Unexpectedly Intriguing!
September 17, 2009

Following John Whitehead's example, we're tapping our e-mail inbox today as a source of inspiration for what to post about today. And what a doozy we have! It seems that we've unintentionally provoked an angry reaction to our post considering the cost of breastfeeding versus formula. Our agitated reader, Michelle, writes:

In regards to the blogpost at: http://politicalcalculations.blogspot.com/2009/04/cost-of-breastfeeding-vs-formula.html, I believe there is a major flaw -- a biased one at that -- in your calculations. Why do you not include the time it takes to shop for, mix, and prepare formula? What about the cost for bottles, nipples, cleaning utensils? The time and resources (i.e., water) to clean the bottles afterwards? Why do you also not include the time it takes to feed an infant with formula, too? Does it just magically get from the bottle into the baby's belly somehow without taking time? I believe you only include the time factor for breastfeeding to try to strengthen your argument, which I believe is weaker than the argument for breastfeeding. I believe the burden of proof is on you to disprove the theory that breastfeeding is a better source of nutrition for an infant than human milk substitute. Prove that formula feeding is better! Do you really believe that something manmade (human milk substitute) from cows or plants is as good or superior to something human-made just for humans? If so, you've been duped by the manipulative advertising of the formula companies. I don't see your evaluation of the evidence FOR formula-feeding. If you're a true scientist, economist, mathemetician, whatever you are...then you would present the full possibilities in your calculations. It's otherwise completely biased in the favor (or at least I see that's the point here) of your flawed point of view. (And is it really necessary to put a link to other sites for the term "breastfeeding nazi"? That just proves the point that you are not a reliable source of information.)

Fair enough. Let's consider Michelle's major points one by one....

Why do you not include the time it takes to shop for, mix, and prepare formula? What about the cost for bottles, nipples, cleaning utensils? The time and resources (i.e., water) to clean the bottles afterwards?

We also didn't consider the time it takes to shop for, mix and prepare the long-well established additional 600 calories of food per a day that a mother requires to breastfeed her child. Or the cost of dishes, cups and eating utensils used by the breastfeeding mother. Or the time and resources (i.e., water) to clean the dishes afterward.

Although we suspect these things would have equivalent expenses in terms of both cost and time to the comparable activities associated with the use of infant formula, it's quite possible that the expenses associated with breastfeeding are higher.

Why do you also not include the time it takes to feed an infant with formula, too? Does it just magically get from the bottle into the baby's belly somehow without taking time? I believe you only include the time factor for breastfeeding to try to strengthen your argument, which I believe is weaker than the argument for breastfeeding.

As we didn't have any data at the time to apply otherwise, we assumed that the time required for the child to consume formula is the same as that required for the child to breastfeed, which makes for a very direct comparison. As a result, the "savings per hour breastfeeding" figure provided by the tool is the savings that result from not using formula.

Then again, what if Michelle might be right? It could well be possible that formula-fed babies are faster eaters than their breastfed counterparts, which would reduce the savings per hour spent breastfeeding, thereby making formula more attractive.

I believe the burden of proof is on you to disprove the theory that breastfeeding is a better source of nutrition for an infant than human milk substitute. Prove that formula feeding is better!

One cannot "disprove" a theory, as one cannot prove a negative contention. This would be called "junk science." Fortunately, Michelle recognizes this and calls for formula feeding to be proven better.

Unfortunately for Michelle, formula doesn't have to be "proven better" to justify its use from a nutritional standpoint. Formula would only need to be "nearly nutritionally equivalent" to breast milk to justify its use in place of breast milk. Likewise, breast milk would only need to be "nearly nutritionally equivalent" to formula to justify its use in place of formula.

Do you really believe that something manmade (human milk substitute) from cows or plants is as good or superior to something human-made just for humans?

We're presuming from her statement that Michelle believes that men aren't humans, as she implies that something "man"-made is less desirable than something "human"-made. But we'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume her hateful language dehumanizing men is really just confused rather than being reflective of a highly sexist outlook on life.

As for the source of the nutritive content of infant formula versus breast milk, we wonder if cows or plants might not be part of a breastfeeding mother's diet? In which case, is a breastfeeding mother really adding serious nutritional content to the breast milk or just processing the real nutrition into something her infant can consume. Much as infant formula producers do through other methods that have demonstrably evolved and improved over time.

We don't know the answer to that question. We doubt Michelle does either. We think that we can agree that babies should be fed, although we can't speak for Michelle, who might differ from our view on the basis of gender.

If so, you've been duped by the manipulative advertising of the formula companies. I don't see your evaluation of the evidence FOR formula-feeding.

We're not aware of having seen any advertising of any kind from those "manipulative" formula companies. Perhaps they're sending us subliminal messages? Evil bastards.

Then again, we believe our evaluation pretty obviously considered the cost of using infant formula with respect to breastfeeding, which Michelle seems to have forgotten by this point of her e-mail.

If you're a true scientist, economist, mathemetician, whatever you are...then you would present the full possibilities in your calculations.

We understand your confusion in this area. But we can assure you that while Ironman defies categorization, Ironman does work to ensure the full range of relevant possibilities are included in the calculations presented on the site. What's more, if you don't like those presented assumptions, you have the ability to alter them in the tools provided with them.

It's otherwise completely biased in the favor (or at least I see that's the point here) of your flawed point of view. (And is it really necessary to put a link to other sites for the term "breastfeeding nazi"? That just proves the point that you are not a reliable source of information.)

To see what to which Michelle is referring, here's the relevant text of our post in context, with the link (aka "free speech") that Michelle advocates be suppressed:

But more than that, those declines exist over time even as there's an amazing amount of social pressure put upon mothers to breastfeed in the U.S., including increasing levels of government-backed pressure to impose and enforce the practice on mothers.

But are they justified? Does the data back up these activists and public officials? Or are they just being a bunch of breastfeeding nazis?

We admit that linking to a Google search of the term "breastfeeding nazis" is perhaps less than optimal. We should have instead linked to the top post returned in that search which explains the 5 Things That Make You a Breastfeeding Nazi... And 5 Things That Don't.

We'll leave it as an exercise to our remaining readers (Goodbye Michelle!) to determine for themselves how, and to whom, the term might be properly applied.

Update: We might have to do this more often - compared to the usual kind of post we do, we can bang this kind of thing right out!

On second thought, maybe not - we said goodbye to one reader today - we really don't want to alienate the other three....

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