There has been much furore this week over the Guardian article Breastfeeding is creepy, says parenting magazine in it's discussion of Kathryn Blundell's editorial in (of all places) Mother and Baby Magazine entitled I Formula Fed - So What? Not least because in an age where health professionals and hospitals are striving to win "Breastfeeding Friendly" accreditation this personal rant comes in a respected magazine aimed at the mass mothering market, and in Breastfeeding Awareness Week for maximum impact.
As discussed eloquently here my gripe is that once again the myths surrounding breastfeeding are clouding the real issue here and precipitating the age old breast v bottle debate. Breastfeeding does NOT make your breasts sag, pregnancy does and even if it did surely that is the reason women have them in the first place? Whilst we persist to deliberate over the either/or decision we lose sight of the salient fact, that breastfeeding is what nature intended, what is without any doubt is best for all babies unless there are other issues present which alter this.
Now before everyone jumps down my throat, I'm not a "breastfeeding nazi", and I recognise the role formula feeding has in modern society. I only breastfed my eldest for six weeks due to poor advice and his severe reflux and the prospect of returning to full-time work after a mere twelve weeks post delivery. (The latter a statutory requirement then.) It was the right decision for us then, I challenge anyone to say otherwise. I did have several "friends" in the NCT then who would indeed qualify for the above status and wrote an article "When Breast Isn't Best" for their magazine - which to their credit they published.
But, and this is the key point in my eyes, I assumed breastfeeding was the norm, what I intended to do and gave it my best shot. (With better advice and in different circumstances i might have succeeded too.) Never did I assume I would bottle feed my baby and no threats of sagging breasts of lack of alcohol would have persuaded me otherwise.
Over the years I have known many mothers who needed to bottle feed - due to maternal medication, ill health both physical and mental, ridiculous working hours, and infant health issues like the dreaded Reflux which all my children have suffered with. Formula feeding when appropriate should then be embraced as a modern miracle, a way of safely feeding a precious baby who centuries ago in some of these circumstances would have perished.
But as a first choice with no major influencing factors?
The myths are bad enough - when our twins were tiny and failing to thrive the number of doctors who genuinely believed that formula feeding was the way to go concerned me, not least because they were ignorant of the possible benefits and were therefore unable to make a balanced decision. (They were more concerned with measuring formula and weighing babies like those who recommended a family friend express then bottle feed her premature baby to ensure she received enough milk. I mean, seriously, can you not tell when a baby is or is not thriving?) The sad fact with our twins and many others with reflux is that it is all too often exacerbated or even caused by food allergies and intolerances, and a diet of only breastmilk until six months of age as recommended by the World Health Organisation is one of the very best ways to try and reduce the chances of a baby developing such issues. My youngest son was fed a top-up of formula in hospital and that single exposure precipitated a severe dairy allergy which might have been avoided. Yet despite being armed with as much factual information as possible I was still viewed as extremist and eccentric by the health professionals caring for my babies!
What I am trying to get across here is that viewing what nature intended, what is best in every way for a baby in normal circumstances and is supported by the international health community as eccentric really should shock! We as a nation would never accept removing all newborn puppies from their mother and choosing to bottle feed them cat milk as an equal option to their mother's milk and neither should we have this view for humans!
Until we in the UK start embracing breastfeeding as the norm rather than one of two equal choices, with totally acceptable alternatives when the need really does arise which are respected and supported then we are still going to have some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. The language of breastfeeding of breastfeeding needs to change.
Kathryn Blundell's rant in Mother and Baby magazine endorses myth and misunderstanding, playing into the hands of the "have it all" brigade. It marginalises the campaign to promote breastfeeding as a ram-it-down-your-throat propaganda attempt (no pun intended!) rather than a drive to inform and promote understanding.