Tag Archives: breastvsbottle

I read the comments…

I did it again. I read the comments. Dear God, why did I read the comments? Nothing good can come from reading the comments, am I right?

It all started with this image:

Then 600 odd comments (at the time of writing this) ensued.

Apparently, according to the posters on the BellyBelly facebook page, breastfeeding beyond 12 months is:

Disgusting, gross, wrong, dangerous (teeth, ya know), weird, and sexually abusive.

Feeding beyond 12 months will:

Stop your child from being independent, leave them without coping skills, make them backward, make them socially inept, hold them back, and not allow them to grow up.

The decision to breastfeed beyond infancy is:

Selfish and only benefits the mother, pointless, devoid of nutritional value and something you need psychological help for doing.

While I really wanted to engage in a caps-lock punctuated rant about the terrible ignorance and offensive sentiments I saw expressed- I didn’t. I tried very hard to be polite. I posted links, information, excerpts from studies. I explained. I gave examples. I talked about how breastfeeding past infancy is normal and healthy and beneficial and safe. Because for all I know, the women talking in this thread have never researched breastfeeding. Many of them did not know of the World Health Organisation recommendation to breastfeed for two years and beyond. Many were unable to see that breasts are not a primary sexual organ. 

In this conversation, women who breastfeed longer than a year were ridiculed, judged, criticised and abused. At one point it even became racially motivated. I’m not even joking. And this is one discussion among many.

I’ve banged on a million times about the right to breastfeed and the benefits of breastfeeding. I’m not wanting to do that again (just now- I’m not ruling it out for future posts!). What got to me was the willingness of women to tear down other women over something that has no impact on anyone else’s choices or life. The bloody, freaking Mummy Wars. If it’s not working vs stay at home it’s breast vs bottle or routine vs on demand or slings vs prams.

Why do we do this to each other? Why do we feel that we constantly have the right to voice an opinion despite the lack of relevance to our own lives? If a parenting practice is not harmful, not illegal and not impacting anyone else why do we continue to lambaste each other for our choices? No one in this thread demanded that all women breastfeed their children to the age of 5. That is a very personal choice. Yet so many felt the need to voice their disgust and horror at the thought of doing so. So many felt the need to mock, shame and ridicule those that have or are feeding past infancy. Which brings me to my next point: why does bodily autonomy fly out the window in these discussions? You have the right to make your choices based on your opinions, beliefs, research- whatever floats your boat. What you do not have the right to do is to tell another person how they should or should not use their body. We should not be shaming each other over how we feed our babies and children- breast or bottle. I’ll be the first to tell anyone that how you feed a baby is an important decision and that it’s important to learn as much as you can about your options in this regard. However, feeding is just one small factor of parenting. It is a much wider landscape than these ridiculous Mummy Wars paint for us. We would do so much better if we could support each other, accept our differences and share our knowledge without judgement and without ridiculing those who make a choice we would not when it comes to things that don’t affect us. Women face enough challenges in our society without attacking each other; a little understanding would go a long way.

I’m linking up with Musings of the Misguided

for The Lounge

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Formulating the Right Support

Recently, it was reported that a 6 month old baby was admitted to hospital following life threatening seizures. Her mother had reportedly replaced some of her formula feeds with cordial as she was unable to afford to buy sufficient formula.

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It’s important to note that the cause of the seizures was the water in the cordial- as opposed to the cordial itself- generally speaking, babies get all their water from formula or breastmilk. From all I have read, it’s very easy to overdose a baby under 12 months on water. Doing so can lead to a condition called water intoxication, where excessive water consumption leads to sodium being flushed out of the body which disturbs brain activity and results in seizures. This condition is potentially fatal.

I don’t know why this mum thought that cordial was a suitable substitute. I have no idea of her situation. I can think of many scenarios to explain it and many that do not but I don’t have the all the facts.

One thing that is blindingly obvious though is that she did not have the education and support she needed to safely formula feed. I always talk about the education and support needed to breastfeed, because I needed a lot of both to do it successfully.

When I bottle fed my eldest, it wasn’t terribly difficult. I didn’t find I personally needed much help- a midwife explained how to sterilise bottles, recommended a good brand of bottle and a type of formula, told me to follow the instructions on the tin and off I went. Other than mild reflux, we didn’t have a great deal of feeding issues once on the bottle- but that is just my experience and obviously it really isn’t the same for everyone.

In the ensuing discussion over this mum, I’ve seen people say how much they struggled with formula feeding- from finding the most suitable formula to the most suitable teats and bottles for their babies- reflux babies, colicky babies, windy babies, babies prone to constipation or it’s opposite, babies with CMPI– they’re all different and all need something different. One woman recalled spending upwards of $50 on teats alone when she switched to formula in her search for one that suited her baby. 

