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.

I'm Going To Try Breastfeeding....

I hear this a lot - and variations of:
"I'm going to give breastfeeding a shot, but if it doesn't work out I'm not going to beat myself up."
"I will give it a try but have bottles and formula just in case."
"We've decided we will give it a try for the 2 weeks partner is on leave, then we've given it a shot and if it's not working swap to bottle when they return to work."
If we believe breastmilk is "best", and formula is "nearly as good" - these statements probably all sound quite reasonable.  

But do we use the same language when discussing something we do consider important, or for situations where we expect a positive outcome?

Let's try - learning to drive:
"I'm going to give driving a shot, but if it doesn't work out I'm not going to beat myself up if I have to take the bus"
"I will give driving a try, but have bought a bus pass just in case"
"We've decided we will give driving a try for the 2 weeks partner is on leave, then we've given it a shot and if it's not working swap to the bus when they return to work."
Hmmmm I don't hear that as much...

Let's try some other scenarios.
"I'm going to give the new job a shot, but if it doesn't work out I'm not going to beat myself up if I have to resign."
"We've decided we will give a healthier diet a try for the 2 weeks partner is on leave, then we've given it a shot and if it's not working swap to ready meals. We plan to only half heat these because the official preparation guidelines on the packet are ridiculously time consuming. (removes tongue from cheek)
"We will give conceiving naturally a try, but have booked an appointment for fertility treatment just in case"
The latter may sound ridiculous - yet realistically the number of women who physically can't breastfeed with the right support is probably smaller than the amount of couples who need some sort of fertility support (I appreciate in the UK many don't get the help they need to succeeed!)

Now let's flip mindset from "alternatives nearly as good", to "breastmilk is normal".  Formula isn't vaguely comparable (hence why they are genetically modifying cows to produce milk more like breastmilk.).  It lacks thousands of constituents and is ultimately the milk of another species modified so humans can even tolerate it.  There is a distinct lack of studies demonstrating its safety - with results varying from a small to significant increase in numerous conditions and diseases.  Nobody can know ultimately the total long term effect on the body of not receiving growth factors, hormones, antibodies, stem cells, HAMLET, and everything else that is missing - but the information we do have shows that it does impact, even if at this point in time we struggle to accurately measure the totality.  No matter how much we would like to present infant feeding as almost comparable "choices", this is the reality.

Suddenly the above statements don't make as much sense.  

Of course breastfeeding doesn't work for some mothers, whether that's down to ineffective support or otherwise - just like some will need support to conceive.  Nobody is suggesting anyone should "beat themselves up" - I understand that poor support can result in a traumatic time for mums and that a prior experience can leave someone nervous.

I'm not even talking about trying to convince mothers who don't want to do it to do so - purely those who have decided they want to breastfeed.

But a mental shift has to take place, moving from "I will try to breastfeed", to "I plan to breastfeed".  To assume one will be able to until something suggests otherwise, rather than "Most women can't do it, so I will give it a pop but won't hold my breath".

Furthermore why buy an alternative "just in case" - the shops are still open after a baby is born, and parents can feel more tempted to use something sat there, so it doesn't go to waste...

Instead there are lots more productive things parents could do to be as informed as possible.  Some spend hours choosing car seats, cots, and discussing the best equipment for their baby, whilst often barely giving a cursory nod to feeding - the very cornerstone of lifelong health.

What comes first - the health system providing the care new mothers require, or women who are determined they want to breastfeed, complaining and stamping their feet if nobody is helping resolve their problems?

The irony is that those who are working tirelessly to provoke change, supporting mothers where the NHS fails - often in a voluntary role without even expenses paid; are not supported by the women that were let down, but attacked as the "Breastapo".  What a fantastic market that you only get customers if they stop breastfeeding, and then although you as a company may be key in the reason why these mothers failed - they then defend your product. Genius.

Before I get called "Judgy" or "Militant",  let me add that with my first child I was one of those mothers who said they would "give it a try" and who bought formula "just in case".   I was naive enough to think a lot of women simply couldn't breastfeed, and that formula was nowadays nearly as good - had I had a different support system I could easily have been "booby trapped."

