Birth: everyone’s got an opinion

// 8 November 2008

It is the most private and intimate moment in every mother’s life, and yet birth is something that everyone is more than happy to jaw about judgementally. Should we have baby at home or at hospital? Pain relief? No pain relief? Years ago women gave birth happily in their living rooms set against the back drop of open coal fires, men twiddling their thumbs nervously in adjoining rooms, waiting for fresh towels and for the water to boil (presumably for a cuppa?). Then it was hospital all the way. We were told that this was safest for mother and baby. To make alternative arrangements was apparently irresponsible. But, change again. Now we’re told home-births are just as safe as hospital births. Some women chose to “free-style,” having babies alone, following little or no prenatal care during their pregnancies. Some like to give birth naturally in pools filled with water. Others opt for caesareans, or ingest enough pain relieving medication during labour to tranquillise a small herd of elephants. To each their own. There are now a myriad of options available to soon-to-be mothers, but unfortunately this has not been as liberating for women as it should be. The ease with which some individuals cast aspersions on the intentions of pregnant women, or are deliberately obstructive to the achievement of personalised birth plans, demonstrates the extent to which an expectant mum is still considered public property and unable to make personal choices free from prejudice.

The North Shore Birth Centre in Massachusetts presently provides women who are having low-risk pregnancies with an opportunity to give birth naturally, away from the clinical setting of a hospital. It is a midwifery led unit situated on the campus of Beverly Hospital, and since its establishment in 1980 has assisted the birth of more than 6,000 babies. However, the centre is under threat from closure following the submission of a report by hospital management. This report outlines a vision for a “unified model of healthcare,” which is apparently contradicted by existing birth centre procedures. On November 18 2008 the Board of Trustees of the Northeast Health Corporation will consider the proposal, and understandably a number of women are unhappy that this decision will effectively deny them a birth choice, forcing them to labour and deliver in hospital. There is currently a Facebook group and a campaign promoting the birth centre as an alternative to hospital births. But while these make reference to a very specific case of birth centre closure, what they represent in general is the extent to which women are essentially disempowered to make choices about how and where they give birth. We can make decisions, of course, but only within predetermined perimeters. Women should have the opportunity to happily develop a birth plan based on the number of options now available, and then have access to the services needed to facilitate their preferences. What’s so complicated about this? Why is it even an issue? Why is a birth centre providing women with the opportunity to labour and deliver naturally in a comforting and relaxed setting considered a negligible, nay inconvenient, provision?

I have never given birth, nor do I have any plans to one day become a mother. However, the experiences of a friend who has recently had a baby have made me reflect on the pressures placed on women during pregnancy and birth, and the extent to which they are disempowered to make their own choices. While breast-feeding, for example, is medically proven to have health benefits for new born infants, if a woman does not breast-feed it doesn’t mean that her baby is destined for a life marred by physical ailments. Nor is she a failure. Sometimes women just cannot breast-feed. They may not have milk. Their babies may not take to the breast easily. Maybe it just doesn’t feel comfortable? Whatever the reason, surely the health of mother and baby should be priority? But apparently not. Not in all cases. My friend, for example, found that, while pregnant, breast-feeding support groups and some midwives failed to provide impartial information, instead heralding breast-feeding as the only viable option, the bastion of motherhood, the implication being that if any woman is unable to do so she is a letdown. My friend found that breast-feeding wasn’t for her, not because she didn’t try, nor because she didn’t like it, but because her baby clearly wasn’t getting the nourishment that she needed. She contacted her midwife who told her to persist, even though her baby was crying with hunger. Eventually she used formula milk, and has a very happy, healthy baby. A friend of hers who found herself in a similar situation was so brow beaten by her midwife that she continued to breast feed, even though her baby has not gained weight as is expected, and while not starving is physically failing to get the nutrients needed to grow at a normal rate. But she’s breast-feeding, so the midwife is happy.

Is it fair that so-called healthcare professionals should make a woman feel inadequate, like a failed mother, because breast-feeding does not work for her? Surely this is likely to inhibit the development of a bond between mother and child by suggesting from the outset that the new mother cannot care for her baby, and is not just a failure as a parent, but by default as a woman. From what I understand even the most uncomplicated pregnancies can be hard work. Women have to relinquish control over their bodies for nine months, adapt to hormonal and physical changes, and ensure that they nourish their unborn babies. Add to this the high-probability that working mothers-to-be are in many cases likely to be discriminated against in the workplace, and it seems that pregnant women have a lot to contend with. It seems unfair then that, all things considered, should a women fail to comply with a template of what supposedly constitutes the “perfect mother” with the most perfect breast-feeding breasts to facilitate the most perfect breast feeding, then she is considered a maternal outcast, not qualified or equipped to look after her young. I was completely amazed that women could be undermined and berated by other women in this way, especially at a time when, having just given birth, many are probably feeling more vulnerable, especially as a first time mother when it is not known what to expect. But how typical is this of treatment of new mothers and mothers-to-be? What have your experiences been like? Have you felt disempowered to make choices regarding your unborn/newborn child, and judged for those you have made?

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 8 November 2008 at 10:12 pm

The straitjacket women who give birth are forced into is the result of male practitioners turning childbirth from something which is natural into a ‘medical disorder.’ Childbirth has now become a syndrome and one like pregnancy which apparently needs constant monitoring, regulating and control of the woman’s body, behaviour and actions.

The reason why so many women berate other women if these women do not breastfeed, do not immediately ‘bond’ with their child after birth, do not put the child’s needs before their own is because all these ideas and notions are male-centered and it is patriarchy which enforces these rules. Constantly telling women this is bad for you or that is bad for you, if said repeatedly and long enough will ensure many women accept these myths as true. Just as the myth all women are innate nurterers is false but still many women and men believe this myth.

Breastfeeding is not right or appropriate for all women and as Abby said, babies do not suffer long-term ill health if the mother for whatever reason does not breastfeed.

I wish all the ‘finger-waving’ at pregnant women and women giving birth would just occasionally focus on men who want to become fathers. Because males who indulge in drinking too much and/or have an unhealthy diet can in fact affect their sperm and therefore their “imput” can affect the foetus or child when it has been born.

So it is not all women’s fault but as usual is far more complex than the constant unremitting simplistic attempts at controlling and reducing women to adult children. But this what patriarchy is all about continuous control and policing of all women’s behaviour and actions because women supposedly do not measure up to male-defined myths of what comprises a human.

The ‘perfect mother is a myth’ but do we ever hear fathers being told they must adhere to certain regulations and regimes in order to qualify as the ‘perfect father.’ Of course not because men are seen as individuals, whereas women are just baby making machines.

maggie // Posted 9 November 2008 at 10:37 am

I had two babies in quick succession and then another several years later. The first two were fairly relaxed pregnancies. I tried the breast feeding with them but couldn’t cope, so switched to formula – an easy decision with the second though heartbreaking with the first as I felt a failure. In the end though, I reckoned a good nights sleep (well four hours at a stretch) was better for all concerned than a cranky mum and baby. The health visitor agreed.

I had a ‘natural’ birth with the first, an epidural for the second, and ‘natural’ with the third. I have to note that the standard of care was excellent with them all.

By the time the third baby came I was considered elderly at 40 to be having a baby. I refused the amniocentesis because there was no other indication for it except my age. I also noted that the list of things a woman couldn’t eat or do during pregnancy had increased as did the weaning time – six months instead of three. My third pregnancy came with more regulations than you could shake a stick at. There needs to be a more relaxed approach.

I did breastfeed the third and was happy to do so though on reflection weaning was a nightmare. It took a long time for my third child to wean off the boob – he had teeth by then. I found that at the begining it was great, no bottles to clean and nights were easy too, however towards the end it was a burden!

There is no perfect way to have a baby. There will always be hitches and glitches. The best advise I got was from my brother who said to me ‘Just go with your instincts.’

Breastfeeding is all very well but in the end what is most important is a happy and contented mother and baby.

P.S. I don’t really see a difference between my children, certainly they are all generally content with life and healthy too.

Josie // Posted 9 November 2008 at 11:20 am

Like Abby, I am also childfree but feel very strongly that as feminists, this issue concerns us all. I have heard horrifying stories of women being treated like cattle and verbally abused during labour by midwives, the very women who have been trained to care for and support them. Every mother I know agrees that while you may draw up a birth plan, you need to be prepared for it to “go out the window” on the actual day, a disgraceful situation. There is far too much judgement and not nearly enough support for pregnant and labouring women within the medical profession, and in society as a whole. Let’s keep on raising awareness about it!

polly styrene // Posted 9 November 2008 at 11:54 am

“Is it fair that so-called healthcare professionals should make a woman feel inadequate, like a failed mother, because breast-feeding does not work for her? ”

No it isn’t – but that doesn’t stop them doing it. One of my friends has two children. The older simply disliked breastfeeding, and cried from hunger constantly. So after six weeks of trying she turned wholly to bottlefeeding – which apart from anything else allowed her to get some much needed sleep whilst her partner did some of the night time feeds.

