Fear of Breastfeeding in Public and memories of formula bottles stop mum breastfeeding.

Is breastfeeding really best?

Mum of five Aileen Hickie says mothers should not be bullied into breastfeeding if they don’t want to

http://www.herald.ie/lifestyle/parents/is-breastfeeding-really-best-2430275.html

By Aileen Hickie

Monday November 22 2010

Breastfeeding is one of the sacred cows of modern parenting. The “breast is best” mantra has lost none of its emphasis or militancy and the breastfeeding mafia has grown in strength and numbers over the years.

Breastfeeding causes women to judge other women. Women, be they relations, friends, acquaintances or complete strangers, seem to feel strangely comfortable interrogating new mothers as to whether they are breastfeeding or not. And if not, then why not?

No other aspect of parenting engenders the same amount of tut-tutting or even open criticism of those who either cannot or choose not to breastfeed.

Yummy mummies and other over-achieving middle class women seem to think, quite arrogantly, that it’s their God-given duty to inform the sisterhood that breastfeeding is a requirement that brooks no excuses. Indeed, not just a requirement, it is the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Shame on those who put a bottle of prepared feed anywhere near their precious bundle of joy.

It is as though formula is the devil’s milk, only invented for second-rate mothers. With those standards, it won’t be long before those women will be feeding their children sugary drinks and fast food and then a diet of endless television, a Facebook account and other steps on the slippery slope of bad parenting.

The difficulties of being a mother mean that women need the support and approval of their peers. Yet those who don’t breastfeed can be made to feel inadequate and guilty by those who can be called ‘breastfeeding bullies’.

From midwives and other trained professionals in maternity hospitals to the disapproving mothers at the school gate; all fall into the category of breastfeeding Nazis.

The women who choose to breastfeed believe their child will get the most nutritionally balanced diet from birth and build its immune system. It may help their post-baby weight loss, too. Fair enough.

Other women choose to formula feed for many other reasons, some physical and some psychological. There may be difficulty in getting their baby to latch on, inability to breastfeed, post-partum depression or issues of self-consciousness about breastfeeding in public. There may be a need to get back to work quickly or other family considerations that mean the time commitment for breastfeeding is not an option.

Surely whichever method a woman chooses is best for her baby; if the mother is happy and comfortable then it is likely that the baby will be happier and less stressed. Stress is far more detrimental to a baby’s well-being than not breastfeeding. A child can be clever and healthy without mother’s milk.

How a woman feeds her baby should be a personal choice. It should not be questioned or criticised or the subject of negative feedback, no matter what path a woman decides to take.

While some breastfeeding advocates undoubtedly put too much pressure on women to breastfeed, similarly there is a certain segment of women who try to push women to bottle-feed. And wrong information — such as that the baby is not getting enough milk and isn’t satisfied or that breastfeeding ties you down too much — can also be given.

Paradoxically, the organisations that give the most support to mothers who want to breastfeed place the least pressure on wavering mothers who are trying to weigh up the pros and cons of breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.

The La Leche League of Ireland is a voluntary organisation that provides information and support to women, but only those who want to breastfeed. They do not actively recruit mothers. Instead, their help and experience has to be sought by mothers — which is how it should be.

It was during a pre-natal class at my maternity hospital 12 years ago that I first encountered pressure to breastfeed. I was seven months pregnant with our first child and had not fully thought through how I would be feeding my newborn. But I still remember with blinding clarity the tone and insistence of the midwife that I, and the other pregnant mums in the class, would be breastfeeding — make no mistake about it.

Thinking I had no choice, I learned all the necessary information and techniques — as far as possible, as I didn’t actually have a baby yet! I bought the breastfeeding bras, front-opening pyjamas, breast pads and everything else I was told I would require.

My issue was mainly about breastfeeding in public — or even in front of just family and friends. I knew I could just stay indoors but neither did I want to be tied to the house for six months or more. I also needed to be back in work when the baby was about six weeks old — not on a permanent basis, but I would need to be in work periodically because of the nature of my job.

