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Breastfeeding Beyond the Headlines: Informed Is Best

Breastfeeding Beyond the Headlines: Informed Is Best

Countless new and expectant parents, are understandably currently concerned about the recent news of an American breastfed baby, who was reported to have died of severe dehydration in 2012. I have even had parents asking me recently if breastfeeding is safe.

Any time a baby dies, for any reason, it is an utter tragedy. Questions need to be asked and people need to be held to account.

This particular little baby and their family were unbelievably let down.

Instead of asking what should be the obvious question: “why weren’t the staff adequately trained to avoid this happening”?, the public focus has notably been on “the failure of breastfeeding”, the “pressure to breastfeed” and the notion of “fed is best”.

So, let’s break this down.

The “failure of breastfeeding”

Not everybody can fully breastfeed and it would by lying to suggest that everybody can. In this case, some reports suggested the mother has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can sometimes be linked to insufficient milk supply concerns.

However, in the vast majority of cases and crucially, with the right management of breastfeeding, it CAN and it WILL work out.

It was reported that this mother was told her baby was cluster feeding. However, what is not clear is whether this baby was actually transferring milk from the breast. In such situations, it is essential that those who are in a position to ensure the care and safety of mothers and babies, are themselves educated sufficiently to be able to give strategies to:

a) increase milk supply wherever possible
b) ensure milk transfer at the breast
c) recognise the signs of dehydration, and
d) supplement if and when required

When breastfeeding is challenging, it isn’t usually breastfeeding per se that fails. It is the failure to work knowledgeably and effectively with the mother and child, to provide solutions for any problems they may encounter. Most breastfeeding problems have breastfeeding solutions, if this is what a mother wants.

The “pressure to breastfeed”

Granted, there are some (there’s no denying) professionals who maintain the “just keep at it” attitude, without offering up much (if any) practical advice to help achieve successful breastfeeding. This undoubtedly leaves women feeling under pressure, at a time when they may already be feeling distraught and frustrated with the whole process. It is this MINORITY which lends itself to a bad name.

Anyone worth their salt in this line of work and particularly, a qualified breastfeeding counsellor or a certified Lactation Consultant, do not work in this way. They will not dictate. They will work with a mother and her family, to find effective strategies to help her meet whatever feeding goals she has – whether this ends up with exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, mixed feeding or weaning off the breast and introducing bottles. We do, and will, work with it all.

Many cite that the sharing of information about breastfeeding equates to pressure. Really? Sharing evidence-based information is not pressure. It is necessary.

Enabling parents to make informed decisions about how they feed their baby is surely a parents right. They have the information. They do with it what they want. In my opinion, not to have access to that information in the first place is wrong on many levels.

The irony is, the insidious mix of culture, social media and the infant feeding industry, is only serving to “pressure” women into formula feeding. This is why the formula companies are laughing all the way to the bank (with their $40 billion) because the view at large is that this isn’t pressure, it is just effective marketing and smart business. *Head desk*. It is working. The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the entire world.

Any breastfeeding mother will tell you that as soon as they start to breastfeed, the questions and comments about when they’re going to stop come rolling in:

“How long are you going to keep that up?”
“Let’s just introduce a bottle a day”
“He’s not sleeping, let’s just give a bottle”
“oooh teeth, I suppose you’re stopping now then”
“You’re taking too much on. Why don’t you just use a bottle?”
“Surely you can’t keep up with her, she’s going to need some topping up”

…..and so it goes on. The list is endless. THIS. Right here. Is pressure to formula feed. I hear it everyday and yet it isn’t talked about in the mainstream.

We hear formula-feeding women being given a hard time and there is never any excuse for this. But what if you are breastfeeding? In truth, breastfeeding women and staff supporting them, are widely and very publicly marginalised, scoffed at and silenced. They are called highly offensive names such as ‘breastapo’ and ‘breastfeeding nazis’. It takes thought and guts to post a picture or a comment online that implies you are enjoying breastfeeding and mothering in your chosen way. This is all so wrong.

“Fed is Best”

Of course a baby needs feeding but being ‘fed’ is a bare-minimum standard. Not a best one.

This catchy slogan is driving doubt and deflection. Doubt into the competence of all women’s bodies and deflection from the significant body of evidence available on how breastfeeding is different to formula use. It completely undermines the positive impact breastfeeding has on our short and long-term health (for both mother and child), our economy, our environment, our society and even on future generations, compared to formula feeding.

I’m calling TIME on the spread of scare-mongering and destructive headlines.

We all have the right to impartial and evidence-based information to make our own choices.
We all have the right to be respected in the individual choices we then make. Whatever they are.
And. We all have the right to be supported by professionals fully equipped to do the job.

We deserve better. Informed Is Best. 

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