Breast Isn't 'Best'

More anti-breastfeeding bunkum on my Facebook timeline recently, more rambles about the 'breastfeeding nazis', more Facebook bans on people sharing their #brelfies, more attempts to convince us that formula is just as adequate.  Yawn, yawn, yawn.

Earlier on I had cause to turn to the World Health Organisation guidelines on breastfeeding, and thought it was worth re-publishing them here.

Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.

Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production.

This unequivocal statement on the normalcy and huge advantages of being breastfed from birth up to two years, and beyond, may not suit our modern attitudes, but there can be no doubt about the biological advantages.  Whatever the media and formula-funded 'medical' studies may try to convince us otherwise.

Breast isn't 'best', it's optimal, it's normal, it's natural.

It may not always be easy, but if proper help is sought, and offered, breastfeeding will be successful, even in an anti-breastfeeding culture like ours.

Unfortunately, your NHS midwife or breastfeeding support group, your Children's Centre or NCT group are probably not the best places to turn.  Try La Leche League, or for online help advice try  the amazing Dr Jack Newman's site.

Do the best for your babies mamas, you CAN breastfeed!

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  1. I sought help with breastfeeding from a variety of sources and yet still didn't make it. I had help both over the phone and in person from my community midwife, from my NCT teacher - who was the only one that came round when I was about to have a nervous breakdown - and from the NCT helpline. I phoned the La Leche Legue twice and emailed them once. Both phone calls and the email were ignored. So please don't go saying that you can breastfeed if you seek the right help - I sought help, and found my NCT teacher the most helpful and compassionate, but the help wasn't always so readily available to me as you suggest above.

    1. How lovely to hear a positive NCT experience! I'm so glad they were there for you, it sounds like you had a hell of a time Nicola. I always advise mums-to-be to go along to La Leche League meetings in the last few months of their pregnancy as it helps to normalise breastfeeding in the mind, as well as establishing connections that will be useful after the birth. I'm sorry the helpline wasn't there for you when you needed it.

      I dearly wish breastfeeding was normalised in our society and then most of these problems would be eradicated. Allison Dixley's book is really interesting on how mothers are sabotaged, and often unfortunately self-sabotage, before their baby is even born. A lot needs to change.

  2. Beautifully put! Wish more people had access to those words of wisdom. I'm feeding my little boy who is 26 months and feel like I'm a rare species of mother as it don't know of anyone else doing the same.

    1. Thank you N, always here to support you. We are a rare species, but there are enough of us to join together and make our voices heard. Keep going hun, you're doing an amazing job.

  3. You see the problem is that you have no idea how posts like this make mothers who tried their hardest, sought help, were even told by doctors to introduce formula, feel. You have no idea what it is like to read posts stating "do the best for your babies" or suggesting that formula isn't adequate. You don't get it and you don't know what it is like to have to justify why you formula fed your child knowing that the perception is that that isn't the best for your baby. You don't know what it is like to see the constant #brelfies with #breastisbest when at the time you felt you did the best for your baby by getting some liquid down him after being told by doctors that he was severely dehydrated. I don't usually read these posts and I am sure that you mean well, but if you could just understand what it feels like to be in the shoes of a failed breastfeeding mother, then you would understand why we don't want want #breastisbest or optimal pushed down our throats all the time. We don't want to read posts like this. We bloody know what the WHO says, we bloody know it is natural!

    1. Thanks for your comment, and I'm sorry to hear that you had such a hard time.

      Unfortunately, many mums-to-be don't know the facts, many don't even try to breastfeed, and many give up because they lack the right support, even, as you say, being told by doctors, midwives and nurses, to just give baby a little bit of formula as well. Some even still believe in timed feeding regimes!!

      This, plus the fact that society views breasts as sexual objects, and that our culture is on the whole anti-breastfeeding, results in only 1% of babies still being exclusively breastfed at 6 months. 1%!!!!

      This is why new mums go into breastfeeding saying that they 'will try', effectively setting themselves up for failure before they've even begun. They are not encouraged to feed by medical professionals, friends, family, even partners, or supported sufficiently to do so.

      As a species we would have died out long, long ago if only 1% of babies were breastfed. To me, the most important part of those WHO guidelines is the last sentence: "Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production." It is cultural belief, cultural expectation, inadequate, uneducated support, and self-sabotage by women and mothers themselves, that means we still have that paltry and, quite frankly, ludicrous 1% statistic.

      The statistics (69% b/f at birth, 46% at 1 week, 23% at 6 weeks; 1% at 6 months - UK average) are atrocious and I will shout from the rooftops that yes formula is inadequate, despite what capitalism tells mothers, that everyone can and should breastfeed, that the support offered needs to improve 1000 fold, that formula companies have no place in our doctors' surgeries and hospitals, and that we are doing ourselves and our babies a disservice if we do not breastfeed them for as long as we possibly can. (Not to mention costing the NHS at least £40m!)

      Having sat in floods of tears when my first daughter was a few days old, my blood filling her mouth; having suffered from mastitis and blocked ducts; and having been offered time after time the 'advice' that I should just give her a little bit of formula or 'why put myself through it', I have every sympathy. But I'm afraid I will not change my viewpoint on breastfeeding, and I will not apologise for the messages about it given on this blog.

