The Big Business of the Mommy Wars: Part One, Infant Feeding

This is part one of a three part series on why and how big business orchestrated and continues to perpetuate the so-called “mommy wars.” For profit.

What if I told you the so-called Mommy Wars are less Civil War and more The Hunger Games?

As in, these wars are not  “you’re wrong, I’m right, how dare you judge my lifestyle, stay out of my business” battles.  No, they’re “evil overlord orchestrating systemic uprisings for profit and entertainment.” Well, get ready, ‘cause that’s the crazy I’m bringing today.

A 2013 study showed that the average cost for a middle class family to raise a child from birth to college is around a quarter of a million dollars. A QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS! $250,000 over 18 years equals $13,888 per year.

Obviously, some of that money is spent on food, childcare, basic medical care, clothing, and non-material entertainment/activities (sports activities, family outings, etc.). But a huge chunk of that money is spent on extra stuff.

I’m not even talking about when a child can ask for something like the newest video games or Bratz dolls (blugh!)—the spending starts earlier than that. As in, two pink lines early. The average cost new parents spend on “supplies” for their newborn is $6,500 dollars—BEFORE THE BABY IS BORN!

I don’t know about you, but when I hear those numbers I think, “Wow, that’s a lot. Wonder what I can do to cut down those costs.”  Large corporations hear those numbers and think, “Wow, that’s a lot. Wonder what we can do to ensure those parents spend that money on our products.”

In fact, the new parent market is the most targeted demographic of shoppers in America.  All that data mining companies do? That’s mostly just to figure out who is knocked up. The moment said person is knocked up. Seriously.

Large corporations understand the vulnerability and uncertainty that accompany a new baby, whether that baby is your first or your fourteenth.  You know what those companies do with that vulnerability and uncertainty? Exploit it. By any means necessary. That includes deliberately and unsympathetically pitting women against one another.  For profit.

Still think I’m an unhinged conspiracy theorist? In this three part series I’m going to show you two examples of companies profiting from some of the hot-button Mommy War issues: feeding and sleeping. Then I’m going to wrap it all up for you and show you how these two examples fit into the larger capitalistic overlord agenda.

Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding

Huge disclaimer: I’m 100% not throwing shade at formula feeding mothers.  Many women, for an array of complex and valid reasons, feed their babies formula. Choosing to use formula is valid. Needing to use formula is valid.  Thumbs up for feeding your babies, regardless of how those calories make it into the babies’ bodies!

I am, however, 100% throwing shade at formula companies who prey on women when they are most confused and desperate.

It’s true that without formula, many babies (and their mothers!) would not survive or thrive, so I have utmost respect for it’s place in our world.  But I refuse to respect any organization or corporation that exploits vulnerability for profit.

You know who profits from you breastfeeding? You. Your Baby. And maybe a few companies that manufacture breast pumps, maybe not. Women have been hand expressing milk for Millennia, so there’s no guaranteed cost associated with breastfeeding.

You know who profits from you formula feeding? You. Your baby. AND…Countless formula companies, the dairy industry, the soybean industry, pharmaceutical companies, bottle manufacturers, marketing firms, and big box stores just to name a few.

Do most individuals, myself included, care how you feed your baby? Nope. Not at all. It’s not our business. But you know who does? See list above. It is literally their business.

One formula company, under the guise of “ending the mommy wars,” went so far as to produce a wildly successful commercial aimed at celebrating the different ways we mother.  Completely selflessly, of course. NOT! It’s big business antagonizing women where it hits them the hardest: in the mommy bone.

Women calling out the company for this sneaky attempt to increase profit were told they were shaming formula feeding mothers. The breastfeeding women in the commercial are the mean girls. By design. But the formula company that produced the commercial? They care. They really care, you guys. Just look how happy all the moms look at the end. They’re responsible for ending the mommy wars! It’s subliminal, and it works.

Making women feel inadequate also works. It is in their best interest as for-profit companies to convince new mothers formula is essential for a healthy baby.  Business 101 means formula companies are incentivized to make women feel inadequate without them.That’s the shitty reality.

Here’s the line of logic as best as I can decipher:

First, scare women. Plant a tiny subliminal seed in their head that they’re inadequate long before the baby is even born. Make sure they’re flooded with messages regarding how difficult and unrealistic it is to “have it all.” Really play up the social conditioning of women as never being enough.

Next, make your product more readily available than other resources/support. Market your product as progress toward “having it all” at the exact right moment – when mothers are most scared and insecure.

Then, create an ecosystem in which women are forced to defend their choices to relatives and complete strangers alike. Make the mothers who are tirelessly caring for and nurturing their children the bad guys. Let them go to battle on your behalf, while you sit back, keep your hands clean, and reap the benefits.

Message boards aren’t flooded with women defending the use formula because they wanted to use formula. These women decided, for whatever valid reason, that formula was the right choice for their families. These are rarely the women formula companies target.

Message boards are filled to the brim with women who wanted to breastfeed but for whatever valid reason, couldn’t. Those are the women upon whom formula companies prey. They’re the women the companies depend on to defend their products.  To those mothers the fight is personal. Attacks on formula feel like attacks on the core of their being, their perceived failures, and the very heart of their parenting.

To the companies, attacks on formula are simply attacks on the bottom line. We’re talking about the difference between doubting one’s ability as a mother, and whether the CEO is going to get a quarterly bonus. One has much greater implications than the other.

Imagine if the companies allocated even a small fraction of their vast wealth toward lobbying for policy changes that would make breastfeeding easier for working mothers.

Or, imagine those companies giving grants to hospitals to prop up lactation consultant services for the mothers who needed extra support.

Imagine those companies admitting that any amount of breast milk is valuable, and combo feeding is great for your baby.

Imagine it wasn’t all or nothing.

Imagine the real bottom line was mothers feeling empowered, not defeated.

Click here for part two, infant sleep. And here for the conclusion.

Originally published on Two Dogs, One Cat, and a Baby.


Audrey Sanchez is originally from a town in Kansas so small it has only one stop sign. Since then, she’s called Boulder, New Orleans, and most recently Kansas City home. Mother to toddler Ada, dogs Clyde and Fancy, and cat Hushpuppy, Audrey blogs about her interspecies parenting adventures at Two Dogs, One Cat, and a Baby In addition to the chaos that her many critters bring, Audrey spends her time laundering cloth diapers, getting ready to go but never really making it to the gym, and fantasizing about REM cycles.

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