A Message to Anyone Who Feels Confused or Bullied About Breastfeeding

baby-21167_1280

(*Note: I wrote one post about breast or formula feeding, actually about how we should not even bother to debate it because it does not matter, and did not intend to write more on the matter. However, I have recently read some news reports about pressure and bullying some mothers have felt over how they feed their babies, and it makes for quite upsetting reading. So, at risk of debating the issue myself, I am writing this one further post.*)

 
 
This post is specifically aimed at new mothers or prospective new mothers. Because, if you found this post, you have probably been looking online for advice or support about breastfeeding. And, if you’ve been doing that, you are probably unsure about what feeding method you want to use, or you are struggling with breastfeeding. You may have found some great support and advice. In which case, carry on as you were. But there is always a risk, if you have googled advice about breastfeeding, that you have been dragged into a guilt-ridden swamp of ‘information’ about the magical properties of breast milk, without which your baby will surely die and you will be branded with a ‘worst mother in the world’ stamp right across your forehead. If you have found your way into this swamp, and now feel more vulnerable and confused than you did when you started, do please read on.

Breast milk is not the Elixir of Life. It does not have magical properties. It’s great. It’s an amazing substance. But, actually, so is formula. Some very clever people have made it so. They have manufactured a substance that is capable of being a substitute for breast milk and nourishing a baby. So that’s pretty amazing too, right?

Yes, breast milk has immune benefits. Yes, it is probably easier on the gut. In the scheme of things, these are not really massive differences or benefits. Breast milk isn’t making anyone invincible. It’s not curing ebola.

Does breast milk make children more intelligent, thinner, more successful, or any of the other claims put forward by the breastfeeding lobby? No. It doesn’t. The apparent correlation between breastfeeding and improved outcomes for children in those areas is coincidental. It exists because there is a correlation between those outcomes and greater socioeconomic advantage, AND there is a correlation between higher breastfeeding rates and socioeconomic advantage. The privilege and opportunities afforded in society to the group of women who make up the majority of breastfeeders result in the apparent benefits for their children, not the breast milk. But, of course, it is difficult to conclusively prove that the breast milk is not responsible, because to do so would require experimenting on babies and forcing certain groups of mothers to feed in a specific way . That would clearly be unethical, and so the evidence of correlation between breastfeeding and positive outcomes in areas such as intelligence remains, ready to be preyed on by the breastfeeding lobby as evidence of the benefits of breast milk, despite being almost certainly nothing of the sort. If you look at the children of mothers who, in all respects except for breastfeeding, fit the same profile as the breastfeeding mothers, their children will show the same outcomes. I am such a child.

You will not condemn your child to stupidity, obesity or failure by not breastfeeding. Talk to your child, read to them, play with them, hug them – all the things you obviously intend to do anyway! These are the things that make a difference to development. And genetics, of course. Can’t do much about those.

It is nice to encourage breastfeeding, of course it is. But not ever to the extent that anyone is made to feel panicked or vulnerable, or anyone is encouraged to make a decision that puts them or their baby at risk. No one should be told, as I have seen happen, that taking unregulated breast milk from strangers in Internet exchanges is better than using formula. Of course it isn’t. Do you know that is breast milk? That the mother doesn’t drink alcohol? That she has no blood borne illnesses? That she properly sterilised the pump and containers? Do you know where the milk was stored? For how long? It’s reckless, and no one should be telling worried mothers to do that. If you cannot, or do not want to, give your baby your milk (or milk from one of the regulated milk banks), give them formula. It is fine.

No vulnerable woman with mental illness should become so convinced that her baby needs breast milk that she stops taking medication she needs in order to be well. A baby does not need breast milk that badly, but it does need a healthy mother. No one, in short, needs to be listening to suggestions that breast milk is the be all and end all. That is not true.

So this is my message for new mothers, or prospective new mothers, who are worried about this, who have been panicked by what they see on the Internet, by what the so called ‘breastapo’ say. It is nice to try breastfeeding, if you can and you want to. But it is not that important in the scheme of things. Your child will not end up horrendously disadvantaged by not being breastfed. Don’t tell anyone, but breastfeeding isn’t even the norm in this country. The biological norm, yes, but not the norm in practice. Perhaps that is why some women are being so aggressive about this: it’s insecurity and defensiveness. Trying to validate themselves by putting others down. Because, truth be told, breastfeeding mothers, beyond the first few days or weeks, are a pretty small minority. That is a bit of a shame. But it isn’t your problem. You don’t have to be the one to take responsibility for improving the statistics. You have to do what’s right for you.

