Imagine yourself as a pregnant mother. Emotions and can range from ecstatic to depressed, nervous to excited, confused to petrified. I guarantee that even the most confident and prepared ante-natal mother will be in need of guidance and advice at some stage over the 40 weeks through to birth.
Aiming to gain open, friendly and accurate education and support, you book yourself a place to attend a support group. Thankfully, you like the group. You enjoy interacting with women who are experiencing the same challenges and changes. You start to trust the group.
During a session, the topic of ‘Feeding Your Baby’ is addressed and literature is distributed. It reads “This booklet conforms with the NHS ‘best practice standards.’ These standards are recommended by NICE and The Baby Friendly Initiative.
Now, expectant mother, you’d be right to assume that this booklet must contain factual, evidence-based information on everything you need to know to enable you to become the best mother to your baby. Helpful, insightful tips and advice…
Every mother in the group is silenced. The group leader tries to reassure you all. “Only very few women experience problems trying to breastfeed. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. Your baby will thank you” she smiles and begins to reinforce the downsides of formula.
You go home unsettled. Let’s hope she’s right. Surely every mother can breastfeed, otherwise there wouldn’t be such pressure to do so.
That night you make the decision that exclusive breastfeeding will be the right choice for you and your baby. It clearly states that using formula will result in your precious baby facing some serious, life-long risks. Not to mention your own life, (now anxious) expectant mother. Again, it clearly states, you will be more likely to develop cancer, heart disease and obesity if you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed.
This is where I drop a bombshell.
There are mothers who are unable to breastfeed, no matter how hard they try. The most recent statistics say 1-5% of women can’t physically breastfeed.
Firstly, any reference to the percentage of women who can or cannot breastfeed is pure guess work. There is no specific study or body of research that provides this percentage. Secondly, how can a study accurately conclude how many women lactate, and not only that, but to the sufficient amount required to nourish their baby? What about differences in the physiology of mother and baby? This percentage assumes all babies can latch onto the breast. It assumes every mother is physically and/or emotionally in a position to breastfeed her baby.
The literature itself has vastly exaggerated claims, with most research statistics being debunked. Those that haven’t been disproved have acknowledged that the results are affected by genetic, social and environmental factors. It is not a simple case of “Breast milk will result in… and Formula use will result in…” but they continue to present the information in this manner. It’s manipulating science to further their desire to raise breastfeeding rates.
I understand that breast milk and breastfeeding is perfect nutrition for babies, I’m not arguing that. However, formula was invented for a reason. That reason being that ‘mother nature’ is unforgiving and unpredictable, no mother or baby is the same. Science states we are all individuals so it’s about time we approached infant feeding with this (actual) fact in mind.
How can organisations release and promote the ‘facts’ in this booklet and not consider the emotional impact and pressure it would have on expectant and new mothers? This style of communication is making blanket assumptions. They don’t need to intimidate parents to highlight that breastmilk is good, natural nutrition for babies. They also don’t need to make women feel they are solely responsible for providing their baby with food, especially when it is at the detriment to their own health. The current campaigns are completely negligent to maternal mental health and wellbeing.
I urge everyone to learn the unbiased science behind breastmilk and formula. Yes, breastmilk is optimal (if it is an option/works for mother and baby), but formula is great nutrition for babies. It’s safe. It’s regulated. It is a food source (just like breastmilk!) Read the science here.
My other motives for writing this piece are all for one purpose; inclusive infant feeding education & advice. By shaming Mothers Guide, who are the creators of this booklet, it allows me to display exactly what new mothers are exposed to… constantly, until we either successfully breastfeed or formula feed. The former results in celebration. The latter results in judgement.
I am pleading with the NHS/NICE to update their communication to reflect the most recent research and incorporate maternal wellbeing within their guidelines.
Let’s hope that one day, the moral principles of the health organisations will value mothers and babies equally and will implement a new approach with mindful, inclusive options and communication. Mother & Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative perhaps?
I want to thank our supporter, Kate, for submitting these photos. She has also shared her story with us which will be published over the next coming days.