It was my mother, a former midwife herself, who finally addressed the issue, advising me not to breastfeed unless I was 100pc comfortable with the idea as she felt it would be more damaging to the baby if I was stressed. She had bottle-fed four healthy children and I remembered as a child seeing a tin of formula on the kitchen windowsill to feed my younger siblings. It is still a pleasant image and reminds me of a happy childhood.

Once I had decided not to breastfeed, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I faced the labour and birth with new enthusiasm. Once my eldest child was born there was one last attempt made by a hospital midwife to get me to breastfeed. But to no avail and my baby girl had her first bottle when she was an hour old and sucked happily on that and every one thereafter.

We have since had four other healthy children and they have all been bottle-fed and all were hugely contented babies. Some slept and some didn’t as is the case with all babies. They got their share of childhood illnesses but no more than breastfed babies I know.

Am I happy that I opted not to breastfeed? Absolutely. Would I condemn another mother for choosing to breastfeed? Of course not. Everyone is entitled to their free choice without being made to feel guilty for it.

- Aileen Hickie

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Comments

  1. says

    It really saddened me to read this. It’s awful when a pro-breastfeeding stance is so aggressive that it effectively puts a mother off breastfeeding! Looking after a newborn can be stressful enough and new mums need support not pressure.

  2. says

    It really saddened me to read this. It’s awful when a pro-breastfeeding stance is so aggressive that it effectively puts a mother off breastfeeding! Looking after a newborn can be stressful enough and new mums need support not pressure.

  3. Sally says

    Okay, a few things:

    1.This is symptomatic of what I feel is a problem with the way our society has come to view breasts and breast feeding. What is sad is that this woman felt so worried about breast feeding in front of anyone that she did not even try at all. Breast feeding is and should be a normal part of life.To this end I do my part by breast feeding my 2 year old in public on a daily basis! As a frequent breast feeder of a toddler in public I can assure Aileen that the pendulum of public opinion swings both ways. I have had a bottle feeding mother in a cafe mutter at me something about ‘people who do that’ as she moved her children away.

    2. Not every mother who breast feeds is a bully. I have never suggested to any bottle feeding mother that she should do otherwise.

    3. However, I do think that we have to stop pretending that these are two equal but different choices. You don’t have to look far to find the evidence, the studies have proved the benefits of breast feeding over and again.

    4. And lastly, no one is going to ‘make you feel guilty’. If you truly believe that you have made the best decision you could for yourself and your baby, then nothing anyone else says is going to make you feel guilty.

  4. Sally says

    Okay, a few things:

    1.This is symptomatic of what I feel is a problem with the way our society has come to view breasts and breast feeding. What is sad is that this woman felt so worried about breast feeding in front of anyone that she did not even try at all. Breast feeding is and should be a normal part of life.To this end I do my part by breast feeding my 2 year old in public on a daily basis! As a frequent breast feeder of a toddler in public I can assure Aileen that the pendulum of public opinion swings both ways. I have had a bottle feeding mother in a cafe mutter at me something about ‘people who do that’ as she moved her children away.

    2. Not every mother who breast feeds is a bully. I have never suggested to any bottle feeding mother that she should do otherwise.

    3. However, I do think that we have to stop pretending that these are two equal but different choices. You don’t have to look far to find the evidence, the studies have proved the benefits of breast feeding over and again.

    4. And lastly, no one is going to ‘make you feel guilty’. If you truly believe that you have made the best decision you could for yourself and your baby, then nothing anyone else says is going to make you feel guilty.

  5. Kate says

    I nearly didn’t bother reading the rest of the article after I saw the “mafia” dig in the first paragraph. The woman is an idiot.

  6. Kate says

    I nearly didn’t bother reading the rest of the article after I saw the “mafia” dig in the first paragraph. The woman is an idiot.

  7. Kate says

    Sorry, that was snippy. But there really should be a breastfeeding version of Godwin’s Law where anyone who says “breastfeeding mafia” automatically loses an argument. :-P

    Agree with Sally’s third point completely. Enough of these breast v. bottle articles that are written as if it’s merely a choice of what milk delivery system you’re going to use.

