Breast is best!

Breastfeeding improves children’s IQ

Breastfeeding prevents obesity

Formular Feeding mums are lazy

Formular Fed infants are more likely to develop illnesses

 

Is anyone else fed up with this? Occasionally I will come across a website that states this and more (I am not going to link to these websites as I don’t want to cause trouble with other bloggers and to be quite frank, I can do without the hassle of my blog being invaded by militant breastfeeding activists).

We all know that for the best start in life, breastfeeding is truly advantageous. There is no disputing this fact.

For some women, breastfeeding does not come easily. I breastfed my daughter for about 6 weeks. I never in that time felt that she was getting enough milk. Looking back, I realise that there was likely something wrong with the way she was latching on, but neither the midwives in hospital or the midwife who visited me after the birth were able to help me with that.

At that time we had no internet at home so I was unable to do what I would do now – google “breastfeeding problems” to search for information and advice.

It bothers me that when women do this they are just as likely to come across websites that say the above. Websites that make them feel even worse for not managing to breastfeed. Websites that tell them that they are damaging their children if they “give in” and reach for the milk bottle.

Websites that have pictures like this:

 

 

 

That sign was put up in a hospital in US. Can you imagine a woman with a three week old baby, struggling from lack of sleep, possibly suffering from PND and then reading that. Way to go, guys. Why not kick the woman while she is down?

Yes, we know that breastfeeding is the best way to feed a child but if the mother is struggling she needs support, not recriminations.

When I had my second child, I did not even attempt to breastfeed. I had “failed” with my daughter and so had little confidence in my ability to manage to breastfeed my son, but did have high hopes. A complicated birth, ending in a traumatic emergency caesarian, a truly awful cold and cough that left me worried about bursting my stitches, a bout of PND – all these conspired against me.

I was lucky. I got swift help for the PND and have never been the type of person to dwell on my failures (for want of a better word). I was fully aware of the fact that the mother’s well-being is just as important as the benefits of breastfeeding, and my paediatrician at the time was fully supportive and non-judgemental.

When I think back to the days spent weeping on the couch, my cabbage-covered breasts hot with mastitis, while my daughter fed for HOURS and never seemed to be satisfied, I know that I made the right decision. The relief I felt when I finally gave my daughter a bottle and she downed the lot, despite me having breastfed most of the afternoon, was immense. I have come to terms with it and do not feel that I failed my children in any way. They are healthy, confident children with no signs of obesity or low IQ.

 

 

Perhaps if I had found a website like FeedYourParenting I would however have been able to access the help to enable me to breastfeed my babies.

Clare writes about the difference between judgemental and non-judgemental advice. Consider the difference between these two statements:

 

“Breastfed children have higher IQ”

“There have been studies that revealed a slight but measurable increase in IQ when children were breastfed, but of course breastfeeding is only a part of that equation. And we are not talking about the difference between dropping out of school and going to Harvard”.

 

Why guilt mothers into thinking that if they had just persevered with breastfeeding their child would be more successful in life? Why guilt mothers into thinking that breastfeeding would have prevented their child from becoming obese, when there is so much more to it. And with the right information, they could learn how to reduce that risk.

Instead of “your baby will become obese”, Claire writes that she would say something along the lines of

 

Well, it’s true that babies are more at risk of obesity later on in life, but there’s a lot more to it than just breastfeeding. They think that one of the reasons could be that they learn more about how to regulate their own intake, because it’s easier to encourage a baby to just finish the last of the milk in the bottle and harder to bottle feed responsively, but it’s not impossible to do.

 

Perhaps it is easier to say, “You MUST breastfeed. It is the best thing for your baby for these reasons…” than to work with the woman to find out what exactly the problem is. None of the midwives who were assisting me did that. No one suggested I seek out a breastfeeding counsellor, despite the fact that my babies were born in Germany where they are very pro-breastfeeding.

It is important that the advice makes clear that these statistics are just that – statistics. You may be able to tweak your child’s health or intelligence by breastfeeding but you are not going to turn a healthy child into a disease ridden one, or a future doctor into a high school drop out just by formula feeding.

We need more breastfeeding counsellors like Clare, and more websites like FreeYour Parenting, where mothers (and fathers) and get good impartial advice.

 

 

21 Comments

 

  1. November 9, 2011  11:22 am by Clare Kirkpatrick Reply

    Thank you for this, MmeLindor. I also just wanted to add, and will do so to my post, that most women already want to breastfeed, regardless of the 'breast is best' message - why aren't we supporting those women more? If we did, then more women would be breastfeeding, which would create a more breastfeeding-friendly culture, which would mean more women breastfeeding without the need to guilt women into doing it.

