All content of this blog is my own opinion only. It does not represent the views of any organisation or association I may work for, or be associated with. Nothing within this blog should be considered as medical advice and you should always consult your Doctor.

Mother & Baby - Come now, are we really that shocked?

According to a study earlier this year, just under one thousand infants in the US died last year because they were formula fed.   Shockingly, this is not the first time worrying figures have hit the news.  A report in 2004 which examined all available scientific research on infant mortality, found that using formula doubled the death rate for US infants.  Co- author Dr. Linda Folden Palmer stated:
"Formula does not fully meet the nutritional and immunity needs of infants. It leaves their immune systems flailing."
I wonder how many pregnant mums were given those figures at their antenatal classes?

Only a couple of months later (during National Breastfeeding Awareness Week) Mother & Baby magazine (who claim to be staunch breastfeeding supporters), feel it's the perfect time for the Deputy Editor to tells readers she "couldn't be fagged breastfeeding" describing it as "creepy".

Ya gotta wonder how many of the one thousand US mums just couldn't be fagged?  I wonder whether Kathryn Blundell would have been as quick to advertise her stance, had she been unlucky enough to have been one of the mums who buried her baby?

Some might have been shocked at Kathryn's outpouring of anti breastfeeding comments, but I suspect most of us working in the field of lactation have heard similar many times before.  As a breastfeeding counsellor, when you meet a non breastfeeding mum (who knows you are a counsellor) you often get the full explanation of why they are holding a bottle.  I've never commented, I would never ask a mum how she was feeding or why, but that doesn't matter really - because a mother judges herself far more harshly than anyone.

My experience of mothers who are so anti-breastfeeding, is that they actually really wanted to breastfeed or really felt they should - and for whatever reason it didn't work out.  Mums who actually believe formula is as good, tend to be very laid back about the whole breast/formula issue - because they're happy with their own choice.  The most vocal "pro formula feeders", shout loudly they made " a choice";  Insidiously attacking those who are breastfeeding, because they are the sort of parent who wants the best for their child.

Would Kathy write an article announcing she had smoked her way through pregnancy? (despite those supposed pesky health risks) or not been fagged with a car seat, instead driving around with a baby on her lap?  Highly unlikely, remember the outrage when Britney tried that one?  Perhaps that she doesn't recycle but torches her litter on a weekly basis and sod the environment? (the environmental impact of artificial feeding is massive)

No, it's only politically OK to advertise you couldn't be fagged when it comes to feeding.  Why? because the majority don't do it.  Even if a huge percentage wanted to - trying to succeed in a place where only 1 in 100 mums manage to meet the recommendations is an incredibly difficult task. 

Imagine you had grown up only ever witnessing and tasting your local cuisine.  Someone hands you a Chinese menu and instructs you to cook a dish, giving you no recipe and only a vague description of what it is.  You've never heard of half the ingredients and what's more everyone around you seems to be doing "fine" on the local food anyway.  You seek help but unfortunately whilst you can hunt out some trained and qualified chefs in your area, the vast majority themselves made do with local cooking - so they are not really sure when you ask trickier questions.  Where do you start?  This is often the position a new breastfeeding mum finds herself in.

My grandfather used to recount tales of bus journeys pressed up against a mother nursing her infant - of relatives cooking, baby on hip, often latched on!  When something is normalised in this way from childhood, there is no mental shift required to appreciate breasts have a purpose other than as "fun bags" as Kathryn likes to call them.  In his day there would've been no call to find a "breastfeeding counsellor", one of the few that did make it and so volunteer to help other mothers (also known as "Breastfeeding Brigade, "Tit Nazi etc") they were surrounded by women who had done it!

Now you could almost be fooled into thinking Western Women are "broken".  Whilst entire tribes breastfeed in some parts of the world, seemingly only a tiny percentage of UK mothers can do so - despite all the amazing technology we supposedly have.

The trouble is breastfeeding involves two thing,  breasts and money.  The first apparently nowadays so bad a lot can't even bring themselves to say the word in public;  "Are you feeding her yourself" is the most common avoidance tactic.  I always long for someone to reply that no, they haul a neighbour over to do it.  Mothers buy swathes of cloth to ensure not a fleck of flesh is displayed should they get as far as having to do it in public, and debate ensues over whether feeding a child milk of it's own species in a public place is actually socially acceptable.  I wouldn't care but the vast majority of formula feeders also state they have "felt judged" bottle feeding in public, so it seems to me nobody is happy!

Ultimately, acceptable breasts don't have a baby on them.  They are pumped with silicone or flashed on page three.  In fact breasts have seemingly become SO sexualised that even someone with Kathryn Blundell's intelligence is no longer able to make the link mentally with the only reason she actually has them at all!  So much so it would appear to almost repulse her, to the extent the article is littered with incorrect facts and straw man arguments to emphasise the strength of emotion she clearly still feels. 

And this is where it comes back to the supposed "choice", the one that never was.

