Why So Contentious?
Before I set up this website, I had absolutely no idea how contentious the subject of breastfeeding was. I had breastfed my son, very painfully and therefore begrudgingly, for 16 weeks and hated every minute. (Read my story here) My sister also had a pretty dismal experience but soldiered on a little longer than me. Friends’ experiences ranged from exclusively breastfeeding happily for a year to mixed feeding from a few weeks and I had not known anyone who had chosen to bottle feed from birth.
Within hours of launching our website, I received multiple troll style messages via Twitter, Facebook and email. These messages focused on the fact that we suggested in our List of Things to Buy Before Your Baby Arrives that you might want to buy one 200ml carton of pre-mixed formula. (Just in case you are hit by a bus and therefore unable to feed your baby)
The hatred that spewed from these messages we received really shook me and took me by great surprise, especially since we pride ourselves on our balanced views. I thought I was doing something kind, for the greater good! I had not intended to get political and had not anticipated an influx of hate mail on launch day!
One message said “This site should be shut down for encouraging the use of formula”! WHAT?
Where did we say that? We just suggested that having a carton of pre-mixed milk in the house could come in handy in case of an emergency.
Having become immersed in the pregnancy and post-natal world over the last 7 years years I now see that I was naïve, and that the subject of breastfeeding is massively controversial with this kind of dialogue running between opposing groups on a daily basis. Women deciding to bottle feed, facing the wrath of the enthusiasts (often labeled as Breastapo or Breastfeeding Nazis.) and Women deciding to practice extended feeding labeled as weirdoes or sickos. WHY?
My own story of trying to breastfeed my two sons is a good example of how someone with all the will in the world, all the information available and all the support you could ask for, simply could not carry on breastfeeding. So do I deserve to be made to feel guilty by Health Visitors wearing necklaces saying “Breast is Best”? Isn’t that a bit like a Health Worker in a Third World slum wearing a T-Shirt saying “Living in a House with Clean Running Water is Best”. There are times when it is just not possible to provide the very best for your child, no matter how good your intentions.
In the same vein, does the woman who is breastfeeding her walking and talking 18 month old toddler in Starbucks deserve to be publicly mocked or looked down upon? She is just doing what she thinks is best for her own child, and certainly not damaging him in anyway.
Is this constant bickering between breast feeders and bottle feeders basically down to a lack of understanding and therefore empathy? Is there a little jealousy and maybe some ignorance thrown into the mix ?
The Different Breastfeeding Tribes
- Those who have breastfed successfully for about 6 months or so seem to be the golden girls. Perhaps those who have had a tough time breastfeeding or have simply not been able to, are a little jealous of this group of women who have excelled at this task from the start. I will readily admit that this is true for me. To have been able to breastfeed my two sons without literal blood, sweat and tears would have been a dream and I flinch slightly with envy when I see someone who has it down to a T!
- Those who breastfeed for over a year seem to attract feelings of derision and disgust rather than jealousy from your average mother. Most people are not able to identify with this group of women who chose to follow the guidelines set by The WHO that children should be breastfed until the age of 2 “or beyond”. Like attachment-parenting and co-sleeping, this mode of infant feeding is at odds with the lifestyle of the “modern mother” who is perhaps back at work after 3 months. Is the average “modern mother” looking at the extended feeder with a mixture of aversion and pity and praising herself for not having become a slave like this to her own offspring?
- Those who did not breastfeed because they could not, seem to be pitied but also held in suspicion by those for whom it was a breeze! Perhaps if it went well for you, you find it very hard to understand why someone else could not do it. If you met an adult who could not ride a bike, you might be bemused. And if they claimed that it was just not possible and that they had tried their hardest, perhaps you might imagine they had not really tried hard enough or perhaps had not been doing it right?! Regardless, when you see a woman feeding a new born baby with a bottle, do you wonder “Shouldn’t she be breastfeeding?”
- Those who did not breastfeed because they did not want to and perhaps never even tried would seem to be held in contempt by many others. Maybe this also is down to a lack of understanding of the unknown? I do not pretend to understand what can make a woman so scared of childbirth that she must have therapy before she conceives, but I know that this is a genuine condition that affects women all over the world. I also know of women who are so repulsed by the idea of breastfeeding that they could not bring themselves to put their nipple in the baby’s mouth. Some women in this category may not even have issues as such, but are perhaps young, under-educated or influenced by what they have seen as the norm – a baby with a bottle in its mouth. Should we disparage these women and make them feel worse about their “failings”?
We All Want What’s Best Don’t We?
I think that we should accept that apart from a very small percentage of human beings, we all want what is best for our children. We do not want them to suffer from asthma or eczema, become obese later in childhood, fail to develop a loving bond, or whatever the other arguments are against formula feeding. The majority of us would choose to breastfeed our babies, but if we cannot or will not then we should not be judged by those who have or continue to do so and vice versa!
And what of the evil Formula? Do we have examples of children killed or damaged by drinking Formula milk? Not to my knowledge. My children, like their own father, drank predominantly formula for the first year of their lives and are prime human specimens! If there was finite evidence of ill-effects of formula, wouldn’t it have been outlawed by now and an alternative developed?
I think in the meantime we must assume that formula feeding is not only safe and healthy but also hugely beneficial when a mother is unable to feed her own child. We must also believe that extended breastfeeding does not make you or your child an oddball. When you see a woman feeding her child with her breast or a bottle, do not try to assume that you know the reasons behind her decision, just support her in her quest to be a good mother at a time that is difficult enough as it is.