Breastfeeding and the Breastapo

September 8, 2010 § 8 Comments

Inspired by a post I read on MumsRock today, I thought I would share with you an article I wrote some time ago, published on Helium.com

I would like to point out that I breastfed both of my children for a total of 17 months, not because I want praise for it, but just to show that a balanced view of breast and bottle feeding can be offered by a bf er!

Anyway, hope you like the perspective offered, and the mums featured are REAL MUMS who contacted me through Netmums.

Sam

When ‘Breast is Best’ became ‘Bottles are Bad’

The Breast is Best campaign has been more and more successful over the past few years. Latest figures show that approximately two thirds of all women attempt breastfeeding, an increase of 7% since 2000. With the passing of new legislation in Scotland, and the new anti-discriminatory Bill in Parliament in England, it is also a topic very much at the forefront of people’s minds. But what happens when breast might not be best?

For some women, breastfeeding is either impossible, or ill advised. Some women genuinely do not produce enough milk to satisfy their child, but unknowingly put their child at risk from dehydration as they are too ashamed to try formula. Nina recalls how she continued breastfeeding despite initial problems, “I went along to all my midwife appointments and she did not seem to be regaining her birth weight, she was losing weight”. Nina was fortunate to find a sympathetic GP who diagnosed malnutrition and advised Nina to top up her baby’s feeds with formula, “I know that people judged me for giving her bottle milk in public,” she says, “but I didn’t care as they did not know what we had been through.”

Elsa recalls how she persevered with breastfeeding her daughter, despite the fact that she was failing to thrive and was suffering from allergic rashes and eczema, on the advice from her medical personnel who she felt shielded themselves behind WHO recommendations. It was only when weaning her daughter, when she went into anaphylactic shock when given egg that she realised that she had been poisoning her daughter through the breast milk for months. “In my case, it definitely wasn’t best for baby”, she remembers. She agrees with supporting breastfeeding in principle, but adds, “there is a marked difference between promotion and propaganda”

Most formula feeding mothers constantly feel the need to justify their decision. Many mothers will feel obliged to explain the particular circumstances that led to their decision not to breastfeed, rather than feeling permitted to make their own choice.

Laura, who chose to bottle feed her second child following a traumatic experience with her first still feels uncomfortable when feeding her child in public, feels people are watching and judging her without knowing her story. “The feeling you have from not feeding your baby yourself and everyone looking down on you, it’s horrid, feels like you’re not a proper Mum, and I feel very embarrassed saying I’m bottle feeding her.”

Most mothers have only their child’s best interests at heart, and those who choose to bottlefeed should be allowed to make their choice, without fear of reprimand from ‘smug mammaries’. “I know a Mum who breastfed for 13 months, yet now her son eats a lot of unhealthy food” adds Laura “surely that has more effect than being breast/formula fed?”

Indeed, there can be a positive side to formula feeding. Gina was unable to breastfeed following surgery and thinks that, as an alternative, there are benefits to formula feeding, “I’m well rested and share feeding with my husband, so he’s bonded really well”. She also relates to the negative reactions described, “It just makes me so angry that people presume the worst of you because you aren’t breastfeeding your baby-just look at my baby-you couldn’t say I’m not doing right by him.”

There are some mothers who will choose to bottle feed instead of even trying breastfeeding, but they have made this decision in full possession of the facts, and it is their choice to make. Once someone has made the decision to bottle feed, it would be very difficult if not impossible for them to reverse that decision, meaning anti-formula comments, even when made with the best of intentions, are more likely to cause harm in feeling guilty, than do any good.

The first few weeks and months (years?!) with a new baby are difficult enough without the added pressure of feeling lambasted for your choices. Surely a bottle fed baby with a coping mother is better off than one breastfed by someone at the end of her tether, the added pressures of breastfeeding and lack of sleep just adding to the burden.

To Boob or not to Boob, that is the question, and one to which there can be only one answer. That answer is the one that is right for whoever is asking the question and not the perceived, current or fashionable right answer. Surely we are able to trust a mother to make her own choice, and to allow her to have done so without fear of recrimination. Indeed, for every choice made by a mother, be it breastfeeding, disposable nappies or nursery, there is always going to be an opposite viewpoint, but that is not to say which is right or wrong. Live and let live.