The second child by contrast took to breast feeding straight away, so she was able to breast feed him for much longer. But the breast feeding lobby would deny such a situation could be possible and claim that she was doing something wrong. Fortunately she was strong minded enough not to be bullied, but the place of a woman who has a child seems to be permanently in the wrong. If she opts for a home birth she will be criticised by the medical lobby, if for hospital, and pain relief, by the natural childbirth lobby. Women simply can’t win in this situation.

Bobby // Posted 9 November 2008 at 12:31 pm

I was 25 when I had my first child (a boy). I was petrified. I listened to all the advice I could find from books, relatives, midwives & doctors. I had what was considered a ‘normal’ pregnancy & birth – no complications at all. But it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. During labour I was told to sit still – so I did. I said the pain was unbearable, so they pumped me with (what I now consider) too much Pethadine so that I was hallucinating about teddy bears picnic! I had stitches as they had to cut me to help get him out. I don’t remember the immediate aftermath as I was so doped up & exhasted. It wasn’t until the next day that I really saw my son for the first time – sitting in the bed in the maternity unit with my son on my knees, staring into each others eyes (altho neither of our eyes fully open!). A nurse advised me to stop what I was doing as we should both be sleeping! I hadn’t even considered that breastfeeding wouldn’t work, but it didn’t for us. I tried & tried & tried – midwives & relatives fussing. But after three weeks I ‘gave up’. This was the best decision for both of us.

When I began labour for my second child (a girl!) a couple of years later I was determined to be in control this time. What a difference! I did not sit still like a good girl – it didn’t feel right – so I was followed around the ward by my husband & nurses telling me to get back to bed – well I was very relaxed cos I was doing it MY way! Anyway when I finally sat down, she was born – no pethadine – just a few puffs of gas & air – no stiches (natural tears heal fine on their own). I told myself I would try breastfeeding, but I also bought bottles & formula. I turned to the bottle after a week. NO REGRETS.

I still find myself defending my decision not to breastfeed. It’s like we all know that organic/free range meat/eggs/veg are better for us, but we don’t feel guilty or get bullied into buying it if we don’t want/ aren’t able to – for whatever reson (choice, financial, logistics).

I now think I was bullied during my first pregnancy & birth – but I didn’t realise until the second one.

Sorry for the long rant! I feel very strongly that women are offered ‘false’ choices during pregnancy – no matter what your plan, the medical team has the final say, unless you are strong enough to stand up to them. Anyway, my children are now strong, intelligent, fit & healthy (eldest one off to uni next year, youngest one sports mad!) SO THERE!

Sarah // Posted 9 November 2008 at 12:56 pm

“but the place of a woman who has a child seems to be permanently in the wrong”

I think this sums up the situation perfectly. There’s always someone ready to criticise how a woman chooses to give birth, and even before that, she’s either too young or too old to have a baby, she’s too fat or too thin, she’s eating or drinking or doing the wrong things, she’s not in the right sort of relationship, someone will criticise whether she chooses to stay home with the baby or stay in paid work etc etc.

Surely the key is to recognise that every woman is different, every pregnancy/labour/birth is different, so is every baby and every family, and there is not one single correct way of doing things. We need to trust women a bit more to make their own choices. Especially on issues about their own bodies, like whether or not to breastfeed or how to give birth.

Ginnie // Posted 9 November 2008 at 2:53 pm

My friend has just finished her Obs and Gynae rotation at a well known London teaching hospital. She said that the decision to have pain relief isn’t down to the mother’s – it’s up to the midwives and how *they* feel about pain relief. If they don’t want you to have an epidural (it requires more observation etc) then at first it will be ‘too early’ then it will be ‘too late’. She said she saw numerous midwives being nice to the patient’s faces in the early hours, but once it gets to the stage where a woman is in too much pain to have any control, their manner changes.

When my friend and I come to have children, we will both be doctors, and we’ll at least have ‘that’ on our side and will hopefully be taken more seriously.

I’m saddened and outraged that it has to come to that though.

A Different Helen // Posted 9 November 2008 at 4:32 pm

When I gave birth to my first child breast feeding was very much advocated, but I did not have much joy with it, and my baby daughter was constantly screaming with hunger. I have always been pretty flat-chested, and was still not particularly big even after the pregnancy. I was told it didnt matter how big you were, as the body would create whatever milk is required. But if thats the case, then where is it? Unless the milk is produced on the fly as the baby sucks, then if you have small breasts there is not much milk. My best friend is a GP and she assured me that milk is not produced this way but takes several hours to replenish. I really think that the only way I could have breast-fed would have been to have my daughter permanently attached to my breast, and frankly, I had other things to do, like sleep.

A few years later I gave birth to twins, and this time, even the midwives agreed that formula would have to be used. The health visitor though did suggest I feed them simultaneously, one to each breast! Well, stuff that for a game of soldiers – I had enough trouble feeding one by itself let alone attempt those kind of contortions. I made sure that all my children got some breast milk though (the colostrum that appears first has lots of antibodies apparently, so its worth them having that) but after that they all got formula. My husband and I would feed a twin each and that made life much easier. All the children have grown up fit and healthy. Unfortunately, as a mother, you get criticised no matter what you do, so its best to just do what’s right for you and ignore what anyone else thinks.

Kath // Posted 9 November 2008 at 6:54 pm

This article makes some very good points about the pressures women face in pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. However I must object to the line “Years ago women gave birth happily in their living rooms..” Before the advent of antibiotics, specialised maternity care and a general awareness of hygiene (the boiling water would have been for sterilisation of instruments but unfortunately doctors and midwives often didn’t wash their hands) childbirth was a huge killer of women, with one women dying per hundred births in Britain. Today that rate is surpassed in some third-world countries. I also doubt that many women would give birth “happily” without any form of painkillers (although undoubtedly some do). Childbirth may be ‘natural’ but it has never been without complications. Whilst we must guard against the unnecessary medicalisation of pregnancy and labour we must not fall into the trap of thinking that ‘natural’ is necessarily best, or of romanticising the past.

Ruth Moss // Posted 9 November 2008 at 9:06 pm

I work incredibly hard as a breastfeeding peer supporter to ensure that women who *do* want to breastfeed are enabled to do so.

But for every step forward I take assisting women who have been given incorrect evidence by health care professionals I then take two steps back.

I could write reams on the immense importance of breastfeeding to babies’ health and their health in later life…(I won’t because I’d be shouted down with tales of how healthy non-breastfed babies are, and called a “breastfeeding nazi”) and to mothers (mothers who don’t breastfeed are at higher risk of quite a few illnesses than those who do).

I could put all the scientific evidence down and I have done many times. I understand completely the reasons women don’t breastfeed, or stop before they want to (did you know that 90% of the women who stop before their baby is six weeks old originally wanted to continue for much longer?) yet…

I’d be called at best a “zealot” but usually a “breastfeeding nazi” or “boob nazi”.

It’s an emotive subject. The sad fact is there are so many myths about breastfeeding.

I hear “not enough milk / my baby is always hungry” so, so, so often, and yet when I investigate further, it almost always turns out the baby is going through an appetite spurt and is feeding constantly, which is perfectly normal and will pass (eventually – although sometimes it can take a long time) and what the mother *really* needs, if she *wants* to continue breastfeeding, is someone to help with the other tasks; housework, care of other children etc. while she gets on with the business of nursing.

But what are these women with often-feeding babies told? “You don’t have enough milk.” Or “give the baby a bottle so you can get some rest”.

Real support would mean someone coming in and tidying the house for her. (And yes, before you ask, I have provided that sort of support too.)

Painful / cracked / bleeding / sore nipples? Midwives or Health Visitors will tell you this is normal and “will pass” – it might, but actually pain is almost always a sign something is wrong. Skilled help (from a breastfeeding counsellor, la leche league leader or certified lactation consultant – NOT [usually] a Health Visitor or Midwife or Nurse or Doctor; you’d be surprised how little they know in the main about breastfeeding) can help your baby latch on properly – and pain free!

But what are these mothers told? “Painful nipples are normal. You just get on with it. Breastfeeding is best. Just do it.”

Sometimes sore or very painful nipples are a result of a physical problem in the baby’s mouth or tongue. Tongue tie is much more common than you might think and can really put the kibosh on breastfeeding… and so many Health Care Professionals aren’t aware of it! However snipping a tongue tie in a young baby is actually quite a simple procedure and can really make a huge difference to pain-free breastfeeding.

But what are these women told? “Breastfeeding is best and it hurts at first, just get on with it, shut up.” And after a period of pain they stop breastfeeding, and tell everyone they know that breastfeeding was awful (which for them it was – but it didn’t have to be – if only someone had told them!)

