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Can we have some breastfeeding reporting without the angst?

Is there a journalist out there able to report on breastfeeding without bringing their personal angst about formula feeding to bear?
Not only have we had to endure Cherry Healey ‘investigating’ whether breast is best but now we have Anna Maxted calling for protection against the breastapo.

In both cases, these women are taking their own experiences of breastfeeding, their own experiences of guilt and filtering the science and reality of breastfeeding through them.  In each case their personal view of normal and of breastfeeding is layered over, unconsciously distorting messages.  Unconsciously trying to justify their decision and to somehow mitigate the idea that there might be a nutritional difference between breastmilk and formula milk.

I accept that both of these women are having to deal with the consequences of how they feel for not having nursed their babies for as long as they might have wanted and they are not alone, 90% of UK mothers who stop breastfeeding in the first two weeks would have liked to have carried on for longer.  But instead of standing by their decision and, after all it was their decision, nobody locked them in a room to stop them breastfeeding, they are letting their own feelings impact on their ability to comment on recent research.

Why can we not get to a stage where we admit that breastfeeding is normal, but that bottle feeding is not wrong. 

Where we give mothers the information to enable them to make an informed decision, where we warn them that initially it will be incredibly hard but there are benefits to be reaped from persisting and that a bottle of formula may not be the magic wand that delivers a baby that sleeps through the night at 8 weeks. 

Where we provide the support to get through those early days, where we give women the tools to feel confident nursing both in the privacy of their own home but also in public.

Can we get to a stage where we report that bottle fed babies are more likely to have discipline problems than those who are breastfed rather than the other way around but also highlight the limitations of the study, the fact that given our limited breastfeeding population it may just be that societally those babies who were b-fed were going to be better behaved, or had mothers who were more understanding about the range of ‘good’ behaviour*.

Can we please get to a place where mothers who have chosen to bottle feed do so because its what works for them and because it is their informed choice and we don’t find ourselves in a place where we know that with the right support 99% of women can breastfeed but that where the majority of women don’t**.    

And where the mothers who formula feed don’t then rely on blaming medicine to try and disperse their own guilt because there will be no reason to feel guilty – if they have chosen to formula feed it is because it is right for them, not a choice forced on them by a misinformed medical professional or a society than still assumes babies feed on a schedule designed for calves** and that would mean that we could cut through the rubbish reporting in the press. 

We could all accept that the research says that there are benefits over and above bottle feeding of breastfeeding BUT that bottle feeding is still a good way to feed your baby and in any case there are wider issues which blur the research outcomes.

Or alternatively can we find some reporters who are happy with their decisions or who are long term breastfeeders to counter what we’re currently seeing in the media.

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The Friday Rant Club is a chance to get those niggles, those irritants, those things that make you want to throw a toddler-stylee tantrum off your chest before the weekend.

Go on, let it all out and if you feel like it there’s a rather nice little button over there on the right to show you’re a member.

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*When asked if my girls are good I have been known to rely on the flip reply given to me by a friend and to say ‘she hasn’t invaded Poland this week…’ 

**by 5 months only 3% of UK mothers are still breastfeeding

 ** Truby King wiki (admittedly he did coin the term breast is best as well)

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12 comments to Can we have some breastfeeding reporting without the angst?

  • Hear, hear. It would be nice to read something that wasn’t a knee jerk reaction of written through a haze of bitterness and misplaced guilt.

  • nikhk

    Oh dear God, yes. Yes please. My first thought when that report about behaviour came out was ‘great, another stick to beat FF mothers with, and another backlash against BF-ers in the post’.

    Support is so key and so vital. I have heard so many stories of women giving up BF for things that could easily have been corrected with the right support and information.

  • Great rant!

    I always find it surprising that women who formula feed for whatever reason say they are judged for doing so when they are in the vast majority of mothers.

    And that people talk about the breastapo when the reality is even most health professionals recommend switching to formula at the drop of a hat, even if they are sitting in a room with bfing promotional leaftlets and posters. And no wonder our bfing rates are so poor when women who seek help are given shockingly poor advice on bfing, even by health professionals who seem to receive a very small amount of training on such an important subject.

    I don’t understand why the press make bfing appear to be a militant choice when it’s a minority sport and is generally kept well under wraps. You have to work blooming hard to get good help on bfing.

    No one should be judged for how they feed their baby, just given helpful and accurate advice on how to achieve their preferred way of feeding.

  • I also don’t like that over here when they talk about breastfeeding, they always seem to have the extreme breastfeeders on, breastfeeding a five year old or something. I think everyone should breastfeed as long as they want, but it would be nice to sometimes see something in the middle, say someone who breastfeeds to a year or thereabouts, because I think it’s putting some people off being put into that camp, as if the choice is between bottle or many years of breastfeeding and being considered strange.

  • I agree with you totally, but to be honest I often wonder if BF would be an issue best not discussed at all by anyone in the media. Lets put a super-injunction on it.

    I’m not sure if I am joking or not.

    You see, all these discussions make me feel bad, they make me relive the horror of my decisions and of that time. I feel like a bad mother even though I know I did the best thing for myself and my kids. It’s one of those no-win situations, damned if you do, damned if you dont. Maybe it’s better not discussed. Discuss…

  • I too ‘know’ that breast is normal and is great- BUT there are so many exceptions. I had never even thought about bottle feeding- until my experience with preemie twins (which are just one example of where choice doesn’t play a part). Feeding two babies every 3 hours even through the night (taking up to an hour a time perhaps) doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that it is simply not doable. Some twin mums do it and hats off to them, some can feed simultaneously and hats off to them- but a lot can’t and a lot need more than an hour between feeds!- In addition to this (apart from needing the extra hands that bottle feeding facilitates) it is actually really helpful to know exactly how much a preemie baby has taken, so yeah in short bottle feeders do often feel guilty but I think Cherry did quite a good job of saying- we feel guilty because we are taught to know how great breast feeding is- which it absolutely is- but not every one has the luxury to choose it.