  8. Kate says

    Sorry, that was snippy. But there really should be a breastfeeding version of Godwin’s Law where anyone who says “breastfeeding mafia” automatically loses an argument. :-P

    Agree with Sally’s third point completely. Enough of these breast v. bottle articles that are written as if it’s merely a choice of what milk delivery system you’re going to use.

  9. Lisa says

    What a bitter piece of writing. Mafia, bullies and… Nazis? I think it’s pretty obvious from the choice of words that the author does harbour some regrets, despite her insistence to the contrary.

    Surely this is a case of misplaced anger. She should direct her rages at those idiots and bigots who made her feel she needed to choose between giving her baby what is nutritionally best and healthiest, or leaving the house.

    What a shame that her angry tone could put off another mum that was undecided and feeling worried about feeding publicly.

    What on earth is the matter with feeding your baby outside the house? I have fed my son all over the place, and I have nice discreet tops and dresses for feeding him on trains, in cafes, in the park, in the cinema… you name it. 99% of the time no one even clocks us. And long may it go on.

  10. Lisa says

    What a bitter piece of writing. Mafia, bullies and… Nazis? I think it’s pretty obvious from the choice of words that the author does harbour some regrets, despite her insistence to the contrary.

    Surely this is a case of misplaced anger. She should direct her rages at those idiots and bigots who made her feel she needed to choose between giving her baby what is nutritionally best and healthiest, or leaving the house.

    What a shame that her angry tone could put off another mum that was undecided and feeling worried about feeding publicly.

    What on earth is the matter with feeding your baby outside the house? I have fed my son all over the place, and I have nice discreet tops and dresses for feeding him on trains, in cafes, in the park, in the cinema… you name it. 99% of the time no one even clocks us. And long may it go on.

  11. Sam says

    I just want to know where this breastfeeding “mafia” hang out! I felt the complete opposite to this woman. I had very little support re feeding once discharged from hospital with my lo. I didn’t know where to turn, the health visitors are too over stretched to give support to bfing mothers and it wasn’t until I was actually able to go out and about with my lo that I found other mothers just as dazed and confused and worried as I was that it was actually working. My family weren’t enthused, my mother-in-law tolerated it as long as she didn’t “have to watch” and everywhere I went in public I could see people shocked that I would do “something like that” in public! Breastfeeding is definately NOT the easy option! It’s no wonder that mothers turn to the (formula) bottle. I stuck with it though for just over a year and am proud of me and my lo that we never turned to formula.

    I do agree that mothers should live and let live and not judge each other from either side of the fence. I would never dream of questioning a mother as to why they formula or breast feed unless they volunteered that information themselves. It’s a personal decision and although to me breastfeeding will almost always be the answer, we all have to respect the free choice of others. Providing they’ve been given all the facts and come to the right decision for them that should be accepted by all.

  12. Sam says

    I just want to know where this breastfeeding “mafia” hang out! I felt the complete opposite to this woman. I had very little support re feeding once discharged from hospital with my lo. I didn’t know where to turn, the health visitors are too over stretched to give support to bfing mothers and it wasn’t until I was actually able to go out and about with my lo that I found other mothers just as dazed and confused and worried as I was that it was actually working. My family weren’t enthused, my mother-in-law tolerated it as long as she didn’t “have to watch” and everywhere I went in public I could see people shocked that I would do “something like that” in public! Breastfeeding is definately NOT the easy option! It’s no wonder that mothers turn to the (formula) bottle. I stuck with it though for just over a year and am proud of me and my lo that we never turned to formula.

    I do agree that mothers should live and let live and not judge each other from either side of the fence. I would never dream of questioning a mother as to why they formula or breast feed unless they volunteered that information themselves. It’s a personal decision and although to me breastfeeding will almost always be the answer, we all have to respect the free choice of others. Providing they’ve been given all the facts and come to the right decision for them that should be accepted by all.

