From Myth no More.
I’ve spoken to many mothers who formula feed their babies and many of them have done so only because breastfeeding didn’t work out for them.
There are, however, some women who decide either before or whilst they are pregnant that they they *don’t* want to breastfeed at all. In fact, 27.3% of babies are not breastfed from birth, although a percentage of this total (it is unclear how large) is likely to be due to circumstances surrounding the birth despite the mother’s intention to breastfeed.
“When asked to think back to before they had their baby, seven in ten mothers (70%) in the United Kingdom said they intended to breastfeed their baby, with most intending only to breastfeed rather than to mix breast and formula feeding.
There was a high correlation between intentions and actual initial feeding behaviour.
Over eight in ten mothers (84%) said they were aware of the health benefits of breastfeeding, and most were able to spontaneously give at least one benefit.”
In conclusion, pregnant women who choose to breastfeed appear to stick with this decision even after giving birth. It’s a choice that is made either before or during pregnancy – this is when dispelling various breastfeeding myths will be most vital.
I asked a group of mothers who *chose* to formula feed from birth the reasons for their decision. I then asked a group of mothers who *chose* to breastfeed to help dispell these myths.
The main issue seems to be breastfeeding around family, friends and in public, “I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of breast feeding in public.”
Another woman told me, “I’m just embarrassed.”
If a woman hasn’t been used to seeing a baby breastfed then it’s not seen as ‘normal’ or ‘natural’.
“We just “don’t” breastfeed in this family so it’s not “normal” to get your boobs out!” one mother told me.
So how do we dispell this myth?
The obvious answer is to just bite the bullet and feed but for a new mother this isn’t always easy. If breastfeeding hasn’t been normalised for you, then summoning up the confidence and empowerment to feed your baby around your family, peers and the public is hard.
It may help if we see more images like these:
It’s very easy to breastfeed in public without showing any flesh. In fact, most of the time, people cannot tell whether you are cuddling your baby or feeding it!
Then again, perhaps the ‘public’ *do* need to see what all the fuss is about?
This is me, feeding my 1 1/2 year old son. I did this in public and although I was apprehensive at the time, looking at this photo now I can’t see why it mattered. It’s just skin holding the milk that fed my child.
It may help if we take a different approach to raising our children, an NCT survey showed that 30% of breastfeeding mums thought the approach to breastfeeding in public was far better abroad. Other factors such as visiting breastfeeding support groups, breastfeeding in front of a mirror and using muslin squares or breastfeeding covers if the uncertainty is still there can help. It’s about building confidence and empowering women to feed the way we have done since the beginning of time.
”Wherever the destination, it will prove helpful to evaluate your surroundings upon arrival. At a shopping center, for example, be on the lookout for accessible spots to nurse before your baby is hungry. Many stores designate rooms for breastfeeding mothers, but remember that a hungry baby will not be a patient baby! Having a few areas in mind instead of searching for that “perfect” spot with a cranky baby will be easier on you both. In restaurants, request a seat that is out of the way of high traffic areas — the less you have to move your chair to accommodate passersby, the better. Beware of the common suggestion to use a public toilet facility while breastfeeding. Adults and bottle-fed babies aren’t expected to eat in a toilet facility; the same should hold true for breastfed babies.
Some women are more concerned about nursing in front of family members and friends than in front of strangers — that’s because criticism and questions from people we don’t know are usually easier to ignore. If you’re criticized for breastfeeding during a family gathering, there are ways to diffuse the situation. Remember that some people may just not be aware of the exquisite benefits of human milk. It’s also possible that your dedication to breastfeeding makes them defensive or feel criticized for their own parenting choices.”