NOTE: As an update, I recently read this post about how hard breastfeeding can be. I hope this post also helps people realise that if they find it hard, that’s because it is. And if the right thing to do for her and her baby is to stop, then she should be supported in that decision too. s

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§ 8 Responses to Breastfeeding and the Breastapo

  • Live and let live. I totally agree.
    I had a lot of problems breastfeeding my first child – mainly caused by a c-section. When I said “this doesn’t seem to be working” I was told “you’re doing fine”. It would have been much more helpful to have been warned that milk can come in up to a week late after a c-section than to have discovered this myself while trying to latch on a screaming, starving baby at 2am (when also recovering from surgery and after I’d got home). After that I persisted until 6 months, but only because I’m very stubborn!
    With my second child I gave up at 10 weeks. He’d stopped growing at 4 weeks due to a severe milk intolerance because dairy was coming through my breastmilk, plus he had raging eczema. After 3 days on hypoallegenic formula he’d put on almost a pound in weight and the eczema was much improved.
    I think that what annoys me most is the blind belief that breast is ALWAYS best and everything is fine, honest. Clearly in my case it wasn’t, for very good medical reasons. Luckily I had a fantastic paediatric dietician to support me.
    I’m not against breastfeeding, and in general I think it’s for the best, but when it’s unfair to assume a bottle feeding mum is somehow lazy or selfish. And it’s certainly not the way to encourage more women to breastfeed. Is there any wonder we’re starting to see a backlash against breastfeeding?

  • Natalie says:

    Another great read on the subject. I breastfed both of mine for 8 and 10 months respectively and in that time I have seen examples of what you refer to in the post and what Helen states in her comment. I don’t define myself on having a child and certainly don’t define myself based on breastfeeding or think that I’m better than anyone, but I know plenty of women that do behave in this way. When I used to go to my NCT group, the constant debate about breastfeeding v formula was nauseating and when one person said to a woman with her nipple near hanging off from mastitis that people who don’t breastfeed are failing their children, I realised that people like her are very blinded by their egos and the sense of validation they get from boobing their kids, even if the child isn’t thriving. That same person with mastitis went on to have PND as she felt like a total failure. It might help if the breastapo pissed off and stopped undermining the personal choices of women and being so blind. The treatment of Denise van Outen is disgusting. People have too much time on their hands and are sitting around waiting to judge women.

  • I’m wary of the “well, it didn’t do me any harm” argument as it’s usually anecdotal but seriously, 75% of babies in my generation (early 70s) were bottle fed. If it was that bad, surely we’d be seeing some effects by now? And formula must have been improved in the 35ish years since then? I feel almost irresponsible for even making that point, though!

  • Sam says:

    I really feel for celebrities like Denise Van Outen. I fed my two for 9 months & 14 months respectively (not out of any fervent beliefs, just becuase it worked for us and was less hassle). Despite this, however, I never felt compfortable ‘whipping them out’ in public, so would try and arrange my day, as much as I could, so I would be home for feeds. Breastfeeding in the UK is just not a naturally accepted thing. People stare, mums are asked to leave establishments and expected to go to the toilets or poky little Mother & Baby rooms to feed. Why else would there be so many products on the market designed to hide boobs & babies whilst feeding? However much the health professionals may push the Breast is Best message, until the intolerance/embarassment/stigma of breastfeeding in public is redressed then women will continue to feel uncomfortably under pressure. Add to this pressure the indigity of having paparazzi waiting to take a photo of your boobs in an uncompromising position, and I’m not surprised DVO wants to through in the towel. Celebrity mums have a really tough job – us mere mortals may have the wrath of our NCT group to contend with but they have the national press making judgements on their parenting choices. And it’s just plain wrong.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sam & Helen and Sam & Helen, sam thewlis. sam thewlis said: New Mumazing blog post (inspired by @helenlindop and @nataliemlue) on the #breastapo . Would love your comments :) http://bit.ly/ceLyFC [...]

  • This is such a difficult topic to reconcile myself on. It’s so hard. The short version in my mind is that Happy Mums = Happy Babies, whether they are bf or formula fed.

    The longer version is that I bf my babies for 1yr and 23 months repsectively. I’m guilty of having been a smug mummy sometimes with my feeding. I’m not proud of it, but figure it’s best to be honest. It’s all changed now though – my best friend is getting all sorts of dirty looks whilst out and about with her daughter who is formula fed. She would have loved to breast feed, but she’s got leukemia and can’t. She hates being looked at.

    I tried to say maybe people just think my Goddaughter is lovely to look at, cute etc, but when I was out with them last week, it wasn’t nice at all. I felt it. It was awful for her – in the M&S cafe…

    Surely women have enough pressure in their minds, the media, families and friends on everything else. Couldn’t we just have an amnesty on this one?

  • Rachael says:

    I think new mums get judged both for formula feeding AND for breastfeeding. It’s a lose lose situation. The only way it can be combatted is by the mother being confident in her decision and standing up for herself – but is there a worse time in her life to feel confident?

  • PippaD says:

    I really hate parents who force breastfeding on to people. Yes I breastfed both my children for extended periods (Baby Boy stopped after his 2nd birthday) but just because that was right for me doesn’t mean it is right for anyone else.

    I made my choice and people who bottle feed (like my sister) have made their choice and that should be the end of!

    Unfortunately as you and I both know it never is and never will be. Great post about it all though :)

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