Breastfeeding

My Honest Judgement of ‘Fed is Best’

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.

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.

But do I judge bottle feeding? Yes, I’m afraid I do.

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.

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 minority of these women have an attitude which is uneducated at best and ignorant at worst. (Some breastfeeders equally guilty of this!)

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.

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.

So while 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 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 would suggest it’s due to education. Not necessarily theirs, but I suspect societal expectations and attitudes play a huge part in the decision. Therefore education across the board (perhaps 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.

12 Comments

  1. Rachel (@coffee_cakekids)

    August 4, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    An interesting post. I have three kids – the eldest was bottlefed (struggled to bf, no support), the middle was breastfed until he was almost 2 (and me 8 months pregnant) and the third was bottlefed – by choice. I very deeply support breastfeeing, having done it for a fairly extended period and in an idea world, everyone would at least give it a go, but I think our society just does not have the set up for that. I chose to feed the youngest formula (apart from his very first feed) because tere was no way I could risk the cluster feeding and the feeds every two hours that I had with the middle one. I had two other, very young children to manage, nursery runs and a partner who worked long hours. Had he been at home and not had to work, it may have been a different situation. Some women have to go back to work early and again, our workplaces are just not set up for expressing or bf mums.
    I;m not sure anyone should cast any judgement on anyone who chooses not to simply because they don’t want to though. Once my partner and I made the deciion that the youngest would be bottlefed, the sense of relief that washed over me was incredible. I did find that bf made me lose a bit of my identity because I couldn’t wear my normal outfits, I couldn’t just have sex with my partner because you could guarantee that baby would wake up for a feed (how baby number three was concieved is still a miracle!) I couldn’t go out for an evening and leave him with his daddy. I couldn’t even leave him long enough to have my haircut for the fisrt year, and that really affected my mental health.
    However, I do agree with you that it would be lovely to see breastfeeding as the norm and that there was more support for those who choose to feed but are struggling.

    1. Kate Tunstall

      August 7, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, I think the situation of having small children alongside a baby, or having to return to work, etc, does some a light on other issues. That said, really it all comes back to support, and culture. These are both areas where there’s work to be done.

      I wish every mum would at least try, I can’t pretend otherwise. But it’s not them I have a problem with if they choose not to. My point (though it appears to have been lost on many sadly) is that the culture surrounding breastfeeding *must* be relevant to why many women choose not to try. With sufficient support to establish breastfeeding and adequate support in the workplace, improvements would be made, I’m sure. Yet there will be no changes unless people care more, and the only way to make progress there is with education and a shift in culture.

  2. Sarah - Arthurwears

    August 4, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    I know you’ve had some comments about the ‘uneducated’ comment in here and I just wanted to respond about this one point – which I’ll do here on the blog as an appropriate forum. I think this is a term that some could take in the wrong way – as if you are suggesting uneducated people choose not to breastfeed – almost as if their is a status/hierarchy but I don’t think you mean that at all and I’d like to suggest it is meant in the context of a friend of mine: she had her first baby 10 years ago. Breastfeeding was never discussed, not by her friends, her family or even her midwives. She lives in an area where people just don’t seem to breastfeed and it is a given. She was pregnant with her second baby (2 years ago) at the same time as I was pregnant with my first. Again, she went straight to forumula feeding as this is what she knew and an alternative was never discussed. She had a lot of misconceptions around the benefits of formula compared to breastfeeding which had been passed onto her by fellow formula feeders. When she visited and saw me breastfeeding my baby she was absolutely fascinated and asked so many questions. She genuinely had no idea how it worked, how it felt, how to do it, what the benefits were and why people would choose it. She would have loved to have been given this info and I think it was really sad for her that she’d never felt able to ask anyone because professionals had just dismissed her as someone who wouldn’t. In hat respect, I think health visitors, midwives, Drs etc should have a duty to 1) educate themselves so that 2) they can educate all mum’s to be on both breastfeeding and formula feeding so that everyone can make an informed choice that works for them.

    X

    1. Kate Tunstall

      August 4, 2017 at 8:12 pm

      Sarah, I think you’re right about the confusion, and thank you so much for explaining this point so eloquently. This is a perfect example of what I meant and I’m disappointed it could have been misconstrued otherwise.