    I asked my mother (she breast fed me and my 3 siblings with one bottle a day for relatives to be able to participate)- I think her advice was pretty sound. Each person has to choose what works for them- but until the world lets formula feeders feel OK about doing it they are inevitably going to feel a little guilty about it.

  • Bumbling

    Guilty and clearly science-filtering response below – you have been warned 😉

    I see your point, I really do, and I wish I could read it without feeling the angst.

    The first two paragraphs – I’m there with you. The end of the third, not so much.

    Because I really do believe it wasn’t my choice. I *did* have support. It still didn’t happen. And like it or not, that’s how a lot of FF’ers feel. I can’t say whether than feeling is justified. But I maintain that in my case it was. I’m not going to defend my story here, because it would reinforce your argument. But I can only go on my experience, as can most of us who are not sufficiently scientifically immersed in this.

    I completely agree – breast is both best and normal. Am I so sure that in the western world formula is *so* poor a replacement? Not so much, but I’m willing to be proved wrong. But I don’t know enough about that study to agree that bottle fed children are more likely to have behavioural difficulties (as judged by their parents), because I haven’t been able to read the study, and analyse the various biases that could be there. I’m sure it has weight. I’m not sure how much.

    So anyway, I completely agree with the thrust of your post. But it does contain elements that I feel underestimate or undermine the difficulties many women face, and the effect it, and news stories and pieces like these have on them, and it is those kinds of elements which provoke the reaction you complain of in FFers like me (in essence, second half of para 3 as explained, para 5 which suggests that getting a baby to sleep through the night is why women choose to FF, and 8 & 9 as whilst I’m sure your stat is in some way true, I know from my personal experience, choice is a very difficult word to apply to the process that went on – it’s not a choice most would recognise as being made freely).

    I think also it’s worth saying that the stories you are complaining require balance, whilst I don’t necessarily agree with their tone, are response pieces to very positive BF news pieces in the first place. The people who wrote them, I’m assuming, felt that those news pieces required balance. And yes, that places scientific research up against personal experience. Something I’m sure we’re all uncomfortable with. But the evidence is there for all to see and to make their judgements upon. Which would you place most weight on? Me too.

    [sorry. I hate being a ranty FFer. I do genuinely believe that BF is both best and normal, and I hugely respect the work you do to promote and assist that. But I’m afraid I had to.]

  • My Mum finds it very strange that there is so much pressure on women to breastfeed, when she had me and my 5 siblings in the 50’s and 60’s it was considered very old fashioned and primitive to use anything other than formula! I did very happily BF my two for 12mths each but I know mums who have BF their children then proceeded to feed them junk food when they are weaned and formula feeders who are passionate about healthy eating for kids, just relax and enjoy those baby days whatever you do.

  • I so agree with you. On either side very few people read the actual research just the journalists opinions. I’ve read this paper and the thing it is saying is that BF effects on behaviour transcend the confounding variables of Age Education and wealth which are all statiscally higher in in mums who BF. However I don’t think anyone ever meant it as a stick. Large studies like this can and do affect funding decisions so if it can help direct resources to helping those who want to bf but can’t that can only be good

  • I will link to an article by a lovely journalist who chose to bf and is doing her best to support bfing. Annalia Barbieri who writes at The Guardian. Though these two articles are published by The Independent

  • I think there is a wider battle going on and it’s not about individuals but about motherhood as a whole. Numerous studies have indicated that breast feeding is better for babies than being bottle fed. Therefore one would hope that mothers would want to at least try it. For this to happen though the government and society have to ensure that information and support about bf is easily and freely available. We also have to ensure that it’s not seen as weird to bf your child in public. This will take role modelling from celebrities and women in your local Starbucks (a very bf friendly cafe chain btw). Sure formula is a viable option in cases where bf isn’t possible but we can’t say breast is best and then make it almost impossible due to lack of support for women to do it!
    (ps what is seen as worse that a formula feeding mother when it comes to stereotypes? The freaky mother who bfs her child past the ‘acceptable’ age. None of us can win!)

  • Excellent rant. I fed my first born to 7 months but had to give up during an illness due to extremely poor advice from one midwife (excuses coming out already) and currently feeding second born and no plan to stop as yet. I am just about to embark on a course to support new mums who want to breastfeed and I am helping to start a scheme where local businesses display bf friendly stickers to encourage new mums to feed out and about. I feel like this makes me sound like some kind of (L)activist and to say I feel guilty about breastfeeding when I speak to mums who tried but gave up is probably not the right word but I wish that both forms of feeding were accepted equally so that Mums could feel comfortable with their own decisions. I definitely hear you on letting Mums know what they are in for in the early stages of breastfeeding. I had the usual cracked nipples etc but found it relatively easy compared some of my friends who went to hell and back trying to establish feeding for months and got the right support from BF support workers and Midwife support workers but who were let down by GPs and Health Visitors. There needs to be the right support in place across the board. I also have different view on extended bf and don’t think I will be feeding a toddler in public but if I who is to judge if that’s my choice?
    I could rant all day but I’ll leave it there for now. Great topic

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