It’s World Breastfeeding Week. And despite having already written about the subject twice during the last few days and having a very busy week on the blog, here I am at 6.30am furiously typing on my phone. Because as I was finally getting my head down last night I saw something which required an urgent response.
There have been lots of lovely posts about breastfeeding this week. Some have been about the research released by UNICEF and WHO; some about the desperate need for better access to support; and quite a few claiming ‘Fed is Best’, specifically how we shouldn’t shame bottle feeders and suggesting that rather than using this week to perpetuate the polarisation of those with babies, perhaps we should consider making it more inclusive.
Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Formula Feeding
I said something unpopular last week. And I’m about to do it again to the power of ten…
I can only agree with one part of that last sentiment:
Of course we shouldn’t shame bottle feeders; anybody who finds it acceptable to shame somebody else has a label in my book: they are a bully.
Formula has its place, without a doubt. It saved the life of my first daughter while she was being tube fed after being born early. But should it be viewed as equal to breastfeeding? I don’t believe so.
So, do I judge bottle feeding? I do, but not how you might think.
For a start ‘judge’ has several definitions. Taken from the Cambridge Dictionary, the two we’re interested in for the purpose of this post are:
1) To form, give, or have a an opinion, or to decide about something or someone, especially after thinking carefully.
2) To express a bad opinion of someone’s behaviour, often because you think you are better than them.
Why I Judge Formula Feeding
To be really, unmistakably crystal clear, I judge the parents using formula based on the first definition only: I judge that many of the women who’ve turned to formula are disappointed – or even devastated – that they’ve attempted to breastfeed but it sadly hasn’t worked out.
I judge that these women have been let down on an astonishing scale. I judge that a lack of funding and resources have ultimately led to insufficient support.
And sometimes I judge that a small minority of those parents using formula have an attitude which is uneducated at best and ignorant at worst – some breastfeeders equally guilty of this!
That’s a strong assertion, and not one I make lightly. I’m confident it is a minority, yet they sadly do exist as you can read all about here…
Breastmilk Is Desirable Because It’s the Biological Norm
Conversely, I judge and have a bad opinion of the companies pushing formula, and its largescale use in the UK. This problem – because that’s what it is – has led to a unprecedented shift in culture making it seem acceptable to denounce mothers feeding their babies in public should they dare to do so in the way nature intended.
I generally try to be diplomatic. I promote kindness and compassion and I abhor spite. And while I applaud the intention behind many of the posts I’ve read over the last few days, I despair over the subtle subtext.
I’m sure that the people writing those articles were intending to fight for the cause and do their bit to end stigma and the divisive nature of breast versus bottle – all of which I encourage. But what those types of posts actually achieve is to reinforce a very real issue facing our nation:
Breastfeeding is not currently the norm.
Breastfeeding Is Legally Protected For A Reason
In terms of statistics, it’s currently roughly equal to bottle feeding. There are many reasons for this and, while I do not wish to demonise those parents using formula, I absolutely think it’s necessary to address this. Formula does not need any more promotion (especially not by hijacking this critical week) – in fact it’s prohibited by law.
Just as there’s legislation in place to prevent prejudice against sex, age, race, etc – when it comes to the subject of breast or bottle feeding, the message is clear:
Breastfeeding is protected. It is not intended to be equal to formula feeding.
The research released by UNICEF and WHO this week is quite clear: improved breastfeeding rates would benefit the mother, baby and even the economy. It would save lives.
So I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but sometimes diplomacy is not appropriate.
We Need Breastfeeding Education in School
We need to be piling on the pressure and demanding access to these essential services, without which nothing will change. Every woman and baby deserves the right to as much support as they require to establish breastfeeding.
And if they actively choose against it without even trying? We have to ask ourselves why. I suspect culture plays a huge part in the decision.
I confidently suggest it’s due to education, specifically the lack of education provided about this subject, which sadly, ultimately, translates into fewer people wishing to nurse their babies.
Societal expectations and attitudes inevitably influence this choice. Therefore education across the board (ideally beginning as early as school age) is required to make positive changes to the culture surrounding breastfeeding.
Yes, I judge formula feeding, and if we’ve any hope of turning this dire situation around, you should too.