Bette Midler sparked outrage on Friday by responding to the nationwide shortage of baby formula with the message: ‘TRY BREASTFEEEDING! It’s free and available on demand.’
Midler, 76, was immediately met with a wall of criticism from figures as diverse as Stephen Miller, Donald Trump’s hardline speechwriter, and John Oliver’s executive producer.
Nationwide, supplies of baby formula are at 43 percent, with some states such as Tennessee, Delaware and Texas reporting that their ‘out of stock level’ is running as high as 54 percent.
The problem was spurred by a February shutdown of one of America’s largest baby formula producers, in Michigan, after the facility was found to be contaminated and two babies died after consuming the products – although the factory insists the bacteria in their factory did not contribute to the infants’ death.
The shutdown exacerbated shortages and supply chain issues already caused by the pandemic. And it highlighted the strong monopoly of baby formula, with 98 percent produced within the United States, and three companies controlling over 90 percent of the supply. Many products from Europe cannot be imported, despite being produced to a higher standard in many ingredients, because they do not have the FDA-required labelling on the packaging.
Bette Midler, 76, is seen in December at the Kennedy Center Honors. On Friday she sparked anger by saying the baby formula shortage could be averted if women breastfed their babies, as many pointed out it was not a simple solution
In response to Midler’s tweet, many pointed out that a significant percentage of women are unable to breastfeed, despite their best attempts – one lactation consultant and author, Diana Cassar-Uhl, put the figure at 12-15 percent of all mothers.
Others noted that some babies have specific dietary conditions, and do not respond well to breastmilk.
Others still pointed out that tens of thousands of babies are adopted, and others born via surrogates.
And gay fathers – a large contingent of Midler’s classic fan base – were also angered by Midler’s remark.
Shelves are pictured empty of baby formula in New York City on Friday
Tim Carvell, the executive producer of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, tweeted: ‘Imagine having a large gay fanbase, many of whom are raising kids in two-dad households, and thinking this is a good suggestion.’
Miller, the staunchly loyal Trump aide, tweeted in response to Midler: ‘What a profoundly offensive & ignorant statement.
‘There are countless reasons why breastfeeding is not an option for many mothers—too many to get into here. And if you’ve been using formula you can’t just flip a switch. Not to mention millions of babies with milk/food allergies…’
Ilyse Hogue, president of the progressive social change campaign, Purpose, tweeted: ‘Bette, respectfully, this is a very bad take. I had twins. I didn’t produce enough milk for both. Without formula, I would have had to have chosen which one got to eat. To say nothing of kids that get separated from the birth mothers very young.’
One replied: ‘I love you Bette, but this is not okay. I fought to breastfeed my son, he kept losing weight, despite my best efforts, including lactation experts.
‘It was emotional and heartbroken I felt like a failure and at 3 months switched to formula, because of the stress it put on me and my son.’
Another joked: ‘No biggie, Bette says just get a wet nurse! (Never mind they charge $1000+ per week and that’s something working families cannot afford, especially in a time where EVERYTHING costs more.)’
Midler, however, doubled down.
‘People are piling on because of former tweet,’ she said.
‘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’
She also said she had confidence in President Joe Biden to find a solution.
Elise Stefanik, the Republican House conference chair, tweeted that Biden ‘has NO PLAN.’
In response, Midler then retweeted a comment from podcast host Brian Tyler Cohen.
‘Aside from the fact that you want to starve babies and accuse anyone who disagrees with you of being a pedophile, Joe Biden actually DOES have a plan,’ said Cohen.
‘It’s right here. You are lying.’
He attached a link to the White House’s factsheet from Thursday, detailing the steps they were taking to get the problem under control.