‘Try breastfeeding!’: Bette Midler slammed for comments on formula shortage

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In this April 5, 2019, file photo Bette Midler attends Variety’s Power of Women: New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

(NEXSTAR) – Actress Bette Midler is facing backlash Friday after her response to a tweet discussing the ongoing baby formula shortage. The tweet was met with derision from many users, who say the sentiment is insensitive and also unrealistic.

In a tweet Thursday night, the Tony- and Emmy Award-winner wrote: “TRY BREASTFEEDING! It’s free and available on demand.”

One of those to reply was Dr. Daniel Summers, a Boston-area pediatrician and writer.

“Just in case all the other people in your replies don’t make the difference, this is a terrible, thoughtless and unhelpful take,” Summers responded. “Not every woman can breastfeed, no matter how much anyone says they can.”

Summers told Nexstar Friday that it’s very common for him to see new mothers who find nursing doesn’t work, and whose circumstances make it harder to work at it.

“… Saying breastfeeding is free means that no value is put on the mother’s time, because breastfeeding requires a great deal of time and effort. Some mothers do not have the resources necessary to give that time, in many cases because they need to bring home money to support their families and cannot dedicate the time to nursing.”

Dr. Daniel Summers, MD

Moreover, Summers says some women don’t produce milk at all. Additionally, new mothers could have other health issues and personal conflicts that make breastfeeding an unrealistic option.

A bit later Monday night, Midler added to the controversy, tweeting: “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.”

Summers says that while he’s never going to shortchange the value of breastmilk, he finds the idea that breastmilk is superior to formula is “supremely unhelpful.”

“It’s not a question of formula vs. breastmilk, it’s a question of formula vs. starving,” Summers added, saying many women may produce some breast milk but not enough to provide a sole source of nourishment.

For those women who worry their milk supply isn’t enough, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says as long as babies are being fed regularly (8-12 times per day), there’s likely no issue. For women who are struggling, Summers recommends working with a pediatrician to develop a feeding plan that works best. He also says lactation consultants can help.

Summers says women should never feel shamed or unsupported by anyone for choosing formula feeding, either in part or whole (hybrid breastmilk-formula regimens are common). He says if a women feels shamed by her doctor for choosing formula, “it’s a sign they need to look for a new pediatrician.”

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched its Fact Sheet: Helping Families Find Formula During the Infant Formula Shortage, which provides resources for families looking to find formula in their area. HHS says manufacturers have ramped up production by up to 50%.

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