula feeding, then you NEED that formula for your kid.

    I GET people that are feverently pro-breastfeeding. I even get people that don't like the formula companies, but I just don't get the mentality of freaking out over ANYTHING formula related.

  3. Blogger MamaBean | 9:14 PM |  

    While I agree that its silly to freak out over 100% ANYTHING (including an event that pushed breastfeeding as the holy grail - I mean, why make mom's who can't or don't or won't feel like criminals?) I would prefer if an event like this that pushes formula would temper it with information/guidance on the pros of breastfeeding.

    In other words, there needs to be both.

    Here's an analogy: all the world's governments run by men only, or all the world's governments run by women only. Either one would fail, you need to have both sides represented for the good of the human race. Now if only we could achieve that . . .

  4. Anonymous janisfan | 6:15 AM |  

    I guess I would want to know how the formula donations were being used before I could make a complete judgment about this ... if it were being used to help women who were already formula feeding and/or for women who can't breastfeed due to HIV or cancer or something then that's one thing, but if it's being donated to hospitals to give to new moms or to organizations that serve pregnant women then that's another IMO.

    While I think you are right that we shouldn't be automatically saying that such a fundraiser shouldn't exist at all..I think that we lactivists should be contacting them to inform them of other ways to support new moms and the health of their newborns. Perhaps the organization would be willing to extend their support for LC's or to have a LLL info table at the event or whatnot.

  5. Blogger Jennifer | 7:05 AM |  

    From what I gather, the formula is going to go out sort of like it would from a food bank. To single mothers that are ALREADY formula feeding.

    It's not going to hospitals or anything like that, it's going to people that already have a demonstrated financial need for help in terms of buying formula for their babies.

    As for them doing some "even time"...I don't have a problem with that. In fact, I support that.

    I read a post by one woman that called them and talked to them about the option of using some of the funds that are being raised to offer "LC scholarships" and I think that's a WONDERFUL idea.

    I see that type of feedback as positive and as accomplishing someting good without railing against the formula itself.

    My post was written to object to the people that are calling for this drive to be cancelled because no one should ever do anything that might be percieved as promoting formula and that basically say we should act as if formula doesn't exist.

    I just don't see how making formula a "dirty little secret" advances the breastfeeding cause.

    I'd like to think that we'll be able to win people over to breastfeeding with positive messages, not with guilt.

  6. Blogger Me | 7:21 AM |  

    I read several other breastfeeding blogs and breastfeeding groups. I keep seeing many statements like the ones you are describing.

    I myself breastfeed my children and think it is by far the best thing, but many people cannot or do not BF. Many of those people are low income. They do not have the support system because their mothers worked and they work, so they feed their babies formula. They are doing the best they can with what they have. I can sympathize with that.

    I work with a food bank locally. They are desperate for healthy food. They mostly get carbs. Formula, donated to a food bank, is a good think for those who can barely afford to feed their kids.

    Thank you for your voice of reason in this debate.

  7. Blogger Erin | 8:40 AM |  

    The saying "No good deed goes unpunished" exists for a reason. Good heavens! These women are stepping out of their ridiculously privilaged lives for a moment to try and help out their community. It's not like Ross Pediatrics is sponsoring the drive. That would truly be outrageous.

    Stuff like this is exactly why I like your blog, Jennifer. You reassure me that I'm not betraying my sisterhood when I roll my eyes at the extremists.

  8. Anonymous janisfan | 11:16 AM |  

    Though it occurs to me now that you can get FREE formula through WIC...people who qualify for food bank programs typically also qualify for WIC so why does the food bank need it?

    To be honest, I am still conflicted though knowing it's going to people who are already ff makes me less upset.

    The problem with the free formula at WIC (as told to me by a WIC BF counselor) is that b/c it's given out free it makes it easier for the women who are having solveale BF issues (poor latch, nipple irritation, thrush) to justify/switch to formula.

    I can relate to what my friend told me b/c in my experience, one of the things that made me stick it out thru the pain and the low supply b/c of the poor latch etc was the fact that I am not eligible for WIC and I really can't afford formula. If it weren't for the sticker shock I migh have caved even more than I did (2 week old dd got 2oz of formula one really exhausting hard night in which I made my dh go to the store at midnight to buy it.)

    One could argue that holding a fundraiser to provide people free McDonalds meals is similar to this. Yes, the funds go to people who would otherwise be eating McDonalds but do we really want to support it? - b/c by supporting it we are saying to everybody in the community that MCD's is healthy and good to eat at (as the advert for the healthy formula suggested).

