"Where the hell did this come from, and how did they know I'm pregnant?" Those were the words I said when I received my first sample of Enfamil in late summer of 2021. Shortly after that, I received more samples, this time from Similac, and became even more enraged. I was due with my first child in November of 2021, and I couldn't help but feel violated knowing that formula companies were already competing for the chance to be the product my child's life would depend on.
After what some may see as an overreaction to some innocent samples, I began to do extensive research on breastfeeding versus formula feeding. I came to two conclusions, that breastfeeding is best, and United States formula would never go into my child's body.
The decision was made that if I couldn't breastfeed, I would buy formula from outside of the US. The driving factor for the latter part was simple: The United States standards for baby formula are some of the worst globally. From preservatives to toxic metals to soy to corn syrup to recall after recall, I could not stomach the thought of replacing nature's nutrients with the addictive and harmful garbage we allow in our babies' most essential food.
Armed with this information, I responded to a now-deleted tweet in September of 2021 which listed some insane, dangerous, and impossible to pronounce ingredients in a standard US baby formula and said, "Baby formulas in the US are actual poison." Nothing prepared me for the anger and controversy that would follow this tweet.
"Just because you don't know how to pronounce a word doesn't mean it's poison, Ashley," said one response with three hundred likes.
"Ashley, is it better when babies starve," said another response
Another read, "This is a thoughtless, irresponsible, and dangerous take."
Other mothers berated me saying they couldn't breastfeed or that their babies were "just fine" on Enfamil and the likes.
Twitter even slapped an official fact-check from their Birdwatch service stating "Breastfed is best, but infant formula is a safe nourishment as an alternative," with a link to the FDA's statements on formula safety. They additionally noted my tweet as "potentially misleading."
Fast forward to May 2022 and baby formula in the United States is facing a never-before-seen, nationwide shortage. Countless formula shelves across the nation lay bare, completely out-of-stock, and the ones that aren't are imposing limits on the amount of formula each customer can purchase at a time. Why? Because Big Formula has been running itself as a mafia, supplying mothers with products they know are harmful or deadly to babies for a shameless profit margin. Now, they are recalled at an unprecedented rate.
A majority of people who use formula are unaware of the dangerous and manipulative propaganda that was pushed to make formula more mainstream than mother's milk. Formula was supposed to be a rare alternative, preserved only for mothers who were medically unable to breastfeed.
Obviously "rare" isn't the ideal demographic from which to make profit, so in the 1900s, Big Formula set out on a mission to expand their customer base to every mother ever. Babies who were formula fed at this time were facing serious malnutrition issues but Big Formula, most notably Nestle, fixed this issue by taking a play straight from Big Tobacco: making brand deals with doctors.
Nestle knew that the way to get mothers to ditch the free, perfect nutrient nature gave them was to have doctors sell them on a product on which they would become dependent. After all, once a mother's milk dries up, there's no going back, and you're in a codependent relationship with formula companies to literally keep your baby alive.
When health professionals wouldn't promote their formula, Nestle just created their own health professionals out of thin air. Nestle went as far as hiring women to dress up like nurses in South Africa to convince new mothers that their formula was just as good, if not better, than breastmilk.
Eventually, Nestle would have to testify in front of the Senate during the Kennedy Hearings in 1978 to explain why babies were getting sick and dying from their formulas.
Even after the Kennedy Hearings, there was little to no remedy or mediation to Big Formula's propaganda efforts. You would think there would be more stringent oversight in the production and marketing of a product as crucial for the survival of millions of babies, but there wasn't. This lack of accountability for Big Formula is undoubtedly a key component in the 2022 formula recall that has led us to this unprecedented shortage.
Outside of federal regulation, who knows how many babies would not be drinking watered-down formula tonight had our physicians not made brand deals with these formula companies. Who knows how many mothers would not be scrambling to keep their infants alive had Big Tech oligarchs like Twitter not labeled warnings about US formula as "misleading."
By 2026, the formula industry is set to be worth more than $98 billion dollars, according to a market insight report. The formula industry is one of the most profitable industries in existence because they create a dependency on their product. Unless we put Big Formula under the microscope, they will continue to trade our babies' health for profit.
We need to not only allow, but encourage criticism of Big Formula and what they are putting in their products. We need to stop predatory data-mining that allows Big Formula to target vulnerable expecting and new mothers with samples that conveniently last until their natural milk supply dries up. Most importantly, we need expansive education on the dangers of baby formula and get formula back to being a rare exception for those who can't breastfeed.