“Whether it’s the size of your bump, the amount of clothing your baby’s wearing or how and what you’re feeding, from the moment you’re visibly pregnant there will always be some people ready treat you as public property and spout their unsolicited opinions on everything you do – or don’t do. If you’re a new mum then it’s easy to be unnerved, or even angered by this, particularly with all the hormonal upheaval you’re experiencing, but do try not to take any of it personally. If you think that someone is looking askance as your public feeding then try to be impervious and stay calm. Keep in mind that breastfeeding is not only best for your baby, but it’s also perfectly natural and there’s nothing remotely inappropriate about it: If anyone has a problem with your feeding then it really is their problem, not yours. “
Another breastfeeding myth is that fathers cannot bond with their babies unless they feed them.
“I want my hubby to bond more with him by giving him a bottle” one mother told me.
It’s not just fathers though, some women believe that other members of their family will not be able to bond with their baby unless they can help with feeds, “I also wanted OH to be able to do feeds and for my mum to be able to help out in the early days which she ended up having to do a lot.”
Fathers have a role in breastfeeding and just because they are not physically feeding the baby themselves, doesn’t make them any less useful or important than the mother. The first few weeks of having a baby can be overwhelming and exhausting. Throughout this time, fathers play the role of enabling the mother to get breastfeeding established; organising visitors, supplying the mother with food and water and being an emotional support is vital.
Sometimes at 3am when you’re holding a screaming baby in your arms, you just need someone to take over, reassure and support. This is where the father comes in.
Of course the father’s role in parenting a newborn stretching way beyond supporting the mother. Skin to skin is so important to babies, feeling the touch of a parent is a survival instinct newborns crave. Nappy changing, winding, wearing baby in a sling, cuddling, bathing and playing – all needed.
And if he still wants to feed the baby, then there’s always the option of expressing.
One woman told me, “I have heard many mums stop bf or don’t start because they want their partners to bond with baby by allowing them to feed the babies my OH pov: ‘rubbish’ It has made no difference to his bonding with our daughter. He is the most loving, caring daddy and he (in his own words) ‘has a different bond with his daughter, feeding is just one aspect of developing your relationship with your child and a father develops a different kind of bond without having to feed them’”.
Hmm, nothing wrong with the bond between this dad and his new baby.
Or these bonds
This baby shared her first ever smile with her dad
These dads and babies look like they share a very close bond
also goes a long way to dispell the myth that fathers can’t bond with babies.
Some new mothers don’t have the support of the father. One mother told me she chose to formula feed her baby because, “I am single and need to accept help from other people on occasions to give me a break.” She has a valid point, single parents need help and support but this can be given in many different ways – not just the options listed above, but also in a practical manner (the cooking and washing up still needs to be done and surely this is far more beneficial to a new mum rather than giving the baby a bottle?).
Another myth is “I chose to FF because I take antidepressants.”
gives information on what anti depressants can be given when breastfeeding. Health professionals need to assist the mother in weighing up the risk:benefit factors of this issue. The fact of the matter is, breast milk is vital to a baby and very little of the medicine gets into the milk. If the medication is not suitable, or more importantly hasn’t been proven to be suitable, then it can be switched.
One of the underlying issues of mothers who choose to formula feed is lack of confidence in their own bodies. Formula has been ‘normalised’. The number of ounces a baby drinks and their sleeping routine is seen to dictate the baby’s health and well-being, “I didn’t want to worry about my baby getting enough milk from the breast, I knew how much she drank and we fitted into a routine almost straight away.”
We can dispell this myth by either looking at the reasons why we condition babies to behave in the way that society expects them to or by making the point that breastfed babies can fit into a routine. Not only can they fit into a routine, but after the first few weeks, most of them fall into a regular feeding pattern and some even sleep well at night.
Some mothers choose to co-sleep. Read this
– it’s ever so funny and ever so true!
As a parent, you become aware of what is normal for your baby and what is not. Ensuring good, effective feeding will mean that your baby is taking milk. The result of this is in the nappy! One of the biggest myths of all is that a baby needs a certain number of ounces every 4 hours. A baby actually needs to regulate their own intake and they are very capable of doing so!
