Breastfeeding: France’s apathy , USA’s pressure and UNICEF’s misleading data

Formula vs breast milk. I have decided to write about it as soon as I witnessed the stress women were facing with today’s society view on breastfeeding.

I was a breastfed baby, and always heard positive talks about it from my mother. This pretty much summarizes my knowledge on the subject. Besides my mother, none of the mothers in my family breastfed. By choice. Because in France, we are not ashamed nor pressured to say “I do not want to breastfeed my baby”. No judgement whatsoever. On the other hand: the USA. The country is well known for having a strong opinion about it. It is a public opinion often broadcast on TV-shows and movies.

Personally, I felt like giving it a try. I educated myself on the subject towards the end of my pregnancy. I didn’t want to pressure myself by reading tons of potentially scary stories. I wanted it to come naturally.  And it did. I loved it.

But, the more I nursed my daughter, the more pressure I felt from the outside (among Americans). For personal/medical reasons, I had to feed my baby half breast milk/half formula.  I sometimes felt embarrassed talking about it. I would here: “do you still give her formula?”. Well, you know… my baby has to eat at some point so…Yes I still feed her with formula. I felt like I had to justify myself for it.

Long story short. It was clear to me that the two countries were not on the same page. Pamela Druckerman (author of Bringing up bébé) confirmed my first impression: “French mothers barely breastfeed. About 63 percent of French mothers do some breastfeeding. A bit more than half are still nursing when they leave the maternity hospital, and most abandon it altogether soon after that. Long-term nursing is extremely rare. In the United States, 74 percent of mothers do at least some breastfeeding, and a third are still nursing exclusively at four months.”

She is an American in Paris, I am a French in Boston. We had the same feeling.

Until I decided to do some research to understand what was really happening. And here are the numbers from governmental sources:

Ever breastfed 3 months 6 months 12 months
USA (2014) 79.2% 40.7 (exclusively breastfed) 18% (exclusively breastfed) 26.7%
France (2013) 74% 40% 23% 9%


I can definitely explain why so few French moms nurse when baby gets to one year old. They feel like having their body back. As women and wives. Also, for baby to get his/her independence. Actually some children specialists defend that a baby should not breastfeed anymore once he/she has teeth. I totally get it if you are having a hard time understanding this part. It is a bit of a cultural shock here.

There is not much of a difference between France and USA numbers. Not as much as I was expecting.

I saw so many women publicly nurse in the States, so few in France (though, the French are known for topless beaches, aren’t they?…) . I witnessed so many American women crying for having trouble nursing, when in France you simply transfer to formula without asking yourself any questions.

The society’s behavior regarding breastfeeding in the US, does not match the numbers at all.


My guess is: society pressure. And this is not good.

There is a breastfeeding lobby driving new moms nuts in the United States. Yes, nursing is good. Yes it’s better than formula (yet formula can be helpful and preferable in some cases). But, is it really worth hours of crying? Endless nights thinking about it? Anxiety state and deep guilty feelings?

I came across articles with appealing titles like “Exclusive breastfeeding can save 1.5 million children from death annually”. True. EXCEPT for one detail: This statement applies to Nigeria and other countries in Africa.

What bothered me is that there is no way to find out who this statement is referring to. It is not mentioned in any of the articles, not even on WHO or UNICEF’s website. I had to dig into african media to find out. Why do they hide it? 


I went through UNICEF breastfeeding advocacy report and opposed their statements with their sources’ statements. What you are about to read may surprise you:


UNICEF statements

UNICEF’s sources statements


Early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life could significantly reduce neonatal mortality. Study/References: Ghana, Nepal, India. Without any location and study context, UNICEF’s statement does not make any sense and fool the reader.
Even in populations with low infant mortality, there are health risks associated with not breastfeeding including acute ear infections,… No way to access the source: publication not public. Really wish all their sources were open to public.
…respiratory and gastrointestinal infections,… No way to access the source: publication not public.
…asthma,… The prevalence of asthma was 6.3%; and wheeze, 23.9%. Almost half of the children (44.0%) were breastfed for less than 2 months. After adjustment for smoking, low birth weight, low maternal education, and sex, a duration of breastfeeding for 9 months or less was found to be a risk factor for asthma It should be specified that asthma can be “caused by both hereditary (inherited) and environmental factors. Just because you have a parent with asthma (or an allergy) doesn’t mean you’ll have it too. But you might inherit the tendency to develop asthma

Which was not taken into consideration in the study.

…type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity. Our conclusion is that the meta-analysis of higher-quality studies suggests a small reduction, of about 10%, in the prevalence of overweight or obesity in children exposed to longer durations of breastfeeding. Nevertheless, it is not possible to completely rule out residual confounding because in most study settings breastfeeding duration was higher in families where the parents were more educated and had higher income levels. Certifying such data when the source is unsure is data manipulation.


Far from me the idea to proof that breastfeeding is not best. Once again we all know it, it is good and best for babies.

What I want to point out is this insane pressure on women’s shoulders to breastfeed.

Are unclear/manipulated statements really meant to help women?  Making them believe their babies may die or have health conditions if not breastfed.

This is our right to choose. And some do not have the choice. There are new mothers that cannot nurse for medical reasons. What do they think when reading this UNICEF report?

I did breastfeed, I loved it. I weaned off when my daughter was three months of age. BY CHOICE. And I do not have to justify myself nor feel guilty for it. She is a healthy and happy baby. I am a happy (healthy) mother.

If you choose to breastfeed it is wonderful. If for any reason you decide to go with formula, that is fine too. Here is an interesting article that will make you feel confident about your choice. Don’t let society and lobby dictate your feelings. Either way you are a great mother.



5 thoughts on “Breastfeeding: France’s apathy , USA’s pressure and UNICEF’s misleading data

  1. Thank you for sharing this! My milk never came in; but I also didn’t kill myself trying and gave up fairly quickly. I was lucky enough to have a pediatrician who believes it’s better to have a happy mama with a bottle fed baby than go crazy trying to breastfeed. I’m unapologetic about following my gut on this one, even though I definitely get some looks from “mom bullies.” Thank you for reinforcing my choice! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Morgan and E, I felt the exact same way as most American new mom’s….Stressed, as far as breastfeeding goes. I really wanted it to work out for me, and it half did and half didn’t. I tried, Beia would not latch, my milk supply was very low because of it and I decided to exclusively pump for 2 months. And that nearly killed me (not literally of course, but mentally definitely!!) Thank you for sharing the information E!!


      • Thank you for sharing Stacy ! I love how this is speaking to you ladies. I was kind of scared having bad feedbacks from strong breastfeeding advocates. xoxo, E


  2. I want to correct some of your data for France. Your figures describe total breastfeeding and not exclusive breastfeeding. For comparison, rate of predominant breastfeeding in France was around 20% at 3 months and less than 10% at 6 in 2011, so it was much less that what you announce


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