  9. Blogger lauren | 11:17 AM |  

    I just found your blog. Thank you for taking a balanced view of this. I had planned to nurse well past 1 year. I quit at 12 weeks. I couldn't afford the LC that the hospital recommended, her advice seemed to contradict what little advice I sought from the LLL AND my family practitioner. I was a confused mess. I could not afford to have her come back, and felt like I had to pay to get additional help that could have saved our breastfeeding... but my daughter ended up being dependent on supplementation and did not seem to want to learn to nurse. My mother in law was able to supply us with formula, so at 12 weeks I began weaning myself from pumping. She is the same one who bought me an ameda breast pump, paid for my LC appt., did everything within her power to encourage me to stick with it. But when she saw the struggle we were having and was given the means to help us, she offered the formula option as well.

    Many lactivists are quick to criticize people like me who made a really difficult decision. I hope that if/when I do have another baby I will find encouragement in my quest to breastfeed successfully rather than criticism for past choices.

    The person who said that most people would not re-lactate is probably correct. After 12 weeks of post-partum depression fueled partly by our nursing difficulties (or maybe it was the other way around), I was ready to pack up the pump. A neighbor offered me her frozen milk, but I could not bring myself to accept that. I felt like the preemie's in the NICU needed it more than my daughter.

  10. Blogger Jennifer | 11:24 AM |  


    Two points in your comment that I need to respond to.

    1.) WIC and formula. From what I understand (based on my reading WIC material and on speaking to moms that receive WIC) WIC does not provide ALL of the formula that a baby needs. It might in some states, but in most states, it simply provides a PORTION of the formula that babies need. That means that people that can't afford it but that already have babies on formula DO need help.

    I know that all of our local food banks (including the one at our church) collect formula for this reason.

    2.) I really, really, REALLY don't think it's fair to compare this to McDonald's.

    You either breastfeed or your formula feed, there are two choices. Once you decide to formula feed, that's pretty much it. Yes, some women CAN relactate, but you know as well as I do that it's not realistic to ask nor expect women to do it.

    McDonald's is but one of MANY food options. People that eat at McDonald's don't do so because it's eat at McDonald's or die.

    Moms that are using formula pretty much now ONLY have the option of formula for their kids.

    Not a valid comparison, IMO.

  11. Blogger Jennifer | 11:28 AM |  


    I'm so sorry for your experience with your first.

    I never made it past the first week of breastfeeding with my older daughter. Thankfully, I was blessed with the ability to get enough milk from pumping, so I exclusively pumped for a little more than a year and did not have to supplement with formula.

    With my second, breastfeeding was much easier and he's still exclusively breastfed at almost 6 months. I'm aiming for at least 18 months with him.

    I've watched friends give up breastfeeding after a few days and I've watched friends put forth herculean effort to breastfeed. Sometimes, it just doesn't work out.

    I learned a long time ago that we can't judge someone else for the choices they make or the situations they find themselves in because we can never know the FULL story.

    Thus, my form of Lactivism is education, encouragement, humor and yes, a little bit of anger, but I direct my anger at those that directly try to harm breastfeeding, not at those who use or promote formula.

    I hope you'll stick around. :)

  12. Anonymous janisfan | 11:37 AM |  

    Yeah I know the comparison is not an even comparison b/c of the "must eat this" versus "chooses to eat this" issue.

    What I was comparing was the fact that formula is the 4th best option for feeding infants - it comes behind EBM in a bottle, and donor milk. Formula is associated with SIDS, allergies, GI problems, and obesity. IMO, in an ideal social-welfare ssystem where everyone has access to health insurance, formula ought to be by prescription only - you use it b/c you need to (either due to physical or emotional limitations - a mom with severe PPD who can't emotionally deal with BF problems would qualify in this respect). This would force insurance to cover quality pumps and lactation consultants b/c long term they are cheaper than a year's worth of formula (I did the math - it's true).

    Like someone else said, I really appreciate your blog - it makes me think. And essentially I agree with you on this post though with some reservation.

  13. Blogger Cairo Mama | 12:58 PM |  

    It took 12 weeks before breastfeeding became pain-free. I had the luxury of not working (or having to worry about going back to work) and I had support from a lactation consultant. I was able to stick it out and I am still breastfeeding at 6.5 months, but if I had to work or go back to work, I don't know if I would have made it.

    Bad breastfeeding problems can interfere with bonding and many women choose to bottlefeed because they want to enjoy the short period of time they have at home before they go back to work. Not every work environment is conducive to pumping. Many women just don't want to put in the extra effort into pumping.

    But all of this is irrelevant, because currently, for whatever reason, most women bottlefeed.

    The charity event is meeting an existing need. Whether the need should be there is another, more long-term problem of breastfeeding education, support, workplace support and societal change.
    This charity event is fine, especially for a basketball game. Suggesting to the Lady Bucks that they use some of the money to provide breastfeeding support is constructive, a lot more constructive than picketing the the event or attacking the Lady Bucks.

