Bottle or Breast – We Are All Just Doing Our Best

“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.

The Sweet Art of Imitation

This week a mother shared a sweet photo of her daughter pretending to breastfeed her doll. Her mother breastfed her and as well all know toddlers love to copy their parents. I often catch sight of my tiny lady carefully watching me out of the corner of her eye while I have my dinner then she takes a bite in the exact same way. It is adorable. I’m sure the mother who shared this photo thought it was just as adorable. And it was. However, what I’m sure she didn’t expect was the ‘shock and horror’ brigade who descended to label this child’s pretend play as “weird” and that her mother should be “punched in the face”. Seriously who writes these vile comments? How can anyone call a child imitating her mother “some of the nastiest sh*t of my life”? I was quite taken aback.

Regular readers will know that I am big on encouraging and supporting bottle-feeding mothers. But this is due to the fact that I think it’s an area we fall down in and a lot of mothers feel guilty for making that choice. However, I believe every mama has the right to feed her baby as she so wishes and that mothers who breastfeed deserve our support and respect too. This nasty outburst at a photo of a child who is just copying a very normal and natural act is reprehensible. As a number of commenters pointed out there would have been no uproar if the child had been using a bottle.

What strikes me as kind of amusing here (amusing in a bad way though) is that women are nearly afraid to put up photographs of themselves bottle-feeding their babies. They fear the onslaught of questions and judgement. Yet a photo of a child using a toy bottle is fine. On the other side of it we have a woman who posted an image of a child pretending to breastfeed and there is a rush of negativity while a woman pictured breastfeeding her own child at a wedding was met with (mainly) applause. WTF? What is with the hypocrisy? Either you support breastfeeding or you don’t and if you do then what is so shocking about a child pretending to do it? It’s like a child pretending to give her/his dolls a bath or put them to bed. It’s preparing them to be good parents.

So what’s the deal people? If we are to help normalise breastfeeding in our society (which would go a long way towards helping mothers feel comfortable doing it) then a child imitating what she sees on a daily basis should be praised. As a former early years teacher I saw this happen quite frequently with children whose mothers were breastfeeding. We never made a big deal out of it; why would we? I know that some of the parents were a little embarrassed but only because they feared they (and their child) would be judged as this child was. I was always quick to assure them that it was perfectly normal for children to imitate what they see at home and there was absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. Let’s move on and recognise this picture for what it is; a sweet moment of child imitating life.

Why?

This morning I read an article that told the stories of six breastfeeding women. Each woman was pcitured with their baby (or children) and their story was told below the photo. This was all very lovely until I read that one woman who has autism and Borderline Personality Disorder, panic and anxiety disorders(as well as a history of panic attacks and anxiety disorders) had felt suicidal about pumping. Her baby was tube fed and on IV nutrition so she had to pump her breastmilk. For eight hours a day. She had D-MER- dysphoric milk ejection reflex. I had never heard of this before and so looked it up. It is a condition that means you get an influx of negative emotions just before milk is released and for a few minutes after. There are techniques you can use to distract yourself but most often what is needed is time to allow your hormones to even out. However, at 6 weeks this particular woman was diagnosed with severe post-partum depression. Her partner even noted that she had been suicidal when faced with the pump. Yet she pumped for 6 weeks despite all of this. Despite it clearly being a risk not only to her mental health but to her life as well. It was decided due to the PPD (not to mention the risk of post-partum psychosis) that she should stop pumping. Her wife, who was still nursing their older child, intended to take over. For various reasons this didn’t work and they relied on donor milk. All well and good. But my question is why?

Why pump for six weeks when you know (and your partner is fully aware) that you are putting yourself at risk? Why did they choose to do this? Why? Have we become so obsessed with Breast is Best that women are now risking their own mental health to avoid going down the formula route? This is not healthy people! Motherhood is so much more than breastfeeding, it’s so much more than feeding full-stop. Being a mother is a huge, complex, multi-layered job and we have reduced it to breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding in some frankly weird attempt to make bottlefeeding mothers feel like failures. Women will now go out of their way to ensure they do ‘what’s right’ and breastfeed despite obstacles like having to come off anxiety medication to do it, risking a return of depression due to lack of sleep etc. I cannot believe that this is the best thing for new babies.

I think what babies need more than anything is a healthy and happy mother whether that woman is breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, pumping, using donor milk whatever. The important thing is that you are healthy, both physically and mentally. People are forgetting this in a rush to sign up to Breast is Best and we need to consider how this slogan may be contributing to many women putting themselves under enormous pressure to feed their babies. Please let’s support not pressure women during the vulnerable newborn period. Allow them to make the choice that suits them best and remember best fed is fed.