  2. November 9, 2011  11:49 am by Christine Reply

    Thank you so much for a great post, that I can completely agree with. I wrote a post about my experience of breastfeeding and not breastfeeding as I have done both with each of my children only to have someone jump all over me about how bad bottlefeeding was, like it was going to do horrible things to my children if you dont breastfeed. Of course, breast is best but dont beat women up about it if they cant.

  3. November 9, 2011  11:49 am by TheRealMBJ Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly with Clare. As a trainee breast feeding counsellor I feel that the biggest failing to all mothers is the utter lack of support. Whether breast feeding or not. It is absolutely pointless to ram the 'benefits' down women's throats antenatallyand then leave them to their own devises after the birth, or worse still instead of helping and supporting their choice, ignore or minimise their fears and struggles.

    We need more breast feeding counsellors and better trained midwifes, health visitors and Gzps. And we need health care professionals to refer to acknowledge their lack of expertise and refer to those who can help.

    But we also need too be away from the judgemental attitudes we all have towards other mother's . Perhaps of we are happy and confident on the choices we have made and feel well supported in them, we will not feel the need to justify them by judging others?

    • November 9, 2011  11:53 am by mmelindor Reply

      Yes, support is vital, you are absolutely right about that. And the combination of not just bf counsellors and midwifes, but also GPs and Health Visitors being trained in how to help women access that support.

  4. November 9, 2011  12:51 pm by Ali Reply

    I was very lucky and managed to breastfeed both our DC with few problems but I hope I have never judged - and never would judge - women who choose not to, whatever the reason. I think most women to want to try breastfeeding but if it doesn't work out for them and their baby, then as long as the baby is getting nutrition, it doesn't matter whether it's from a breast or a bottle. I agree that support is vital - we had our children over 20 years ago and I remember getting help with latching on in hospital and the midwife visiting at home and checking it was all okay, but like I say, I was just lucky and both babies and I took to it fine.

  5. November 9, 2011  1:36 pm by Robyn/Tee Reply

    Great post.

    I was unable to breastfeed due to no milk. It does happen. And I did all the tips and tricks, wives tales and medicines. My milk just never came in.

    Most people are supportive of me with this. Some people just don't get why I didn't try harder. O_o

  6. November 9, 2011  5:38 pm by Little Me Reply

    Hear hear ! Some sites are awful - bullying, hectoring, and downright nasty. Have already ranted ad nauseum about this but I second that Clare's site is briliant, and that it is that kind of site which will make me maybe possibly think about trying again next time round.

    Others make me want to stick my fingers in my ears and go "blah blah blah".

    • November 9, 2011  9:50 pm by mmelindor Reply

      Yes, it is sad that the sites like that are actually counter productive, as women quickly close them down and struggle on alone.

  7. November 9, 2011  7:19 pm by Butterflyexperience Reply

    I agree more support and education is a needed.
    I think women should start with thus type if education in school.
    Ante-natal classes are not enough.
    There is so much more support and education women need around pregnancy, labour and post natal care.
    What we have is not enough

    • November 9, 2011  9:50 pm by mmelindor Reply

      That is an interesting thought. Yes, more education and support is key.

  8. November 9, 2011  9:10 pm by Caz Reply

    Great post mmelindor. I'm all for advocating doing what is best for you as a family. Sometimes breastfeeding isn't it.

    Breastfeeding is so emotive, and so often - even when they are managing to breastfeed, women can still be made to feel like they are doing it all wrong.

    After a rough start in I'm now breastfeeding Xander with the help of nipple shields. The first week was hellish, Xander wouldn't/couldn't latch on and screamed and fussed and both of us just got more and more in a state.

    I was so ready to call it a day, and yes he did have some formula when I all but lost the plot from trying so hard to feed him myself. Because as much as I want to breast feed I don't for a minute believe that formula will do our boy any harm at all either.

    I don't know where I got the idea but I decided to try with a nipple shield the next day and he was straight on me and guzzling away.

    Now instead of my MW being supportive that I had managed to find a way to keep him on the breast instead of going to formular, I was told shields were detrimental and that I needed to try and get him off them as soon as possible. I could've cried - X was a week old, I'd had a traumatic long labour ending in a c-section, iron levels through the floor and feeling very unwell, and so upset that he wasn't easily feeding off me. I thought the shields had helped him, but instead was made to feel like I'd done something wrong and not helped him at all.

