Sunday, 29 August 2010

Breast is Best: the backlash

You're probably aware of the NHS slogan "Breast is Best", and perhaps also the recent media attention suggesting that it's actually having the opposite effect on new mums by suggesting that breast is not the norm. I've been experiencing another unwanted side effect...

I've written before about Baby Cafe, a lunchtime session at my local Sure Start centre where mums can chat and get support while feeding. From the start I've noticed that the formula feeding mums tended to stick together and reassure each other that it is OK not to be breastfeeding. I'm guessing this has something to do with the way that "Breast is Best" is pushed by the NHS during pregnancy, and also that much of the feeding support offered to new mums is focussed on breastfeeding. It's obviously very easy to end up feeling like a failure when being told "at least you tried" and no new mum needs that on top of the other anxieties.

There's always been a mixture of breastfeeding and formula feeding, but I'm finding myself increasingly in the minority as mums are switching over to formula. I'm actually beginning to feel ostracised, as if the fact that I am breastfeeding is somehow an unwelcome reminder that there is an option other than formula. This week I was chatting to another breastfeeding mum (the only other one in the room) about the rights she had when returning to work as a breastfeeding mum. Someone commented "surely you won't still be feeding her when you go back?" to which I answered without thinking: the more I think and read about formula, the less I want to give it to my daughter. You could almost hear the tumbleweed. I heard myself reassure the rest of the group that I respected every mother's decision to decide how to feed their child, but formula just wasn't for me.

I resent this. I'm actually going to retract that statement. I respect all the mothers who have been unable to breastfeed for medical reasons: milk not coming in; medication making their milk unsuitable; babies or mothers too unwell to feed. I sympathise with all the mothers that were not given the necessary support to make breastfeeding work; also those who were pressured into using formula by well meaning relatives. I really don't respect those that simply decided not to give breastfeeding a go; those that did it for a month but decided it was only fair that they got their lives back. When I made the decision to have a child, I committed myself to bringing that child up as best I could, and part of that commitment was to keep that child as healthy as possible: fresh air, exercise and a healthy diet. Why on earth would I choose to use a commercially synthesised version of the perfect food provided by mother nature? Why would any mother? I simply don't understand, I'm done with pretending to agree that it doesn't matter and I don't apologise for it.

Image: healingdream /


  1. I agree with you. I accept that it's a personal choice but I just don't understand it when someone goes straight to formula without ever trying to breastfeed.
    I had Tiddler last summer and I wasn't advised one way or another about feeding. I was just asked what I thought I might do and that was the end of it. Even though he's my 3rd breastfed baby I still had some problems in getting him to latch on but we just persevered and got there in the end.
    When I had Nipper four years ago one of the midwives at the hospital told me they weren't allowed to suggest that you try formula. My milk hadn't come in by day 3 and Nipper was screaming with hunger despite being on the boob almost permanently. In spite of her instruction not to mention formula we had a quiet chat and decided to keep Nipper on the boob still but to try him with a bottle of formula at night to see if he would settle and I could sleep. It worked like a charm and you should have seen his happy little face now that he had a full tummy. My milk came in on day 5 and we gave up on the bottles (the mixture of breast and formula then started to give him colic).
    Tiddler was exclusively breastfed till he could have cows milk at a year. I did get a few glances when I was feeding such a big lad in public but who cares!

  2. This woman who befriended me in the school playground once screwed up her face at me when i sat feeding my baby in her living room. "Oh I never did the booby ting,"she said, and then shivered.

    Let's just say our little coffee mornings didn't really take off from there.

  3. That should have read "Booby THING"- she wasn't from the Caribbean!


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