I may get some stick for this post, but I can’t help myself. Last week was World Breastfeeding Week and I was pleased to see so many positive and lovely stories, pictures and videos about breastfeeding. It also seemed to bring out the formula feeders who were whining again about being left out, or felt they were being made to feel guilty for their choices.
Here’s the thing.
I believe the guilt is on you. It’s not coming from breastfeeding mothers, or breastfeeding advocates and lactation consultants. It’s your guilt you’re feeling each time breastfeeding is heralded. No-one is shaming you, making you feel bad on purpose. It’s a bit like when someone tells me how great they are at crafting with their kids, keeping the house clean, holding down a job and have a perfect relationship. I feel bad for not being Mary Poppins but then I realise it’s not their fault, the guilt is on me. Plus, Mary Poppins left the kids to it eventually and flew away, she’s not perfect. Except it doesn’t exist. Nobody’s perfect, least of all me. I may have breastfed my children, some longer than others, but I’m not good at a lot of other things about parenting. I do my best and I love them with a passion. I don’t believe for a second that breastfeeding elevates me to Supermum status, all consuming earth mother, lording it over you dirty bottle feeders giving poison to your babies.
You know breast is best, you get told it enough, yet you chose to or had to formula feed, and that’s OK. You’re OK. You’re a good mother, because if you didn’t feel guilty about something, then you wouldn’t care. Let us talk about our breastfeeding struggles, wins, share our brelfies and talk about how amazing it is. You can talk about how amazing other aspects are. Don’t project any guilt or shame on something I said.
We all do it differently. Whether you tried breastfeeding, or didn’t want to from the start, that’s your bag. From time to time I like to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding, or my breastfeeding journey. I know for a fact 98% of women will have enough milk (whether they believe it or not), it’s more about support and the right information to keep going. If I hadn’t had the support of friends and my local La Leche group this time, I may have stopped far sooner. What I don’t like, is any time I post about breastfeeding, or make a comment about it, I’m accused of making formula feeders feel guilty or shaming. Don’t project your feelings of guilt on me. I’m not out to make mums feel bad.
Fed is not best. Fed is a given. What’s the alternative to fed? Starve the baby? Of course fed is best, fed is the minimum we should be giving our babies. Formula definitely has it’s place, but it is not the best food for babies. Once a single formula feed has been given, the gut changes forever. It irks me every time I see that phrase when formula feeding mums get up in arms about breastfeeding. Any breastfeeding information is given in good faith, people just want women to be educated about their choices. Informed and well supported choice is best, what and how we feed our children matters, being educated and supported to make choices that are best for our families and free of bias that shouldn’t even be there is what matters. To say that fed is all that matters is doing families a huge disservice. At the end of the day, it’s still a choice, as is the diet we have. I know what’s healthy for me and what’s not, but I still reach for the crisps, wine and chocolate. I give my children sweets, fizzy drinks and aspartame, it’s my choice given the information I have.
That isn’t to say that families who don’t breastfeed are inferior, and parents who rely on formula through necessity or choice aren’t by default less loving or less competent, but the fact is, just like with many other food stuffs, other feeding methods are inferior. It’s difficult to quantify the differences but there’s no denying that differences are there.
Breastfeeding advocates in fact want all infant feeding choices to be discussed more honestly and more helpfully for all, and want formula feeding families to be supported in making informed choices that are truly best for them and not for anyone else, as is currently often the case.
The Huffington Post (and there were others of a similar vein) published a post with someone whingeing that world breastfeeding week should be ‘world infant feeding week’ because it celebrated something she couldn’t do. The responses where priceless!
“Oh dear god….. its about promoting breastfeeding, getting society to realise breastfeeding is natural and people shouldn’t be embarrassed to feed their baby in public! Its about getting support and encouragement to those who want to breastfeed.
It is not about slating those who don’t breastfeed but no way should it have its name changed.”
“I could not win an olympic medal but I still like to celebrate the achievement of athletes and raise awareness of the benefits of participating in sports.”