The articles I read stated that this child was initially breastfed until around five weeks of age (a noted fussy period, from memory) and the author connected this case to the poor rates of breastfeeding in Australia, saying that mothers are being pushed or recommended too early on to wean onto formula. The article quoted a statistic too- that although around 90% of mothers initiate breastfeeding, only 15% are still breastfeeding at 6 months. 

While I agree that many mums switch to formula very early on (and there are many reasons for this) what the article didn’t mention was that this statistic refers to exclusive breastfeeding– which means the baby has had nothing but breastmilk, excluding medications and vitamin supplements- so it’s misleading because many people start to introduce solid foods between 4 and 6 months of age. So while it’s true that only 15% are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months, the percentage of those still breastfeeding while introducing complimentary foods is likely higher. 

To get an idea of our rates, at 3 months old, it’s it a rate of around 39% that are still being exclusively breastfed. (I imagine there are very few babies being given foods at this age-I hope, anyway- so by not being exclusively breastfed we can assume they are on some if not all formula). By 12 months (the minimum Australian recommendation) only 28% are still breastfed (which is still higher that the 15% quoted by the article) so we can estimate that somewhere between 28% and 39% are actually receiving some breastmilk at 6 months of age. This drops to around 9%at 18 months and 5% by 24 months (the minimum World Health Organisation recommendation and a whole other topic).

It may be true that this wouldn’t have happened if she was still breastfeeding. It may be that she was advised to stop breastfeeding at 5 weeks. She may have complained about the increased fussiness to her GP who recommended weaning. She may have had a friend tell her that formula would lead to a more settled baby, she may have read something similar online- we don’t know. Perhaps she had to stop for medical reasons, perhaps she just didn’t want to breastfeed any more, as is her right. Is this where she was let down? Breastfeeding mums have the ABA to turn to and lactation consultants- where does the bottle feeding mum turn to if things aren’t going well?  Some women I spoke to said that they struggled to get bottle feeding information as nurses and midwives were reluctant to give it out, citing hospital policies as a reason. Others said they felt judged for bottle feeding, despite the fact that most Australian babies are formula fed for most of their first year of life, and were therefore reluctant to ask anyone. 

All that aside, it’s not useful to turn this sad situation into a breast vs bottle argument. This happened not because of formula or because breastfeeding had ceased- it happened because a mother did not know what else to do when she couldn’t afford to buy enough formula.

So where to go for help? Your Childhood Health Nurse should help you. Your GP should help you. Your Paediatrician can help too. But if for some reason you don’t want to ask, there are lots of online resources. There are forums and Facebook pages where you can talk to other mums. There are some great online resources. Similar to getting breastfeeding information and support, sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns and seek it out for yourself. Don’t have internet access? How’d you get here? (Kidding! But maybe you don’t have regular access or want to help someone that doesn’t?) The good news is that most public libraries provide free internet, which is fantastic on many levels. I didn’t know that until recently- spread it around!

And here are a bunch of useful links for the formula feeding family:

A Bottle Feeding Guide from the SA Govt

Bottle Feeding- Nutrition by Better Health VIC

Bottle Feeding- All about Infant Formula

The Fearless Formula Feeder

A quick search on facebook showed quite a few support groups you can join too, and there are forums you can join for free at

Bubhub – Raising Children Network – Essential Baby – BellyBelly – Kidspot

NB- If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford food or formula organisations like the Salvos and FoodBank may be able to help you or point you in the right direction. You might feel there is shame in asking for help but there is not. Nor is there any pride to be had in starving. There are people and organisations that are there to help you get back on your feet.

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Let’s stop demonising formula

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Let me preface this by saying I have both breast and formula fed and both methods have their benefits and drawbacks.

My first was exclusively formula fed from a few days old after a tongue tie and failure to latch left her losing scary amounts of weight and jaundiced. My second was mixed fed due to under-supply for the about 3-4 months. In hindsight, I could have stopped the top ups before I did- but I didn’t realise that at the time. Just another part of infant feeding where there isn’t much consistent advice or support.

When I was comp feeding with formula, I looked in to donor milk. A bottle of donor milk that had been pasteurised through a milk bank was going to cost me $8. It would have worked out costing in excess of $50 per week. I could claim part of that back through the tax system at the end of the financial year, but that doesn’t help much when living or a reduced maternity leave income. My other option was informal milk sharing through the HM4HB sites. In theory, I thought this could be a viable option- if I could find a local trustworthy regular donor- but something in me was not just not 100% comfortable with the idea. So we decided to use formula and *anecdotal evidence alert* my daughters are both healthy and happy children.

The breast vs. bottle debate is just one battle being waged in the infamous “mummy wars” (I refuse to dignify that with capital letters) and I really think it needs to stop. I personally support babies being FED. If you breastfeed- fantastic. If you bottle feed with expressed or donor milk- fantastic. If you use a commercially produced formula- fantastic. Your baby is being fed an appropriate type of milk, well done you!

