As someone who did manage to breastfeed, but gave some formula pre six months to my first (on the advice of a health professional!) I felt angry when I first read reports highlighting how evidence has shown for years, that this undermines some of the health reasons for breastfeeding. Nobody had told me this pre supplement and unfortunately for my daughter she developed eczema so severe we were placed under the care of a dermatologist.
If a mum (for whatever reason) feels she has to swap totally, and is then hit with article after article about risks of formula feeding - it's not really a surprise she feels something. The vast majority of mothers (however they feed) love their children immensely and I firmly believe mothers do the best they can, with the information and support they have at that time.
Realistically when we look at what little chance most stood of actually succeeding in the first place, I really think it's time we started shifting the blame away from vulnerable mothers, and over to where it actually belongs! Because really, it's not fair that not only are these mothers missing out on something amazing, but they then get to carry the burden of it not working!
We frequently hear that around 97% of mums can breastfeed multiples, we know that over 80% of mums initiate breastfeeding; so why then do we have only a tiny percentage of mums still breastfeeding after the first few weeks? The fact is there is an important part of the first sentence missing; it should read "Around 97% of mums can breastfeed, with the right support".
I used the Chinese meal analogy in my last blog post, for anyone who didn't read here it is again:
"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."Effective support is extremely hard to find, and what makes it even harder still is how does the new mum recognise good support from bad? Before children I would have thought it pretty safe to assume that any health professional responsible for an area of care, would have to be competent at doing so. Unfortunately with breastfeeding that's simply not the case - and the vast majority of mums who aren't breastfeeding but wanted to, have received terrible support.
How do I know? Because even if I forget the years supporting mums, and everything I have seen and overheard in the community - every reason I have read over the last few days bar one, has been something that could have been easily prevented or overcome with the right help. Instead mums are left believing they simply couldn't breastfeed.
I wonder how many non breastfeeding mums had a class when pregnant which covered how to get breastfeeding off to a good start? How many were given full details about how the type of birth you have and what medications you use can impact on breastfeeding? Whilst obviously women can't help needing intervention or a section (especially given current rates) were they told what to expect in this situation, and things they could do to help establish breastfeeding if it arose?
If mum needed drugs in pregnancy, how many found their health care provider checked whether they would impact on lactation, and if so sought a suitable alternative to enable mum to breastfeed?
How many had a class which told dads how they could effectively support breastfeeding? What they could expect as "normal" and what were signs help was needed? What they could do to be really involved and to bond with baby without needing a bottle - and what things they might want to avoid, as they can appear to be help but actually have a negative impact.
How many were advised of what needs to happen in the first hour after birth, what baby expects on a biological level at this time, and what we know to be the impact of veering from this? How many were shown clips of the "breast crawl" and how important time for just parents and baby to be is?
How many were told the actual differences in breastmilk and substitutes, rather than one is better than the other - and exactly how this impacts for everyone?
How many were shown how a baby latches on, how you can ensure they are breast and not nipple feeding and how you can tell whether they are effectively feeding and taking large amounts of milk rather than just nibbling?
How many were told exactly how you can easily tell extremely quickly whether baby is receiving enough (there is absolutely no need to "see" what's going in to ensure this!) without even getting out a set of scales?
Once baby arrives, how many mums were visited after birth by someone specialised in lactation - who didn't grab their breast or the baby and roughly "help him on", but who instead had the skills to observe, listen and perhaps if needs be understand what problems may be likely to occur depending on the situation, and be ready to help overcome them?
How many mums who were in agony, had shredded nipples or a baby who was never settled, were seen not by someone who said things "looked fine" and "stick at it, things will click", but instead referred immediately to someone who could quickly identify the issue and help get things back on track?
How many mums who had problems pre pregnancy known to interfere with milk supply such as thyroid issues, were checked ASAP after birth to ensure levels were compatible with lactation?
How many were told what to expect in the early weeks and months? What cluster feeding is or when the typical fussy spells are, how these would display and perhaps most importantly of all, where they could get help quickly if they needed it?
The trouble is this pattern is cyclic - if mothers knew demanding better care could make a difference and therefore did so, services would improve; yet until services improve and rates increase - mothers don't know to demand better care!
Why are mothers carrying the can for this?
So, whilst my general rule is I never give advice. I'm going to break it to give a piece.
If you want to breastfeed and things aren't working, perhaps you're finding yourself sliding towards formula feeding when you don't want to. Shout! Shout loudly! Ask to see the infant feeding co-ordinator (most hospitals in the UK have them both in hospital and in the community, but often they never get to hear about mums with problems!) ask anyone who comes near your breasts what their qualifications are - if you are unsure what qualifications someone needs to have in order to best be able to help you, read this.
If you are now formula feeding and didn't want to, instead of blaming the breastfeeding mafia - focus your feelings where they belong and shout loudly at those that let you down (I do mean by way of formal complaint, rather than abusive behaviour :)) and didn't give you the support you needed, when you needed it. If mums want change, we have to make it happen.