“You ask me how I would feel about “the whole world celebrating for a week something I couldn’t do?” – the same way I feel about gay pride month where all the LGBTQetc people celebrate their sexuality and it had absolutely nothing to do with me and so I have no need/right to pass comment….The reason there is a world bf week is because bf is scientifically the better option for feeding your child and statistically there is only 5% of women who give birth who physically/biologically cannot breast feed – so for all other mothers it is a choice. If you choose to feed your baby formula- that’s great. Your baby is fed. But you also come from a privileged society where access to clean water to be able to make formula is taken for granted. In 3rd world countries, bf is the only option. As a bf mum, knowing how much I had to battle in the early months with various problems to keep going, and how much I have to fight for my legal right to feed my baby in public, I will damn well have my week and do everything I can to promote breastfeeding over formula. The UK has the lowest bf rates in the developed world, that is a horrendous statistic and something we should be working to change. So, if you are a formula feeding mum, good for you. But let us have our week promoting the best feeding method for babies, as advised by the world health organisation and articles like this one don’t help.”
“This reminds me of when people say there should be a White History Week, or a Straight Pride…”
“Shall we rename talk like a pirate day to just talk day so as not to offend non pirates??? Formula feeding is second best, breastfeeding is best. Inconvenient but true. Not unfair. Not forcing it down anyone’s throats. Just a cold hard biological fact. Same as beef burgers are second best to steaks. Sort of the same and will both feed you but one is better.”
You get the gist. I agree with all of these statements. I felt bombarded with formula feeders exploding about feeling guilty rather than celebrating a week of awareness of breastfeeding. I know I should ignore it but it did affect me, hence this post.
My breastfeeding journey over 4 children (includes formula feeding)
When I had my first daughter, I breastfed exclusively for 4 months. At the beginning it was excruciatingly painful, but after 2 weeks it eased up. What didn’t was the frequency of feeds and the evening colic. I was her only source of nutrition and it was breaking me. She wouldn’t take a bottle so I could have a break. I wish I’d known then what I know now about giving breastfed babies a bottle. I was exhausted, suffering from PND and couldn’t see a way out. Eventually, we arranged for her to go to Grandma’s overnight, I needed to relax and sleep. At the same time, I saw the GP and they prescribed antidepressants. When she went to Grandma’s, she took the bottle, she had no choice. When she came back to us, I was so scared she’d never take a bottle again I carried on. I think I gave a couple more breastfeeds as I was so engorged but I never looked back. My mental health improved, probably a combination of giving up breastfeeding and the medication. It didn’t even occur to me to feel guilty at the time, I did what was right for me at the time. Looking back afterwards, I did wonder what I would have done had I sought out more breastfeeding support, but I felt like it was me, I couldn’t cope with it and the expectations it placed on me.
With my second I was so paranoid about him not taking a bottle that I exclusively fed for a few weeks and then introduced a bottle. He was no trouble, took to both, but after a while more bottles crept in and at 5 months our breastfeeding journey was over. My third child was the same. I didn’t feel guilty at the time at all, but later I wondered whether I should have stuck at it more. There was a niggling feeling that other mothers could do it, why couldn’t I?
When I was pregnant with Daniel, my 4th child, I was more determined to be ‘successful’ at breastfeeding. I had the support of friends and family, I sought out La Leche League, I really wanted to get past 6 months and possibly 12 months. Those first few months were hard, I won’t deny it. He was a clingy baby and I ended up wearing him in a sling most of the time. Evenings were difficult, he was like Amy in that respect. I did give him formula a couple of times in desperation, but it made no difference to how he behaved. I stuck at it, then at 5 months he turned a corner and was far less fussy, he started to eat solids at 6 months and we’re still going at 2yrs 7 months! Far longer than I thought I would, and the bond is amazing. He feeds twice a day now and still really enjoys it. It’s definitely for him and not me – if he wasn’t interested, I would have stopped long ago. I’m so proud of myself for sticking at it and it gives me and my son so much joy that I will not apologise for shouting it from the rooftops and wanting other families to benefit the way I have.
Support is so key when it comes to breastfeeding. A lot of women stop because of misguided expectations, or lack of confidence. Many had a bad start to it due to their or the baby’s birth recovery and couldn’t continue. Some get conflicting advice and information, and stop because they can’t find the right way. Some don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, or in front of family members – society has a lot to answer for in over sexualising breasts and women feeling uncomfortable about a natural process.
It’s a scientific fact that breastfeeding is better and geared towards our babies more than formula. It’s also been linked to fewer hospital admissions and higher IQ. All the world over. The benefits don’t stop after 6 months either. It’s also true that if you formula feed, the bond can be as strong, and the baby will most likely grow up fine. But you’re taking a risk.
If you’re pregnant and plan on breastfeeding, would you like to be a beta tester on my breastfeeding course? You get the course for free in return for some feedback. Just enter your details below and I’ll be in touch 🙂
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