      It’s so sad and makes me mad that in those circumstances a mother and baby are deprived of a wonderful experience, essentially through lack of funding/education/support. X

  3. C T

    August 4, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    I don’t understand why you feel the need to bash all those who either choose not to breastfeed or can’t?!

    Why don’t you start using your forum to promote acceptance rather than judgement. . .

    1. Kate Tunstall

      August 6, 2017 at 7:18 am

      I’m confused by your comment. If you read the post you should know that I’m not bashing women at all. The point of this post is to raise awareness of the lack of funding, education, and support which is driving depressingly low levels of breastfeeding.

  4. Kat

    August 5, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    I’m disappointed in this article. If you don’t think there is enough pressure on women to breastfeed you should sit on the ward I was on after having my little boy. I didnt sleep one moment the night after having him, instead I spent minute after minute, hour after hour, trying to get him to latch on. I allowed a midwife to repeatedly handle my breasts and physically place them in my sons mouth. All because I was told, after spending 5 days of contractions in hospital before an emergency section, that I would not be discharged until he latched on and fed for a full 3 minutes or i gave him formula. More pressure is the very last thing I could’ve done with. I am not uneducated. I know the benefits of breastfeeding and would always support women to choose this method. But I wouldn’t pressure them. It can be just as uncomfortable having to feed your baby with a bottle around a group of breastfeeding mothers, believe me. And these women can be just as judgemental as those people who have problems with breastfeeding in public.
    So yes breast is best, but pressure is cruel

    1. Kate Tunstall

      August 7, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      Pressure IS cruel, but that was not my intention. Neither was I suggesting you are uneducated.

      It sounds to me that you did not have proper support in hospital. Being ignored or offered zero help is not the only way to be unsupportive, and it sounds like you had a pretty awful experience.

      I’m sorry you’ve read my post as additional pressure on you. That was the opposite of my intention – I’m frustrated that more more women like yourself are not offered what you need to establish breastfeeding, ie. practical help and gentle encouragement for as long as required.

  5. susielhawes

    August 5, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    In terms of education, where I live in Norfolk the NHS antenatal class (which I went to) was very pro breastfeeding. As was the NCT which I did. The problem I found was that after my baby had lost only 6% of weight in the first week (admittedly dropping twice in a row) I was encouraged to formula feed by the same midwives that ran their NHS antenatal class. It was like I didn’t tick a box straight the way so this was the suggestion. However they did give further advice about feeding 2 hourly (argh!) and we turned a corner. But in hindsight I think the level of concern they put on me as a new mum with a 5 day old baby losing weight was actually unnecessary and it would have led me to go to formula if it wasn’t for my NCT breastfeeding counsellor who was fantastic and encouraging and provided far more information, books, web links and reassurance. I do think there is inconsistency in the “breast is best” message prior to birth and the follow up in terms of support and understanding about establishing it, after wards.

    1. Kate Tunstall

      August 7, 2017 at 2:39 pm

      Exactly my point! As per above comment, the *correct* support is so important!

      And I absolutely make you right – if the message is going to be pushed, then it needs to be backed up with proper guidance, practical help, and whatever form of support is required afterwards too.

  6. Samantha Sharon

    August 5, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    What upsets me is people want to argue about how to feed babies and yes Breast is better and offers so much that formula can not but there is a stigma around both forms of feeding. I never produced a single drop with my first 2 kids and with my third I finally did but due to medications I was on I was not able to breast feed. I was bashed and cruley judged by people because I had to formula feed. I am all for breast feeding, it is natural and should not be criticized but formula feeding is not the worst thing either and should also never be criticized. So I will continue to say fed is best because I dont believe on continuing this shaming of formula feeding mothers with breast is best. Which is how it feels to me and no one ever takes in to account how the formula feeding mother feels only the breast feeding mothers. That has been my experience as a mother. I know some may not agree, however this is what I have learned in my journey through parenthood.

    1. Kate Tunstall

      August 7, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      That’s really sad but I don’t think it’s necessarily a reflection of the way things truly are. I expect we will see trends depending on who we seek support from, etc. And since we’ll join different support networks and be exposed mostly to those who are in the same situation, this unfortunately perpetuates the division between bottle and breast.

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