    Apparently babies get 25% less milk with shields, they can hinder weight gain and the best comment "babies quickly get addicted to plastic"...

    X is almost 4 weeks old now and still mainly feeding with sheilds. He still struggles to latch on without, we keep trying but my nipples are quite flat it appears. The shields are working for us, he IS putting on weight and I'm trying to get over the plastic comment even if it is constantly playing on my mind.

    We've also started giving him one bottle of EBM each day because that is best for us as a family. It means I can get a good stretch of sleep between two feeds while my hubby gives him the middle feed late evening. Well rested Mummy, means a Mummy who can cope. Oh and further plastic addiction; he now has a dummy too.

    I'm not sure how long I will breastfeed for. I can't think as far ahead at exclusively for 6 months as the advice. Right now it is a day at a time. If we decide introducing formula is the right way for us as a family I hope we won't be made to feel guilty by health professionals. After all I was a formula fed baby, I'm neither obese or a educational drop out. How ridiculous.

    We will be celebrating Monday when he is a month old and we've managed to keep him on the boob, even with an aid of a shield for his first month.

    • November 9, 2011  9:49 pm by mmelindor Reply

      Thank you so much for your post. I cannot believe the insensitive comments of the midwife. Presumably she knows what you have been through, you would think that she would do everything in her power to help.

      Great to hear that he is doing well and I cannot believe that he is almost a month old already!

  9. November 9, 2011  9:45 pm by Fearless Formula Feeder Reply

    This is an incredibly astute post - and thank you for alerting me to FeedYourParenting - I had no idea about that site and it sounds incredible.

    I've spent the past 2.5 years fighting against this negative form of breastfeeding advocacy, and unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be changing. If anything, it seems to be getting worse, as this type of attitude now comes from govt. organizations and physician groups (as exemplified by that god-awful sign in the nursery. I still need to get some sort of letter-writing campaign together against that hospital...)rather than just bossy moms online.

    I'm not sure why the powers that be can't see that this approach ISN'T WORKING. Guilt-free breastfeeding advice, as you illustrate, would be so much more effective. And isn't the whole point to help moms achieve their breastfeeding goals, and to get as many babies receiving *some* breastmilk as possible?

    • November 9, 2011  9:51 pm by mmelindor Reply

      Thanks for posting. Yes, do have a look at FreeYourParenting, it is the best online resource for parenting advice I know.

  10. November 9, 2011  10:06 pm by AnnieGetYourGin Reply

    Great post Mmelindor. I struggled with my first one, gave up after my midwife shoved his screaming face on to my breast and said, there you go. I had no idea what I was doing and put him on a bottle, which of course he loved. I was a mess with some PND and remember squeezing my breast in the shower to see if there was any milk, and there was; that was a sad day for me. On my second baby 4 years on, I read a really good book and if it didn’t work this time it would not be because I didn’t know what I was doing. I did succeed but do sometimes wonder if my determination to feed my baby myself outweighed her need for more milk with an easier supply – like yours, she was on me constantly, weight issues and green poo (her not me), and the first time I felt the let-down was at 3 weeks! when a friend let me sleep for 20 mins and that gap was enough for me to feel it – it was great. I think the real problem is the lack of support – I went to a breastfeeding support group and one of the staff there suggested I lie down to feed my baby, because, of course, that’s really convenient, if you happen to have somewhere to lie down when your baby needs feeding. The “you should breastfeed” message is strong but there’s too little back up for the problems that arise. Pre birth, I attended a breastfeeding 'how to' session, in which we were told all the things you referred to. I couldn't quite believe they were talking about IQ and felt it was all wrong; after all they were talking to women who intended to breastfeed. Interestingly, I met an NHS worker recently who is working on supporting mums to bottle feed. Shh, don’t tell the breastfeeding police.

    • November 9, 2011  11:43 pm by mmelindor Reply

      Lack of sleep makes such a difference, and I heard later that constant breastfeeding means that your breasts have no time to "recharge".

  11. November 9, 2011  10:37 pm by Alex Reply

    Couldn't agree more. I had trouble with low milk supply both times. I was literally feeding 24/7 and the babies were still rapidly losing weight. The first time around when I started giving my daughter the top-ups that the doctor eventually told me were essential, a midwife informed me I was putting my child at risk of obesity, eating disorders and diabetes by giving her formula. Great pep talk for a first-time mother of a 3-week-old baby, recovering from an emergency c-section etc. I still can't believe how irresponsible she was.

