Friday, January 14, 2011

Breast is Best

... This is the mantra that has been drummed into new mums by what I just heard referrred to on the radio as The Breastapo for years and years.

When I started out on this parenting malarkey I think The Breastapo were just coming into their own. I can remember going to an antenatal class (NCT - natch, I'm middle class, but GOD I hated those classes, run by well meaning but narrow minded folk who could not accept that sometimes babies don't arrive easily, sometimes pain relief is necessary and sometimes, god forbid, even intervention is. As a result of their well meaning efforts I felt a complete failure after no 1's delivery which involved an epidural, forceps & episotomy), where a very bossy woman stood up and repeated the Breast is Best mantra which quite frankly, in my child bearing years I grew to hate. She told us, I seem to remember that as an alternative to breast milk had only been around for fifty years or so, this was nature's way of saying that babies should only be fed from their mothers, and that ALL mothers could feed. A statement so sweepingly ignorant it failed to recognise that pre-formula milk being available babies DIED because their mothers couldn't feed, or used wet nurses. It just simply isn't true that ALL mothers can feed their babies. Most probably can, but some just can't.

I was lucky. I produced enough milk to keep my babies going probably far longer then the currently recommended six months, but jeez, how I hated breastfeeding. Saying that in itself is the ultimate heresy for The Breastapo. It's like declaring I don't love my baby. But before I had babies the idea didn't appeal, and once the whole messy painful procedure presented it to me in all its glory, I discovered, that me and breastfeeding, really really didn't get along. So it was that within six weeks of no 1 being born I switched to bottle feeding (and did the same with all my others to no ill effects that I can now see. None of them being stupid, or behind at school as threatened. Two of them true are asthmatics, but asthma is in my family and I don't believe for an instant that my breastfeeding a bit longer would have stopped them getting asthma), albeit feeling so guilty I remember hiding the bottles when the midwife came round. Can you credit it, a grown woman in her own house, sneaking around like a guilty schoolgirl? But that's what The Breastapo reduces you to. Bonkers.

I mention all of this because in the time since I had my babies, the power of The Breastapo has grown to the extent that thanks to a directive form the WHO that says newborns should be fed exclusively breast milk for the first six months of their lives (surely a policy that is more relevant in third world countries where they are at greater risk of infection), now all new mums are bullied - I mean advised - that they should not give solids until six months.

When I first heard this policy I thought wtf? Not only did I stop breastfeeding mine early, but given how hungry they were (all of them were over a week later and 8lbs+) I also fed them solids at three months. Yes I did say three months. They were hungry. I had got to the limit of how many bottles a day I could give them (along with dire warnings about making them fat if I gave them too much formula. Are we the most bullied generation of mothers, ever? Discuss.) and once they were on solids they slept through the night. Result. I feel immensely sorry for the poor women who are struggling to keep their babies on breast milk for the whole six months. If their babies are anything like mine were they must be worn to the ground.

So I heartily applaud the sensible study which today led by a paediatrician from UCL's Institue of Child Health, whom I presume knows what of he speaks, has suggested that breastfeeding for six months exclusively is not necessarily always in the best interest of the baby, who may not receive the right amount of nutrition (hello, isn't that rather obvious?) and in some cases may end up iron deficient as a result. Of course the Royal College of Midwives, the heads of the Breastapo have jumped on this claiming it is a study that only helps the baby food industry. Bollocks. It will help mothers to make a more informed choice about how long they breastfeed for, and in turn that will help their babies.

I am not for one minute suggesting mothers shouldn't breast feed. (Nor am I suggesting that all midwifes and health visitors are bullies. Most are sensible people who give you good advice and are obliged to follow the latest guidelines however misguided they are.) It has been proved without a doubt that there are health benefits to mother and baby (and yes, you do lose your baby weight quicker when you do it, one of the only reasons I kept at it, quite frankly), but this bullying one sided coercion of new mothers in particular (who are very very vulnerable and need sensible support not bullying) has to stop. Breast is certainly best for babies, but feeding them is a multifactoral thing, and what suits one mother and baby doesn't suit another. New mums should be given enough advice for them to make up their own minds and then be allowed to get on with it.

Breast may be best, but I think most mothers know best as far as their babies are concerned anyway...


Ruth said...

Ooo I couldn't agree more. I think we call them 'Breastfeeding Nazi's' here, which may be a little harsh.

I found it much harder with the girl - leafy Surrey Mummies, midwifes, health visitors all intent on making your life a misery if you choose not to breast feed. I managed 5 days with her. They wanted me to express feed her, top her up with some formula from a spoon then breast feed her again, for every feed. No way.
I was actually interrogated by the professionals for choosing to use formula and I was subsuquently "uninvited" to any of the antenatal get togethers that happened after the birth..

It was different with the boy, I mixed fed him in the end, but had said all through the pregnancy that he would be formula fed. They accepted this straight away, no snobby remarks etc.

As for weaning - both of mine started solids at 4 months. Like yours, they were hungry.

So far, they are hardly overweight. They're quite healthy and active etc and are showing signs of being fairly bright.

Personally, I think that a happy mummy = a happy baby.

R xxx

Helen said...

Brilliant blog post. Well said.

