Feeding your baby: it’s your choice

Recently the community midwives have stressed me out about the baby’s size and my blood pressure being too low and my blood pressure being too high. I hadn’t had a look at my notes for a while so I looked through and reassured myself that everything was fine. My BP was fine, the scans showed good growth, and my consultant was happy.

(edit: in the UK we hold our own antenatal medical notes – it’s this document I’m referring to)

I started reading back through the booking-in questionnaires and remarked to BabyDaddy that their mental health assessment had involved asking me if I’d had PND after I had Ted and then ticking “no” to all of the others.

Next I noticed the section entitled Feeding Your Baby: It’s Your Choice and got really angry.

There are two pages in this section so you’d expect one page to be dedicated to breast-feeding and one to bottle-feeding. I guess it kind of is.

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In case you can’t see that photo clearly enough the first page and a half extols the virtues of breastfeeding and the final half a page details the disadvantages of formula feeding.

How exactly does that arm women with enough information to make a choice? Unless the choice is between ‘Doing The Right Thing’ and being a terrible mother by poisoning your baby with unnatural substances against its will.

I’ve spoken before about the pressures on women to breastfeed and the shame felt by those who can’t or don’t.

I’ve been told – unsolicited – by a woman in a breastfeeding support group that I should have told my consultant “where to go” when I had to stop breastfeeding Ted because of my epilepsy medication. Never mind that I didn’t even speak to my consultant about it but made the decision for myself following careful research. Never mind that her assertion that “no medication” can prevent breastfeeding was nothing more than an ill-informed fallacy. Never mind that it was none of her damn business.

I was told by the health visitor who came to see me after Ted was born that combination feeding would prevent him from being able to latch on properly, despite the fact that it was combination feeding that gave me the best chance of being able to breastfeed at all. Never mind that he had a tongue-tie that made latching on so incredibly painful that I would cry. They wouldn’t snip it because they didn’t think I’d feed for long enough. Which I didn’t, so I guess they won.

I was told by the community midwife who asked why I was weaning Ted off breast milk after only three weeks that it didn’t matter how drowsy he was, that I had too much of a “natural latch” to “give up” so soon.

I was desperate to feed Ted myself and I felt ashamed of myself when I stopped. I thought I’d failed my beautiful son, the one person who depended on me entirely and who I should be able to provide for without a second thought.

The fact that breastfeeding is promoted in the NHS is a good thing. Breast is best and I’m not disputing that. I’m still desperate to feed this baby myself and have already arranged to stay longer in hospital so the epilepsy nurses can come and monitor baby at regular intervals and help me to do the best job I can.

But the way we talk about breastfeeding – and also the way we talk about bottle-feeding – needs to change.

There was really no need for me to feel the way I did when I couldn’t feed Ted. I would have felt guilty whatever happened because that’s part of the job, but the health professionals around me should have supported me. I was a brand new mum who felt like she was letting her son down and all they did was to alienate me and stop me feeling like I could go to them with any other concerns.

Even if I had been able to carry on I don’t think I would have been prepared anyway. Nobody talks about the realities of breastfeeding. You see posters of rosy-cheeked mothers feeding plump babies and you read that it’s the most natural thing in the world, but why aren’t you told that it can hurt, that the baby won’t necessarily know what to do (and neither will you), that you’re going to have to do it constantly, that your nipples are going to hurt, that you’ll leak milk at the slightest touch… I don’t think it would put women off. We’re told the worst things about childbirth but we still have children! I think we’re more likely to ask for help and persevere if we already expect that we might need to, rather than feeling like we’re doing something wrong and quietly slinking off into a corner with a bottle and hoping no one challenges us on it. (Excellent breastfeeding tips here).

I understand why breastfeeding needs to be promoted and I definitely think we all need to shout about it if we want attitudes to change in society, so women feel more confident in their right to do it wherever they need to and more comfortable in sticking with it.

But I really don’t think dividing women into two camps – those who breastfeed and those who don’t, and by implication those who are doing their best for their babies and those who aren’t – helps anyone. Telling me all of the bad things about formula isn’t going to change the reality of my breastfeeding experience: it’s just going to make it harder for me if I can’t do it.

The title of the section – It’s Your Choice – clearly doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s not a choice at all. Whether it is or it isn’t there seems to me to be no reason to put more pressure on women at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives than they already put on themselves.

This time around my choice is not to listen. I’ll ask for help from the people who can understand my position. I won’t listen to the judgements of the people who can’t.

If you enjoyed this post you might like:
Don’t promote formula!
Breastfeeding tips from Mummy To Boyz

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About Stitches and Stretchmarks

Honest and frank Mum of one.
This entry was posted in Difficulties, fears, Health, Issues, Society and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Feeding your baby: it’s your choice

  1. In the end, you do what works for you.

    I totally support educating women on breastfeeding. But, to me, educating means telling all: the good AND the bad. It also means that once the mother has received all of the information, leave her the heck alone and stop pushing and pushing your point. I mean, I chose to breastfeed (and am still at it after 9 months), was lucky enough that it worked out for me and all but even despite that fact, I was still submerged by people who had something to say for breastfeeding.

