How Breastfeeding and Bottle Feeding can Become Equal.
‘Parents should be free to feed their babies however they want, wherever they want, and with equal support’
Every year in August we have World Breastfeeding week, and every year, it brings up the whole breast Vs bottle issue again.
I will confess that I am getting weary of all the controversy around the subject of breastfeeding and bottle/formula feeding and the stress, distress and harm it causes, but it is too important to ignore.
The issue has become got so confused and emotive that it just goes round and round, fuelled by misunderstandings and defensiveness from all sides….and nothing is ever resolved.
Problems Faced By Todays Parents
In my role as a Maternity Nurse in the UK I have spent the last 25 years witnessing the heart-breaking distress and anxiety that parents suffer when…
• They are confused by conflicting and/emotive information regarding benefits of breast over formula and vice versa.
• They want to breastfeed but can’t get help or support because the health professionals in hospital and clinics are too busy or untrained, or the help they do get is inconsistent or biased or just plain wrong.
• They know what feels right for them and their baby, but daren’t actually do it because they are afraid of being judged or discriminated against by health professionals, and, what is worse, by family, friends and other parents.
• They are struggling to decide what to do when feeding is going wrong but have no one to turn to for non-judgemental advice.
• They feel isolated, judged or excluded because of their feeding choices.
• They feel, or are made to feel, like a failure because of their feeding choice.
• Their baby is failing to thrive or re-admitted to hospital because of feeding problems.
• They are torn between their own instincts and the advice of professional, family or friends.
(I have gone more deeply in to the harmful effects of Breastfeeding Pressure in this article in my blog which might be of some help to struggling parents.)
Why Do Bottle Feeders Get So Upset ?
Now, I know that some people are saying that the combo/formula feeders shouldn’t complain about World Breastfeeding Week as it is important that people should be able to celebrate breastfeeding, and have attention drawn to what resources are available, and what aren’t etc. and in some ways I do agree, but just stop think about it for a minute.
How would the dads feel if we suddenly did away with Father’s day, and said that, actually, only mums are important ?
How would they feel if Mother’s Day was then extended to World Mother’s Week and plastered all over the internet and the media so that everywhere they turned they saw it?
Wouldn’t they feel excluded, ignored, rejected ? Might not some of them feel angry and resentful ? Would some of them get upset or defensive ?
Could you blame them ?
Well, this is how a lot of the parents who bottle feed are feeling, so can you blame them for wanting to voice their feelings ?
What is even worse for combo/formula feeders than for the dads in my make believe scenario is that they aren’t just being side-lined as unimportant. They are, in fact, being openly accused by family, friends, press and health officials of being poor parents, as being selfish, lazy, and uncaring and of making ‘mountains out of molehills’ !
They have to listen to comments such as
‘Every woman can breast feed’
‘You aren’t trying hard enough’
‘Just push through the pain’
For those of you who do still subscribe to the myth that every woman can breast feed, just take a trip over to the website of Fearless Formula Feeder and have a look at the Friday feature where women tell their own stories of the problems they had, the decisions they had to make, and the agonies they went through as they made them. Some of the stories are so harrowing it difficult to read them.
Or go to https://fedisbest.org/blog/ and read the stories of the thousands of women there who struggle to breastfeed for all sorts of reasons, and how it has affected their babies health and wellbeing, and their own mental and physical health.
What I do find heartening though, is that both these sites are awash with support and understanding, and are unbelievably accepting of every type of baby feeding, everyone is welcome there and no one is excluded. We could learn a lot from their attitude !
To the breast feeders I would say celebrate your breastfeeding by all means, you deserve it and I’m happy for you that breastfeeding went well. I’m relieved to hear that you got the help and support you needed to sort out any problems, or that you managed to sort it all out for yourself, but please, spare a thought for those who are excluded from any such celebration and understand why they are upset.
The crazy thing is that the divide between parents based on feeding methods is totally unnecessary. It was artificially created by authoritarian interference which was then magnified and exaggerated by the media in search of sensational headlines.
The good news though is that it could easily be remedied. All that is needed is for the quality, consistency and availability of current feeding support to be improved, and for it to be extended to include combination and formula feeding.
How Can Things Change For The Better ?
The change needs to come from the top, and in the UK that is the NHS and the Health Authorities.
How much better would it be hospitals stopped spending vast amounts of money trying to convert all women to Exclusive Breast Feeding, and instead provided accurate, up to date, and unbiased information and allowed the parents to make up their own mind about which feeding method best suits them, their baby and their lifestyle ? They could then respect these feeding choices and support them with skilled and trained staff ?
The money saved would pay for Midwives and Lactation consultants to take extra training, and they could all became Infant Feeding Consultants. Wouldn’t that be a better use of resources in our overstretched NHS than wasting precious money and time trying to convert everyone to exclusive breastfeeding ?
Would it be so hard for the policy makers to include all feeding methods ?
If they offered feeding help for only white parents, or rich parents, or Christian parents wouldn’t there be outrage against such discrimination ?
So how is it ok to discriminate against combination/formula feeding parents, especially as they are actually in the majority ? ?
What You Can Do To Help Other Parents.
The only time those in power listen to the ordinary people is when those people get too loud to ignore….so we have to get loud!
Breastfeeding and Bottle Feeding parents have to make a stand, side by side, and demand comprehensive Infant Feeding education, and consistent and easily accessible help and support for all parents !
If you receive poor or no support, for either breastfeeding or bottle feeding, in hospital then send that hospital an email and complain. Tell them you expect them to respect your parental choices, and remind them that it is their duty to help you feed your baby, whatever feeding method you choose.
If a Midwife or Health Visitor seems judgemental or critical because you are combination or formula feeding then contact your local health authority and tell them you want support and advice on all feeding methods and don’t expect to receive second rate treatment because of your feeding choice. If they don’t give you the help and support you need for breastfeeding, or leave you feeling like a failure if you are struggling…tell them !
If you go to a lactation consultant and they criticise you for you giving top up bottles, or make you feel inferior, or dismiss pumping/expressing them tell them. Tell them how bad they made you feel, how unsatisfied you were with their service and how you won’t be recommending them to anyone else.
I know how hurtful and demoralising these experiences are, both for breastfeeding and bottle feeding parents, and how it is easier to just walk away and suffer in silence, but if you don’t complain, things will never change.
Why Support Is Vital For Every Feeding Mother and Father
The right level of support and education can make the difference between successful or abandoned breastfeeding, or between happy, relaxed, effective combination/bottle/formula feeding, and the feeling of failure that can mar the whole experience.
I worked recently with a client whose 5 week premature baby could not latch on to feed and most of the midwives, after the ‘grabbing baby’s head and jamming it on the boob’ tactics failed, just gave up. Only one midwife knew how to help and got baby latched on, but then she changed shift and mum left hospital.
At home, she tried again, but struggled and baby wasn’t gaining weight so she used expressed milk and formula. She still wanted to breast feed so she went to an NCT drop in clinic where they did try to help…..until she mentioned she was using formula top ups. The lactation consultant immediately changed her attitude and moved on to another mum and when my client went to get a drink she overheard the consultant and other staff talking about her in a very derogatory way.
Needless to say, she left and never went back and the baby didn’t latch so she pumped and used expressed milk once her supply improved.
When I arrived I supported the mum’s choice and assured her that breast feeding was still possible as she had kept up her supply, and baby was a bit stronger so would be better able to latch and suck.
Unfortunately, baby then suffered 3 breathing apnoea episodes and was 2 weeks in hospital followed by a reflux diagnosis. When baby was 7 weeks old and the reflux was under control, we set aside 3 days with no distractions and, with persistence and patience on the adults side (and some very loud complaining on baby’s side) plus some cunning tricks and strategies, we got baby latched and sucking at the breast and they went on to breastfeed successfully…for 2 years !
This wasn’t because I am some sort of baby whisperer, but because I had training and experience, and the time to spend helping the mum. Many any other parents could be helped and supported if they too had access to trained and experienced (and open minded !) advisors.
If everybody complained every time they didn’t get the help they wanted and needed then maybe, just maybe, things will start to change.
Just take a few minutes to write that email, or comment of a Facebook page, or Tweet your disapproval.
do it for a friend,
do it for a fellow parent,
do it because it will help someone else,
and do it because next time you have a baby it might be you who needs the help.
I would love to hear your stories and experiences of all types of feeding so please share and lets support each other as much as we can,
Sarah Norris is one of the UK’s most accomplished maternity nurses, with over 25 years experience caring for hundreds of babies and families in the UK and internationally.
She treats all babies and families as individuals, and respects all forms of parenting and feeding, aiming to help and empower new parents with sensible, practical tips and advice that is always non judgemental and non biased.
She is the author of ‘The Baby Detective’ with Orion Books, out now.