When it comes to other areas of infant health, nobody is marketing an alternate cause.  There is no "anti car seat lobby" saying mothers shouldn't be "made to feel guilty" for not looking out for their child's safety.  Tobacco marketing is banned entirely and there are no adverts showing a doted dad, arms wrapped round his wife caressing her growing bump whilst she puffs on a Marlboro red.  But when it comes to infant feeding, the profit is in the product.

This multi million pound industry requires women to fail at breastfeeding for them to profit, and in order to do that, they need to convince mums their product is "nearly as good".   In fact they spend hundreds of thousands of pounds per year ensuring mums receive this message, you only have to pick up a copy of "the politics of breastfeeding" to be terrified at just how this impacts on society.

So can we really blame the likes of Kathryn Blundell for her stance?   As Deputy Editor of a magazine, wouldn't releasing such a controversial piece during National Breastfeeding Awareness week be quite a lucrative move?  It has resulted in media coverage galore, radio interviews and how much free advertising for Mother & Baby?  What's the old saying, "there is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary". 

The sad thing is the huge cost to their readers.  The pregnant mums who rely on the magazine for advice and information, perhaps the mum with a new baby, struggling with the early days of breastfeeding - confused as her midwife spent nine months telling her "breast was best".

Ultimately breastfeeding is down to a whole society and at the moment it's simply for the most part, a lucky few scraping through on a wing and a prayer.   Most breastfeeders will readily admit, that in different circumstances, with their first child - they could easily have ended up not breastfeeding, because that's the lottery as things stand.  The Department of Health might be talking the talk, but until the rest of the UK gets in step and walks the walk, nothing will change.

Mother & Baby - Sorting Fact From Fiction.

Had I overheard Kathy Blundell's comments somewhere, it would have been a minor annoyance.  As they were distributed to however many mums via Mother & Baby magazine, I feel a need to correct some of the utterly wrong information the article contained, and point out the inflammatory straw man arguments!

The problems start in the sub heading!

Giving your baby formula milk is nothing to be ashamed of.
The first straw man argument.  Health experts insist that the evidence against formula as a product is overwhelming, not that mothers who use it should be ashamed.  There are many reasons why a mother may be using formula, it's ridiculous to suggest it shameful.

It’s right up there with a drug-free birth as the rite of passage that proves you’re all woman and a good mother.
Is it?  If the mothers who manage to breastfeed (1 in 100 Kathy states) are the only ones who are "all woman and a good mother" what would she call the other 99 percent?  I've met many amazing (and as far as I know all woman ;)) mothers who couldn't get to grips with breastfeeding.
Sure, breastmilk has the edge over infant formula
Bit like saying a 200k sports car has "the edge" over an old metro. There are over 100 constituents in breastmilk that scientists are currently unable to replicate in formula, many known to impact on short and long-term health. This statement implies they are similar.

Then there are studies that show it reduces the risk of breast cancer for you, and stomach upsets and allergies for your baby. But even the convenience and supposed health benefits of breastmilk couldn’t induce me to stick my nipple into a bawling baby’s mouth.
So Kathy acknowledges stomach upsets and allergies for baby (remember this you will need it later!) but what about all the other conditions?  Numerous studies have demonstrated not breastfeeding increases rates of infant mortality, risk of infection and disease including SIDS and childhood cancers to name just a few from an extensive list?
After nine months of denial, lardiness and bad shoes, as soon as the birth was out of the way I want my body back. (And some wine).
I've never really understood this comment, as surely you have your body back, you gave birth remember? Nor is there any reason why a breastfeeding mother can't enjoy the odd glass of wine or *gasp* even a coffee!  Breastfeeding also burns calories to help shift that "lardiness"!

Not that I had anything particularly useful to do with my body, except – paradoxically – care for my baby.
Quite.  Although instead of using breasts, we've moved on to hands (and bottles, sterilising, making up, cleaning) So more of a body part swap than actually getting anything back then? Plus quite a bit of time consuming extra work has sneaked in, rather than sitting breastfeeding?

I also wanted to give my boobs at least a chance to stay on my chest rather than dangling around on my stomach, which, after two pregnancies, still has ‘tonal’ issues of its own.
As Kathy mentions, pregnancy can be a challenging time for breasts. They grow and change shape over the months, filling with milk once the baby is born, regardless of whether it's used.  Breastfeeding does not make breasts sag, this myth was truly busted in 2007 when a study found no impact on breast shape.  Factors that did influence sagging were:
  • Older age
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Larger pre-pregnancy bra cup size
  • Greater number of pregnancies

They’re part of my sexuality, too – not just breasts, but fun bags.
I think it would be ridiculous to suggest breasts aren't sexual!  Many women enjoy their breasts as "fun bags" and breastfeed!  For some women it's the only time they fill a full cup, and they can feel hugely sexual with their new improved breastfeeding breasts!  For the vast majority soggy breastpads are a short-term requirement and many new nursing bra's are hot!
seeing your teeny, tiny, innocent baby latching on where only a lover has been before feels, well, a little creepy
I've heard mums before say that after only relating to their breasts in a sexual capacity pre-baby, the mental shift to mother and lover can take a little time.  Most describe it as a little unusual rather than creepy, but because it feels very different to a lover, this passes within a few hours/days for the vast majority of women.
Ask most of the quitters why they stopped and you’ll hear tales of agonising three-hour feeding sessions and – the drama! – bloody nipples. But I often wonder whether many of these women, like me, just couldn’t be fagged or felt like getting tipsy once in awhile.
The number of calls the volunteer breastfeeding helplines take per year would suggest the former.  Having taken calls where mums are sobbing so much they can't speak because breastfeeding isn't working for them, I rather feel this a disservice to a lot of mothers.

