The Bottle Versus the Breast -Fear Mongering for New Moms

In all of our readings, the idea I found myself most caught up in was that of symbolic interactionism. Perhaps because I have experienced this so much, I finally had a name to put to it. At its basic level, it says, “this is how I’ve experienced something in the world, therefore this is how I relate to it.”

Being a new mom, I find myself bombarded by other people’s experiences with babies constantly, and overwhelmed by it all. From “when your baby cries like this, it must be hungry”, to “they sleep best if you do X, whatever X happens to be.” However, all these comments are informed by individual experience that those often giving it consider universally applicable. Much like Mead discusses how an audience will adopt an overall attitude that informs individual response. While many are well meaning, there seems to be a fear mongering culture for new moms, particularly on the use of breast milk versus formula feeding.

To be transparent in expressing my comments, I will state that I have used both. I fed my baby just breast milk for the first five months of her life, and they she started getting teeth, so we introduced some formula. I have had to deal with a personal struggle of determining what is best for me and my baby, and reconciling that with what society tells me is appropriate. Again, looking to Mead we see, “and thus it is that social control, as operating in terms of self-criticism, exerts itself so intimately and extensively over individual behavior or conduct, serving to integrate the individual and his actions with reference to the organized social process of experience and behavior in which he is implicated.” (Mead, 1934)

Now my personal experience and that of my daughter have been very positive. She has taken to formula with no problems. Having been a completely formula fed baby myself, as per my mother’s choice, I do not feel I am doing harm by my baby. However, my own opinion and experience is only part of this equation, as we know that communication is participation, but from this course, no doubt from own our lives, and from how we have come to understand symbolic interactionism. Certainly others have had a negative experience with formula, which contributes to the fear mongering sometimes associated with its use.

One of the key challenges or pitfalls I learned, not just from my choice of formula, but from the symbolic interaction theory was the difficult balance between personal response informing, and harming. If balance is possible, then it is to derive your own meaning, while learning from others.

Mead,G.H. (1934). The social foundations and functions of thought and communication. In C.W. Morris (Ed.), Mind, self, and society from the standpoint of a social behaviorist (pp . 253-260; 325-328) . Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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4 thoughts on “The Bottle Versus the Breast -Fear Mongering for New Moms

  1. Thanks for this post Pamela. It is intriguing to consider that personal experiences in our “real” life have a label in our professional or academic life.
    I have a vested interest in your comments as I just finished a stint as a marketing leader (communications professional) for the B.C. government initiative, healthyfamiliesbc.ca. This initiative has a strong focus on health messaging (including breastfeeding), coming from health professionals (nurses, doulas, dietitians) in the population and public health division of the provincial ministry of health. One of the goals for the government and this initiative is to be seen as the most trusted and credible source of information for parents, with accredited experts providing advice that is consistent with other health organizations from the local health unit up to the world health organization.
    At the same time, Healthy Families BC has a tone of being accessible and friendly, as though a fellow parent is explaining and commiserating with what you may be going through. The casual tone of the HFBC postings and articles is intended to mimic the advice that we as a society previously received through our aunties, mothers and sisters, in a new world where either don’t have access to that age-old wisdom handed down, or we as a society are choosing to access information in a new way: electronically.
    The approach that the HFBC social marketing campaigns take has a fun, friendly, tone, which also provides solid facts that have been vetted through scientific research. The text uses language such as “many parents find that…” or “for some families”, implying that there is a larger group sharing common concerns.
    I do believe that in this case, as Mead said (p. 263), the social institution (government’s Healthy Families BC) defines the social, or socially responsible, pattern of individual conduct in a very broad sense, affording plenty of scope for flexibility. I do hope the HFBC audiences find the guidelines provided are pleasantly influential yet allow for a variety of conduct.

    Mead, G. H. (1956) The Social Psychology of George Herbert Mead. Edited by Strauss, A. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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    1. I always find the debate surrounding breast-feeding interesting, and sometimes ignorant. It is incredibly unfair to judge someone based upon their choice to breast feed, especially given that simply not wanting to is not always the case; some women simply cannot produce the milk needed to support their child. Society has a major impact on our behavior and the looking glass self could respond to the environment, which could result in shame of choosing not to breast feed, and apprehension of the response to society should you choose to breastfeed.

      “Key others can have significant impact on establishment and continuation of breastfeeding (e.g. Rempel & Rempel; Sikorski et al., 2003; Piscane et al., 2005; McInnes & Chambers, 2008). Those surrounding us, from our significant other to distant relatives and even sometimes strangers, often feel as if it is necessary to share their views on a mother’s choice to breastfeed, as well as their choice to choose where they breastfeed. Should you live in a society that is supportive of breastfeeding, you would be more likely to continue to do so as your child grows older. If your society frowns upon breast-feeding, and you’re a very social person, you may quickly switch to formula because it is the path of least resistance.

      It is important to maintain that symbols do change. What was expected of women years ago is different from the expectation today. However, as we have discussed many times in class, people are a product of their environment. Having grown up myself in an environment that is very supportive of the choice to breastfeed, I fear I will face some challenges should I decide to use formula. To many of my family members, to breastfeed is to provide your child with the best nourishment possible. Period.

      In another class, we discussed the story of photographer, Emma Kwasnica, and her challenges faced by the authorities of Facebook, removing her photos of breastfeeding women. These photos were dubbed as ‘inappropriate.’ There are many other photos on Facebook that I would consider much less appropriate than a mother feeding her child. However, posting these photos could almost be viewed as an act of dissent. Perhaps more of these photos are needed on Facebook so we can absolve the dissent and make it the norm!

      Leeming, D., Williamson, I., Johnson, S and Lyttle, S. (2011) Becoming a breastfeeding
      mother: An interactionist Perspective. Retrieved from University of
      Huddersfield, Repository Division,
      http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/11321/6/LeemingBecomingpdfofppt.pdf

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  2. First off Pamela, kudos to you for doing a Masters and trying to master the whole motherhood thing. Trust me, the motherhood thing is more complicated. Not sure which one is more time consuming. I, too, was thinking about Symbolic Interactionism and the notion of selves when I was doing those readings, specifically about motherhood. For the first six months, I was “Jon’s mom”. I had lost my first name. No one cared what I did before. I was relieved when someone finally asked, but it didn’t matter, I was being judged for a whole new self. Prior experience was irrelevant. I’m still trying to figure out the parenting thing and it isn’t easy. You nailed it when you say: ” If balance is possible, then it is to derive your own meaning, while learning from others.” In other words, find your own way. It’s not always a clear path, but better you define it than someone else. And I like that you note we need to learn from others. The best teachers in life? Our kids. Enjoy the baby! They’re as rewarding as they get.

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  3. Wonderful read Pamela, thanks for sharing. I have to agree with you, there is never a time in your life where more people voice their opinions than when you are a new Mom. I like the connection you made with Mead, I’d never thought about it that way, but it made perfect sense to me once I read your post. Congrats on the little one and I echo the comment before me, it’s wonderful that you’re tackling all of this with a little one at home. Enjoy every second with your daughter, my daughter is only 2.5 years old and it feels like only yesterday that she was an infant and next thing I know she’ll be in school.

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