And I will tell you – as someone who is a breastfeeder, who has exclusively breastfed two babies long term – no sensible, intelligent, reasonable, relatively caring woman (breastfeeder or not) will see you struggling and tell you that you must breastfeed or your baby will suffer. Not ever. She will never tell you to panic over this, to be stressed about it, to cause your baby to feel stress about it, or to feel guilty about it. She will never tell you that you are selfish or harming your baby if you don’t breastfeed. She will not tell you breastfeeding is easy and everyone can do it. Anyone who tells you those things is not someone whose advice needs to be listened to. Good advice, helpful advice, will always encourage you to do what you can do, what you can cope with, and not to look back. Focus your energy on your time with your baby instead.

Post Comment Love
Post Comment Love
Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.comA Cornish MumThe Dad Network

37 comments

  1. Lynsey says:

    Thank you for this. There is so much pressure to breastfeed. I struggled initially as my baby had a tongue tie. After the op things have significantly improved but I’m returning to work shortly and so am transitioning to formula for daytime feeds. The health visitor made me feel like a terrible mum as I was not able to leave my job at lunchtime to go and breastfeed my child (I’m a teacher – what is a lunch break?) You have made me feel better 😀

    • Silly Mummy says:

      That’s just ridiculous! My mum was a teacher – breaks are hectic in schools! Besides which, even if you could leave, who really suggests that to someone – are you supposed to run yourself into the ground and have no breaks? I’m sure returning to work will be enough of an adjustment and a hectic schedule in itself. I expect baby would rather have a bottle delivered calmly, at the time baby wants & with as much time as needed to drink it, than a breastfeed with a frazzled mum on a tight schedule too! I’m glad things improved with tongue tie op, and glad this made you feel better. Good luck with the return to work!

  2. Carol Hedges says:

    In my day it was the NCT that put HUGE HUGE pressure on mums to breastfeed. OK, I had a go. Got engorged. Thought SOD THIS! and bottle fed D. By the time I made this decision, she’d been without proper nourishment for 4 days and my reasoning was: do I ”starve” her in the hope that I can continue with this painful process, or feed her , on the basis that she needs food.
    She seems fairly normal, and had produced my delightful granddaughter. I’d agree with SM totally – do what’s best for you and your baby, whatever that is. Breast isn’t always best…love is.

  3. @nottinghilldady says:

    Well done for writing this post. My wife didn’t have enough milk but felt pressured to persevere and after a month our daughter had lost weight and we were sent straight to the pedestrian by the health visitor.
    It’s very annoying that even on radio (LBC) I heard a chat the other day pressuring mothers.
    Formula milk is OK too !!

  4. Mrs Tubbs says:

    Excellent post. I had to bottle feed for various reasons and some of the other mums being absolute b*tches to me about it. Shame the very sensible voices like yours get drowned out by the harpies. Like we don’t have enough on our plate …!

  5. Honest mum says:

    The pressure is ridiculous on mums, I remember feeling so depressingly pressured with my first son-I was suffering a traumatic birth and mentioned I wanted to combine feed to utter shock and disbelief by all the professionals around me. I wish I’d been stronger to say although I found nursing easy, it wasn’t the right thing for me and certainly not for as long as I did. With my second, I did that from the word go and it was right for us all. A happy mum is so important. What a great post, thanks for linking up x

  6. John Adams says:

    Right, I’m going to take issue with this blog post, albeit in the politest possible way. You’ve written a blog post about breast feeding without even referencing fathers. They’re our children that are being fed and it frustrates me hugely that men don’t engage in the breastfeeding debate. Some of my most well-read blog posts have been on this subject and I wish more men would write about it.

    Speak to any breast feeding expert and they will tell you that one of the most important factor to breastfeeding success is…..having a supportive partner.

    That said, my kids were almost exclusively formula fed (mum, basically, took after her own mother and simply didn’t produce milk leading to Child No1 going borderline jaundice). As a result I was almost as involved in feeding my kids as my wife.