Cathy said...

My first baby was premature and in intensive care. Although I was encouraged to express and really tried, due to the stress I produced very little. He had a very poor sucking reflex and would never have breast fed, it actually took six weeks before he could bottle feed for 24 hours, the criteria to come home. Breast feeding guilt was the least of my worries.

The second one was less premature and might have had more chance of breastfeeding if there had been enough staff around to help me whilst we were kept in due to neonatal jaundice. But I got no support and as his brother had done well on formula I did my best and just supplemented heavily with formula. Like my mother before me I think I was not destined to produce enough milk to breast feed. Both started on rice solids at around three to four months, though I think that was the advice back then.

Despite early breathing problems for other reasons, neither of my boys has asthma, any early wheeziness being outgrown by the time they started school.

I applaud those who can successfully breast feed but no one should be made to feel guilty for their choices unless there is obvious medical harm being done to the baby. I truly believe a mother's instinct is usually best.

Persephone said...

The "Breastapo" -- I like it! Fortunately, they took it easy on me. Elder daughter latched well, but clearly was not getting enough from me, so supplementation began early. She weaned herself when my periods returned. I would have been in deep trouble had I been in Britain, as she was four months old at the time.

Younger daughter was born four years later and the pressure of mammarian correctness had gained in strength. She didn't latch well, but the powers that be (I was hospitalized for a week with both babies due to jaundice and complications in my healing after emergency C-sections) suggested no formula while I discovered the agonies of nipple pain and the wonders of lanolin. By three weeks, she was looking wizened and it was finally accepted that I needed to supplement. I continued to breast-feed, though, until she was nearly two and a half when she too gradually weaned herself.

I was spared much lecturing -- possibly because I was not a particularly young mother.

Women really need to stop beating up on each other. If we were truly confident about our choices - work/stay-at-home, attachment/laissez-faire, children/childfree, breastfeed/formula - we wouldn't engage in this judgment-mentality and name-calling.

Virginia Moffatt said...

As an advocate for breastfeeding, I feel despair at the way you and others have been made to feel. I certainly think that part of the problem is that the advice comes as instruction, and then without any help and support.

I was supremely lucky. No 1 came out of the womb kicking and yelling and latched on straight away and seemed to stay there for the next 6 months. I didn't get the positioning quite right, but my midwife was wonderful, sensible, supportive. So for me breastfeeding was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I found it easy,convenient, loved the bond with my baby, and I didn't have to faff with bottles. (Which when I did so I found a faff). I found about 6 months was just right for the pair of us, but I did put her on solids at 3 months. Like yours she was hungry, and I followed the Miriam Stoppard advice that the minute you find your 4 hr feeds becoming 2hrs again, it's a sign the baby needs solids.

So it came as a shock, quite frankly to discover no 2 wasn't so amenable. She wouldn't latch on, tore my breasts to pieces with her gums, kept falling asleep because it was so hot, and wouldn't put on wait. I got a bit of mastitis, and felt wretched and despair. Luckily, the same very wonderful midwife knew I wanted to keep breastfeeding, but realised it wasn't working. She advised nipple shields that I hadn't needed first time round, but did the trick of protecting my breasts. And then most importantly, she advised I topped up my breast milk with 1 oz of bottle in the evenings to give my tired body a break. She also advised that the baby was too warm when I was feeding her, so told me to strip her down to her nappy and tickle her feet to keep her awake enough to feed. It worked like a charm. Within a week, no 2 was feeding properly, and putting on weight. It still took a few weeks before my breast healed and the latching on didn't cause me to wince, but I was able to feed for 6months as I'd done with no 1.

No 3 was a bit inbetween. I used the nipple shields, but he certainly never had any problem putting on weight. And because he was exceptionally hungry (he weighed 10.5lbs at birth) I put him on solids at 10 weeks.

So there you have, baby-led breastfeeding with sound advice and support from the midwife is the only way it works properly.

But if it ain't for you and your baby is doing fine, no-one should bully you either.

And the opposite of the Breastapo by the way is the weight obsessed Harpie Health Visitors who think any baby under the 50th centile is somehow malnourished. I know lots of people whose babies have been tiny, and not been interested in food till they were 9 months. They were putting on weight proportional to the birth size, but because of a misunderstood WHO document, there was a phase when Health visitors were constantly checking on them.

I don't know what it is about babies that brings out the fundamentalist in people, but really mothers should be allowed to trust their instincts more!

Jane Henry said...

Thanks everyone for commenting. I think my lovely twin sums it up so well - that for some reason babies bring out the fundamentalist in people.
Ruth, Ouch, hadn't realised it was that bad first time(-: Agree, happy mums make happy babies.
Helen, thank you(-:
Cath sympathies that would have sent me demented...
Persephone, the 6 month rule thing came in more recently then our babies were born - think it was the year after my youngest, so I got away with it(-: Totally agree that women tend to use anxiety about the choices they make to beat each other up. I wish we didn't(-:
Gin, I had perfectly good instruction for breast feeding I just hated it. Made me feel like a milk cow and I never took to it. And with no 4 was so bloody knackered I just couldn't cope with the others. Would never have been able to keep it up. But to each their own and vive le difference!

出合いサイト said...