Mastitis? Often the result of blocked ducts caused by inadequate drainage of the breast – which in itself is often caused by… yes, that’s right, a poor latch-on. A good breastfeeding counsellor can help get the baby latched on properly and this should clear the blockage, often even before mastitis sets off.

But what are these women told? Either the standard “breastfeeding is best. It hurts. Get on with it” OR “you MUST stop breastfeeding now I have to give you antibiotics which mean you can’t breastfeed”.

Postnatal depression (which is actually more likely in mothers who don’t breastfeed because of the lack of lactation hormones)? Need anti depressants? Did you know that the vast majority of ADs are compatible with breastfeeding?

But what are women with PND told? You must stop breastfeeding, the drugs will get into your milk. Way to go Dr, way to help the Mum with PND, stop her doing one thing that might actually help, even if only a little!

The sad fact is, that the *vast majority* of women who stop breastfeeding *before they wanted to* could have continued, if only they’d been given the right help and support.

And these mothers – and I’ve already said, I’m not going to discuss the finer details of baby health {although there ARE implications actually, and in some cases minor but in some cases actually yes, they are fairly major} because guilt about children is used so often as a stick to beat mothers with – are at higher risk of: osteoporosis, breast cancer, periods returning very soon after birth, postnatal depression, and more.

So what should mothers who want to breastfeed, but were let down through lack of correct support do? Make a fuss? Get pissed off? Get really, really fucking angry at how they’ve been told a load of bullshit by the people who should have been helping them, and their babies?

No, what happens is, we say, “it’s only a small thing, it doesn’t matter that much, look, my formula fed baby is thriving”.

And when we find out we might have been able to breastfeed after all, and we were cheated, what do we say?

Do we say, “you absolute bastard of a Doctor for telling me to give up!” Do we say, “I can’t believe you told me I didn’t have enough milk when actually it was perfectly normal!” Do we write to the HCP who sold us down the river?

No. We say, “there’s no difference really. It’s like the difference between organic and non organic food. A nice to have, but nothing more than that.”

Actually I tell a lie. Some women do get angry. They get angry at the people who tell them they probably could have breastfed their baby. They get angry at the people who even mention the fact that actually, yes, there is a difference, and in some cases it’s pretty major.

And then… the whole cycle continues. The HCPs are let off the hook. Women continue to be let down (no pun intended). Women continue not to breastfeed. Women who say otherwise are called “nazis” or told they are “removing choice” or that they are “anti feminist”.

And it grates, it really really grates, when I read articles like this. Because the fact is women are being sold down the river. Women want to breastfeed – 78% in this country start out breastfeeding – and then they stop; 90% who stop BEFORE THEY WANTED TO. And to continue the percentages? 98% would have been able to continue with the right help and support. (Yes I can give you the references to these figures if you want).

And the chances are, if you’re reading this, and you stopped breastfeeding, I’m really sorry, but you too probably would have been able to continue (if you wanted to, and the chances are, you probably didn’t intend to stop when you did) if – and only if – you’d been given the right support.

I don’t know everyone’s stories on here, those who are saying they couldn’t breastfeed. But I do know the facts about breastfeeding and I do know that apart from a few cases (2%), most women can.

If a woman doesn’t want to – for whatever reason – that’s her bag, her choice. I’m not concerned with that, it’s none of my business.

But this constant letting down and failing of women everywhere, of exposing them (and their babies) to health risks because of a lack of knowledge and information – I’m concerned about that, very concerned.

But women are not going to get the support they need if we KEEP ON SAYING “there’s no real difference, breastfeeding’s a nice to have, it’s best but it’s not the end of the world.” It might make a few women feel a bit better, women who were failed by the system, and I’m all for making women feel better BUT… it will just lead to yet another generation of women who have their health & babies’ health put at risk …

Only to be told, again and again, “it didn’t really matter though, your baby is thriving and okay your health has been put at risk but hey you’re alive, aren’t you?”

If we want to get the help to keep breastfeeding, for our health and our babies’ health, we are going to have to admit to a harsh fact – there IS a difference. THAT’S why support is so important. That’s what it’s so important.

Because while we believe there isn’t a difference, why bother to change things and actually support women in their choice to breastfeed?

I said I wouldn’t go on and I have. It’s something that I’m incredibly passionate about. I’ve seen women break down in tears when they’ve found out they actually could have breastfed, tears of hurt and anger and disempowerment and I’ve vowed that this is not going to keep happening to women.

If you don’t want to breastfeed at all, or you do actively choose to do it for a short while, that’s your call and your choice.

But the majority of women aren’t really given a choice. They stop because they believe it’s the only way – they don’t know that there could have been another way.

And if that was you, and you suspect that you could have breastfed with support, then get angry. Not at me – please! – but at the people who lied to you, who told you the pain was normal, who told you you didn’t have enough milk, who told you that hourly feeds were unusual, who told you that night waking after six weeks wasn’t normal, who didn’t pick up on your baby’s tongue tie, who told you that you couldn’t drink or smoke (you can), or that your baby was lactose intolerant when actually they were intolerant of the cow’s milk in your diet, or more.

Jane // Posted 9 November 2008 at 10:10 pm

Jesus H Christ – am I glad I’ve had my babies and no longer have to listen to this endless nipple dripping debate about breastfeeding. Line up about twenty mothers in a room. Which ones have breastfed their children? Oh yes – the ones standing on the moral highground.

Morgan Gallagher // Posted 9 November 2008 at 10:36 pm

Ladies, can we put a restraint on the pure emotion, and bring some factual accuracy into this?

And to do that, we need to put personal pain and opinion derived from that personal pain, to one side.

No matter how much you feel bad about how badly you were failed by others, when you tried to breastfeed, can we try to remember who is actually doing the breastfeeding here, and that’s the baby!

Breastfeeding, and the urge to breastfeed, is neither a patriarchal, nor a matriarchal, convention. It’s a basic biological drive in the baby. The baby sets up breastmilk, it sets up breastfeeding, and it is required to put the actual work in.

Arguments about the role of women, and the role of men, and the role of who controls childbirth… side step the issue.

And the issue is that not breastfeeding significantly raises the risk of ill health in the baby, both as a baby, and in later life. If you can’t deal with that, rationally, then perhaps it’s time to seek help in coming to terms with how bad you feel about how you didn’t get the birth and breastfeeding experience you wanted.

I won’t quote the science. I won’t quote the evidence based research. We’re not stupid here: we know the facts.

You can choose to refuse your breast if you want to. There is no argument about this. It’s your breast, you get to do what you do, and don’t want to do with it. It’s up to you. End of.

If you, and your baby, ended up in the higher risk arena, because you were failed – failed by bad breastfeeding support, failed by your family, failed by your culture.. we’re all really sorry. We feel your loss and grieve for you. We will do the best we can, to empower you with those risks, and know how to reduce them at all costs. Hopefully, your child, will not be the one the odds hit upon. Hopefully, your child will be fine.

But please. Let’s not pretend those risks don’t exist. Let’s not put other infants at risk as the mothers genuinely don’t know about them.

Let’s not attack the mothers who made it, for whatever reason, and are standing up strong and proud and pointing out that both making, and feeding, their baby, from their body, is about the most powerful thing any woman can do. And letting other mothers know that those very real risks from not breastfeeding, exist.

Let us not silence the facts.

Let us not silence the babies.

Let us not, in a need to deny pain and betrayal, deny the truth. Lack of breastfeeding is a significant health risk to both the baby, and the mother.

Nothing will change that.

All that can change is how we move forward as women, and mothers, in fighting for a future for all our babies.

Don’t get angry at the message. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Scream your head off at the hospital, and threaten to sue if you don’t get the support you need, to make it work.

Scream your head off to the hospital, about where the doner milk is, if you’re one of the 5% who genuinely can’t make enough milk for the baby.

As opposed to the majority of formula feeders, who haven’t had enough support and think your body failed, when it didn’t. Your body didn’t fail. Your medical support did.

Babies are born to breastfeed. If you’re up for that, so be it.

If not, so what? Your breast, your choice.

Babies require protection. This means the mothers of babies, need to know the risks of refusing their baby their breast. So they can make their own, informed, choice.

And then they need all our voices, in making sure it happens, if they choose to accept their baby to their breast.

They especially need to hear how much it’s hurting some of you, that you were failed, and no one is listening to your pain.

A. // Posted 10 November 2008 at 6:22 am

I wish I had the choice NOT to breastfeed. I was bullied into it by hospital personnel, pediatricians and my family. Two days after my daughter was born my nipples were cracked and bleeding. When I complaind the only response I got was ‘You should have thought before spreading your legs.’ Actually, that’s the only response I always get when I try to voice the unpopular opinion that motherhood sucks. I had to hide baby’s comforter from nurses because the hospital was ‘baby friendly’ (that’s a code term for ‘especially women hating.’) After a month I used to PRAY (I’m an atheist, BTW) my daughter would sleep longer and I wouldn’t have to feed her. And cried everytime I had to. When I told pediatrician about my poor nutrition she told me not to worry because ‘woman’s body is made to give the needed vitamins for the baby.’ My concerns about MY health were funny to her. I was constantly assured if I stopped breastfeeding or as much as use the bottle to let my nipples heal my daughter will have damaged health for life, will be mentally retarded, and probably a serial killer. The venerated breastfeeding and suffering it caused me contributed to my depression and I tried to kill myself. But I’m sure that’s a lesser loss than, say, not breastfeeding.

