May is Mental Health Awareness month and sadly we are still seeing rising incidents of postnatal depression that yet again we are featuring the issue.
In 2010, a 39-year-old new mother took her own life when her baby was just 10 weeks old because she was suffering from postnatal depression because she was struggling to breastfeed her new baby and the pressure to do so was too much! Have we learned any lessons from this? No.
The pressure to breastfeed or 'bressure' as it has been named has almost become a media frenzy with constant stories on 'brelfies' or breastfeeding selfies, especially celebrities, or defiant mums claiming they were stopped breastfeeding in places such as swimming pools.
I am infuriated by the judgement levied at new mums if they choose to or have to bottle feed and the pressure all new mums are put under at a crucial bonding time to breastfeed. Every baby is unique and so is every pregnancy, birth and new mum.
Every mum and especially new mums know - Breast is Best. We can't avoid it, we get told it at every opportunity but most of all breastfeeding is in our faces - quite literally! There's the 'professionals' that only advocate breastfeeding that vilify those that don't and even worse for me are the breastfeeding 'mob' - the avid breast feeders that positively ostracise a (shock horror) 'bottle feeder'. Yes, that happens!
There are enough pressures in life, enough things to make us feel guilty already without constantly putting in our faces that if we DO NOT breastfeed then our babies will be obese or have heart disease or now it seems be less intelligent.
I couldn't breastfeed - I write about it and the guilt I was made to feel in my book Babyopathy - baby care the natural way! I have heard an untold number of new mum's stories of being pushed out of their baby group or even being blatantly 'verbally abused' by other mums when bottle feeding.
I wonder on the future of our children when basic compassion seems to be a dying emotion in the very people who should be pure examples of it - we never know someone else's circumstances (unless we take the time to find out) so do not judge, do not vilify for you never know the damage it may cause. The reality faced by mums within their baby's first year is one in 10 will suffer from depression during pregnancy or postnatally and only one in 10 of those will actually get the help they need.
Those that can't or chose not to breastfeed feel guilty enough, do not add to it. There are many other factors that can have an influence on your baby's health and development that you can still play a part of and they are just as important - breastfeeding isn't the be all and end all of your baby's development - their home environment, their sleeping patterns, their weaning, you and your partner's well-being (yes that has an impact too).
Here are my reasons why a bottle can be your friend, even when breastfeeding:
• Introducing a bottle does NOT disrupt breastfeeding! This myth has been widely used to reinforce the Government directive to exclusively breastfeed. Exclusive breastfeeding was a message introduced by the World Health Organisation around 10 years ago because of the inappropriate marketing of certain baby milk brands in third world countries causing devastation to those family situations.
•`The ante-natal information is 'introducing a bottle will affect a baby's ability to latch on to the breast' - there is NO evidence whatsoever that this is true. A baby's natural instinct is to latch on and once this is established, merely introducing a bottle once a day will not disrupt that inbuilt instinct. After all, giving them a dummy doesn't, weaning doesn't so why should a bottle?
• Introducing one bottle a day (and this can be expressed milk too not just formula) can also have a huge positive impact for both mum and baby. For mum, it means they can get some extra, much needed sleep, especially if it is the late night bottle. For baby, it can be an opportunity for dad or other close family members to bond. It also means that should mum have to stop breastfeeding suddenly for whatever reason, you don't have a very stressed and hungry baby!
So my message this Mental Health Awareness month is not 'Breast is Best', my message is 'FED IS BEST'.