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.