And the worst thing – everything related motherhood is ridiculed. Especially birth. I sometimes can’t believe the jokes women tell about giving birth. Or how their husband ‘suffered’ listening to them scream. And they can’t stay in the hospital and help with the newborn because ‘it was so exhausting.’

Bee // Posted 10 November 2008 at 9:10 am

I agree with everything Ruth said above.

The sad truth in many cases is not that women are browbeaten into breastfeeding when they don’t want to, but that misinformation and poor advice are so widespread that many women who could have had a perfectly happy breastfeeding experience are denied that opportunity. There are far too many midwives, health visitors and doctors out there only to ready to recommend formula feeding at the first hint of a breastfeeding problem – one of my friends was told in no uncertain terms by a junior doctor that she was being irresponsible and unkind to her baby by not giving him a bottle, and that “it’s not a case of what you want, it’s what’s best for your baby”. (Luckily, she sought further advice from a breastfeeding counsellor and after a shaky start went on to breastfeed very happily and successfully.)

For every health professional who “tries to make women feel guilty” for not breastfeeding (and I don’t think many do actively try to do this, actually), there are at least an equivalent number who dish out such wrong-headed and damaging information that you would think they had shares in the formula milk industry.

And as for the irresponsible and dangerous marketing practices of said industry… well, that’s a whole topic in itself. Don’t you think the prevalence of artificial feeding in the world today and the poor breastfeeding rates may have something to do with the fact that there’s a lot of money to be made from formula milk…. and very little from breastfeeding?

Mephit // Posted 10 November 2008 at 10:23 am

I do agree with Ruth, there isn’t enough support for women to breastfeed and good on her for working towards that.

We still have situations where women are expected to feed their babies in the toilets (or in hideous little rooms with poor facilities if you can find a babies room) and you are tut-tutted if you have the nerve to feed in public. I used to try to time my outings to avoid the necessity, but it wasn’t exactly a perfect system!

We have stupid back-to-front ideas that breast are sexualised first and for men really first, not for babies. It shouldn’t be embarrassing for the woman concerned nor an unusual sight for the general public.

I chose to have both births at home to avoid the sense of production line I got from hospitals: my first objection to it was that at least in the hospital I visited, you were in one room for the early stages, moved into a nother for the later labour, then moved again post-birth. While I can see the need to have labouring rooms available to the next woman who needs it, and limited resources blah-blah, it just struck me as an unsettling environment. I also wanted to have more control on how things went, and felt out of the hospital I would be less likely to have medical interventions out of time constraints rather than actual emergency.

Kate // Posted 10 November 2008 at 11:49 am

Thank you, Morgan, for your voice of sanity.

Yes, bottlefeeding does not mean that every child is “doomed”, but it is a fact that bottlefed babies have poorer health outcomes than breastfed babies. Denying the facts does nobody any good.

While I hesitate to say it, perhaps we could have soe writing on breastfeeding here at The F Word by someone who’s actually done it, some time? I do get quite bored of “I don’t know anything about this, personally, but I’m going to sound off anyway.”

Abby O'Reilly // Posted 10 November 2008 at 12:12 pm

Hiya everyone, and thanks for your comments, they’ve been interesting.

Kate – I never disputed that breastfeeding is healthy for a baby. That was not what I questioned in my original post. In fact, I have written previously against the discrimination breastfeeding mothers often encounter in public, so I am not anti-breastfeeding, but rather pro-choice. However, what I was trying to highlight was the pressures placed on women to breastfeed when they physically cannot do it, or do not feel comfortable doing it. I disagree with you that a woman has to have first-hand experience of something before, firstly, commenting on it, and secondly identifying that there is something wrong. That said, I’m guessing you’ve not read this feature /features/2006/12/breastfeeding, written for The F Word by Cathryn Dagger, a woman who tried breast feeding but realised it didn’t work for her.

Lisa // Posted 10 November 2008 at 12:55 pm

Breastfeeding angst (on both sides !) is more common in the UK-US because of the lack of social and cultural support for mothers. In Scandanavia-Germany for example it’s almost unheard of because breastfeeding (without trauma, pain, exhaustion etc) is completely, unremarkably the norm.

Mothers are entitled to long maternity leaves; midwives are superbly trained and supportive; the health-care system provides mothers with home-helps, post-natal exercise classes and the right to go to health retreats for several weeks-a month; public transport and town planning facilitate daily life; people are open and relaxed about natural bodily functions (all types !); the pace of life is slower and more relaxed and the men are not only more relaxed about breastfeeding but automatically shop, cook, clean etc so that the mother and baby can spend maximum time feeding, sleeping and generally relaxing together.

I personally left the UK and chose to give birth in Germany in order to gain the above advantages. I would advise women in the UK to look around and find a good environment and the best possible circumstances well in advance of getting pregnant. It took me several years to get myself into a position where I felt I had what I wanted for me and my child. I know other women who had to spend several years getting themselves into the right situation but we all agree that in the long term it really was worth the planning and effort.

I’m sure that even within the UK it is possible to find better circumstances and that if a woman prepares well in advance she can improve her chances of getting what she wants. (Choices about jobs, accommodation, health care facilities etc). If it really is that bad in the UK why not plan a ‘year (or 2)out’ in a country with a culture more suited to your own ideas ?

BTW. The father of my child (British-Canadian) also felt that the UK really didn’t suit his ideas of fatherhood and much prefers the German-Scandanavian model too.

Morgan Gallagher // Posted 10 November 2008 at 1:41 pm

Kate, the problem with your paradigm, and the paradigm a lot of woman are subscribing to here, is that you position breastfeeding as a lifestyle choice. This is insanity.

Are menstrual cycles a ‘lifestyle choice’? Is breathing in and out, a ‘lifestyle choice’? Are working kidneys, a ‘lifestyle choice’?

Certainly, you can choose to sever these ‘processes’, but that’s not a choice about starting them, is it?

Positioning breastfeeding as a lifestyle choice, is both the language of patriarchy, and of capitalism. A fortune, and I do mean a fortune, has been spent by industry to make women believe that formula feeding and breastfeeding are equal choices.

And the patriarchy adores formula feeding for it allows them to split mothers and children off from each other, and treat them separately. Divide and conquer. Once you’ve sold a women the concept that she is ‘liberated’ by removing her children form her, you can then model the world around your needs and voice, not the needs and voice of the mother, and her child. You can present a woman with the notion it’s _either_ child or career, and not that as a mother, she has a right to equal status. Everything becomes about the need to keep the mother and her child separate, as the world is too cushy for you, to have to accomodate them both.

Send the children to the back rooms and call it ‘The Nursery’! This leaves the women to be sent out to work, and to be sexually available on demand in the home. Pretentdthe children don’t need their mothers! Pretend the mothers don’t need their children!

Children are the wellspring of the world. There is no point to our entire culture, without children, Making sure the next generation has a better life than we did, is what drives the human race.

As a woman, even if you’ve decided motherhood is not part of your personal pathway, your every act in a commonweal, is to support the raising of children free from poverty, hunger and disease.

Breastfeeding is not a choice. It’s an innate, biological function. There are those that seek to deny you this, and sever you from your own power as a mother. They do so in order to control and dominate you. They don’t do it out of good thoughts. They are driven by profit. There is not ‘choice’. There is only hegemony.

A woman can refuse this biology. She can turn her breast aside. That’s her innate right – it’s her breast. Only after she’s done this, do other choices come in to play. What to feed the baby then?

Every painful comment in this post is a litany of failure. Women who were not listened to, not cared for, babies and mothers abandoned without support. all of it needless. And all of it a loss that beggars those of us who understand it.

We get angry, we RAGE at the failures in this comment column. We look at every story, and we see the neglect that prevented breastfeeding being established. We hear mother’s pain at feeling completely ignored, and we want to fight to make sure that does not happen again.

Babies know nothing of the hegemony. They know nothing of power struggles, and profit. They know only that they are in pain, suddenly, upon birth, and their constant nutrition and love and warmth and enclosed in flesh is taken from them, as they feel hunger for the first time. Babies ache for the breast. They are hard wired to seek it out, and to suckle. They want their world of perfection back, and they want to fill themselves with their mother’s milk.

This is not a lifestyle choice. This is their every moment and their entire purpose of being. Millions of years of evolution have taylored their needs and behaviour, to that of the mother’s breast, in order that the baby survives and thrives.