    I also find all that research about IQ absurd. How can you possibly measure that accurately? Rates of breastfeeding vary wildly in different socio-economic groups – I believe in the UK, professional women in their 30s are the group most likely to breastfeed for the recommended length of time – so I don't see how it's possible to gauge the impact of breastfeeding over other factors that are likely to affect IQ. Of course breast is best but important to keep it in perspective, it is only one aspect of caring for a baby

    • November 9, 2011  11:45 pm by mmelindor Reply

      That is shocking, Alex. And so completely unhelpful.

      Yes, the research about the IQ is one thing that really irks me. How can they say that it is a great advantage when truly it means a very small increase - in theory.

  12. November 9, 2011  11:34 pm by The Foreigner Reply

    Ooooh lady, I have been DYING to write a post about this, but my rage may become too overwhelming and I might end up ticking too many people off. I think there is a MA-HOO-SIVE difference between encouraging mothers to try to bf because of some of the benefits and propaganda. Explanation: When I was pregnant I went to a breastfeeding workshop meant to help women prepare for what to expect and to give helpful tips. I instead got a woman who may as well been the checkout lady at the supermarket saying things to a room full of women like 'I breastfed my son and he didn't get sick until he was 11 years old' and other gems like that. I was enraged when I left. I am (clearly) quite strong-minded and felt that I'd give bf-ing a try, but if it didn't work, we'd just go to a bottle. I have been bf'ing The Duchess since she was born and thankfully we haven't had too many hiccups along the way (and at 5 months she is currently on her 2nd cold), but I'm sure there were women in that room who took what this lady was saying as Gospel truth and who would've been so down on themselves if they struggled. I had a friend who was riddled with guilt and repeatedly has said, 'I was starving my baby' because for whatever reason her body wasn't producing enough milk. I have had to remind her often that it wasn't her fault.

    All that to say, I feel like encouragement with options and support is a GREAT thing, but encouragement and especially propaganda without options just leads people down a dangerous path.

    • November 9, 2011  11:48 pm by mmelindor Reply

      I think that I am able to write about it now as my children are older so I have a bit of distance to the topic.

      The whole idea that breastfeeding protects from all manner of illnesses is daft. My children are (touch wood) generally incredibly healthy and rarely have a cold.

      Generally the problem with these debates is that they are all anecdote led. And no one can tell you when you have your baby if it is going to be clever or less clever, thin or obese, healthy or less healthy.

  13. November 10, 2011  9:28 am by TottWriter Reply

    Great post. I felt like a grub after having my son. I'd had all the "breast is Best" gubbins forced down my throat during pregnancy, and had been told throughout it all that I shouldn't breastfeed due to the medication that I take. I managed to wrangle permission to give him the colostrum and then wean him off, since he was exposed to my meds in utero anyway, but after that, nothing.

    I avoided some of the worst by being too young and transportless to attend more than one or two antenatal classes, but I received some fairly pants help in the post-natal ward. (Maybe because I was young and their default position was "she don't know shit") They made me feel like a grub once more, in their attitude when they made sure I could make up the bottle feeds for him and get him to drink from them.

    When I gave him his last breast"feed", I felt like a complete failure. When I encountered breastfeeding mothers later, I felt like a failure again. I'm sure this feeling contributed to my PND (which was, again, spectacularly undertreated).

    Fast forward to when I had my daughter. I had new doctors who said that it was safe to Bf, and I had a lot more experience under my belt (well, okay, a couple of years on MumsNet, but honestly, that counts for quite a bit in terms of eye-opening). I went into it knowing I *could* feed my daughter, and my MIL was on hand to help with moral support (she bf all her children; my family had story after story of nightmarish experiences before a switch to bottles).

    I got through the latching problems, and the associated pain on the advice of MNers, not my midwife, who was lovely but ultimately no help. "Yes, that looks okay" is not that reassuring when you are convinced that all is wrong and it hurts, and people have said that it "shouldn't hurt". Well, my MIL kept me going with reassurances that it was all fine, all normal, and the carton of milk in the cupboard ended up only being used when I was in hospital for dental surgery.

    Still, the breastfeeding group I went to once was stifled and uncomfortable. I didn't go back.

    The lack of guilt I felt the second time around had more to do with the fact I had stopped caring about the whole debate than the fact that I had done the "right" thing.

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