    I can understand your dismay when you read through that section of the book. When I was pregnant, I bought a highly recommended book on nutrition. I was happy, upon reading through the table of contents, to see that there was a whole chapter on breastfeeding and formula-feeding. When I read through the chapter on breastfeeding, I was happy to see that the author wrote about the good and the bad of breastfeeding. Then, I read the chapter on formula feeding.

    Oh boy… Essentially, it examined all of the reasons that mothers who choose formula feeding (or choose to wean early) give to explain their decision and shoots them down one by one as though they were just mere excuses and not legitimate reasons. At the very end of the chapter, in about a line or 2, the author specifies that some women, a very tiny percentage, really cannot breastfeed and that for them it is ok to formula feed. Of course, she doesn’t use those words, but that is what she means. I never picked the book up again after that…

    • I didn’t make this clear enough, I’ve only just thought about how different it must be elsewhere in the world. In the UK we hold on to our own antenatal notes so we can take them to our doctor, midwife, consultants, health visitors and can go into labour away from home and still get the right care. The pages in the photos are from inside that booklet. It’s an NHS document that has all of our personal information in and that information on breastfeeding. If it was a book I’d be annoyed but I’d put it down. I find it very offensive that it’s in a medical file.

  2. Ooooh! How interesting that you keep hold of your notes.

    I can understand your annoyance at the information being presented the way it is in the booklets that are handed out to mothers.

  3. Helen says:

    It’s great to encourage breast feeding and explain its benefits but to say its “your choice” and then produce a totally one-sided article is ridiculous. I’ve never heard formula described as artificial milk either, it somehow sounds worse than formula (maybe that was the intention!)

  4. Kathleen Neely says:

    how could anyone with a lick of common sense think that breastfeeding and epilepsy meds are OK and even a good idea. I am so sorry that you were verbally assaulted by ignorant people who believe in ignorant old wives tales. I find myself amazed yet saddened that any one of these “lactation specialists” pushing women into doing things dangerously to feed their own self esteem. I have had enough of homebirth, breastfeeding and all thing “natural” !!! Mother Nature is not always kind, the health of the mother is vital to the health of the child. I really wish that these clowns who are not educated properly would stop handing out unsolicited (Lies) advise. Most of these women are not educated, but they seem to have large families, which is fine. But just because you have given birth does not make you an expert in this field. And just because you have been able to successfully Breastfeed a baby, does not make you a lactation specialist.
    If you need medical advise , please ask a trained physician, not an old granny midwife. Honestly I thought that this was the 21st Century, not the 10th century….

    • I think your point about women who have successfully breastfed thinking they’re lactation specialists is pertinent. It seems that these “support” groups are usually headed by someone like that even if the rest of the Mums really do want to help you.

  5. Alison says:

    That leaflet/info sheet is really terrible. People just need to stop being judgemental because, at the end of the day, every mother is just doing what is best for her and her baby.

  6. Setmymommyfree says:

    There are two issues I tend to have with OVERZEALOUS breastfeeding advocates and social media groups: 1. They tend to shame women who have tried and failed to breast feed or, like you, need medication incompatible with breast feeding; 2. They often miss their intended targets completely. There was a mother at my breast feeding support group whose supply was not coming in. There she was sitting looking like she had not slept since her son was born- not the usual new mother tired, but a much deeper, bone tired- squeezing her breast trying to get out a few more drops. She pumped round the clock and supplemented with formula when she had to. Another mother had a complete mental breakdown at the group. We learned she was suffering from PPD AND PP OCD, and she had a toddler at home. How far should these women push themselves until it is okay for them to admit defeat? Should they go to their limit or the judgmental limits of others? They heard the call to breast feed, they answered it and gave their all, should they feel inferior for choosing formula?

    Then again, like I said, their target audience is being missed. I talked with one lady at my daycare about breast feeding and formula feeding. She told me she was formula feeding. When I asked for her story she simply said WIC. When I inquired further she said that WIC paid for formula. Why should she breast feed, which requires time and effort, when formula is free for her? This is the type of person that breast feeding education would help (or not since she had her mind made up) with but it is just not getting there.

    I am and have always been a big breast feeding advocate, but I am also a big supporter of healthy families. I would love to see every mom get the total support she needs, and try to breast feed, try hard. But what is hard? Is my hard harder than yours or weaker? So, instead of saying breast feed, breast feed, breast feed, I will say, “I support you!!!”

    • You’re right that it is an overzealous minority aiming their message at the wrong people. I just think it’s such a shame when women resort to throwing judgements like weapons instead of supporting each other through one of the biggest challenges we’ll ever face – new motherhood.

      • Setmymommyfree says:

        With all that we know about nutrition and the role it plays in overall health, both at the start of life and all the way through it, it is completely understandable that many mothers have anxiety over what they feed their babies. To then pass judgment on a mother who could not breast feed and already has high anxiety is cruel.

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