It's also perfectly possible to get tipsy once in a while when breastfeeding (ask my partner *hic*) if you want to have more than the recommended couple, you can express for someone else to feed the baby.  After all you can't really be the sole carer yourself if tipsy anyway!  There is no need to "pump and dump"; when you are sober you can simply resume breastfeeding.

Next comes the whole story in the park:
I recall one sunny afternoon when, happily feeding my baby in the park, ducks quacking in the distance, a passing stranger – also a mum – asked me whether I was breastfeeding. Reeling from the impertinence of such a personal question (and anyway, wasn’t the bottle in my hand a give away?) I hesitated to answer. Say ‘yes’ and I’d be a liar. Say ‘no’ and, from the pursing of her lips and arch of her brow, it was clear I’d be marked as a weak, selfish mum, straight from the Vicky Pollard school of parenting. The clock was ticking. Liar? Bad mum? I plumped for bad mum. ‘You do know your baby will get sick if you give him that poison,’ she said, flouncing off. Thanks, sister. Great advice.
Call me cynical, but really who would ask a mother holding a bottle whether she was breast or bottle feeding?  I also find it ever weirder this woman would then feel it OK to insult a stranger (regardless of the topic!)  I'm not sure this is as much about run of the mill mothers as some random loon!
So, time for a reality check.
A reality check, hmm OK that I can do given the next paragraph!
Formula milk is not toxic,
Oops there is that straw man argument again. Apart from the (alleged) clearly bonkers lady in the park, who claimed formula was toxic? I seem to read about these crazy lactivists, yet neither myself nor anybody else deeply entrenched in the "breastfeeding mafia" has ever come across one!

lacking in nutrients
Whether formula is lacking in nutrients, kinda depends how you define nutrient. Do some babies grow ok, absolutely; in some cases so much so formula is linked with obesity in later life. However a 2004 report examining infant mortality, found that using formula doubled the death rate for US infants. Co- author Dr. Linda Folden Palmer stated: "Formula does not fully meet the nutritional and immunity needs of infants. It leaves their immune systems flailing."

Or in any way bad for a baby’s health when prepared properly– and we can all read the back of a packet for instructions.
Woah hang on, just a few paragraphs ago Kathy had least acknowledged stomch upsets and allergies.  If not breastfeeding increases the risk of infections and diseases as discussed, wouldn't that qualify as "bad for a baby's health"?

Even if it was just down to making it safely, that's not as easy as Kathy implies!  Firstly the guidelines by the Department of Health on how to safely prepare formula, differ from those on the back of the packet!  Yes, really.  A midwife from the University of Kent reported in 2009, that babies were at risk because mother's were not told how to make up bottles safely.  She went on to say: "Formula is not sterile and bacteria can be present. When it is made up or stored incorrectly there is a big risk that it could cause gastroenteritis. Formula fed babies are five times more likely to be admitted to hospital with gastroenteritis, which in the majority of cases is preventable."
No, it’s not A-grade, but neither is it powdered scum
Breastfeeding isn't "A grade", it's not comparable to "The Finest" range at the supermarket.  Breastmilk is the bog standard substance humans are intended to consume, and breasts are just the normal way of delivering it. You can work out yourself where that leaves formula in the whole supermarket analogy.

I've only ever heard one mum call it "powdered scum" and she was a five times formula feeder who then read this.  Given this mum had tried to breastfeed every time, and found she received less and less help with each subsequent child - she was furious at not only the health professionals that had let her down with support, but also the companies that had sold her the notion it's almost as good.
The Milk Mafia can keep their guilt trips. Bullying other mums about something as special and nurturing as feeding their babies (and yes, bottle feeding can be lovely and intimate) is a depth that even Vicky Pollard wouldn’t sink to
If we tell a pregnant mum (unsure whether to breastfeed) the facts as we best understand them, is this "putting someone on a guilt trip"?  I feel we (the milk mafia) can't really win at times.  If we don't tell mothers the truth, they are left in the dark, making a choice based on myths and marketing.  They are then often VERY angry if/when they do receive the facts at a later date.

The one thing people like Kathy Blundell should realise, is that unlike the formula companies - the breast brigade make no profit from supporting mums to breastfeed.  We are just mums who managed it, trying to help other mums - often completely free of charge at our expense!

Currently nobody pays us to answer the phone at 9.30pm, to the distraught mum who feels like a failure because it hurts so much she is dreading the next feed, but her midwife said everything looked fine.  Or the mum who has a baby who wont stop screaming with colic (and believe me that is loud down the phone!) and everyone around her is telling her to give a bottle, rather than helping get baby latched in a position so he isn't taking in air. Without the breast brigade, who would take those calls?