“We always did feel the same we just saw it from a different point of view.”
This is a quote from Bob Dylan’s gorgeous “Tangled Up In Blue” from the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. I was listening to it in the car the other day – toddler complaining loudly in the back-seat (nothing compares to Let It Go in her eyes) when it struck me how perfectly this lyric sums up our ongoing battle; breast vs bottle. This sounds a little off the wall but bear with me.
We all love our children. We all want to do what is best for them. We all want to be happy and healthy mothers. Yet we all make different choices about what it means to be the best mom we can be. Sometimes these choices don’t always feel like choices or they may feel as if they are forced upon us by chance or circumstance but ultimately our main aim is to do our best.
Recently Dr. Amy Brown of Swansea University released a book (Breastfeeding Uncovered) which, at first, seemed destined to take guilt out of the equation when it comes to feeding our babies. She believes society as a whole needs to become more breastfeeding friendly. Dr. Brown says it’s time we remove blame and pressure from individual women and look at society’s attitude to breastfeeding. She is right. We as a society do need to be more culturally accepting of breastfeeding and more open to allowing women the opportunities to do it.
However, while I applaud Dr. Brown’s attempt to revolutionise how we perceive breastfeeding I can’t completely step on board with her. In order to remove the guilt surrounding infant feeding we need to acknowledge that how you feed your baby is your choice. It is individual circumstances, feelings and beliefs that determine how we will feed our babies and even with the most open society in the world not every woman will choose to breastfeed.
According to Dr. Brown only two per cent of women cannot physically breastfeed. This means women are choosing not to breastfeed for other reasons. Though I haven’t actually read the book itself I do wonder does this figure include a baby’s inability to latch properly or babies with allergies to milk? Also taking physical abilities out of the equation altogether what about mothers who don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding? Or mothers who feel it just isn’t right for them? Or mothers, who, for whatever reason, just don’t wish to breastfeed. Perhaps only two per cent can’t physically breastfeed but this grossly underplays other non-societal factors that might influence a mother’s choice.
Choice. Something we seem all too quick to forget when to comes to a woman’s body.
Dr. Brown believes that we should be warning about the “risks” of formula. It is this type of emotive language which has driven so many mothers to feelings of intense guilt and regret if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for them. So while I agree with Dr. Brown that more needs to be done to make our society more breastfeeding friendly, I don’t think that demonising formula feeding is the best way to go about that. I think a more relaxed culture which allows a mother the right to choose and then support to make that choice possible is what we need to be working towards. Support is the important word here – not pressure, not judgement just support. This means we respect a mother’s right to choose be that bottle, breast or a combination of both.
I agree with Dr. Brown that women are not getting the support they need; all mothers are not getting the support they need. Mothers who want to breastfeed need proper advice along with the ability to feed wherever they like without feeling judged. Mothers who want to bottle-feed need advice too and the ability to feed wherever they like without feeling judged.
We are all just mothers trying to do our best.
Bob was right – we do all feel the same – we all want what is best for our children. In reality, however, this might not look the same from family to family. But that’s okay. We might come at it from a differing point of view but we all love our babies and are doing our best.
One thought on “Bottle or Breast – We Are All Just Doing Our Best”
I think you’ve missed the point of the book. The barriers to choice are *all* in relation to breastfeeding, where over 90% of women stop feeding earlier than they intended because of problems, problems which the evidence suggests could have been resolved had the mothers had access to appropriate care and advice. No mother in the UK is prevented from bottle-feeding or told that it is not her right to choose. Not one. In fact 98% of women use formula by the time their baby is 1 and the majority of UK babies are fully formula fed by the time they’re 8 weeks old! I think that pretty much puts paid to the notion that there are any barriers to formula feeding in the UK.
You are right that parents invariably want to do what’s best for their babies. The difficulty comes when there is conflict between doing what the medical evidence says is safest and best for babies, which is usually breastfeeding, when it also involves doing something women themselves may find difficult, embarrassing, painful or inconvenient. The guilt isn’t generally imposed by other people – it comes from an internal conflict in mothers from having to deal with this balancing of needs between themselves and their babies. This puts women in an impossible situation emotionally. I was recently talking to a mother from a country where 99% of babies are breastfed at birth and where the vast majority of babies are still breastfeeding at 6 months (note, this is a country where formula is widely available, affordable and safe to prepare). She said nobody talks about choice there. The assumption is that everyone will breastfeed, and almost everyone does. She said that is much less angst about feeding than in the UK where we constantly bang on about choice and yet end up with women who feel unhappy and conflicted about how they feed their babies. Go figure!
One other thing I wanted to raise is your suggestion that Dr Brown’s references to the risks of formula feeding is in some way inappropriate in a book about infant feeding choices. I assume that as you have the word risk’ in speech marks that it is this specific word that you find ’emotive’. If the NHS is disseminating information to the public stating that not breastfeeding is an independent risk factor for SIDS, and that bottle-fed babies are at increased risk of illness and hospitalisation then it’s completely reasonable for an author to refer to ‘the risks of formula feeding’ in a book about feeding choices, and in no way using language to manipulate the feelings of her readers.
In fact, if you don’t want to be contributing to the ‘mommy wars’ over feeding choices which is making mothers feel so unhappy, then maybe you yourself shouldn’t use emotive language which implies that the author is identifying formula as ‘evil’ (this is what ‘demonising’ means). Women as adults and parents need clear, unbiased, scientific information about the food they are giving their babies, particularly when that food is a single commercial product which may be a baby’s sole source of nutrition for a full six months. By using the word ‘demonising’ you are suggesting that the author has deliberately distorted the information in order to further a particular agenda. This is unfair when you have no proof that this is the case, and when the author has a large body of medical literature which supports the information she has included about this issue in her book.
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