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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.

Earth to Aileen @ Herald - your pro formula article sucks!

I can't decide if Herald.ie was having a particularly slow day, or whether they just felt sufficiently sorry for  Aileen Hickie and her emotion fuelled article to run it; but either way beyond bad sums it up quite well.  The article headed "Is breastfeeding really best?  Mum of five Aileen Hickie says mothers should not be bullied into breastfeeding if they don’t want to" unfortunately caught my eye today after being sent in by a blog fan.

The first paragraph sets the tone:
The "breast is best" mantra has lost none of its emphasis or militancy and the breastfeeding mafia has grown in strength and numbers over the years.
Wow we've got to breastfeeding mafia already and we're only in the first paragraph!  For anyone "not in the know" - the breastfeeding mafia is a catch all for anyone who supports mothers and tries to get good factual information out there on which mothers can base their choices.  If you understand "formula isn't as good" then basically you're in.

Far more scary is the "artificial feeding mafia" - rarely highlighted in the press, they tend to lurk in unexpected places waiting to pounce, with breastfeeding forums seemingly a favourite haunt.  When a mum posts a breastfeeding problem and perhaps in desperation mentions should she give formula?  they wait for someone to reply....If alongside lots of information and help, it includes details of how formula can impact - perhaps with some other options, so the mum can make a truly informed choice - BANG you're lynched! (some of the more pro-active members don't even wait for a reply, they head straight on in there)  "you shouldn't feel guilty if you want to give a bottle" - often a weird reply given there was never a suggestion mum should - that was purely how the person replying felt after reading the fact, "formula is NOT poison" - again nobody suggested it was. (although with the recent news about aluminium contamination, I guess that point is now quite debatable) but the mum in the post made it quite clear she really wanted to breastfeed....

Perhaps worse is the fact the artificial feeding mafia can often be disguised as a Health Professional or family friend! "there's no benefit to breastmilk after three weeks", "x brand is the closest to breastmilk" (without a few hundred of the constituents *cough*) "he's not gaining what we expect you will have to stop being silly and give formula, it's not poison" (with the undertone of I have no idea how to help you and I understand formula)

In fact, the artificial feeding mafia seems to be going strong and hitting hard - a staggering 68% of mums from over 600 polled said they had "felt pressure to stop breastfeeding, or guilt for continuing?"  so the "breastfeeding mafia" clearly need to up their game.
Breastfeeding causes women to judge other women. Women, be they relations, friends, acquaintances or complete strangers, seem to feel strangely comfortable interrogating new mothers as to whether they are breastfeeding or not. And if not, then why not?
I think women judge themselves far more harshly than anyone they perceive to be judging them - we all know what a hard time and lack of support women have, 96% are giving some formula by 6 months, so that leaves what 4% to be mafia like?  We hear these claims of women who "interrogate new mothers", but does anyone really know someone who does this?  What about women who tut and shake their heads at someone breastfeeding, or one mum who said to me "you want to knock that on the head and get him on a bottle!" or those who just go "ugh how can you"...
No other aspect of parenting engenders the same amount of tut-tutting or even open criticism of those who either cannot or choose not to breastfeed.
Has Aileen ever stepped onto a parenting forum?  clearly not.  Controlled Crying (the irony is in the name) Cry It Out, whether to "time out" or "naughty step" are all hot topics of debate and criticism.  Sleep is the big one at baby groups - with mothers often feeling like aliens with 3 heads if their infant hasn't been "trained" to sleep 12 hours by a few months old. 
Yummy mummies and other over-achieving middle class women seem to think, quite arrogantly, that it's their God-given duty to inform the sisterhood that breastfeeding is a requirement that brooks no excuses. Indeed, not just a requirement, it is the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Shame on those who put a bottle of prepared feed anywhere near their precious bundle of joy.
Oh now we've moved on to the old and rather boring stereotype that only mothers of a certain class breastfeed - isn't peer support about PEERS supporting? The clue is in the name.  I actually agree it's not any ones right to "inform the sisterhood that breastfeeding is a requirement" - but then I've often heard this claim when actually all someone has done is given factually correct information, the mother's own feelings have done the rest.