I’ve written and spoken a lot about breastfeeding discrimination. It is still alive and well and I think my views on it are clear- it’s unacceptable and illegal. Formula feeding discrimination- does that exist? I’m not sure discrimination is the right word. I haven’t read or heard about formula feeding parents being asked to leave cafes, but the condemnation some have received for formula feeding is pretty appalling, all the same.

I do think that if there was better, more consistent support and education available for mothers with regard to breastfeeding, more women would breastfeed and/or breastfeed longer. However, even if this existed across the board, some women would still opt for formula. There are a myriad of reasons. Some mothers need medications that are incompatible with breastfeeding, some have personal or psychological issues (for example-past abuse) that mean they opt to formula feed, some find breastfeeding to be full of obstacles and just too difficult to continue, some just really don’t like breastfeeding. Exclusive pumping is a happy middle ground for some people but it’s not a viable option for everyone. I can’t express a full feed to save myself. My body just doesn’t respond to pumping and I’m far from the only one out there. Even if it did, pumping full time is very demanding and not always practical and comes with its own set of difficulties.

It comes down, also, to bodily autonomy. A woman should not be coerced or pressured to breastfeed against her will. It is ultimately her body, her baby and her choice. What she should be is educated and supported to decide how she will feed her child.

Whatever reason a person has for feeding their baby one way or the other, shaming them for their choices or requirements is counterproductive. Lecturing someone for formula feeding will not inspire them to re-lactate and breastfeed. Criticising a breastfeeding mother should not be a factor in her decision to wean (though it sometimes is, which is a terrible shame).

You might have some really firm beliefs about why it’s better to breast feed. I’m cool with that. Breastfeed away. Similarly, you might have firm beliefs in favour of bottle and formula feeding. I’m cool with that too. Bottle feed away. There is every chance that someone out there will disagree with you. And that is okay too. What is NOT okay is trying to force those beliefs on another person. Especially when your argument is designed to shame and denigrate the mother for her feeding choices.

I know several women who have been approached in public by strangers and criticised for feeding their children.

One friend was publicly abused for giving her baby a bottle of expressed milk when the stranger assumed it was formula.

A member of my mothers group was chatting to another mother at her local pool when she was roundly criticised for using disposable nappies and then questioned as to why the 15 month old was bottle fed. This stranger dismissed the medical reasons behind the mother’s decision to formula feed as “rubbish” and reduced her to tears.

This demonstrates a really skewed perspective. What does criticising a formula feeding mother achieve? Does it inspire her to ditch bottles and try breastfeeding again? No. Does it inspire her to want to breastfeed future babies? I doubt it- who’d want to join the ranks of the breastfeeding tyrant brigade? Will it rectify any problems she had breastfeeding or help her overcome the obstacles that may have stopped her in the first place? Of course it won’t. As far as I can tell, all it does do is give an aggressive person a misplaced sense of superiority. When you see a stranger bottle feeding a child, you have no way of knowing what is in that bottle or why that mother, father or caregiver is feeding a child a bottle. And you don’t NEED to know. The baby is being fed, that’s great, be happy that they aren’t starving and move on.

Sometimes the criticism comes from friends or family and again, even if it is your sister or your best friend in the whole world- your criticism WILL NOT HELP. Supportive comments, offering to be there for them, offering practical assistance and letting them know they can come to you for advice if they want to- these are the things that help. It’s okay to offer to lend a breastfeeding book or to offer to send a link to helpful resources to someone who is having troubles with it- it’s not ok to do these things unsolicited to someone who has chosen to formula feed because it smacks of judgement and will not help. All it does do is create or add to the guilt they may already be feeling and feelings of guilt or shame can definitely contribute to depression and post-natal depression.

I think most people know that breast milk is the optimal food for babies. However, milk banks in Australia can be prohibitively expensive and difficult to access for many families and many people are uncomfortable using informal milk sharing as the milk isn’t screened and pasteurised. So formula is the next logical step- it’s easy to access, it must meet certain standards, it’s affordable and it is designed to meet the nutritional needs of infants. It’s not a live food like breast milk and doesn’t contain the antibodies and enzymes that breast milk does, true. It’s not the same thing. But it IS food for babies that aren’t breastfed, and that is no small thing.

Feeding is just one aspect of parenting. Parents that formula feed still love their children, still nurture them, care for them, clothe, house and educate them. Isn’t that the important stuff?

I believe we should advocate for breastfeeding education and support mothers in breastfeeding but I do not believe treating mothers who cannot or do not breastfeed like crap is an effective way to encourage or promote breastfeeding. No more judging, stop the assumptions, forget the snide remarks. As  a breastfeeding mum I don’t like copping any of that and I wasn’t fond of it as a formula feeding mum either, so here’s an idea- why not all just be supportive of each other? A little understanding, empathy and acceptance goes a long way.

Exclusive Pumping info:

http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/pumping/exclusive-pumping/

Bottle Feeding Support:

http://www.fearlessformulafeeder.com/

http://www.bottlebabies.org/

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