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Oi Media Bullies, Stop Making Formula Feeding Mums Feel Bad!

Those who read my recent piece exploring the "Mummy Wars" know the score when it comes to fanning the flames, and this week The Independent and numerous others have done a fantastic job of it.

A study was published exploring feeding methods and IQ, yet rather than just sticking to factual information the Independent clearly decided their readers couldn't handle that.

Instead they came from the angle that said study would make women feel like failures.

It reads:

"While useful, many studies carry an implicit criticism of anyone who fails to succeed in breastfeeding"

Hang on what?

How on earth does a scientific study exploring the outcome of two feeding methods "implicitly criticise" those who fail to succeed at breastfeeding?

Quite easily it seems, simply by comparing the outcome in terms of IQ.  In fact when speaking to The Guardian, they quoted him as follows:
“Mothers should breastfeed for as long as possible,” he said, but he recognised that extended breastfeeding is not always easy for women. Less than a quarter of new mothers in the UK are still exclusively breastfeeding by the time the baby is six weeks old."
So by "implicit criticism" what was actually meant was the guy went out of his way to try and diplomatically acknowledge breastfeeding isn't always easy?

The fact is we can say "breast is best" until the cows come home, we're all cool with that right?  But why then when a specific paper highlights the differences, does everyone hit the denial button?

According to author Matilda Battersby the study is useful, so perhaps we should make all medical journals secret?  That way mothers can't read these papers from the devious researchers, after all they were clearly only undertaken to implicitly have a bash at mums.

I think the answer is for the media (and that includes you Independent) to stop suggesting mums who don't breastfeed are failures; You're the ones making them feel bad.

The media LOVES to talk about "breastfeeding bullies", "Nazis", "Breastapo", "Militants" because that detracts from the real problem.  As an aside and as a quick challenge for you, quick as you can name a comparable derogatory term the media use to describe someone who is a strong advocate of formula feeding or who doesn't support breastfeeding, go.......

Who even are these breastfeeding militants anyway?

Did the volunteer UK breastfeeding organisations (who work tirelessly to support and promote breastfeeding) yesterday release statements saying:

"There's a new study out, babies who aren't breastfed are stupid and mums who don't breastfeed are crap"?

No, no they didn't.

Are the breastfeeding bullies those who happen to be breastfeeding themselves?

Are they lactation consultants like me who work day in and out with both breast and bottle feeding mums, failed by our crappy UK system and propped up by said volunteer organisations?  The mums who desperately wanted to breastfeed but were met by ineffective, judgemental support?
"Just give a bottle, nowadays it's just as good anyway"
"Once you've done a few days you've given him the benefits, it's fine to give formula now"
"Have you considered you might be carrying on for your own sake, it's clearly not working for baby?"
The mums who despite the lip-service paid to breastfeeding were never told about growth spurts, how to tell their baby is getting enough, how to stop it hurting, that no it's not normal for a breastfed baby to feed for 14 hours per day and yet gain no weight or that you don't just have to "stick at it and hope it gets better".

You will always find a small minority of people on either side of any argument that are considered "extreme" and "fringe" by the majority.  Those who just love to post inflammatory comments online or deliberately insult someone because it's OK as long as it's prefixed by "no offence but".

In my experience the most volatile are typically those who carry the most emotional baggage about their own experience, whichever side of the fence they sit.  The mum who tried her hardest yet couldn't "stick at it" is angry, what was she supposed to do?  The mum who has managed to get through, but is now angry she wasn't told what she needed to know and wants to tell others.  Similarly you will of course get mothers who didn't experience a single problem and really don't get what all the fuss is about, struggling to empathise with a distraught new mum..

But to pretend offensive minority views accurately represent what the vast majority of people think is ridiculous.

Now read the piece about breastfeeding bullies again and you will note the biggest irony is the author is a mother blatantly failed by the system herself; what's more just like the Murphy's she's bitter.

In fact the only suggestion I saw yesterday that mums should feel like failures was from the mainstream media.