But think about it logically and as Gabrielle Palmer highlights in the Politics of Breastfeeding - why in such rich medically advanced countries, do we have so few women who can seemingly breastfeed?

Are we broken?

Perhaps mentally and sociologically - but as mammals, we work as well as ever.  Believe that, and you're half way there....


  1. Excellent post! So true! I hate when I hear, I'm gonna try...etc. Decide to do it and give it everything you got, if it doesn't work, then you at least know you gave it everything!

  2. Great post! I got tons of those comments when I was pregnant. People would say "well I didnt produce enough, baby wouldnt latch, it hurt, plenty of women cant do it so be prepared just in case it doesnt work for you." I told them all that I was confident; my mother had done it, so I could do it too. I took the stance that breastfeeding WOULD work out for me, and that my son would NEVER have formula (I was right, by the way). I refused to learn how to prepare a bottle or buy any "just in case" formula. I'm glad of it, because a few weeks into breastfeeding, my son was clusterfeeding. At that point I was unaware of what clusterfeeding was and I was worried that I wasnt producing enough milk. If I had had formula available at that time, I very likely would have given in to it and ruined breastfeeding for good. Thankfully for blogs like AA and other bf support pages on facebook, I learned what clusterfeeding is, along with loads more. I wish I hadnt been too sick to do research online when I was pregnant; it would have made the early days much easier. Instead the only information I had was from one breastfeeding class offered by WIC, and the pamphlets they handed out after that class. Thankfully that, along with my confidence, was enough. Still nursing at 14 months :)

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  4. Love it! I got asked in my second pregnancy if I was going to 'try breastfeeding'. I just replied "No, I AM going to breastfeed. Considering that one *points to toddler* is still feeding I think I stand a good chance". She actually hugged me. Its almost like they are scared to bring it up for fear of being labeled pushy. Ah well, 8 weeks in, not a bottle, artificial nipple or drop of formula in the house and I'm still 'trying'!!!

  5. Well said. You have to go in to the relationship with determination not to fail, and only education will make more women determined to do more than try, but succeed. If people aren't able to say a positive word about breastfeeding without being labelled as "militant" or a "breastfeeding Nazi" then how can the masses be educated? We're stuck in a cycle of our own stupidity. People need to own their actions and stop the cries of guilt and bullying, and admit that in most cases, if they sought help when they were struggling, they would succeed. I saw 1 doctor, 2 health visitors, 3 midwives, a breastfeeding counsellor, a peer supporter, and when no one could help, the baby cafe. If they hadn't referred my DS for his TT I would have kept trying.

  6. This got me thinking. I was determined with no. 1, or rather, formula was just not on my mind. I was simply going to breastfeed because why wouldn't I. I struggled big time (I didn't know that there could be pain, I didn't know how much pain there could be, I also didn't know how to make sure I got the right support) so with no. 2 my attitude was that I wouldn't struggle like that again and rather supplement (without beating myself up) - now, interestingly this more relaxed attitude led to exclusive bf (not achieved first time around, I supplemented with formula once a fortnight from 12 weeks) maybe because I was more relaxed? A friend had the same experience, maybe it's just that second timers find it easier, I don't know. I mean, I totally get your point and think you are very right, just that in my case this "I'll give it a try" attitude still led to success, and more so than determination, so it doesn't HAVE to lead to stopping breastfeeding.

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    1. Foxy, she said there is a lack of studies 'demonstrating its safety'. Not a lack of studies demonstrating the harm that formula can cause. And yes, there *are* millions of damaged adults out there. Most adults I know have *some* form of health problem. We just don't necessarily know the root of an individual's damage, but looking at the stats, it's clear that widespread formula use isn't helping matters.

      What AA is talking about here is the attitude that bf probably won't work, and if it doesn't that doesn't matter. The fact is that, WITH SUPPORT, bf probably WILL work (most problems are solvable). If that attitude prevailed, rather than the 'oh well, you tried, here's some formula' attitude - those who struggle to bf would be more likely to get the support they need, and IF they are in the 2-5% who can't, they'd get more sympathy and less guilt when forced to turn to formula.