Of course it can be painful, debilitating and endlesslly frustrating to be the mother, and not be in total swing with this. To have aching nipples and bloodied breasts, from bad support,. To feel that no one is understanding you, as this baby looks to you and you alone and won’t someone take this responsibilty off me for a moment, it’s too much? Of course motherhood can swamp you and take you out to sea. We ask too much of women.

We need proper care and support to make sure that doesn’t happen. We need to meet mothers where they are, and offer them hope. We do not need to beggar them by telling them it’s too hard give up! Life can be hard. Let us help.

When you were falling off your bike and skinning your knees, did a wheelchair company stand behind you with a wheelchair and say “Here, take this, it’s just as good. You’ll never hurt again.”

Formula is not benign. It brings health risks. To both baby and mother.

We need to empower women by stepping out of the ‘lifestyle choice’ paradigm. We need to speak for the baby. We need to support women in their fight to be heard. Every horror story here about lack of support, positioned upon breastfeeding like it’s some dark choice from some other dimension, needs to be expunged. No women should go through what the mothers here have gone through. The problem isn’t the breastfeeding, it’s the ignoring of women’s lives and needs!

And every time you position breastfeeding as a ‘lifestyle choice’, you condemn mothers to this, again, and again, and again.

Breastfeeding is NOT a choice. It’s a human right. Let’s stop negating this right from women, and their children.

Anger is the way forward. Anger at being betrayed by a system that isn’t supporting each mother to succeed in her own terms. Anger and Action.

And please, let’s stop shooting the messengers. How about we attack the profiteers instead, who makes BILLIONS every year, by getting everyone to swallow this ‘lifestyle choice’ crapola.

They’re laughing all the way to the bank. On the backs of women’s blood, sweat and tears.

If you don’t want to let the baby have your breast – fine.

If you do, then you better beleive we will fight for you to make it work, and fight heaven and earth for you. Please don’t stab us in the back while we do so.

It hurts.

Morgan Gallagher // Posted 10 November 2008 at 1:44 pm

Kate, the problem with your paradigm, and the paradigm a lot of woman are subscribing to here, is that you position breastfeeding as a lifestyle choice. This is insanity.

Are menstrual cycles a ‘lifestyle choice’? Is breathing in and out, a ‘lifestyle choice’? Are working kidneys, a ‘lifestyle choice’?

Certainly, you can choose to sever these ‘processes’, but that’s not a choice about starting them, is it?

Positioning breastfeeding as a lifestyle choice, is both the language of patriarchy, and of capitalism. A fortune, and I do mean a fortune, has been spent by industry to make women believe that formula feeding and breastfeeding are equal choices.

And the patriarchy adores formula feeding for it allows them to split mothers and children off from each other, and treat them separately. Divide and conquer. Once you’ve sold a women the concept that she is ‘liberated’ by removing her children form her, you can then model the world around your needs and voice, not the needs and voice of the mother, and her child. You can present a woman with the notion it’s _either_ child or career, and not that as a mother, she has a right to equal status. Everything becomes about the need to keep the mother and her child separate, as the world is too cushy for you, to have to accomodate them both.

Send the children to the back rooms and call it ‘The Nursery’! This leaves the women to be sent out to work, and to be sexually available on demand in the home. Pretentdthe children don’t need their mothers! Pretend the mothers don’t need their children!

Children are the wellspring of the world. There is no point to our entire culture, without children, Making sure the next generation has a better life than we did, is what drives the human race.

As a woman, even if you’ve decided motherhood is not part of your personal pathway, your every act in a commonweal, is to support the raising of children free from poverty, hunger and disease.

Breastfeeding is not a choice. It’s an innate, biological function. There are those that seek to deny you this, and sever you from your own power as a mother. They do so in order to control and dominate you. They don’t do it out of good thoughts. They are driven by profit. There is not ‘choice’. There is only hegemony.

A woman can refuse this biology. She can turn her breast aside. That’s her innate right – it’s her breast. Only after she’s done this, do other choices come in to play. What to feed the baby then?

Every painful comment in this post is a litany of failure. Women who were not listened to, not cared for, babies and mothers abandoned without support. all of it needless. And all of it a loss that beggars those of us who understand it.

We get angry, we RAGE at the failures in this comment column. We look at every story, and we see the neglect that prevented breastfeeding being established. We hear mother’s pain at feeling completely ignored, and we want to fight to make sure that does not happen again.

Babies know nothing of the hegemony. They know nothing of power struggles, and profit. They know only that they are in pain, suddenly, upon birth, and their constant nutrition and love and warmth and enclosed in flesh is taken from them, as they feel hunger for the first time. Babies ache for the breast. They are hard wired to seek it out, and to suckle. They want their world of perfection back, and they want to fill themselves with their mother’s milk.

This is not a lifestyle choice. This is their every moment and their entire purpose of being. Millions of years of evolution have taylored their needs and behaviour, to that of the mother’s breast, in order that the baby survives and thrives.

Of course it can be painful, debilitating and endlesslly frustrating to be the mother, and not be in total swing with this. To have aching nipples and bloodied breasts, from bad support,. To feel that no one is understanding you, as this baby looks to you and you alone and won’t someone take this responsibilty off me for a moment, it’s too much? Of course motherhood can swamp you and take you out to sea. We ask too much of women.

We need proper care and support to make sure that doesn’t happen. We need to meet mothers where they are, and offer them hope. We do not need to beggar them by telling them it’s too hard give up! Life can be hard. Let us help.

When you were falling off your bike and skinning your knees, did a wheelchair company stand behind you with a wheelchair and say “Here, take this, it’s just as good. You’ll never hurt again.”

Formula is not benign. It brings health risks. To both baby and mother.

We need to empower women by stepping out of the ‘lifestyle choice’ paradigm. We need to speak for the baby. We need to support women in their fight to be heard. Every horror story here about lack of support, positioned upon breastfeeding like it’s some dark choice from some other dimension, needs to be expunged. No women should go through what the mothers here have gone through. The problem isn’t the breastfeeding, it’s the ignoring of women’s lives and needs!

And every time you position breastfeeding as a ‘lifestyle choice’, you condemn mothers to this, again, and again, and again.

Breastfeeding is NOT a choice. It’s a human right. Let’s stop negating this right from women, and their children.

Anger is the way forward. Anger at being betrayed by a system that isn’t supporting each mother to succeed in her own terms. Anger and Action.

And please, let’s stop shooting the messengers. How about we attack the profiteers instead, who makes BILLIONS every year, by getting everyone to swallow this ‘lifestyle choice’ crapola.

They’re laughing all the way to the bank. On the backs of women’s blood, sweat and tears.

If you don’t want to let the baby have your breast – fine.

If you do, then you better beleive we will fight for you to make it work, and fight heaven and earth for you. Please don’t stab us in the back while we do so.

It hurts.

Amity // Posted 10 November 2008 at 2:17 pm

1) No one can ‘force’ you to breastfeed or to bottlefeed. It is your decision and yours alone. No ‘breastfeeding nazi’ (god I hate that term) or doctor who pushes formula can make you do anything that you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to give it a go or just find it all too much hassle — fine. If you want to breastfeed and not listen to people who say that your child is starving because he’s not gaining weight at the same rate as other babies — fine. But own your decision, for chrissakes.

If women were educated on all of the benefits, risks, pros and cons, what to expect, myths vs facts, how to form a support network to succeed, etc.. *before* having their baby, they wouldn’t be relying so heavily on what health visitors or midwives with poor or non-existent lactation training think is right, or what their sisters/mums/friends think they should do (which is often based on their own experiences alone). Don’t let someone else TELL you what to do…educate yourself so that you are armed with the facts and can make an informed decision that best suits you and your baby, and so that you know where to go for proper help if any problems should arise.

And once you’ve made your decision, come to peace with it and stop letting other people ‘make’ you feel guilty. No one can make anyone else feel guilty if the guilt isn’t already there. So let it go and move on. If anyone says something stupid, blissfully ignore them, confident in your decision.

2) Denying the facts to make a segment of women feel better about their decision is not supportive, it is patronising. If they were misinformed, let down and/or bullied, they need to know that they were and be given the opportunity to set the wrongs done to them right. Telling a woman that formula is just as good as breast milk and that there are no risks involved is just feeding the stream of bad information floating around out there. We all know that formula is not going to kill anyone (in the Western world where we have clean water, at least) and it’s not going to make anyone’s child less intelligent or anything silly like that. There are, however, very real benefits of breastfeeding to both the mother and baby and certain diseases and conditions that children who don’t receive breastmilk and mothers who don’t nurse are more prone to. That is simple fact.

There is no reason why a person trying to gently tell a woman that they very well might have been given bad advice should be automatically shot down, told to shut up and not make others ‘feel guilty’ or ‘shove it in their face’. Obviously, some breastfeeding supporters aren’t so gentle in their approach and come across too brusquely or judgmentally. I know, I’ve seen it. And I do feel horribly for the women who were made to feel bad about themselves or forced into something they didn’t feel comfortable with. It is not acceptable for anyone to be bullied in that manner.

