Letter to the Editor of USA
December 5, 1995
by Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology,
Texas A & M University
I was very chagrined to see USA Today promoting the
"Rush Limbaugh" of infant feeding circles, the book Bottlefeeding without
Guilt, written by Peggy Robin. The book is a careless hodgepodge of half-truths,
misleading or misinterpreted information, and outright lies. The author has no credentials
as an expert in infant feeding, and ignores or misinterprets the scientific literature in
example after example.
It amazes me that the public, and the media, take the
perspective that mothers should not feel guilty about choosing an infant feeding method
that puts their children at risk of many diseases and even death. Bottle-fed babies have
higher incidences of upper respiratory infections, gastro-intestinal infections, sudden
infant death syndrome, ear infections, diabetes, Crohn's disease, childhood lymphoma,
rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer (for the daughters, as adults), orthodontic problems,
and the list goes on and on and on. Advocates of breastfeeding, like those who fight
against cigarette use, must fight against an extremely powerful, lucrative industry. The
infant formula industry rakes in over $22 million every day from the sale of a product
that is known to lead to life-long health problems.
Would USA today publish an article praising any of the
following hypothetical books: Cocaine Use During Pregnancy without Guilt, Driving
While Under the Influence, Without Guilt, Smoking in Your Baby's Face,
Without Guilt, or Not Putting Your Child in a Car Seat, Without Guilt?
I certainly hope not. Yet the issue of infant feeding, backed by the powerful infant
formula lobby, with millions of advertising dollars to spend, is viewed as a
"lifestyle choice" without health consequences. It HAS consequences -- for the
health of the children, and even for the health of the mother. Women who bottle-feed have
a much higher rate of breast cancer than women who breastfeed. And those of us who work to
promote, protect, and support breastfeeding are labelled as cult members or
I urge you to check out either of the two newly published
books that adhere to standards of scientific accuracy for accurate information about the
health consequences of not breastfeeding. They are Money, Milk, and Madness
by Naomi Baumslag and Dia Michels published by Bergin and Garvey, and Breastfeeding:
Biocultural Perspectives, edited by Patricia Stuart-Macadam and myself (Katherine
A. Dettwyler), published by Aldine de Gruyter. I think you will find them highly
enlightening. I will send along an excerpt from the conclusions of one of my own chapters
in the book, titled "Beauty and the Breast."
I suppose those of us who lobby for accurate information
about the adverse health consequences of bottle-feeding, and for a breastfeeding-friendly
society should take some satisfaction in the idea that our efforts have been successful
enough to elicit a backlash in the form of this hastily thrown-together work by Ms. Robin.
Unfortunately, it is the children who will suffer in the long run, and parents who read
this book will once again have been denied the right to accurate information on which to
base their own decisions about how to best feed their infants.
Prepared December 9, 1995.
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