    2. Actually Foxy, there are loads of damaged adults - but because 20 or more years have gone by people don't chalk it up to formula. Long term scientific studies are showing that FF babies DO grow up to have more diabetes, digestive disorders, immunological problems, obesity etc.
      Breastfeeding wasn't easy for me at all, but I had great support, and I was determined. I'm still going at 16 months.

  8. I struggled and went through heart ache. It took me 14 weeks before I could exclusively breastfeed, and even then gave the odd top-up because of all of the weeks I'd been told 'I couldn't do it' by health professionals. I thought I would be able to do it right up until the first midwife in hospital told me I wasn't managing. I didn't have a few carton's of formula, 'just in case' - I never wanted to formula feed. One midwife bought me some and told me I could give it just after another had told me to throw away the colostrum I'd spent so long collecting. I always find the stereotype of the 'breastapo' midwife telling a sobbing mother she HAS to breastfeed 'or else' a little hard to swallow (no pun intended) given that my experience was so far from this.
    The issue is support, which I got from the most fantastic, helpful, non-judgmental women once we'd left hospital, but that first week (and the continued insistence by health visitors that I should overfeed my son - give him 70mls at 3 days, 120mls at 1 month - I'm not making this up) knocked my confidence even when supply ceased to be a problem.
    I can find only one suggestion of 'damaged' adults, and that's in your post. My own son did, however, suffer a 6 month lactose intolerance. Whether you think it's the 'next best thing' or not, it's not the same, and rather than feeling such indignation towards women who try to raise the issue, wouldn't our time be better spent asking why so many sources keep telling us that modified cow's milk is no different from human milk?
    In the end, we're all doing our best, and I'm not suggesting that a woman who formula feeds loves her child less - for several months that woman was me at least 4 times a day - but, as this post suggests, we need to look again at our society and ask why failure is assume a priori.

  9. QUOTE FoxyJan 28, 2012 02:08 PM
    What a load of rubbish ! Only someone who hasn't struggled or gone through heart ache trying to BF could write this, and to suggest that there is a lack of studies about the safety of formula-oh please! Therefore there must be millions of. 'damaged' adults out there from being FF! Complete nonsense!

    I think maybe you've misunderstood the point of the article - Whether I had problems (which actually I did first time around) isn't really relevant to a piece suggesting mums to have a positive mental outlook?

    QUOTE to suggest that there is a lack of studies about the safety of formula-oh please!

    That's not so much a suggestion as a statement of fact. In all the studies the milk of our own species is shown to have "better outcome", this tells us not breastfeeding gives an outcome not as good...

    But to go back to the piece - this paragraph feels quite relevant in this case:
    "What a fantastic market that you only get customers if they stop breastfeeding, and then although you as a company may be key in the reason why these mothers failed - they then defend your product. Genius."


  10. I think the problem is that first time mothers can feel like they will come across as arrogant if they say 'I'm going to breastfeed'. I know this was the case for me- I felt like there were those 'in the know' I.e those who had had babies, understood the sleepless nights, bought the Tshirt, and those who would be seen as hopelessly naive if they deigned to use such positive language as 'I will do x, y and z'. A bit like natural childbirth... people looked at me as naive if I said I didn't plan to use pain relief (and btw I ended up with an emergency c section and epidural despite 40 odd hours without pain relief, so I know things don't always go to plan'. If we have another baby I will definitely feel more justified and confident in saying 'I will...' or 'I plan to', while still recognising that things sometime
    E's don't go to plan (in which case I will THEN deal with it and seek support). But as a second time
    Mother I feel I would be viewed differently from a first timer. You are completely right that we should be building up confidence amongst mothers to be rather than subtly undermining them, thereby causing them to doubt themselves, their bodies and their instinct from the outset.

    If we have another I am going to be much more positive in my language, while recognising that sometimes things don't go to plan (and if that is the case I will know how to access support). But then as a second time mother I would feel more justified in having the confidence to use positive language. We should encourage first time mothers to have similar confidence in their bodies, rather than deliberately and subtly undermining them from the outset.

