Stand down breastfeeding mama, I have absolutely no intention of causing any issues between us. I love that we have a week celebrating and promoting the amazing ability for a mother to feed her baby, I just don't understand why it solely focuses on breastfeeding.
Yes, breastfeeding is often a difficult skill to master and you definitely should be recognised and praised for the hard work you put into keeping your baby nourished. Many mothers have to overcome raw nipples, pain and exhaustion to name a few. However, I just want to take a moment to flip the situation and ask you to think about how you'd feel if society dedicated a whole week worshipping a physical act you were unable to do? Please think how that would affect your mindset, how you value yourself and your identity.
This brings me nicely onto formula feeding, or should I say, how this week can impact a formula feeding mother.
Many of us have tried and failed to breastfeed. Some of us have a condition that means we were unable to breastfeed. Nearly all of us have the emotional scars and the inner grief of being excluded from weeks like these... they reaffirm the fact that we are providing our baby with food deemed inferior to breastmilk.
This week of celebrating one method of feeding completely fails to acknowledge that different mothers and babies have different requirements. The damage that can be caused by pushing blanket statements and studies can lead to anything from post-natal depression to infant mortality. Personally I feel women would feel better supported if we focused our attention on what's right for that individual mother and baby. We should be teaching everyone to recognise the signs of illness in both mother and/or baby, as well as explaining the warning signs of malnutrition and dehydration. This can only be done by educating parents on the specific needs and choices that go into deciding what's best for baby and mother; breastmilk or formula.
The studies we are exposed to are frequently biased or flawed. For any study into the benefits of breastmilk, there is an opposing study elsewhere, disproving that finding. The fact scientists are constantly trying to prove or disprove theories mean the only sure result is a confused parent. One example for you is a recent study by Lisa-Christine Girard, University College Dublin, showing that previous research into the long-term benefits of a higher IQ in breastfed children "may have been affected by socio-economic factors such as the mother's education and income." Funny that genetics and affluence can actually be the reason one child is classed as more intelligent than another!
Let's go back to this week of breastfeeding focus. I completely agree with a drive to support mothers, but this includes support for formula feeding mums too. We could debate for hours over different studies but ultimately every single mother should be celebrated and encouraged to keep their baby fed, whether that's breastmilk or formula milk. I have always stated that formula milk is safe for babies, closely regulated and contains all the nutrients a baby needs to thrive. I've had this backed by the British Specialist Nutrition Association Ltd (BSNA) too.
Knowing this, why do we continually try to find fault in, or compare methods? It's pointless. They are simply just different ways of providing food that keeps our babies alive.
Weeks that specifically exclude a group of people; people who I guarantee are trying to be the best mother they can be; are divisive at best, discriminatory at worse. We know that there is a huge drive to promote breastfeeding, millions of pounds are being spent on these campaigns. Currently the message these campaigns bombard us with are the pros of breastmilk and cons of formula milk. This fuels stigma towards bottle-feeding in society. Millions of women worldwide start their journey into motherhood with every intention of exclusively breastfeeding. So if the latch never materialises or the milk dries up or the pain is too intense or they experience one of the hundred and one other reasons breastfeeding doesn't work out - including lack of guidance and support - imagine the feelings of failure and guilt mothers feel after hearing months of health professionals chanting 'breast is best'. (you can read more about my thoughts on this awful phrase here)
So I propose we rename this week 'World Infant Feeding Week' and ensure we educate parents on the notion that 'Fed is Best'. It would provide information on all types of feeding, celebrating the trials and tribulations all mothers and fathers endure when nourishing their baby. It wouldn't undermine any form of feeding. It would celebrate breast, formula, combination; via boob, bottle or tube... any method people rely on to keep their baby fed and themselves physically and emotionally healthy. It wouldn't be competitive or discriminatory. It would be inclusive and empowering for all every single parent.
NB: For those of you who don't know about Don't Judge Just Feed, it is a support network I've founded for bottle feeding parents. We love breastfeeding and show full respect to all breastfeeding mamas. We just realised (first hand) there was a dire need for a safe place where bottle feeders could connect. We are acutely aware of the emotions and journeys some women experience and know that breastfeeding grief is a major issue; we want to support anyone in need.