To be fair as the UK has a National Health Service, one could argue that actually how infants are fed does impact on others - because non breastfed infants cost the healthcare system millions, time absent from work due to increased illness impacts on the economy, the masses of tins, transport and cows impacts on the environment.
It is as though formula is the devil's milk, only invented for second-rate mothers. With those standards, it won't be long before those women will be feeding their children sugary drinks and fast food and then a diet of endless television, a Facebook account and other steps on the slippery slope of bad parenting.
Formula is devils milk this time - interesting variation on the "it isn't poison" stance.  Actually it was invented for foundlings who had no mother, and substitutes are already considered fast food by many - plus it's high sugar levels can cause cavities and "bottle mouth".   I don't think we should label anyone a bad mother without knowing their back story, it's not our place to judge - but clearly Aileen does have an opinion and feels mothers who allow fast food and endless TV to be "second rate".  If someone knows all the heath implications and doesn't even attempt to breastfeed - is there a massive difference? they are making a choice that clearly can impact negatively on the child's health. 
The women who choose to breastfeed believe their child will get the most nutritionally balanced diet from birth and build its immune system. It may help their post-baby weight loss, too. Fair enough.
What a ridiculous idea!  suggesting milk of an infant's own species will give the most nutritionally balanced diet from birth and build its immune system.  Tsk who would believe this?   OK so there are decades of hardcore scientific evidence linking worse outcome to non breastfed infants including SIDS, long lists of the constituents formula is lacking: no hormones, cancer fighting cells, stem cells - heck scientists now know what some constituents do and the impact of not having them, but HELLO which gullible fool actually believes it?
Other women choose to formula feed for many other reasons, some physical and some psychological. There may be difficulty in getting their baby to latch on, inability to breastfeed, post-partum depression or issues of self-consciousness about breastfeeding in public. There may be a need to get back to work quickly or other family considerations that mean the time commitment for breastfeeding is not an option.
Absolutely!  and support in the UK is massively lacking from the NHS - but the answer is not to lie to women and peddle a substitute as nearly as good when it isn't.  Women need support to get their baby to latch on particularly after a difficult birth, not breastfeeding had been linked with increased PND rates not reduced (although trying with bad support doesn't have a great outcome either) and are we shocked women feel self conscious about feeding in public when 96% of infants have some bottles by 6 months?  how many mums witness lots of breastfeeding in public?  it's hardly a surprise new mums feel anxious over it.  Many mums breastfeed and get back to work quickly and breastfeeding often doesn't need anything special if it kicks off well from the get go.  I wonder if we could invent a portable womb too?  then women wouldn't have the inconvenience of constant pregnancy, that could be shared around too!
Surely whichever method a woman chooses is best for her baby; if the mother is happy and comfortable then it is likely that the baby will be happier and less stressed. Stress is far more detrimental to a baby's well-being than not breastfeeding. A child can be clever and healthy without mother's milk.
Although it would be lovely to say yeees, whichever method a woman chooses is best and yeees stress is far more detrimental to a baby's well being than not breastfeeding....the reality is it's not true!  No more than giving junk food or sugary drink is the healthiest choice if the outcome is a less stressed mum - yep those arteries will be fine as long as your mother isn't stressed?!  Of course a child can be clever and healthy without mothers milk, because it's not about "definites" it's about risks and what we do know is not breastfeeding massively increases the risks of lots of things, including serious things. We all know people who ate a crap diet, or smoked 40 per day and were "FINE" - but that doesn't undo all the research anymore than it does with breastfeeding.

