Just as parts of the United States are legalizing marijuana, Sweden is about to make a law against baby formula — the unobstructed access to it. Sweden is making international headlines for a controversial proposed ban on babies.
Classified a controlled substance –nearly
Well, the new law is not about the actual babies, but their cute images on baby milk formula as well as any ”humanizing” wording that could mislead a mother to think she has alternatives to breast feeding.
If enacted, the law would take effect 1 August 2013. The proposed wording would clearly spell out that under no circumstances should a new mother consider baby formula without expert advice and counseling. The message: moms are unqualified to self-prescribe milk substitutes, unofficially regarded as lactation contraband. Ladies, leave this to the experts and bare your breasts.
Breast is best
Thanks to the WHO, the strong recommendation to exclusively breastfeed newborn babies for the first six months, nursing has become more widespread globally. In fact, it was as long ago as 1981 when the WHO, in union with UNICEF crafted a code which addressed advertising and distribution of baby formula . That recommendation was implemented Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) in 1983 and for nearly three decades, there has been an agreement in place with the Swedish Consumer Agency (Konsumentverket) to follow the guidelines.
The government’s new memorandum latches on to the seasoned wisdom that the more and longer a mother breastfeeds, the better the health and well-being is for the child. I don’t think that knowledge has ever been in question.
So why stricter now?
All fingers point to the 2006 EU directive regarding the restrictions on baby formula advertising (The Act will implement the provisions on marketing in EU-Commission Directive). Apparently Sweden is only keeping with the times. Also, presumably, statistics have shown that exclusive breastfeeding has declined in recent years and more medical support has come out in favor of breastfeeding. That is fair enough to want to keep abreast of the trends. But to presume the modern women is now more easily fooled by photos of adorable babies acting like mythical Sirens leading mothers off course to their doom is rather condescending.
Only medical experts know best
Most shocking to me in the memorandum is the wording regarding the requirement to provide ”an important message” –something like the Smoking Kills warning labels on cigarette packages or spelling out that consuming alcohol while pregnant is bad on bottles of booze, beer and alcoholic beverages. The wording should clearly state that breastfeeding is the superior alternative and that a recommendation for use of a formula product should only be provided by an impartial (read: moms are too biased) individual with medical, nutritional or pharmacological expertise or others who work with children. Heaven forbid that a mother might qualify. WE are not impartial enough.
I did it my way
I found the right way to feed my two children. But the road was not smooth nor comfortable. My first child really sucked at breastfeeding. But not in the good way. He just didn’t get it or I just could not do it. At the very least one of us was a failure. The biased me blamed me. ”Mothers have been doing this for 10,000 years” was the message that oozed from everything and everyone around me. But of course, some women can’t (read: you are a misfit of nature.) So I got the magical pass to supplement. I was a failure and needed help.
Baby Two was the perfect feeder (read: You finally got it right, well done.) I could prance with pride that my child exclusively suckled breast. I wasn’t a complete failure. I only needed to get the hang of it–perseverance paid off. Thankfully, by then, I had already understood that I was completely competent to decide how to feed my child had Baby Two. I was not going to torment myself emotionally had things not worked out and would have gone over to formula to the degree we needed without a drop of guilt.
Apparently while baby formula is nearly regarded as a classified substance, the baby elixir, välling, or what I describe to non-Swedes as ”liquid bread”, is the nectar of the baby health gods and a must prescribed by midwives and seasoned Swedish mums. These food supplements, milky in appearance and served in a bottle with a nipple, are the default milk supplement to infants who start on a food regimen around six months. I thought my midwife was about to report me for child abuse when I informed her that my child did not partake in the väling. It was unthinkable, it was unimaginable, it was inconceivable. I was clearly starving my child despite his abundance on the scale and placement well above the curve. The midwife reluctantly accepted my misguided decision as a ”cultural anomaly” and probably scribbled some notes in a journal about the odd things immigrant women do for cultural reasons.
All that despite the WHO’s same recommendation to continue breastfeeding children until two years of age. In Sweden it is inadvisable to feed a baby formula from 0-6 months, but strongly recommended from 6 months onward. At 6 months, the breast is bust.
Is välling safe?
It’s unclear if this new proposed law will ban the advertising or promotion of the beloved välling. Will cute babies be crossed off the packaging? Will there be stern warning labels strongly advising women to seek professional and unbiased advice when considering välling? Or perhaps, like snus, välling will be saved from the EU directive.
If you pardon the obvious sarcasm thrown about in this entry I hope that my viewpoint is clear. I fully support the promotion of breastfeeding as the primary option for feeding a newborn child. The health benefits alone speak volumes for why it is best choice. But remember that for many mothers, it is not about choice. And making the option to supplement or replace nursing with baby formula something that is carried out in the back alleys filled with embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy is not the best way to start a child off in this world. Mothers always want the best for the child. Stop guilting them into an idealistic yet occasionally unobtainable motherhood utopia. It’s cruel. And it’s unnecessary.