But I’ve also seen with my own eyes incredibly kind, non-judgmental, supportive women who want nothing but the best for other women and their babies (not out on some kind of boob-waving crusade like some seem to think) subjected to vicious attacks and tongue lashings for even daring to suggest that the doctor who told them they weren’t making enough milk might not have known what he or she was talking about, or that it’s not true that babies should only need to eat every three hours and that if they want to feed more often it means you’re not making enough and have to give formula. I’ve seen women who are breastfeeding peer supporters who volunteer their time reduced to tears because someone took out on them all of their own insecurities and anger over not succeeding at breastfeeding when all that the peer supporter was trying to do was tell them that it wasn’t their fault, that they weren’t given the proper tools and support to succeed and that they did the best they could with what they had to go on at the time. How is that deserving of the vitriolic anger I’ve seen hurled at them? Respect is a two way street — if you want it shown to you, you have to show some to others. Both breastfeeding counselors and mothers would do well to keep that in mind when they come together to address these problems.

3) The more we ridicule and diminish the ‘Breast is best’ campaigns, the less awareness people will have of how breastfeeding actually works and the less support women will receive when giving it a go. The number one thing that indicates whether a woman will succeed at breastfeeding is whether those closest to her support her. Support comes out of shared experience and knowledge. If women continue to have nothing but bad experiences and bad information, they will continue to pass those experiences and information down to their friends, daughters, sisters, nieces, and so on. How is wanting to break that cycle and help women empower themselves (by making a truly INFORMED decision) a bad thing? I can’t think of anything more feminist, frankly.

Mephit // Posted 10 November 2008 at 2:49 pm

Abby, I think we have to question where the “not feeling comfortable” with breastfeeding comes from. I acknowledge fully that some people do feel that way – in fact oddly, I knew a nurse who found the whole idea of breastfeeding repulsive (although she had no children of her own). But where exactly does that distaste come from? It seems almost self-loathing?

Having read the article you suggested to Kate, it seems to me that a great deal of what Ruth said is borne out – the writer didn’t have the right kind of help or knowledgeable support to help her continue to breastfeed. If she had had the information about the antibiotics affecting her milk and been able to ask for alternatives & so forth, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

lisa // Posted 10 November 2008 at 5:30 pm

Further to Morgan Gallagher’s comment I have to add that the pressure on women to ‘get back to normal’ after birth – in other words to get back on the capitalist-consumer treadmill – is often at the root of many breastfeeding problems. Mother and child need time and space to get into the swing of it -just like riding a bike Morgan I agree ! But sadly the last thing that they get is this time and space.

The problem continues though throughout the mother-child relationship.

One tiny, tiny anecdotal example but it speaks volumes. Today I picked my 7 year old daughter up from school at 4 p.m. and we walked the 15 minute walk to the S bahn station together. At first my daughter wolfed down her tea, only after this she told me about some social problems in the class and we talked them through. The S bahn was too crowded to talk and once we were home, she did her homework and now she is relaxing- playing in her room. Later we will eat and she may or may not talk about the playground problems again – if we hadn’t talked earlier the moment may have passed, then she will go to bed at 8 p.m. for her more than necessary 10 hours sleep before school next day.!

If I didn’t get home from my work in the capitalist cause until after she was asleep who would she have talked over her problem with ? The 18 year-old au pair ? The retired older woman who helps out ? Both of whom are women I would unpaid have sub-contracted my work as a mother too and whom I must exploit by paying them even less than my average wage !

I know mothers of teenage children who have made drastic changes to their circumstances because the child STILL needs the time and space to talk about what’s troubling them – and after all they’ll soon have left home and it will all be too late to go back and repair the damage.

It’s not just the mother-child relationship that suffers though – all relationships are under pressure because people allow themselves to be conned into thinking that they can squeeze each other into ‘quality time’ that barely allows you to say hi and bye before we rush to the next item on our to-do list.

Aimee // Posted 10 November 2008 at 6:19 pm

I didn’t want to breast feed. It didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel comfortable having to do it in public, or around my parents, or my brothers and sisters, or my friends. I tried it. I simply didn’t want to do it. I told the midwives at the birth of my son this, and they actually told me that they wouldn’t let me leave until I had breast fed him. I’m pretty sure that forcing a mother to do something that she doesn’t want to is more detrimental to the bond between mother and child than bottle feeding is.

Wix // Posted 10 November 2008 at 6:57 pm

Good God. I’m almost 3 months pregnant with my first child and all this is scaring the crap out of me. Oh well, I just hope I’ve got the guts to stand up for myself when the time comes!

chem_fem // Posted 10 November 2008 at 9:02 pm

Morgan said: Are menstrual cycles a ‘lifestyle choice’?

Sure they are! I escape my periods with technology and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For some people functioning kidneys, reproductive systems and lungs aren’t choices. We should do what we can for anyone who doesn’t have a body function that functions properly, but as with all medical intervention it should be elective.

maggie // Posted 10 November 2008 at 9:23 pm

Jane Austen’s mother did an unusual thing for her daughter – she choose to breastfeed her. Unusual for the time as almost certainly a woman of her standing would have got a wet nurse to feed the babies. Those were the choices in the 18th century.

My aunt was fed on goat’s milk – during the early 1930’s – because my gran was too ill to feed her.

Women have always had a choice when it comes to breastfeeding. Thank goodness there are those choices.

Lucy M // Posted 11 November 2008 at 2:08 am

Hi, I’m sorry, I’m a bit rushed and I’ve only done a bit of a skim-read, but having gone away, done my chores, settled my toddler back to sleep (twice), and weighed up the frustration of not saying anything against the time it will take to say everything, I’ve settled for at least saying *something*. I may come back and say more tomorrow.

I’ve had feminist leanings for as long as I can remember, but I only started to explore feminism properly when I became a mother – because it’s only then that (like a lot of women) I began to really see what cultural inequality, driven by patriarchy, felt like. At the same time, I’ve always known I would breastfeed my children – I never considered doing anything else, all the women in my family breastfed. But it was only when I became a mother that I learnt what a breastfeeding relationship was like. I’ve never seen a conflict between the two.

I was lucky – I’m bloody-minded, I prepared myself well, I had a supportive family (including my mother-in-law, who waited until *after* I’d made it to six months exclusive breastfeeding to confess that she never thought I’d actually do it!), a relatively easy birth, and a reasonably easy start to my breastfeeding career. However, I became aware that not everyone else found it so easy, and when my sister-in-law hit problems, struggled and stopped before she wanted too, I was appalled and outraged at the incompetant, piecemeal ‘support’ she was given by the ‘professionals’. I joined the next available Breastfeeding Peer Support training course.

Breastfeeding Peer Supporters are trained, not only in the normal course of breastfeeding and how to spot and sort simple problems, but in listening skills. We are trained to say, “some mothers find it helpful to…” or “you could try…” – not “right, what you need to do is…”, the idea being to give the mother the tools and encouragement to work out her *own* way forward. As someone has pointed out, 9 out of 10 mothers who stop breastfeeding before six weeks wish they’d been able to continue, and this is what good peer support does – it empowers mothers to be able to do what they want. It’s so effective that Peer Support programmes are now recommended in the NICE guidelines. I’ve read Cathryn Dagger’s article before, and it makes me cringe, because that’s *my* area – but things are moving on in Wakefield, and hopefully she would have had a different experience now.

Anyway, I digress (and it’s nearly 1am – argh!) and I haven’t said what I wanted to say. I breastfed because it was in my family’s culture to do so. Women in Norway breastfeed in huge numbers because (again) it’s cultural to do so – and, as we are all *well* aware, culture is heavily influenced by media and so any formula advertising is banned in Norway. Women in the UK commonly choose not to breastfeed, or stop quickly, and a big reason is the culture we live in, reinforced by the media we see – some of this has come through in your article and in the comments already made. (NB I notice that comment, so frequently made, about the happy, healthy baby – the risks of not breastfeeding don’t just play out in infancy, but are also significant in life-long health, so often the connection between the eg high blood pressure problem or diabetes diagnosed in later life and the formula feeding in infancy isn’t made. And for the mother, amongst other benefits, every year of breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk by 4.3%, on top of the 7% drop you get from giving birth; so far I’ve reduced mine by around 40%…) So what am I saying? I’m saying that, whilst *of course* every woman should have the right to complete control over her own body and no baby’s need for life or food or normal biological development should ultimately trump that…the decisions we all make about what we choose to do with our bodies are heavily influenced by the society, the culture, the families we live in. None of us, even feminists ;o), truely make a free choice – the Personal is Political applies here too. Where are your influences coming from?

