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Parenting

Touting the benefits of breast milk during a formula shortage isn't helping anyone

There are times and places for breastfeeding advocacy. This isn't it.

babies, breastfeeding
Photos via Canva

A formula shortage crisis is not the time to push breastfeeding advocacy.

By now, you've likely seen news stories about the baby formula shortage in the U.S. According to CBS News, the formula shortage has been coming for months, with supply chain issues, labor shortages, product recalls and inflation creating a perfect storm and hampering manufacturers' ability to keep up with demand.

The shortage is causing intense stress for families that rely on formula as retailers resort to rationing purchases and customers find store shelves empty of major brands.

It's genuinely a crisis. And unfortunately, some breastfeeding advocates are using the shortage to tout the benefits of breastfeeding: This isn't a problem if you breastfeed!It's "free!" It's "readily available!" It's nature's perfect food! It's "what God intended!" It'll never be recalled!

Folks? Now is not the time or the place.


To be clear, I'm an enormous fan of breastfeeding. My mother is a retired lactation consultant and I was raised in La Leche League meetings. I breastfed my own three kids through toddlerhood and pumped breastmilk to feed my adopted nephew. I've written articles and made videos defending breastfeeding in public. I am enamored with the miraculous way our bodies can grow a whole person and also create food for that person. It's amazing. Breastfeeding is awesome in my book.

But I also live in the real world. I know that breastfeeding doesn't always work out for a huge variety of reasons, none of which I have the authority to judge. I know how most moms agonize over every decision they make and how easy it is to feel shamed for not doing what people tell you is "best." I know that baby formula saves lives.

For years now, there's been a slogan battle between "breast is best" and "fed is best," when really neither statement is really accurate. The "breast is best" idea is a simple way of stating that breast milk is the most nutritionally beneficial food for most babies. That's not a judgment; it's the medical consensus. The "fed is best" idea is a simple way of stating that the most important thing is that a baby is fed. That's not a dismissal; it's reality. But neither statement encompasses the complex truth, which is that there's a lot of bad information out there that makes informed decisions difficult and that there are millions of individual circumstances that can impact how a baby ultimately gets fed.

However, none of that matters when there's a baby formula shortage. Babies that rely on formula need it. And they need it immediately. Period.

Now is not the time to advocate for breastfeeding, no matter how passionate you feel about it. Parents impacted by the formula shortage are already worried enough; adding to their stress with messaging that might induce guilt or shame is an entirely crappy thing to do at this moment. It's like saying to someone who fell off a boat and is floundering in the water, "See, this is why people should learn to swim." That's not advocacy—it's cruelty.

I know that some people will take any and all mention of breastfeeding as a slam on formula feeding, and I'm not of the mind that people should avoid talking about the benefits of breastfeeding in general. But there are times and places for advocacy and education and there are times and places where it's not helpful at all. We're in the latter time and place right now. This formula shortage might naturally push some new moms toward breastfeeding, but it's not a situation that should be exploited to convince people to breastfeed.

If we want to be helpful, the best thing we can do at the moment is to offer advice and support that may actually help. Dr. Steven A. Abrams, MD, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggests the following when a parent is in an urgent need situation. These are things we can help with:

  • Talk with your pediatrician and ask if they are able to get you a can from the local formula representatives or one of the charities that has some. Your local WIC office may also be able to suggest places to look.

  • Check smaller stores and drug stores, which may not be out of supply when the bigger stores are.

  • If you can afford it, buy formula online until store shortages ease. Purchase from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies rather than individually sold or auction sites. Do not import formula from overseas, as imported formula is not FDA-reviewed.

  • For most babies, it is OK to switch to any available formula, including store brands, unless your baby is on a specific extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula such as EleCare (no store brand exists). Ask your pediatrician about recommended specialty formula alternatives available for your baby.

  • Check social media groups. There are groups dedicated to infant feeding and formula, and members may have ideas for where to find formula. Make sure to check any advice with your pediatrician.
Experts are warning parents not to water down formula or make homemade formula, as neither is a safe option, so do not share recipes for formula that are circulating on the internet.

The best support people can offer right now is locating formula for a family who needs it. That's it. Let's save the breastfeeding education and advocacy for people who are actually seeking information, not for those who are dealing with an already stressful crisis.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Marlon Brando on "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1973.

Marlon Brando made one of the biggest Hollywood comebacks in 1972 after playing the iconic role of Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” The venerable actor's career had been on a decline for years after a series of flops and increasingly unruly behavior on set.

Brando was a shoo-in for Best Actor at the 1973 Academy Awards, so the actor decided to use the opportunity to make an important point about Native American representation in Hollywood.

Instead of attending the ceremony, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Yaqui and Apache actress and activist, dressed in traditional clothing, to talk about the injustices faced by Native Americans.

She explained that Brando "very regretfully cannot accept this generous award, the reasons for this being … the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee."

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