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Is breast always best?

What happens when you are unable to breastfeed your baby? We are all told that breastfeeding is best for our babies and hospitals are not allowed to discuss bottle feeding in group settings, but for some people, it is just not possible, or not a preferred choice. So why don’t we provide women with all the relevant information to allow them to make the choice that is best for them and their family? Why do we insist on applying pressure and guilt at one of the most stressful points of a woman’s life?

Currently, the Government and the UN state that you should breastfeed your baby for at least the first six months, but why is this way of feeding your baby considered to be so much better for your baby?

It is stated that the main advantages of breastfeeding your baby are that the breast milk is perfectly designed for your baby and that it passes on antibodies from the mother, reducing the risk of your baby suffering from infections and diseases. Breastfeeding advocates also believe that it can result in a higher intelligence and promotes a stronger bond between mother and child. However, more research is being conducted which casts doubt on the alleged benefits of breast milk over formula feeding.

Not long after I had my daughter, it was announced that there was an increase in the number of children developing rickets. This was believed to be due to the lack of Vitamin D in breastmilk. Those mothers who were breastfeeding were advised to get Vitamin D drops to supplement breast milk. This weakened the argument that breastmilk is perfectly designed for your baby. The most recent studies being conducted into the advantages of breastfeeding appear to suggest that any supposed health advantages to breastfeeding are minimal, if they exist at all.

Joan B. Wolf wrote a book about this issue and stated, in an interview for the Telegraph, that there was just no evidence to support claims that breastmilk offered your baby health advantages. A major study was undertaken at the University of Ohio, where they used a large number of siblings. One was breastfed and the other was bottle fed. The conclusions of this study were that there was no significant difference between the sibling groups regarding BMI, asthma and intelligence. The study conducted by the University of Harvard went even further, suggesting that in some cases, breast milk contained higher amounts of Cortisol, which was making babies more anxious.

So, the health benefits of breastfeeding are still, to a large degree, unsubstantiated and still open to debate. This makes it harder to understand the moral stance taken against mothers who are unable to or prefer not to breastfeed their children. Whilst breastfeeding can be a beautiful, emotional part of raising a child, it is not something that is necessarily right for everybody. In my own case, I was taking medication that I needed and so was not able to breastfeed. As it turned out for me, that was a good thing. As I have an anxiety condition, bottle feeding my daughter took a lot of stress away from me. I knew how much she had had to eat and never had to worry that maybe she was not getting enough.
The stress of breastfeeding can be something that puts people off. I know several mothers who have tried to breastfeed and then felt like failures when either there was a problem getting a child to cooperate or they were not producing enough milk. Strangely, in these cases, what was the solution? Put them on the formula that must not be discussed.

So, having established that breastfeeding might not be right for everybody and accepting that the health benefits have yet to be fully accepted, how in this modern society do we treat women who decide that formula is best for their circumstances and their child? In the UK we make them feel guilty, as though they are letting their children down before they have even got going. My first experience of this was at ante natal classes, when the midwife told us we would be discussing feeding our babies. I naively asked if that would include bottle feeding. I was told in no uncertain terms that they were not allowed to discuss bottle feeding and if we wanted information we would have to organise a one-to-one meeting. Feeling like the worst person in the world, I got my coat and with tears of anger blinding me, stormed out of the room.

What we found out, with our child, is that there are so many things to consider with bottle feeding. Sterilising them properly, making them freshly, making sure the water is just the right temperature, storing it, and on and on. So, isn’t it important that new mums have access to the information easily so that bottle feeding is done safely and so that new mums feel confident in what they are doing? I felt as though my child was being penalised by my decision to bottle feed and as though their safety was not as important, because they were making it so difficult to obtain the information that would allow me to safely feed her. It doesn’t end there either. Go to the formula aisle in your supermarket or chemist and you will see signs telling you that formula is not included in promotions or loyalty point schemes. So, for your hard-pushed family, working hard to feed their children, really, there are financial penalties too.

I carried a lot of guilt around with me because I bottle fed Mia and was completely blown away when I was discussing weaning her onto solids at four months old. I was told not to worry about it. The guidelines on breastfeeding for six months were mainly for third world countries where they do not have access to clean water supplies. My doctor also added that it was also to try and prevent small babies being taken to hospital because they had been fed inappropriate foods.

Now, I have a beautiful, healthy, happy child. Despite being born with a few complications, my bottle-fed baby has defied the expectations of her physiotherapist and paediatrician. She never lost any of her birth weight and is now one of the tallest in her class. Oh, and who has 100% attendance at school with no sick absences? What women do not need is a political agenda applying pressure, or TV adverts making us feel inadequate. We don’t need to feel forced or coerced into a course of action. So, why don’t we accept that being a mum is hard and we all have to make choices that suit our family? Instead of making people feel bad why don’t we support each other and respect each other’s choices?

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