  13. says

    I don’t think that breast or bottle is a choice. Nature didn’t give us the choice, who do women think they are to decide not to do whats best for their baby? People who choose to formula feed from birth make me sick. This woman as Previous poster said is an idiot! I feed in public as much as possible and I HOPE people will see me so I can proudly show that I love my babies and will always do what is right by them. I have to ask why this article was posted on this website though?

    • says

      Rozy – the arcticle was forwarded to me because it is an example of peoples barriers to breastfeeding, if we can understand why people don’t want to breastfeed we might be able to help. A lot peer supporters and lactation consultants read Lactivist and anything that gives insight into peoples logic when it comes to feeding babies formula rather than breastmilk is useful to them, and to all mothers who breastfeed and who are accused of being the Milk Mafia.
      It was originally posted on another site, the link to that is at the top of the article.

  14. says

    I don’t think that breast or bottle is a choice. Nature didn’t give us the choice, who do women think they are to decide not to do whats best for their baby? People who choose to formula feed from birth make me sick. This woman as Previous poster said is an idiot! I feed in public as much as possible and I HOPE people will see me so I can proudly show that I love my babies and will always do what is right by them. I have to ask why this article was posted on this website though?

    • says

      Rozy – the arcticle was forwarded to me because it is an example of peoples barriers to breastfeeding, if we can understand why people don’t want to breastfeed we might be able to help. A lot peer supporters and lactation consultants read Lactivist and anything that gives insight into peoples logic when it comes to feeding babies formula rather than breastmilk is useful to them, and to all mothers who breastfeed and who are accused of being the Milk Mafia.
      It was originally posted on another site, the link to that is at the top of the article.

  15. Wendy says

    I agree with all the other commenters. The things that switched me off were a) my mother the former midwife – great, so her advice no doubt hindered many women from breastfeeding, not just the writer and b) the apparent necessity to be 100% committed to breastfeeding before giving it a go. Who can say they are 100% positive about any course of action? How about trying one feed at at time? C) Kicking off by referring to breastfeeders as mafia, or middle class yummy mummies does rather reinforce the very ‘battle lines’ she is bemoaning. I know plenty of formula feeding middle class yummies, in fact I know far more formula feeders than breastfeeders in every walk of life.

    I know there are women with deep seated psychological problems that impact on their wish or ability to breastfeed, but I think they are a different group from those who remember a formula tin from their childhood with fondness and base their decision to ff on that. I can see the benefit of knowing the barriers to breastfeeding, but to be honest, I don’t see how you can ever reach mothers with this sort of mindset. I’d be thrilled to be proved wrong though.

  16. Wendy says

    I agree with all the other commenters. The things that switched me off were a) my mother the former midwife – great, so her advice no doubt hindered many women from breastfeeding, not just the writer and b) the apparent necessity to be 100% committed to breastfeeding before giving it a go. Who can say they are 100% positive about any course of action? How about trying one feed at at time? C) Kicking off by referring to breastfeeders as mafia, or middle class yummy mummies does rather reinforce the very ‘battle lines’ she is bemoaning. I know plenty of formula feeding middle class yummies, in fact I know far more formula feeders than breastfeeders in every walk of life.

    I know there are women with deep seated psychological problems that impact on their wish or ability to breastfeed, but I think they are a different group from those who remember a formula tin from their childhood with fondness and base their decision to ff on that. I can see the benefit of knowing the barriers to breastfeeding, but to be honest, I don’t see how you can ever reach mothers with this sort of mindset. I’d be thrilled to be proved wrong though.

  17. Liv says

    This just makes me so sad, for so many reasons. Just imagining the image of a 1hr old baby sucking on a bottle is enough to make me teary alone

  18. Liv says

    This just makes me so sad, for so many reasons. Just imagining the image of a 1hr old baby sucking on a bottle is enough to make me teary alone

  19. says

    Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he just bought me lunch since I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

  20. says

    Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he just bought me lunch since I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

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