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.