      I wholeheartedly believe that the more we see breastfeeding in public, the more people talk about it, the more it is seen and discussed, the better. We might even get back to a normal culture where breastfeeding is normal and expected, where mothers are surrounded by other women who have had successful breastfeeding relationships and can offer support, where feeding babies naturally is the norm not the exception.

    2. And the cost to the NHS if there was no such thing as formula? The cost to the NHS to ensure that every baby is exclusively breastfed no matter what? That would mean longer admissions, re-admissions due to dehydration, insufficient weight gain, jaundice etc. There are also researches which show that the pressure to breastfeed contributes to PND - that costs the NHS too. I completely disagree that formula is inadequate - there are just as many research papers to back this up as there are to suggest that breast is best. The fact is that fed is best and I will shout that from the roof tops. A happy mum is best. An alive and thriving child is best. It would be an amazing world if everyone's body just worked as it should and we never needed any intervention or help that wasn't from a natural source, but that isn't reality. The reality is that child mortality has gone down and life expectancy has gone up and that is mainly down to non natural means. Saying that formula should have no place in a hospital is irresponsible - what about mothers who are incredibly sick after birth, what about very sick/premature babies. I was 8 weeks premature with a rare blood condition and I would have died without formula.

      I think you lack empathy with the other side of the argument and that has a negative effect to what you want achieve. The problem is that you and many others come across as pushy and preachy and give off the impression that you think you're a better mother because you overcame difficulties and managed to breastfeed. If you stopped that tone and changed to the "every mum is amazing no matter how they feed their baby, and if you want to breastfeed then we will do everything we can to help and support you", then it would be seen as normal. Then people wouldn't be scared to try for fear of failing. If breastfeeding in public was just done more and more without the constant social media badge of honour photos, then it wouldn't attract such negativity and segregation.

      Breastfeeding is normal and it would be fantastic if there was more (non pushy/preachy) support and it would be great if more and more people did it, but going about it your way... saying formula is 'inadequate' and should be banned from hospitals, saying "do the best for your babies and breastfeed" saying we are doing our babies a "disservice if we do not breastfeed them for as long as we can", is actually upsetting to hear.

      I think you've lost track of how to best go about what you want to achieve.

    3. We're obviously never going to be on the same page with this, and I am fully aware of the benefits of formula when breastfeeding fails. My point is to aim for a society and culture which encourages and promotes breastfeeding, not one which uses a baby bottle as the symbol to represent everything infant/maternal, and actively discourages all things breastfeeding. As for my comment about formula in hospital, I actually wrote "formula COMPANIES have no place in our doctors' surgeries and hospitals", as at present they are permitted to promote formula and form financial relationships with medical personnel, not to mention 'minor' things like mums-to-be seeing their midwife filling out forms with a formula company pen etc, which all imprint the idea that bottles and formula are the norm. I would also be astounded if you managed to find a study which finds formula to be adequate, and that has zero formula company funding or other vested interest backing.

      I presume you did breastfeed your baby for as long as you could, before finding it too difficult. And as I have said elsewhere, every single drop counts and conveys benefits. Unfortunately, many many babies don't even get vital colostrum, which is one of the reasons why the NHS report I quoted above talks about the many illnesses that could be prevented by breastfeeding.

      I'm sure your child is happy and healthy and, of course, that is the most important thing. I am also glad that all those my words do make a difference to feel supported and part of a wider community, rather than ostracised as many breastfeeding mothers do, especially in certain areas of our country.

    4. Thanks for clarifying your hospital comment.

      I do think it differs from area to area and in some, there is probably too much formula influence. However, in our area, health visitors practically aren't allowed to mention the F word and so you can go from an abundance of amazing support on the BF front to having no support in relation to formula.

      Anyhow, I hope it has been ok to express how I felt reading your post. I have in fact read back over your blog and some of your other BF posts are really great and supportive and have a completely different tone to both this post and your initial comment back to me.

      To give you an idea of why I find the tone of your post/initial comment hard to deal with - I breastfed my second exclusively for 2 weeks and then we were back in hospital with dehydration/jaundice and were told by 2 doctors to introduce formula after every breastfeed. With a husband at sea and a two year old, I just couldn't cope with breastfeeding for an hour followed by formula and expressing up to 8 times a day as well to keep trying to get my milk in. I was devastated the amazing breastfeeding experience never came and I still get upset about it now. But having spoken to many who have been in a similar position, we all feel that we wouldn't have felt so sh*t about it had the pressure to BF been less or if the stigma around formula not exist. If we didn't hear people go on and on about the inadequacies of formula or how every woman can BF if they want to - we wouldn't feel like such failures.

    5. Thank you. Of course, I do understand. 24 hour support, especially from a partner, is the primary thing that makes a difference, and you didn't have that due to circumstance. Not to mention the unhelpful-sounding doctors! I'm sorry you had such a hard time, but you tried, and your children are obviously doing fine. Good luck mama, all love and light to you and yours xx


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