I remember those breast feeding days like yesterday. It was hard! Sometimes really hard! And this debate of breastfeeding is continuing, and in all honesty, sometimes getting really cruel and nasty. In a world & society where we are meant to feel ‘united’ & ‘equal’, in many respects I feel we are not. Today, we have Judy sharing her light on this topic. Judy is mother to five unique little people who bring sunshine, laughter and the occasional meltdown (usually theirs) into her daily existence. She is a writer and runs her own boutique copy writing business, in between school runs, loads of laundry, cooking and homework. Judy thinks that mothers are often their own harshest critics. She would like to help them learn to trust their instincts more and worry less about what other people think.
You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I’m talking about bottle feeding formula to your baby. Those friends of mine who exclusively bottle feed, whether through choice or due to circumstances beyond their control, often complain that they are made by society to feel guilty for not breastfeeding. They tell me that the ‘breast is best’ brigade are militant and uncompromising, giving no thought to the feelings of the mother, prioritising the baby at all costs.
Perhaps in response to this, I’ve recently seen a spate of articles celebrating formula feeding. This is all well and good. I support public debate and freedom of expression, and certainly these days the internet and social media give us plenty of opportunity to read a diverse range of world views.
But there seems to me to be an element of dishonesty in both sides of the argument.
Some breast feeders have been over-promising what the powers of mothers’ milk can do for a baby, claiming that it protects against illness, obesity and allergies and even increases intelligence, not just in infancy but into adulthood. Meanwhile, the formula feeders somehow feel the need to knock breast feeding in justifying their stance. I’m talking about headlines such as I’m glad to be done breastfeeding and Breast milk is ‘no better for a baby than bottled milk’ – and it INCREASES the risk of asthma, expert claims.
Take this lastarticle, for example. Once you start reading, it becomes clear that the headline is misleading and biased. Though the scientific study being reported disproves many of the other claims sometimes made in support of breast feeding, it does in fact conclude that breast feeding is beneficial to young babies. Rather than saying that breast feeding is no better than bottled milk, as screamed out by the headline, the doctor heading up the study is quoted as saying‘I’m not saying breastfeeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns.’ Well, which is it? And as for whether breast feeding INCREASES the risk of asthma, the article actually ends by saying – this could be because the data relied on whether people said they had asthma, rather than whether they had been formally diagnosed with the condition. How does this make it into the headline then, as if it’s the crux of the study’s findings?
I’ll admit that I haven’t read the study myself. But neither will most of the article’s readers. That’s exactly why the journalist needs to be more responsible in her reporting.
You may be wondering what credentials I have to be weighing in on this topic. Well, as a writer I am keenly aware of the power of words, and I’m careful not to mislead my readers. This type of journalism is sensationalistic and irresponsible, written to grab attention rather than inform. What of the woman who can’t afford formula and was happily breast feeding, content in her belief that this is all her baby needs…. until she read this headline…. She now feels confused and guilty for not giving her baby the very best on offer, like the latest gadget or the hippest brands of clothing.
I am also a mother of 5 children aged 1 to 13. I have breast fed them all. I have formula fed them all. I do fervently believe that breast is best and will not be convinced by any scientific study in the world that the milk that my body produces naturally for my babies, a ‘formula’ that has sustained babies for thousands of generations, is inferior to a man-made formula.
I know that as a working mother, especially as my family grew and I had more than one child to look after, and at times when I was ill or my breasts sore, formula saved my sanity and did an excellent job of meeting my babies’ nutritional needs. But, I’d need a good reason to only give formula – after all I wouldn’t rely exclusively on vitamin pills and satisfy myself that this synthetic substitute could do me the same good as fresh fruit and veg.
I admit that I do bristle when I hear a mother saying that she can’t be bothered to breast feed – let’s be honest there are some women out there who feel this way. To me it’s a shame that she has such a negative view of it. After all, when it works it can be a beautiful experience for mother and baby and I always found it more convenient when out and about than worrying about sterilised bottles and boiled water…. What’s more, it’s free and it’s natural.
However, we are all people in our own right, before and after we become parents. What’s important is that we have the right information, objective and not biased by any agenda. That we encourage debate but put a premium on honest reporting of the facts. That we set realistic expectations for ourselves and none at all for others. That we support each other with understanding and without judgment.
Parents are under enough pressure from our modern day, materialistic, consumerist lives. Let’s leave breast feeding out of it. It’s time we stopped stigmatising and laying on the emotional blackmail. Mothers who breast feed and parents who bottle feed both deserve a break.