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What is behind this breastfeeding backlash ?

Firstly, to be totally clear about where I come from, I breastfed Toddler Girl for a year and I’ve recently qualified as a mother supporter (receiving back my marked course with its pass certificate was a ridiculously proud moment for me).

I’m disconcerted to have noticed over recent weeks an increasing trend in the media towards vilifying those who are pro-breastfeeding and their work in promoting support for women to breastfeed. It feels to me that all of the hard work to try and get breastfeeding back into the public psyche as normal way to feed a child is being undermined.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of a new mother – sleep deprived, in discomfort from the birth and finding that both you and your baby are having difficulties learning this new skill of breastfeeding. Instead of being given gentle support to help you get through this period of adjustment, instead you are force fed the message that by giving your baby formula all the problems will disappear and you will magically find yourself getting more sleep, perkier boobs and the freedom to live your pre-baby life.

The sources of this gentle but consistent message range from the so-called breastfeeding experts like Clare Byam-Cook, through a myriad of well meaning but under informed health visitors and through its drip fed message in the media the family and friends of new parents, including articles like one in Today’s Times asking what is the big deal about it all.

What is needed is not the popular view that formula is a magic wand that can solve all your problems but more support available for mothers. Support that can offer a comfortable sofa and plenty of cake but most of all experience and reassurance through the early difficult days, support that can help address problems and navigate the path of conflicting information mothers are bombarded with, support that has the experience of their own to say that even formula fed babies can wake all hours of day and night (and do, ask some of my friends) and that it doesn’t free you from the all consuming demands of your newborn but also support that can help the mothers that cannot breastfeed and can support them through that decision – that can bridge this horrible divide that has sprung up between mothers and is becoming a battlefield to mirror the working / stay at home parents divide.

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2 comments to What is behind this breastfeeding backlash ?

  • Clare

    >I’m not sure what’s behind it. I do think a bit of honesty about what breastfeeding is really like would help people feel more prepared though. All the posters you see in the clinics have it looking so easy and as if the only decision you have to make is to do it.

    This isn’t the case for many women, and when it turns out like this, they instantly assume something major is wrong. Growth spurts are never mentioned antenatally, and they can be a real shock to the system and lead new mums to assume they haven’t got enough milk. And the number of times I’ve heard people say their baby is ready for solids because they’ve suddenly started feeding loads and waking at night…

  • cartside

    >Yes, support is really important, and I also agree with Clare that there’s this easy peasy image painted antenatally and for so many (like me) they are shellshocked into the reality of it.

    I also have to say that I would not be so radically pro exclusive breastfeeding as I was. I felt horrific when offering the first formula feed at 12 weeks. I felt like I could not feed my baby and had failed at my natural purpose. Looking back, I also knew instinctively that my baby was hungry and insisting to feed her for 7 hours nonstop until cry for hunger became exhausted sleep was not right (neither was mummy having a nervous breakdown).

    Non of the support I got (though it helped me continue breastfeeding) ever took seriously my nagging feeling that I did not have enough milk, or the lack of weight gain while feeding hourly for a month, and a total of 12 hours a day for 5 1/2 months.

    I continued breastfeeding for 23 months because I was able to supplement occasionally, and I hate that I felt so extremely guilty about it. Support, yes, but also accepting that formula sometimes can really safe a new mum’s sanity. What I object to is the exclusivity of breast feeding when really things aren’t going so well. As if all health benefits are lost by just one bottle of formula a week.

    Of course, I don’t mean to say that breast feeding support should be vilified in the slightest. I did have good support which kept me going. As did the occasional bottle of formula.

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