The reality is if you're saying "here's an article to make you feel like a failure", what emotion would you then expect the article to evoke?  Yet if you haven't tried you can't have failed, so on some level there is acknowledgement many women start out breastfeeeding.   It also suggests they didn't make an entirely free choice to not breastfeed, because that would be fine right?  If someone has decided they have no wish or desire to breastfeed regardless, why would a study like this upset them?  It's precisely because so many women have no choice but to use formula that it becomes a much more emotive issue.

But what we need to remember is many many mums did not fail, they were failed - there is a big difference.

I guess reader appeal disclaimers are easier than picking apart why the vast majority of mothers don't meet their personal breastfeeding goals.  Why they are potentially left in a vulnerable enough position, without further inference they are failures.  Newspapers know that most of their readers use some formula, offending customers is not a great plan for any business.

When I hear the guff parents are told day in and out and the booby traps they have to overcome, in all honesty I'm surprised as many succeed as do.  Many assume breastfeeding an easy instinctive process, and perhaps when all around you are also feeding their young this is so;  but that's so far from where we are as a glance at our feeding statistics will confirm.

Because as Matilda Battersby perfectly highlights in the opening to her article with her claims of "implicit criticism" from a research study, the reality is the breastfeeding bullies are for the most part the demons a mum carries in her own head.

Mums who bottle-feed in public often express feeling judged by breastfeeders, yet when you sit down and really break it down the breastfeeder didn't do anything to suggest she was judging the other mother, feeling smug or any such emotion.  She was just sat there (probably trying to be "discrete" as society demands).

Similarly a breastfeeding mum may feel nervous feeding in a place where ever other mum is bottle feeding, after all she has previously been told breastfeeding was gross and should be done at home, not in public - could she not express for when out and about?   She feels just as judged despite the fact the bottle feeding mums are probably utterly lovely.

Parents for the most part want the best for their baby and of course studies that confirm differences in outcome are bound to be emotive (because hey, let's not pretend this is the first study ever done comparing IQ and feeding method).  I used formula with my first child and remember feeling sick when something about the risks of formula hit the news.  But is the answer to try and put mums in a bubble and hope they don't ever see anything factually accurate that will make them feel bad?

The "mummy wars" is not about groups of mothers judging each other as the media would have you believe, but groups of mothers feeling judged because they're constantly being told it's happening.  Mothers who feel defensive and at times lash out at others as they try to find they own way.  We don't even need to try and convince mothers who don't want to they should breastfeed, because simply helping those that do maximise their chances of doing so would result in a paradigm shift - so mothers actually get a choice, instead of being left with no real choice at all.


  1. Thank you! You've just reiterated everything thought that has been swirling around in my head for the past week!

  2. Sharing information about the positives of breastfeeding is not meant to make formula feeding moms feel bad, it is made to give information to future moms. When formula feeding moms get mad it just makes them look like they feel guilty and are getting mad that someone has pointed out that in the case of feeding for ONE year they did not do their best. Relax bottle feeding moms. No one is saying you are not good parents. Fact, fact, is, mammals are named mammals because of mammary glands, mammals are meant to feed their milk to their species and formula is not as good. But, it does not mean you are a bad parent if you fed formula. If you beat your child or neglect it you are a bad parent, if you abandon it or kill it you are a bad parent, if you fed formula you are still a good parent. Just like a parent who sometimes feeds their kid crappy food, or doesn't always take time to check homework, you're still a good parent. No one is perfect. Formula feeders don't HAVE to read about how great breastmilk is, the studies are done to support and encourage new and future moms.

    Relax :)

  3. The support to new parents can make all the difference. I tought an NHS class as an NCT student and the class started out very negative. On my feed back i was told by quite a few mums to be that the class made a difference and they were at least going to give it a try. The difference? I found out what they already knew, WE talked about pros and cons, benefits for mum and baby.They told me they were so happy to be seen as people who already KNEW something and was giving them a chance to talk about it and a choice. They felt that they were told that "Breast is Best" but that it is very hard and most people give up. What kind of encouragement is that? With such a negative projection only those bullheaded enough would succeed. Would it not be better to be realistic and teach people to overcome potential problems? No one should feel guilty, but we all do at times. The problem is you are damned if you do and if you don't.