As a breastfeeding peer supporter and activist, I support every woman’s right to make her own personal choices about her breastfeeding relationship with her child, whilst at the same time trying to make sure that she has the correct factual information to be able to make an informed choice – I would consider it a personal failure if a woman felt that I’d pressurized her; but it would be just as bad to later hear her say, “Why didn’t you tell me…?”. It’s a fine line; sometimes we get it wrong. However, I do NOT support the formula companies’ ‘right’ to spread selective misinformation about infant feeding, which influences our media, our culture and ourselves. Formula companies spend close to £20 per baby on advertising and media; the NHS’s breastfeeding promotion budget works out at well under a pound a baby. Formula companies spend the money on websites, carelines, resources for health workers and ads for ‘follow-on’ milk (legal because that’s not ‘proper’ formula is it?…funny the way it didn’t exist until ads for ‘infant’ formula were banned…) The websites are marvels of misdirection – they only mention the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding they can (sort of) match, everything else is ignored… Formula companies spend the money, not because they ‘care’, but because they know it works; they are profit-making businesses, everything has to be about the bottom line.

I am a breastfeeding peer supporter *because* I am a feminist. It makes me *angry* to see women let down by crap support, to see women deceived by big business into thinking they are making a ‘free’ ‘informed’ choice, spending piles of money on an inferior product when they’ve got the real thing for free! It makes me livid to see my daughters imitate the world around them and feed their ‘babies’ with homemade bottles (in fact it’s a toss-up which makes me angrier – bottles or Barbie?) Breastfeeding *is* a feminist issue – but possibly not the one you thought it was.

Crikey, look at the time! Just one more thing – yes, *please* can we have some features written by *actual mothers*, and not just those who’ve had a crap time in hospital. I chose to give birth, at home, without any drugs at all, and it was lovely. I’d do it again in a heartbeat (in fact I’ve had to push down on those feelings quite hard). Wix, don’t be scared – get informed! Read around, listen with an open mind, work out what kind of birth you would like, and then when the time comes, make sure you have with you a bolshy birth partner who knows what you want and is prepared to fight for it (if necessary). Listen to your midwife etc, but be prepared to ask “Why…?” And know that as a competent adult, you have the right to refuse any medical treatment and that *does not change* when you are giving birth. Good luck!

A. // Posted 11 November 2008 at 6:43 am

“Yes, bottlefeeding does not mean that every child is “doomed”, but it is a fact that bottlefed babies have poorer health outcomes than breastfed babies. Denying the facts does nobody any good.”

Well, that’s a buttload of privilege. Breastfed babies are only healthier if mother has good nutrition. Not all mothers can afford that. If their nutrition is poor, breastfeeding can be damaging to their and their kids’ health. Denying the facts that doesn’t siut your cause also does nobody any good.

“Breastfeeding is NOT a choice. It’s a human right. Let’s stop negating this right from women, and their children.”

Hello, faux-feminist. My body is mine, so I will decide who can suck my breasts and who cannot. Functioning livers or lungs are necessary to be alive, breastfeeding is not.

Bee // Posted 11 November 2008 at 10:47 am

“Functioning livers or lungs are necessary to be alive; breastfeeding is not.” Well, actually it may well be, if you happen to be a baby in a place where your mother doesn’t have access to clean water, or sterile feeding equipment, or can’t afford to carry on buying the formula which the marketers have convinced her is better than her own milk…. Yes, it still goes on. There’s money (lots) in infant formula, there isn’t in breastfeeding, and there are a lot of very clever and very ruthless companies out there seeking to maximise their profits by any means necessary.

And what exactly gives you the right, “A”, to call anyone a faux-feminist?

A. // Posted 11 November 2008 at 11:35 am

“yes, *please* can we have some features written by *actual mothers*, and not just those who’ve had a crap time in hospital.”

Your privilege is showing. Not everyone can afford or have the choices you make. Also, women are relatively free, so they kinda have the right to give birth wherever they want. Home birth was good for you, but it might not be for everyone.

Also, women CAN’T refuse medical interventions. Especially during birth. Thus, the term “birth rape”.

And, yeah, I was abused by the system, I could have gone to prison for child abuse and/or have my baby taken away if I didn’t give birth at the hospital (not that I would have chosen anyway), and now I’m not even an actual mother. Or a competent adult. Good to know.

Maia // Posted 11 November 2008 at 11:35 am

The greatest single disadvantage to any baby the world over, which far outweights ANYTHING else, is not not being breastfed, but being born into poverty. That (unlike some of the comments here) has been proven beyond doubt.

Some of these (longwinded) posts remind me again of why I’m so reluctant to have children. Yes, everyone sure does have an opinion. And most people would be more than happy to foist their opinion on me, regardless of whether or not it was requested.

I think some of these comments smack of smugness and privilege, not to say being downright wrong, i.e. that you’re more prone to high blood pressure or diabetes in later life if you’re not breastfed.

Some of these people should just shut up and mind their own business.

Amity // Posted 11 November 2008 at 12:30 pm

Breastfed babies are only healthier if mother has good nutrition. Not all mothers can afford that. If their nutrition is poor, breastfeeding can be damaging to their and their kids’ health. Denying the facts that doesn’t siut your cause also does nobody any good.

Nope, not true. It’s a common misconception that whatever a mother ingests her baby ingests too, in exactly the same quantities and with the same properties. A mother could be malnourished or have a diet consisting almost entirely of junk food, or a non-varied diet (like living on only rice, as many mothers in poverty-stricken countries do) and her breastmilk would still be sufficient and the healthiest option for her child. The mammary glands aren’t just a straight shot from our stomachs — they act as a filter, much like our kidneys, and derive essential nutrients and ‘good’ fats from what the mother eats. Just as in pregnancy, the body converts energy into nutrition for the baby first and THEN the mother.

Obviously, good nutrition is important for anyone and a varied and relatively balanced diet would be recommended for a nursing mother but it is not essential. Breastmilk certainly could not *damage* a baby via a mother’s diet as you suggest. It’s biologically impossible.

Amity // Posted 11 November 2008 at 1:15 pm

The greatest single disadvantage to any baby the world over, which far outweights ANYTHING else, is not not being breastfed, but being born into poverty.

You’re right. And, interestingly enough, 1.5 million babies born into poverty die every year as a result of formula being improperly prepared, with unclean water or in the wrong proportions. Pretending that formula is a perfectly valid and risk-free choice is an assertion only those of us living in the privileged first-world countries can afford to make. Because it *does* kill children there, needlessly. At the very least, this needs to be addressed, and urgently. It is completely unethical for formula companies to be pushing their products in such places.

Victoria Dutchman-Smith // Posted 11 November 2008 at 1:29 pm

My first child was totally breastfed for the first six months. I’m now expecting a second baby and have very mixed feelings about doing it again. I’m obviously aware of all the pros (otherwise I wouldn’t have done it in the first place) but it frustrates me that breastfeeding is so hyped up. The dishonesty which characterises the promotion of breastfeeding suggests women can’t be trusted to make informed choices, but need to be duped and shamed into it. Breastfeeding is apparently “convenient” – well, it is insofar as you don’t have to sterilise bottles and prepare formula, but it really isn’t if anyone else in the entire world (for instance, your baby’s father) wants to be the primary carer, if only for an afternoon. It is apparently possible to do it discreetly in public – well, no, not if your baby isn’t latching on well that day, or you suddenly experience let-down s/he latches off and you’re squirting everywhere, or your breastpad falls out, or you don’t have the money to buy a whole new wardrobe of breastfeeding tops and you get dressed in a hurry without test-running every top you own first (and no, you can’t just nip off to the loos to do it, not when your baby may be stopping and starting and there are other people you need to be with). It is apparently great for losing “baby weight” – well, only if the objective of every woman in the world is to lose weight indefinitely on the assumption that she can never be too thin (while breastfeeding got me back to my pre-pregnancy weight in four months, it got me a stone below it, underweight and constantly hungry despite constantly eating a few months later). It is apparently comfortable if you’re doing it right – well, I’ll admit the sore nipples toughen up, but the backache from needing to be in the right position regardless of where you’re feeding can be continuous. I ended up expressing milk so that my partner could share in the experience of feeding our son, but constantly sterilising the breastpump and checking the milk in the fridge isn’t out of date is far more stressful and time-consuming than using formula (which I use now). Whenever I needed any time at all for myself I became obsessed with how many bottles of expressed milk (or “freedom units”) were in the fridge and ended up over-expressing and over-producing to be on the safe side. When I did go where I needed to I had to absent myself regularly to express further to avoid engorgement (and while this is a minor inconvenience, the psychological effect of being constantly reminded that your primary role is that of milk-producer shouldn’t be underestimated [which, btw, isn’t a rejection of the particular capabilities of the female body, just an assertion that women are more than the sum of these and have a right to decide what is and isn’t intrusive to them]). I was, according to the health visitor, “good at” breastfeeding and having an easy time – my son put on weight immediately and fed happily. But if this was an “easy time” I dread to think what a hard one is.

