Apologies for arriving late to the conversation about the fall in breastfeeding rates but I have been trying to compose my thoughts and gain some views before I wade in…
The press has been full of the arguments, the thoughts, the passion about feeding our babies. And the breastfeeders are at war with the formula feeders once more. I could analyse the arguments about the benefits but that is not really the point. Feeding is rarely about the facts, how we feed our babies is an emotional and complicated issue and women formula feed for so many different reasons. I don’t have an issue with women who want to formula feed their babies, why should I? But I do have an issue with the situation that many women find themselves in – stopping breastfeeding before they want to. This often leads to guilt, resentment and sadness and these women are being failed by a system which can provide little, and often conflicting, breastfeeding support.
I am passionate about supporting breastfeeding, about making it work for the mums who want to breastfeed but I am also passionate about choice and about supporting happy mums and the decisions we make. As a mum-woman-human-birth and parenting practitioner, I don’t mind whether a woman breastfeeds or formula feeds. I feel strongly for every woman’s right to choose and I will passionately defend that but if a woman wants to breastfeed her baby and something is preventing that from happening, then something needs to be done to change that.
- I reckon we need more breastfeeding information for pregnant women not less but it needs to be better – it needs to be based on the reality of breastfeeding – preparing women and normalising cluster feeding and the frequency of feeds, on getting underneath our expectations about feeding and the impact bottle and formula feeding has on us. Writing this has made me reflect on the work I do and I will be making changes.
- New mums who want to breastfeed also need support in those early days and weeks – this can be really hit and miss and sometimes new mums have to seek this support which can be hard when you are on that huge learning curve that is becoming a parent. But this could be key – if you want to breastfeed and if you need some extra support you may need to seek it. And being prepared for that in pregnancy, and knowing where to go for help and support, could go a long way too.
- From speaking to the many women who come through my classes, there needs to be more discussion on combine feeding. This is often the way forward to for many mums but the all or nothing attitude – you must choose either breast or formula – can be confusing. Many mums have commented to me that combine feeding has eased the pressure and they have breastfed for longer. These benefits can’t be overlooked.
I wish attitudes towards breastfeeding were different – it is ok to feed in public and sod anyone who thinks differently but it can take huge amounts of courage and confidence to do it and that is often lacking when we first have a baby. Which reminds me of a story I was once told about a woman breastfeeding her baby in a coffee shop. Two teenagers we standing in a queue and one lad was overheard to make a comment about the woman’s boobs. The response was something like: “no mate, that’s just wrong. Those are feeding boobs not wanking boobs.” It is a story that always makes me smile.
There was a great article in the Telegraph this week about why breastfeeding is out of fashion. It makes some great points about lifestyle, role models and formula ads. And, I agree, it could with normalising and boobs could do with being desexualised a little more.
Ultimately, I would love to see an end to the arguments between mothers about how they feed their baby, about which way is best. The vast majority of us only want to do what is best for our children but we live in a society that judges us on the decisions we make and how good a parent we are. A breastfeeding mother is no better than a formula-feeding mother and vice versa, we are all just making it up every day, trying to do what is best for us and our families.
This completely underpins my work with expectant and new parents – we are all different and we all make – whether willingly or out of necessity – different decisions about birth and our babies. I aim to support women throughout it all, to encourage them to feel proud of their decisions or to try to come to terms with them if they find themselves in an unexpected situation. Feeding, weaning and postnatal preparations are going to be my next focus with Birth & Baby Basics, watch this space…
Call to action for expectant parents
If you want to breastfeed, you may need to give it more thought and preparation rather than just see how it goes. This preparation could include…
- getting some good information in pregnancy, go to a workshop, ask you antenatal teacher for information
- planning some support in case you need it. If you can afford it, hire a postnatal doula to provide ongoing, consistent support in those early days. It will be cheaper than you think and really could make all the difference
- knowing where to go for help – ask you community midwife, health visitor, antenatal teacher for information about local breastfeeding support groups. Keep in touch with the Birth & Baby Network for information.