I think one of the most damaging myths is that breasts can’t be used functionally and sexually, “I am one of ‘those’ women who find it hard to seperate my breasts from a sexual viewpoint to a feeding viewpoint” one mother told me. Society tells us to look and act a certain way – our bodies can’t possibly be for both pleasure and feeding.
After researching this and talking to mums – both breast and formula feeding, I have come to the conclusion that the issue is really just ours. It may come from the media, but we’re the women who believe it.
What do the partners of breastfeeding mums think though?
“I find it amazing how you feed and bond with her, witnessing it is fantastic! And you still look and feel sexy naked! I don’t mind sharing at all!”
That partner and dad doesn’t seem to think breasts can’t be sexual *and* functional!
“My DH, lovely as he is, has pointed out that his doodah is also functional and sexual!” another woman told me.
So these men don’t seem to mind, in fact, all of the men who were asked said they didn’t think twice about the ‘dual-function’ of their partner’s breasts. Most of them said they quite liked the way that breasts could be used for purpose and for pleasure.
Surely it’s our hang-up then?
“From my perspective I never found it a problem to switch from feeding mode to sexual and find it a totally different sensation having OH attached to a breast than LO. My nipples have always been super sensitive and I would have been really disappointed if I’d had to leave them out of sex.”
I’ve left this myth for last because I, personally, find it the most worrying.
“I am unconvinced of the benefits of breastfeeding as many mothers I know have struggled with weaning and have ongoing feeding issues at a later date that have never been an issue with me. Both my children are healthy, have not suffered gastroentreitis (sp), ear infections asthma etc etc and both are very intelligent & have had no bonding issues either”.
Several other formula feeding mothers who I spoke to said the same thing,
“I understand all the benefits of breastmilk, and i do believe they exist of course, but to what extent does it make any difference? When we are able to (cliche i know but) look at a class of 5 year olds and identify which ones were breastfed, maybe then my opinions would change”*
“On a more personal, anecdotal level, myself and my siblings were all breastfed past a year, and many of us have suffered excema, asthma, depression – the very things breastfeeding “statistically” prevents. Naturally this clouded my judgement. My mother, who spent years of her life BF’ing tells me she would formula feed in this “day and age” as it just doesn’t seem worth the bother that she felt she experienced – when formula milk is a pretty close second to breastmilk these days. “
Still, women are unsure of the benefits of breastfeeding and just as importantly, the risks of formula. Is this because the ‘breast is best’ mantra has been branded around so much by health professionals that women are beginning to ‘switch off’? Is it due to formula advertising? Family influence? Lack of support, education and pro-active health professionals?
Or is it a mixture of every myth in this blog post that we have tried to dispell?
So, how do we dispell this one?
We show the evidence, that’s how.
is a study illustrating that, actually, there could be a difference in intelligence between breastfed and formula fed babies, even when allowances are made for parental IQ and social factors. There are many similar studies which come to the same conclusions. This
study (published only last month) shows a link between breastfeeding and reading ability at age 9*.
And health wise
, breastfeeding is still shown to reduce the risk of infectious diseases.
And bonding issues? This
explains how breastfed babies bond with their mothers.
Anecdotal evidence is just that, anecdotal.
I’m sure we’ve all heard about a 90 year old who smoked 30 cigarettes a day with out any consequential health issues.
It’s the statistics that count. Statistics show that breastfed babies are healthier than formula fed ones. Breastfeeding is better for the mother, better for the environment and better for your baby so why choose something riskier to feed your baby with?
And if you’re feeling REALLY brave, have a read of this
These myths about breastfeeding can and have been dispelled. If the relevant support and education is given to mothers who *choose* to formula feed before they have even given birth, then perhaps we could not only increase the number of women who try to breastfeed, but also try and change society’s perception of breastfeeding as a whole.
NB – Special thanks go to the ladies of the BabyCentre.co.uk Breastfeeding & FormulaFeeding boards. A wonderful resource and committed mothers all!