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.
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