    I wouldn’t argue that breast isn’t best. It isn’t, however, best when dehydration, malnutrition and huge amounts of family stress are the alternative. I quite agree with your stance. Dad, however, has a role to play too. #BigFatinky

  7. Kimmie says:

    Amen to that! Excellent post. I have 5 children, all breast fed (some longer than others) – quite possibly one of the hardest things Iv’e ever done. Worth it (for me) but (as you say) not essential to babies well being. Two of my kids were bottle fed after the first few weeks, because I (or they) struggled to breast feed… they thrived equally as well as the three I managed to feed for months. Great post! #wkendblogshare

  8. doctomum says:

    I honestly make someone cry (not on purpose) very week when I’m at work for suggesting formula. With all the new mum hormones and the overwhelming feelings of am I doing this right? Am I a good mum? etc plus the breast feeding police, its sometimes like I have suggested the death sentence to their child. There’s such am immense disappointment that mums feel if they can’t breast feed and such a feeling of judgement if they don’t want to breastfeed and they really shouldn’t have to feel any of this.
    When I first started in paediatrics we were told how we shouldn’t dare even suggest formula as we must be pro breast feeding and now it is becoming more balanced, but very slowly.
    When you’ve got an ill baby, the best nutrition is ANY food to go in their stomach (or even a well child) rather than fluid though a vein.

    I’m a bit of an advocate for mixed feeding – gives you the best of both worlds, but really whatever floats your boat as long as its nutritious (which both breast and formula are) is fine with me!

  9. Anca says:

    Great post! I’m not a mother and I don’t intend to be one and, even so, I saw the breastfeeding campaigns. I thought they are bulling women into breastfeeding without any consideration on their situation. It’s a shame some people can’t respect others and I’m sure all those mothers would be horrified if someone would try to bully them or their kids.

  10. Mummy Tries says:

    Fantastic post, well done for writing so sensitively about such a controversial matter. Why it’s controversial is absolutely beyond me though! I exclusively bf my three, and never felt bullied or pressured at all. I think the health visitors lay it on a bit too thick though, and if you’ve just had a baby and are feeling unsure about things they could do more harm than good 🙁 Thanks for sharing with #DiffLinky

  11. Mrs H says:

    This is such a fantastic post. I feel very strongly that a woman should not be coerced into breast feeding if it will cause lots of worry and stress and does not work out. I had massive problems breast feeding Little Miss H for various reasons. I struggled on and then expressed for a long time. Eventually I realised that my mental health was suffering because I was putting so much pressure on myself to give my daughter breast milk. Once I decided formula was an excellent alternative I felt so much happier. It is hugely important that women feel the choice of whether they breast feed or not is theirs and theirs alone. Hugs Mrs H xxxx #difflinky

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Very well put. I think that is exactly the point: if breastfeeding, for whatever the reason, is making the mother stressed or unhappy, that is not good for the baby, and it is not good for the bonding experience either. The wider picture, which includes the mother’s emotional well being, needs to be considered in order to determine (as you say for yourself) which method is ‘best’ for any specific mother and baby. Thank you for reading.

  12. This hit home for me. I wanted to breast feed, but after a week of trying my daughter wouldn’t latch. I ended up pumping for 4 months straight. It was so HARD. After 4.5 months of exclusively pumping, I was so exhausted that I made the decision to stop. I remember bawling because I felt like a terrible mother. BUT, in reality, it was the best decision I could have made! I didn’t feel like I was tied to the breast pump anymore. My stress levels decreased, and I was so much happier, which in turn made me a better mom. To the moms out there- do what works for you! There’s no shame in feeding your baby formula. Great post- Thanks for writing this! #AnythingGoes

  13. Jenny says:

    No one should be pressured but the evidence is clear that breastfeeding is better for mums and babies, that’s just a fact. It doesn’t mean formula is poison or won’t nourish your baby, it will. Lots of people in developing countries breastfeed and their outcomes are much better than formula fed babies regardless of socioeconomic status. I never make mums feel guilty or pressured in my work I just give them the information. Personally I’ve done both as a mother.

