Government Breastfeeding Strategy – My response

There has been quite a bit of negative feedback in the media about the new breastfeeding strategy in the past few days. Many “opinion pieces” have attacked the strategy for “making mums feel guilty” for not breastfeeding.

This is a complete crock of shit.

Ask the mother of a child that was killed in a car accident before seatbelt laws if she feels guilty for not knowing about seat belts. Or a man dying of lung cancer if he feels guilty for smoking. The melanoma patient that loved the beach.

We make our decisions based on the evidence that is available at the time. Sometimes new informations has an impact on us, and we change our behavior. Sometimes we get the health message and decide to ignore it, like I did with soft cheese while I was pregnant – I did some research and found that there had been one case of listeria in pregnancy in Australia in the past two decades, and I decided to take the risk.

I would never tell another woman what to do, but I think it is fair to give them the information so that she can make up her own mind. It is my opinion that most mothers think a lot about what is best for their babies, and most mothers make conservative choices. And yet many women choose to artificially feed their babies. If I was doing a PHD in anthropology I think I would choose study this question. Since I’m not, I have to guess that most women don’t know how risky it is not to breastfeed their babies.

Of course, there are some women who can’t breastfeed. Some women have to have treatment that is incompatible with breastfeeding, or surgery, or there are other, valid reasons for not breastfeeding. Or they simply choose not to, and that is ok.

What is not OK with me is hiding the facts about the risks of artificial feeding in order to spare the feelings of a non-breastfeeding woman.

Below is what I wrote as a comment to a newspaper article that I read today – a new mum that “couldn’t” breastfeed because of poor advice, attacking the ABA, the one organisation that could have helped her if she had chosen to reach out.

—–

The new strategy is about supporting new mums, so they don’t get this stupid advice. If Rebecca had good advice and support when she was trying to get breastfeeding established (or even before the baby was born), her story might have been a lot different.

I too struggled to get breastfeeding established, and suffered for nearly three months. Before my baby was born, I attended a Breastfeeding Education Class run by the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and when things got hard, I turned to them for support and advice. My baby is just about to turn two, and he is still breastfeeding. It is my intention to follow World Health Organisation guidelines, and feed him at least until his second birthday.

This new strategy has looked at the “hard evidence”, and has come to the conclusion that formula use places an unnecessary strain on health services. Artificially fed babies do have worse health outcomes (and so do their mothers) – so of course the government wants to encourage and support women to breastfeed.

And if you’re after scientific evidence that formula feeding carries risks, read this article – www.onemillioncampaign.org/doc/RisksofFormulaFeeding.pdf The information is easy to read, but each point is referenced with the research papers so you can look up the results for yourself.

As for the ABA using emotive language, that is a no brainer. In my opinion, saying that breastmilk is a gift that a mother can give her baby is much nicer than saying giving formula to your baby increases his risk of diabetes, obesity, asthma, SIDS, hospitalisation for upper respiratory illness, childhood cancer, reduced cognitive development, allergies, infection from contaminated formula, altered occlusion, nutrient deficiency, etc, etc.

It is interesting to note that Cuba, which has strong government support for breastfeeding, has a lower infant mortality rate than the USA, where breastfeeding rates are even lower than they are in Australia. Breastfeeding saves lives, and I think that it is time we stopped pretending that artificial feeding is “just as good”. Hiding these facts from women who are making a choice to artificially feed their babies is patronising, and dangerous.

