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Breast is best?

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Health professionals and advertising campaigns have been drumming the Breast is Best message into new and expectant mothers for years.  But what if you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed – should you hang your head in shame or feel like you’re doing wrong by your baby?  Of course you shouldn’t. Breast is it best?

There’s no denying that breastfeeding provides valuable benefits for both mother and child but for many families, whether due to choice or circumstance, it’s not an option.  We’re lucky to live in a part of the world where a high quality substitute is readily available and the water is clean enough to prepare it with.  So why do some women feel they are being judged for using baby formula and where is this pressure coming from?

Don’t feel pressured

For many, the first time feeding your baby is discussed is at antenatal classes. “I went to a breastfeeding antenatal class, which was a bit patronising,” says Carrie, mum to Rian and Ethan. “The implication was that if you don’t breastfeed you’re not as good a mum and that any health problems would be your fault. After that particular class another girl told me she was angry about how much pressure she had felt during it.”  NHS antenatal classes have to be based around government guidelines. The idea is that by educating women on the benefits of breastfeeding more mothers will try it.  While this is understandable, much of the pressure felt originates here.  But it’s not just the bias towards breastfeeding that’s an issue for new mums.  “One of the things that really annoyed me was the lack of practical information,” continues Carrie. “When asked about formula the midwives told us they aren’t allowed to discuss bottle-feeding at all – not helpful when it’s your first baby and you have no clue how much to feed them!”

breast is it best

A lot of new parents also experience pressure from friends, family and even themselves.  Angela, mum to Emily, revealed that most of the pressure she felt came from her self;  “When I switched to bottle feeding everyone else was understanding and supportive but I beat myself up about it for weeks. My partner and I have loads of problems with allergies so I worried we’d written the formula for a spotty, wheezing, poorly child and wanted to do my best to prevent that from being the case.”

Comments friends made left Lianne, mum to Thea, feeling like she’d be almost scared to tell them if she didn’t breastfeed.  “My friends were saying things like, ‘Why wouldn’t you breastfeed? It’s what’s best for her,’ as if I wouldn’t do the best by my baby!  I did end up breastfeeding but I’m not looking forward to telling them when I switch to formula as I return to work.”  This seems to be common amongst women with friends and family who have breastfed.  While the person probably feels they are being encouraging, for a pregnant woman who doesn’t know if she or her baby are going to able to breastfeed and even if they are, may be uncomfortable with the idea of it, these kinds of comments can come across as being condescending and sometimes even smug.

Lianne goes on to say, “A happy and contented mum leads to a happy and contented child.  There’s so much more to being a parent than whether you feed your baby breast-milk or formula.”  Wise words indeed.





About Maria Brett

About Maria Brett

Maria is a freelance writer with over 10 years' experience producing content for a variety of publications and websites. When not working or looking after her two gorgeous sons, she can usually be found playing flugelhorn in a brass band, helping out at her local hospital radio station, shouting at the television while watching Formula 1, at the cinema or plonked on the couch with a cold glass of wine.

Website: Maria Brett

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