  14. Nicole says:

    Lots of people have said you dealt with this sensitively; but I totally disagree. What is ‘the brestapo’? What an offensive term. I take it you know who the gestpo are? Women need to be supported not set against each other. Every woman has the right to chose to feed her baby in any manner she choses. Lots of women chose to bf their babies but it is hard work at a time women are very vunerable. They need care and support and encouragement. Not to be told it’s not the norm in this country; breastfeeders are insecure and need to validate themsevles. Which is of course how ff feeders can feel. Which is SO sad. You just confirm to them that women CAN feed insecure about the way they feed. We should make all feeders feel happy and loved without setting them against each other.

    • Silly Mummy says:

      I’ll address your main points. I didn’t coin the term ‘breastapo’, which is why I say ‘the so called’. It is the commonly used media term for the women who aggressively push breastfeeding as the only acceptable way.

      I think you may have misinterpreted what I am saying, which I am sorry about. But nothing here was against breastfeeding or breastfeeders. I am a breastfeeder. I am saying that the importance of breast milk can be overplayed, to the detriment of some mothers who cannot or do not want to breastfeed. That is clearly not saying breast milk is bad, and in fact I specifically say that it is great and so is breastfeeding, IF you can and want to do it. Breastfeeders may sometimes experience problems about public feeding, which is wrong, but they also tend to get the praise and the encouragement in terms of the feeding method itself, and are unlikely to be made to feel guilty. That seems to be less true for formula feeding mothers, which is why they are the focus here. Also because, as I stated at the start, this was specifically a response to some articles about how bad formula feeders had been made to feel.

      The women I am referring to, and the women referred to by the term ‘breastapo’, are not all breastfeeders, but specifically those people who aggressively advocate breastfeeding and tell others that formula feeding is bad or selfish. There really isn’t any need to become defensive about breastfeeders, who were not being criticised.

      It is also worth noting that this was specifically intended to show some support and encouragement to women who are formula feeding/have struggled with breastfeeding, because reports suggest that they often feel they don’t receive the encouragement breastfeeders get, so it would seem a little unfortunate to make this about breastfeeders feeling put out that they are not receiving enough credit here.

      • Nicole says:

        I completely agree with your message: all mothers should take pride in how they raise their child; no one should feel guilt and everyone should feel encouraged and supported. Being a mother is something to shout from the roof tops with pride over. However, I don’t think you’ll achieve this by telling ff mothers that other people feel insecure about thier feeding choices too. Setting mothers against mothers isn’t the way to do it either. And while I can see that you’re talking about all bfing mothers, you are talking about some mothers. The way to help ff mothers feel more swcure in their choice is to make clear that the decisions they’ve made are right for thier family at the time, and, of course, that it is no one elses business. I .detest the pharse ‘breastapo’. The fact that a phrase is widely used doesn’t mean it’s without error. If you need to talk about these type of people (who I think are in a minority) there are other ways to describe them.

  15. Kyles says:

    This is a great post. There are so many reasons why someone might not breastfeed. All new parents need to be supported in their decisions, so that they can build their knowledge and confidence and do the best for their children without the constant fear of judgment. #bigfatlinky

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Thank you. That is a great point – I completely agree that the right knowledge and information needs to be available to people whatever their decisions, and judgment & criticism does undermine that. Thanks for your input.

  16. This is such a touchy subject. In Ireland there isn’t a pressure to breastfeed, if anything it’s the opposite which I think is just as bad. I don’t think any mother should be made to feel badly for her decision. #AnythingGoes x

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Indeed, it shouldn’t be a case of making anyone feel pressured or that they are harming their baby either way: both methods will successfully feed a baby. It’s interesting how different methods are encouraged in different countries and different time periods, isn’t it? As I understand it, the French (I assume probably more northern & central France) tend to really push formula too. Thanks for reading and adding your perspective.

  17. Robyn says:

    My baby was fed exclusively on breast milk up until solids were introduced, although I had to pump for the first 8 weeks as he was prem and slow to take to latching. Confused and bullied is exactly how I recall feeling for the first three months until we got breastfeeding under way. I badly wanted someone to let me off the hook, exhausted and stressed from trying to stay at least one feed ahead on the pump. I feel like I barely had time to enjoy my baby in the beginning which is a real shame. I hope someone who is now where I was then discovers this post and finds comfort in your message.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *