An Ontario hospital recently removed a dated anti-formula poster after local women lodged complaints with the region’s health department.
Brampton Civic Hospital told Global News they removed the visuals on Friday, following directions from Peel Region Health who created the poster in 2009. The poster was discontinued in 2015.
Mom Jessica Thyriar, 28, saw the poster at the hospital’s post-partum ward last week.
Credit: Jessica Thyriar
The old poster featured a slogan that read, “Formula? No thanks. I’m watching my waistline.”
The copy continued, “Babies don’t get to choose whether they are fed breast milk or formula. But you do. And since your choice can affect your child’s healthy development, you need need to get all the facts first. For example, did you know that recent studies show formula-fed babies have a higher risk of obesity? Is a child in your future? We can help you make an informed choice that’s right for you and your baby.”
Anne Fenwick director of family Health at the Region of Peel – Public Health, told Global News the region makes an effort to support all families with their infant feeding choices without judgement.
“The posters in question were discontinued by public health over four years ago. That some of those posters still existed is regrettable and we will work to ensure any others that exist are removed.”
Fenwick said the region works with new parents and understands how challenging it can be for some parents to feed their newborns.
“We strive to support new parents in a sensitive, caring way. Support for infant feeding is offered through our telephone support line, clinics and home visits.”
Taking a stand
Last Thursday, Thyriar saw the poster in question when she went to visit a friend at the Brampton, Ont. hospital.
“I breastfeed my son, and provide him one bottle of formula at night,” she explained. “In the beginning stages, having him latch on was very difficult. In the first three weeks, I struggled trying to exclusively breastfeed and sought help quite often.”
She said she often felt like a failure of a mother for not being able to breastfeed. “My amazing family doctor and pediatrician had encouraged me to do what I felt best and to take my mental health into consideration.”
“I stuck to breastfeeding but if it were not for those two strong individuals in my life that empowered me rather than shaming me, I don’t think I would be in the positive state that I am today.”
Although she is grateful the poster was removed, she found the message off-putting.
READ MORE: 5 moms on the realities of breastfeeding
“Often some individuals are unable to breastfeed for a variety of reasons such as health, low milk supply, having to go back to work, and not being able to afford to stay home on leave,” she said. “There are multiple reasons why someone may choose to give their child formula, and I don’t think shaming someone, especially when you already feel so much guilt as a mother is the right way to go. I think fed is best.”
Sharing the poster on her personal Facebook page, a group of women rallied and reached out to public health to have it taken down. Their demands were met almost instantly.
Courtesy of Jessica Thyriar
“I just want other mothers to have great experiences and be able to focus on the bundle of joy in front of them because it’s already such a hard shift when you become a new mother.”
Pressures to breastfeed
This pressure Thyriar talks about is common for many new moms. Speaking with Global News in 2018, mom Jenna-Rae Mitchell said while she thought breastfeeding was easy and natural, it was as struggle to get her son to latch.
“This was extremely frustrating and led me to dread and fear every feed. After a long and traumatic birth, all I wanted to do was enjoy my baby in peace and quiet, but instead I had to deal with the pressures, frustrations and exhaustion of breastfeeding,” she said.
She ended up speaking to a lactation consultant.
There are several reasons some women can’t breastfeed, Dr. Natasha Saunders, a pediatrician at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto previously told Global News. New moms are sleep deprived, their hormones are unstable and their bodies are still recovering.
“It takes a lot of work and for many women it can be achieved with practice and support but for some women, it’s just not feasible,” she explained.
Others have medical conditions that prevent them from breastfeeding or their babies could have complications (like being tongue-tied) that prohibit breastfeeding. Milk supply can be low, the act itself can be too painful and some babies just don’t latch.
Breastfeeding recommendations in Canada
The Canadian Pediatrician Society (CPS) says breast milk is the best food for newborns, and mothers should try exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months.
But if breastfeeding is not an option (for whatever reason), CPS recommends store-bought iron-fortified infant formula for the first 12 months.
The formula itself should be cow milk-based, and homemade formulas made from canned, evaporated, whole milk (cow or goat) should not be used as substitutes.
CPS does not recommend rice or plant-based milks to replace breast milk. “They are nutritionally incomplete for infants. There is no evidence that soy-based formula will prevent your child from developing an allergy.”
— with files from Carmen Chai