  14. Blogger Judy | 1:54 PM |  


    Your story is very much like mine. I still breastfeed my 3 1/2 month old some, but most of her nutrition comes from formula. I tried very hard to breastfeed and to get away from supplementation with pumped milk/formula/milk from a friend, but neither I nor an LC or any friend can get into a 3 month old's head and tell her how much better the breast is than a bottle. So if she starts nursing more it will be a gift from God and not my efforts because I am done stressing about it. I can't stand pumping but I do it like once a day or so just to get her some breastmilk.

    As far as other concerns, I was not able to breastfeed even though I had amazing support and info. I know others who probably come from similar situations as the women the Lady Bucks are helping that wanted to breastfeed but could not because of work and crappy boyfriends/husbands and other life pressures many of us can not relate to. Cut these women a break.

  15. Blogger analisa_roche | 2:34 PM |  

    Double amen!

  16. Blogger lauren | 10:25 PM |  

    I really hope that my experience will equip me to encourage other Moms in the future. Even if that means being able to tell another Mom that she's not a failure as a mother for choosing formula. I truly had more support from family than a lot of people. Part of the reason I kept trying was because of the examples of extended breastfeeding (compared to the "norm")and overcoming obstacles. My Mom had inverted nipples, my brother had a cleft palette, she nursed all of us 2-3 years. My sis in law nursed her girls for 18 and 21 months. I assumed that whatever struggles I had, I would get past them.

    We are in the "don't qualify for WIC but aren't rich" category, and I consider the gift of formula that we were given something that saved my sanity during a very tough time. Hubby was gone for 7 out of the first 8 weeks of my daughter's life. I gained a new respect for military wives and single moms, something I never realized I didn't have until I found myself wondering how they balance everything.

    It sounds like the Lady bucks Formula FastBreak is meeting a need. It could also be viewed as an example of how ignorant our society is about the options. I went to the milk bank website, and noticed that there does not appear to be one within that network in ourr state. However, my neighbor is a RN, and she shared that she donated hers to a local bank. I had never heard of a milk bank at all until she mentioned what she was doing with her extra milk. I thought I was fairly well-educated, as I sought a LC and was even given a LLL breastfeeding book. I don't think the general public really thinks about milk banking as an option.

    Thanks to those of you who shared I am not alone.. and that many of you went on to successfully nurse future kids. That's a HUGE encouragement.

  17. Blogger Judy | 11:25 PM |  


    I need to point out that your first 3 options are all breastmilk.

    Donor milk is not realistic at all. It's way too scarce and way too expensive. Not even worth mentioning.

    And, I'd much rather live in a system where individuals get to decide for themselves what to feed their children rather than the government. I'm an adult who made an adult informed decision to give my child formula, which is way better than the fifth option of starvation. I didn't need a doctor to tell me that I couldn't handle a baby attached to me 24/7 who still didn't nurse well enough to get her nutrition from me 100 percent. I figured that out all on my own and went to the store and bought some formula. All without the help of big brother(i.e. a doctor)

  18. Blogger Steph | 8:56 PM |  

    I think there are factors that go into not BFing that are sometimes overlooked.

    For some women, it's not an "all or nothing" deal - some aren't able to pump, and so when they go back to work, they BF morning and night, while the baby gets formula through the day.

    For some women support, encouragement and competent health professionals aren't available. It can become a question of sanity rather than a question of nutrition. This is the reason my daugher is formula fed. It was better to give her formula than to continually doubt myself and my ability to feed her (and I was unable to pump, so that wasn't an option).

    Formula isn't evil. It's not poison. If formula wasn't available there are many infants who would starve, because milk banks don't exist globally.

    I think this formula drive is a good thing. You can't force women to breastfeed, and for some it's really not a realistic option. Helping mothers to care for their babies in any way is better than doing nothing at all.

  19. Blogger Heather | 7:30 AM |  

    Though it occurs to me now that you can get FREE formula through WIC...people who qualify for food bank programs typically also qualify for WIC so why does the food bank need it?

    To be honest, I am still conflicted though knowing it's going to people who are already ff makes me less upset.

    The problem with the free formula at WIC (as told to me by a WIC BF counselor) is that b/c it's given out free it makes it easier for the women who are having solveale BF issues (poor latch, nipple irritation, thrush) to justify/switch to formula.

    janisfan - The problem with WIC is that is does NOT provide all the formula a baby needs, to the point where it falls short QUITE a large chunk. Many moms use their food stamps to buy more to make ends meet, but the income requirements for WIC have a higher income threshold than foodstamps, so many do not.

    Formula is unbelievably expensive, and even if you receive WIC, you still have to make ends meet... and may need to buy even more if you've got a big eater.

    It's still a need.. and many poor, uneducated mothers water down the formula they receive from WIC to make it last, and their children suffer because of it.

    Just because we can't imagine the need, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

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