Just under 1000 babies in the US died last year directly due to being formula fed - that figure doesn't begin to touch upon those who died from conditions far more common in formula fed infants - a happy mum does not protect an infant from disease.
My issue was mainly about breastfeeding in public -- or even in front of just family and friends. I knew I could just stay indoors but neither did I want to be tied to the house for six months or more.
It was my mother, a former midwife herself, who finally addressed the issue, advising me not to breastfeed unless I was 100pc comfortable with the idea as she felt it would be more damaging to the baby if I was stressed. She had bottle-fed four healthy children and I remembered as a child seeing a tin of formula on the kitchen windowsill to feed my younger siblings. It is still a pleasant image and reminds me of a happy childhood.
And here we have the most telling paragraph of the whole piece.  Ultimately Aileen wasn't breastfed - her mother, one of the afore mentioned health professionals stated that unless she was 100% comfortable she shouldn't breastfeed - and obviously ultimately herself believes bottle is as good; why else would she "advise" her own child not to do it?  She will no doubt have trotted this out to numerous mothers over the years (as still happens today) alongside the NHS lip service "breast is best". 

I expressed similar anxieties to my mum when pregnant - someone who had breastfed (and also formula fed) I was reassured that it was totally normal to feel anxious, but with the super discreet clothing on offer nobody would see anything - if you feel it really essential a cover or muslin can be used.  To try and breastfeed in front of a mirror and realise just how little others can see, and to be proud I was giving my child breastmilk and that ultimately feeding in public was tiny compared to all the health implications.  I had only ever seen two or three breastfeeding mums in public, and always from a distance and yes it does feel strange at first - but pretty soon I could nurse anywhere and everywhere (and did!) and people didn't have a clue.
As for familiar childhood images - I feel similar about my grandad's pipe rack, but have no plans to take up that hobby anytime soon!  Mind you, we all sat in his smokey room and are "fine" right this minute - so perhaps it's foolish believing all those anti smoking mafia types?
Once my eldest child was born there was one last attempt made by a hospital midwife to get me to breastfeed. But to no avail and my baby girl had her first bottle when she was an hour old and sucked happily on that and every one thereafter.
How sad Aileen wasn't even told/didn't believe the reasons colostrum is so important.  Even farmers recognise this and buy it in for their lambs/calves if the mother cannot provide.  Even one day, two days - as long as it was before Aileen wanted to go in public and not feed would have been so valuable to her children. 

It's great Aileen's kids are healthy, I wouldn't wish ill health on anyone - but should they get in later life any of the conditions linked with not breastfeeding, be that 10 or 50 years down the line - will anyone even link this with the first six months of life?  Recently a friend who openly told me she "couldn't be bothered" breastfeeding as she was formula fed and fine, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 31.  I doubt she's even aware of the links with formula let alone wondering of the longterm implications for her own children.  No doubt she will advise them to just "give em a bottle!"
Am I happy that I opted not to breastfeed? Absolutely. Would I condemn another mother for choosing to breastfeed? Of course not. Everyone is entitled to their free choice without being made to feel guilty for it.
I guess the sad thing is, not all mothers feel like Aileen - and our of those that do, many wont even know what they're missing... We're also back to the issue of choice - how any mum can make one without all the information still baffles me, if Aileen supported choice she may and try pop a bit of evidence into some of her writing instead of pointless anecdotes based on her own guilt trips.

Ultimately shame on the Herald, for even considering printing something so lacking in substance and which only serves to perpetuate old wives tales and myths - as I've said before, the "choice" that never was.

16 comments:

  1. I am proud to be in the 'mafia'
    Its always funny, how people don't think of the baby, and think of how 'its too stressful to breastfeed' for themselves.
    Today, I was told after saying that my 11 month old has never been ill 'Oh, probably all that breastfeeding you do' ... Well, yes! of course!
    and as for the quote 'My baby at an hour old sucked happily on a bottle' ... as if the baby was sticking two fingers up at breastfeeding, and saying 'yeah, I don't mind being artifically fed' ... doubt it!

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  2. I'd like to say something silly. I love seeing the reactions I get each time I breastfeed my 10 month old in public. I always try to look my best and I want young girls to notice me. I want them to see a mother and baby looking good, having fun and feeding naturally!

