In a digression from the 'breast is best' narrative, midwives are now being advised that mothers who decide to bottle feed their babies must have their choice respected.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) updated its official position on breastfeeding to state: 'If, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected'.
It's no secret that the breastmilk first approach is thoroughly engrained into our societal psyche. It's a pressure felt by many new mothers, and those who would rather use formula or aren't able to breastfeed are left feeling judged or guilty for not following the promoted ideology.
According to research by Channel Mum, 55 per cent of mothers think that the pressure to breastfeed is too heavy while 41 per cent of those asked have been made to feel that they have 'failed as a mum and failed their child'. Although the RCM's re-emphasis on the importance of informed decisions and supporting those who take up bottle feeding instead of breastfeeding is a welcomed move, will it really change public attitude?
New mum Katherine Ormerod, who documents her journey into motherhood on her @mamalovesgrey Instagram account, isn't so sure. She told Grazia Online: 'The breast is best message has been so deeply hammered into us, that even I—who knew nothing about babies before getting pregnant—thought that formula was basically McDonalds. Which it totally isn’t.'
Katherine said that she hadn't been explicitly advised against bottle feeding, but when she she told her GP and midwife that she planned to breastfeed, 'they both said "good", almost as it I was getting a gold gold star'. The response she got from her GP when she ran into some trouble breastfeeding however, wasn't what she had hoped for.
'When I had a massive oversupply and my baby failed to latch, I quickly got mastitis and my GP said that it was "great because that means you have plenty of milk so will be able o feed at least until the baby is 6 months, maybe even a year!', she explained. 'As if I should be pleased that I was in terrible pain and totally out of it. It's definitely like your body stops being your own and your health (both physical and mental) is completely sidelined for your baby'.
Michaela Green is also a new mum and while she's now chosen to use a combination of breastmilk and formula to feed her baby, she was similarly encouraged to breastfeed. When her daughter was 11-days-old, her breathing rate dropped and they were rushed into hospital. 'After all the tests and scans I was incredibly stressed and I felt my milk was not producing to the level I needed to feed my baby'.
'I decided to start feeding her formula as a top up and I felt that I was frowned upon in the hospital for doing so as I as constantly asked if I wanted to see a breast feeding consultant which made me even more upset'. Michaela's daughter is now four-months-old and healthy, being fed a combination of the two methods but she's also very aware that she's fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed at all. 'I have a couple of friends who would have liked to breastfeed but due to labour complications were unable to, and I know from hearing their stories they felt that they had let their babies down'.
The emphasis of the RCM's new position statement is very much on choice, and of course there are hopes that their repositioning will alleviate some of the pressure felt by new mothers. But equally it seems the advice you're given should better reflect the individual's circumstance. As Katherine explained: 'I don't think that the language should be so black and white - breast or formula. Because there are a lot of options to combine the two in various ways'.
She added: 'Until as much emphasis is giving in ante-natal classes about how to feed by both formula and breastmilk, women will continue to feel like they’ve failed if they can’t make it work. The focus should be on what to do if breastfeeding doesn’t happen, like how to use a breast pump and nipple shields or how to retrain a baby on to the nipple if they’ve had to take a bottle for a week, instead of showing videos of babies magically latching perfectly in 10 minutes.'
Samantha Winchester-Jones is expecting her first child and in the run up to the birth has maintained the intention to breastfeed, predominantly because it's cheap. 'It costs nothing at all but my time, the health benefits are a bonus', she explains. 'I've grown up around women who breastfed so I consider it rather normal'.
Over the course of her pregnancy Samantha's been under two different midwifery teams in South Wales. 'When you get pregnant you are given a book called “Bump, Baby and Beyond” from NHS Wales and it has a whole section on feeding options. It does state that breast does have additional health benefits, but after that, the book is very unbiased', she explained.
Samantha had a similarly balanced experience when talking through options with her first midwife. She already knew that she intended to breastfeed, however she said her midwife went though all of the preliminary advice she had been given again to make sure she understood the pros and cons of both options. 'She didn’t shy away in telling me the problems that can come with breastfeeding', Samantha said. 'Obviously its great for health benefits and immune system but she did prepare me for how difficult it will be, especially for the first few weeks.'
Since moving to a different area and preparing for her first child with a second midwife however, Samantha's experience has been a little different. 'I’ve only been asked once what I intended to do and that was to just mark it down in my notes again. I had not been given any other advice from my new midwife. Not even in regards to technique'. For that she has had to rely on the advice of friends and family.
While it will take a while to remove the complicated stigma around breastfeeding, the RCM's new steer seems to be a step in the right direction for mums who are apprehensive about the pressure to conform to expectations held by the 'breast is best' ideal. However the importance of well informed advice appears to be the unanimously focus.
RCM chief executive Gill Walton said: ‘Evidence clearly shows that breastfeeding in line with WHO guidance brings optimum benefits for the health of both mother and baby. However the reality is that often some women for a variety of reasons struggle to start or sustain breastfeeding.’
'RCM chief executive Gill Walton said: ‘Evidence clearly shows that breastfeeding in line with WHO guidance brings optimum benefits for the health of both mother and baby. However the reality is that often some women for a variety of reasons struggle to start or sustain breastfeeding.’
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