8 thoughts on “Government Breastfeeding Strategy – My response”

  1. Lara, it’s great you are so passionate about this. I remember when Inigo was born your struggle with BF (as related by Mark) as it rang so true to my experience with Rory. I also struggled terribly for 3 months (including breast abscess and visits to breast surgeon every 2 days for about 2 weeks to drain the puss – sorry TMI. But we succeeded, he thrived and continued for 17 months until he decided enough. With Abi I was even more sure that breast was best given the way she entered the world. She took to it way better than her brother and sucked well at 34 weeks gestation. But she never thrived. I did everything I could. Even after she completely refused breast at around 10 months I continued expressing for her until she reached 12 months – this was important for my head more than anything. Anyway, in the end it turns out she didn’t thrive on my BM because she couldn’t. Turns out she has cows milk protein allergy (even though I excluded this from my diet several times in her first year to try to work out what was going on) and quite possibly breast milk intollerance too – go figure that – I didn’t even know that was possible. So the upshot is I feel incredibly guilty for not successfully BF her and also incredibly guilty for insisting on BF her when she truly would have been better off without. Hmmm, I guess what I am trying to say is, yes I believe you are right but also, even well informed mothers trying to do their best feel guilty about just about everything and if someone like me who really believes in BF feels guilty when my head (and husband) tells me that’s really dumb then the current debate will make many mothers feel guilty and that isn’t necessarily fair…… 😦

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  2. Articulate.. and full of good old common sense!

    Well done!

    I breastfed Toto until he weaned himself when I was preggers with Boo. I had to wean Boo at 8 weeks because of the meds I was taking…

    … and I feel no guilt.

    I did at the time of weaning.. it was agony for me as I had intended to breastfeed him for as long aspossible.

    As you said, I did the best that I could at the time.

    I love that women are becoming more educated about this topic. I think it’s a ridiculous excuse for a cover up to parlay that into offending women who couldn’t breastfeed. It certainly doesn’t offend me. xoxo

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  3. Well said, I think the issue is such a hard one because it also centers on something we are all familiar with, good old Mummy guilt. There has been such a bounce back where everyone tries to make everyone else feel better about their choices when ultimately, as you said: breastfeeding is the best possible choice you can make and no, no one ever said it was going to be easy. I found breastfeeding Amy very easy, I was lucky, but then she weaned at 10 months and no matter how hard I tried, she just wasnt interested. I realise now with hindsight that its a common age for babies to refuse the breast and I should have persevered. With Stella its been a harder road to establish breastfeeding early on and I plan to persevere!

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  4. For the amateur anthropology angle… i have noticed a general tendency for mothers to disown their choices by cloaking them in the language of necessity.
    “I had to return to work, I had no choice”
    “I had to give up breastfeeding”
    “I had to smack him/give timeouts”
    “I have to give her chicken nuggets for dinner”

    We have either weak or compelling reasons for our choices. Sometimes the reasons can be so compelling they are very close to having no choice at all (eg. extreme financial necessity, strongly held values) and sometimes our range of options is restricted for us, but it is rare that we actually have no choice.

    I suspect we pretend to ourselves and others that we were forced to do something we’ve chosen in order to avoid judgement. it seems like the easy way out, but is it?
    By limiting our freedom, we fail to honour the difficulties of having to make these choices. We also dilute the pain of those who are in those rare situations when there truly is no choice, by mixing it with the excuses of those who did have options.

    If I want to allow other women to own their choices and to speak honestly about what they have chosen to do, then I would need to
    a) challenge their perception of necessity
    b) challenge them to ensure that their choices are made on the best information available
    but also
    c) help them make their choice in a circumstance that is as free of the fear of judgement as possible. So they don’t feel compelled to hide behind the cloak of necessity.

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    1. You are such a clever clogs 🙂

      The trouble is, we are all so insecure about mothering, we can’t stand to have our choices questioned. Society is to blame!

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  5. We’ve talked about this before, so you’ve heard my opinion. I totally understand where you’re coming from, and where the ABA is coming from, and you really won’t find a more committed breastfeeding advocate than me.

    But my feeling is that this campaign is going to drive women who already feel bad about not breastfeeding to feel even more defensive – and that’s not going to help the cause.

    I think the only way to improve BF rates is to make it easier, through real, practical measures that mean women have the time, space and real support they need. I don’t think our fairly crappy BF rates here in Australia are an education issue.

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