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  3. 100% agree with you on this. Coming from the same island as the author I feel as though we may as well be living on totally different planets. I agree with you that much of her opinion is probably connected with her upbringing, and the guilt (or bloody-mindedness) of her own mother. Sadly despite being a midwife (or perhaps because of it), her mother will likely have been more inclined to dish out free formula rather than support ANYONE with breastfeeding. Sadly all that is still rife here in Ireland but as your stats prove, breastfeeding is also sucessfully undermined elsewhere!
    Thank you for writing this - I got involved in a discussion about it all yesterday on our page & would have blogged, but to be honest I just didn't know where to start...
    This article is antagonistic, bitter, self-righteous and totally lacking any basis in fact. She has certainly got her 'name' out there now, but she should be ashamed, because in doing so she has perpetuated myths which will harm others.
    I am not 'mafia' - I am pro-INFORMED-choice. I prefer not to live with a paper bag over my head - particularly where my child is concerned.

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  4. "Although it would be lovely to say yeees, whichever method a woman chooses is best and yeees stress is far more detrimental to a baby's well being than not breastfeeding....the reality is it's not true!"

    Thank you for saying this! I hear this argument all the time and it drives me batty!

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  5. "...If alongside lots of information and help, it includes details of how formula can impact - perhaps with some other options, so the mum can make a truly informed choice - BANG you're lynched!"
    Oh I have sooooo been there and the horrid names I have been called just for giving information.
    Thanks for writing this.

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  6. Excellent response to that ridiculous article!

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  7. Thank you!!!!!

    I wholly support CHOICE for mothers. An uninformed choice is no choice at all. I wish the "bottle Nazis" would stop whining about how the "breastapo" is "making mums feel guilty". Stop getting all offended on other peoples behalf. The rest of the female population have a bit more backbone and can use some objectivity when talking about their choices.

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  8. Herald.ie should worry more about their economy and less time producing naff articles like this.

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  9. Yep, I've been there too. I get called BF Nazi because I share what i consider is important information to help mothers make a truely informed choice.

    Don't you just hate though the whole "happy mummy, happy baby" mantra we hear so often? Shouldn't it actually be "happy BABY, happy mummy"?
    I know personally when my kids are happy, I'm happy and sometimes when I'm happy they arent happy so I do things that make them happy then I'm more happy.

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  10. lol @ Emily! You're not wrong!

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  11. "Yummy mummies and other over-achieving middle class women seem to think, quite arrogantly, that it's their God-given duty to inform the sisterhood that breastfeeding is a requirement that brooks no excuses."

    Funny that, because I took a class this week in a particularly affluent area, and they were the most sneeringly anti-breastfeeding mob of expectant couples I have ever met.

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  12. Excellent response to an appallingly insulting, factually incorrect and ultimately very sad article. I can only hope that the "breastfeeding mafia" do indeed up their game and manage to help Ms Hickie's children to be aware of the FACTS around breastmilk and breastfeeding when they themselves are about to become parents.

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  13. I took that quiz 'have you ever felt pressure to stop breastfeeding'
    I think there need to be more answers available, like including how old your child was when you first felt pressure to stop
    I was well into the second year of breastfeeding before I ever felt uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, but it did not stop me from comforting my child when she needed to suckle on the train.

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  14. grrrrr!

    I am definately in the mafia and proud of it...As a woman in her twenties still breastfeeding her 18month old I am more than proud and care nothing of what others think. I KNOW I have given baby the best start in life and would neve dream of putting devils food or whatever she calls it into my childs system.
    Tonight I sat in a car garage with 3 mechanics behind the desk rather red faced that I was breastfeeding my child but I felt no embarrassment or shame at doing something so right for my child. This woman really needs to get her facts straight before mouthing off like this.

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  15. completely agree with you ladies, I AM SOOO PROUD to be in the 'breastfeeding mafia' if only we had more power!

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  16. I really do love you're responce.
    I hope you don't mind, I linked to it in mine.

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