  11. Sorry for the repeat last paragraph- really struggling to post from my phone!

  12. funny. I didn't drive for 10 years due to inadequate support!

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  14. Excellent article.
    When I was pregnant with my first I really wanted to bf but didnt know if Id be able to! This is because the media and baby magazines (coincidentally sponsored by formula companies! ) portray this false belief that not every woman can,and that formula is normal and your baby sleeps better too!
    When the baby was born I was thrilled to discover I could bf and it want brilliantly until I got breast tgptpg. After ages of agony when feeding we got it resolved and I never considered it the end of bf . But we only got it sorted with their help of a fantastic lc

  15. When I was pregnant with my first (19 years ago) I was only 18 and no one in my family had ever breast fed. I said I WAS going to bf because it never occurred to me that a person might not be able to! And no family or friends could tell me what problems I might face because they'd never even tried! So I successfully breastfed (apart from the odd cracked nipple - no advice on positioning from the midwife). I also said I was going to bf my subsequent 3 children, which I did and continue to do despite occassional hiccups such as thrush, sore nipples and biting. Maybe my positive "I AM going to breastfeed" attitude helped? Great article AA, reminded me of Yoda - "Do or do not. There is no try." :D

  16. I was convinced I'd be able to breastfeed - convinced and determined. I managed to breastfeed for 6 weeks (and I did have daily support for almost all that time). By the end of that period my breast tissue was so damaged it took three months for the injuries to heal - I think my conviction actually stopped me realising sooner that it was okay to stop, that I wasn't going to be the kind of mother I wanted to be.

    I agree that positive language is important and think 'try' is such a feeble word. That said, I think we need to stay present, to pay attention to the reality of the moment. After all, language is not experience nor is it the whole of our 'reality'.

    By the way, my 6 year old daughter tells me that 'try' is not a good word unless it ends in 'umph' (triumph)... courtesy of the movie "Happy Feet" apparently!

  17. Sounds like a sneaky tongue tie to me Lily! Did anyone ever get to the bottom of what was causing trauma? Severe persistent damage like that is I find heavily heavily linked to a restricted frenulum and the resulting compensatory piston action. Where did the damage start? Was it vertically down the centre of the nipple? top? side?

  18. nice article, but what about the mums that for medical reasons cant breastfeed? so you are saying that they are damaging their child?
    a little understanding for those mums would help.

  19. Exquise me Irish - have a tootle around the rest of my blog before telling me I need a little understanding. This entry is about the LANGUAGE we use.

  20. I certainly agree with this article. I was a teen mum and after being told I was "just a statistic" (ie, another teenage mother) I was determined to breastfeed, not only because I was clued up on how normal and healthy it was, but also because I didn't want to be just another bottle-feeding teenage mum. I didn't buy bottles or formula because I didn't want the temptation there, and I'm ridiculously happy to say that with a lot of support and lovely, encouraging people around me, I fed my daughter for 22 months. I am now pregnant with number 2 and I have no doubt in my mind that I will breastfeed. No matter what problems I face, I WILL do it, for the health and wellbeing of my baby.

  21. Interesting article AA. I too was one of those "I'll give it a go" first time Mums (I had formula and bottles in my cupboard too -blush-!). After a rocky start I became a stubborn 'I will do this if it kills me' Mum, despite everyone I knew telling me I should stop, that I had done well already. That's purely my personality, but with crap support and no one around me with experience I relied heavily on peer supporters and the internet forums for advice. It was thanks to babycentre's breastfeeding forum that i self referred to have a posterior TT cut at 5 weeks. It took till 10 weeks to have painfree breastfeeding. I am still feeding at 14 months. I think for attitudes to change we have to have better antenatal breastfeeding information. Day to day BF knowledge like cluster feeding and growth spurts should be shared BEFORE birth. And midwives need to stop telling Mums how difficult it will be and empower them. There was only ever one person who told me that without fail i would be able to breastfeed... everyone else I knew, friends and family (even my husband) kept telling me to stop. Empowerment for women is vital to have more breastfeeding Mums.


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