The White House's gross mishandling of the domestic baby formula shortage has resulted in some positively medieval suggestions from the peanut gallery.
A whistleblower first alerted President Joe Biden's Food and Drug Administration to an impending baby formula supply crisis in October of last year. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) then warned Biden last month of the looming infant formula supply crisis. Somehow, Biden managed to be caught unawares anyway, declaring that only "better mind-readers" could have anticipated the crisis.
Lucky for panicked mothers already struggling with newborns and inflation, #Resistance hero Bette Midler has some advice: Just breastfeed! And if that's a problem, milk some other birthing person like she's a cow!
People are piling on because of former tweet. No shame if you can’t breastfeed, but if you can & are somehow convinced that your own milk isn’t as good as a “scientifically researched product”, that’s something else again. The monopoly news is news to me, tho, no lie. #WETNURSES— bettemidler (@BetteMidler) May 13, 2022
For the camp that accuses pro-life conservatives of only caring about babies until birth (a detestable lie, of course), this is some shockingly callous advice. I'm not a mother, so I cannot personally attest to how difficult it is to feed a helpless human being and avoid all toxins that could affect such feedings. But it seems delusional — barbaric, even — to long for the good ol' days of wet nurses.
For starters, full-time wet nurses in Western Europe were a luxury reserved for nobility and gentry. This wasn't a health or safety measure for everyone but rather a measure intended to make a noblewoman's fertility resume more quickly after birth. Until the gradual urbanization of the Renaissance, the overwhelming majority of women were peasants or serfs, working the land and functioning on subsistence living. The women who theoretically needed wet nurses were the least likely to have them, as until the Industrial Revolution, nutrition was entirely dependent on the harvests of a single year. It is therefore of little surprise that roughly 25% of infants died within their first year of life.
Scientists may maintain that "breast is best." But those with more pastoral fantasies of how to solve this supply chain crisis ought to remember that in the era without the option of baby formula, a hell of a lot more babies died. It's hardly progressive to yearn for the days of dramatically higher infant mortality, even going back only to the 1980s, just for the ideological satisfaction of having more babies not use formula.
Even on a smaller time scale, very significant improvements since my birth in 1981. pic.twitter.com/kJXZbgGSPG— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) May 13, 2022
Whatever the problems with producing or importing formula, the "just breastfeed" camp exposes an even bigger moral failure. Women are not "birthing people" valuable for the utility of their breast milk — or at least they shouldn't be. Formula may not be ideal, but it is a feat of science (remember The Science?) that allows mothers to choose how to feed their own children.
Thomas More said only "death or sickness" should dissuade a woman from breastfeeding. Evidently, he would be right at home on Twitter today! What does it say if the people on your social media platform have a 16th-century understanding of science?