I’m not saying I won’t do it all again – having done it once, I kind of feel obliged to, although I worry about the absolute one-to-one dependancy it involves given that I will also have a toddler to care for. What I do firmly believe is that we should be telling the truth about breastfeeding. At times, I’m not even sure whether it is “best”. Why do we think the physical benefits outweigh the social drawbacks? Because they’re more measurable? Because “nature knows best” and the fact that women physically can breastfeed means they should? Can’t a father being able to feed his child from the word go be just as valuable for that child’s relationships and future, or is that “unnatural”? Why is restricting the freedom of pregnant new mothers (and fathers) always considered a risk worth taking? Parents, male and female, work out their own ways of caring, and value judgements made on the basis of “that’s better for your baby’s immune system and women have been doing it since time immemorial, so nothing else matters” seem to me unthinking and incompatible with all the different ways there are of loving and bringing up a child happily.

Jane // Posted 11 November 2008 at 2:11 pm

Maia, you are absolutely 100% right which may explain why your post has been ignored so far! Being born into poverty, is indeed the single greatest disadvantage any baby can have.

The 500,000 women a year who die from lack of basic care during pregnancy, are always from the poorest countries. There are many many components that contribute to a healthy baby, and clean water, not having to walk three days to find a doctor, and living in a democracy are a few of them.

It’s also interesting that so many posts here from women who feel strongly about breastfeeding are so angry. And tell women who haven’t breastfed that they should be angry too, and with who.

A. // Posted 11 November 2008 at 2:16 pm

“And what exactly gives you the right, “A”, to call anyone a faux-feminist?”

I guess the same thing that gives someone a right to pretend to care about women while singing the same “breastfeeding is above everything la la la” song. Yeah, you have the right to breastfeed and only that.

“Just as in pregnancy, the body converts energy into nutrition for the baby first and THEN the mother.”

Yes, that’s my point exactly. The health of the mother will suffer. Women sacrifice a lot to have children, whether they want it or not. Luckily, breastfeeding is one of the things they can opt not to do, if they don’t want to.

Ruth Moss // Posted 11 November 2008 at 2:24 pm

Some interesting comments since I last posted, probably a bit too emotionally.

Morgan, Amity, agree with everything you say… Amity I suppose you’re right about not knocking the “bestfeeding” campaigns, but sometimes I do feel like – as Victoria points out – they’re a bit patronising and don’t always address the reality of breastfeeding. But the answer imho is “change the reality” – more support, more understanding, more correct information.

FWIW, my personal experience of hospital birth was pretty horrific, and my experience of the early stages of breastfeeding was bloody painful – and I mean “bloody” literally.

BUT if I’d got the right help and support early on, instead of being spun a load of crap by midwives who knew next to nothing about breastfeeding, it would not have hurt.

It took me ten weeks of pain (and going through a stage where I was expressing every feed for my baby – horrible!) and lots of crapola advice, from HCPs who should have known better (should, but don’t, because they really believe there’s no huge difference, so why bother?) before I found a support group that actually changed everything for me – the pain went almost instantly and every other setback I experienced was tackled by this group.

(And as for the backache, it takes practise but feeding lying down, and trying biological nurturing (google it) positions really help in the early days. When baby is bigger, cross-legged positions might help, or a good, supportive sling. This “straight back nose to nipple tummy to mummy” thing is just another myth in many ways.)

I too struggled to breastfeed in public places at first, as “blessed” (ha ha!) with J cup breasts it was absolutely impossible to be anything even approaching discreet.

But I rail against this need to “be discreet”. Why? Fair enough, if I want to camouflage myself, and there are the expensive nursing tops etc. out there (I made two of my own), but eventually, slowly, I got the confidence to feed anywhere, any time in a public place, when my little one was hungry or needed comforting. Sure, I get looks and have even had the odd nasty comment. Sure, it’s been really difficult, but I’ve managed it. Luckily.

But you know, I shouldn’t HAVE TO “manage” it. It should be perfectly okay for a woman to get out her entire milky boob in public to feed her baby and for no one to bat an eyelid. It’s not an invitation to harrass me! And any woman that stops breastfeeding because of the fear of public harrassment – well, I think anyone who harrangues her needs to walk a mile in her nursing bra.

The expressing thing – god I hated it. I hate this idea that the only possible way a man can bond with his baby is if he feeds hir. I wonder sometimes if some men are jealous, because nursing a baby often involves long periods of sitting down in the early days, and women can’t be getting on with the housework while they’re nursing. Let Dad sit down and give baby a bottle… and you can run around like a blue-arsed fly cleaning up.

Sure if you *want* to give Dad a chance to “have a go” – that’s your call. But this cultural thing we seem to have where we’re somehow depriving men of their turn if we don’t sit hooked up to a machine for an hour so we can then tidy up for another hour while our child’s father does the feed… is doubly unfair! Is feeding a baby really the *only* way Dad can bond? What about bathing, baby massage, babywearing, co-sleeping… or *here’s* a radical idea… why can’t Dad do some of the housework tasks while Mum gets on with sitting and nursing comfortably (lying down, or BN position, to spare her backache)?

As for going out – what would be really radical to me is if we created a world where mothers and their young babies could actually go outside, without being hindered by “no children allowed” signs (surely that often means “no mothers allowed either” then?), without rude people who cast aspersions on them for daring to feed their baby? Things are slowly improving; some cinemas now have special days where babies are allowed, for example. But still most places where a new Mum might want to go, babies are either not allowed, or are frowned upon (great phrase if you’re couragous enough to use it – “screaming or breastfeeding, you choose”), or rather, their mothers are.

And really, in terms of going out, we’re talking about the first six months when baby is exclusively breastfed; after that, gradually, baby can have other foods (which Dad is more than welcome to cook and hand to baby if he really does want to be involved in feeding and it’s not just an excuse because he can’t bear to see his wife/partner sat down) and Mum can start to go out sans baby again, if that’s what she wishes.

But you know, if a woman stops breastfeeding because she can’t bear to deal with being with her baby 24/7 in the first six months (we should live in a society where she can easily access help, but we don’t; as Morgan says we expect too much), or she is pressured by her husband to stop (for various reasons, and how often have I heard “my husband wants “his” breasts back”?) then that’s not really a choice, is it? It’s not a free choice, anyway, it’s not a choice in the ideal world. And therefore, as I said before, no one should judge, certainly not while it’s not a free choice, anyway. Don’t judge – work towards a world where it *is* a free choice. Become a peer supporter. Campaign for better protection for breastfeeding mothers.

But at the same time as no one should judge, no one should be dishonest and say “it doesn’t matter”, or lie and say that health outcomes that are proven time over and over are “downright wrong” (as one poster said earlier about the verifiable fact that you’re more prone to high blood pressure or diabetes in later life if you’re not breastfed) to make women whose babies haven’t been breastfed, feel a bit better.

Because as I said before, if it doesn’t matter, if there’s no difference, why bother changing the system anyway?

Rhona // Posted 11 November 2008 at 3:29 pm

Victoria Dutchman-Smith – that’s most honest, truthful and considered statement I’ve ever heard on breastfeeding. Thank you. :)

Anne Onne // Posted 11 November 2008 at 3:54 pm

Our bodies, our choice.

Women deserve the information to make the best choice for them, the medical support to go to if they need help, the laws and social support to ensure they are allowed to do what they believe best for them and their babies.

We also deserve a not to be pressured to breastfeed or not to breastfeed, and it’s clear that women are not getting many of the above.

Everyone has contributed so much, and this shows that the topic is a very complicated one, with many different factors affecting the pressure women feel from both sides, and how much or little they are supported in whichever feeding method they choose.

Maggie:I know! I’ve had family members on both sides have to be fed on cow’s milk or by another woman because the mothers couldn’t feed them, and formula wasn’t an option where they lived in those days, neither was education (if it would have sovled it, which it probably would not have) and the baby would have died. I wonder whether I will have the same problem if I choose to have children and breastfeed them.

Breastmilk is cool. It’s been evolved to be good for babies. Formula is useful, too. Babies won’t derive exactly all from formula as they would from breastmilk, which might disadvantage them a bit, but sometimes formula is the right option. Because sometimes a woman physically can’t, or is in no health condition to be nourishing a baby from her body. Sometimes she really doesn’t want to breastfeed. It’s important that it’s not the only way, and women are supported to make breastfeeding pain-free and possible if they want it, without pressuring them to it. There’s not going to be an easy answer, and at the moment, what we need are more people helping women choose, and helping them look after their children, and less pressurising them or judging them.

smallwhitecat // Posted 11 November 2008 at 4:00 pm

The writer of this article is very ignorant about breastfeeding. It’s incredibly rare for mothers not to have enough milk to feed their babies, and very normal for babies to cry a lot for feeding in the early weeks – it can feel like they do so constantly. Breastfeeding is so beneficial to the health of mother and baby that the only pro-woman stance is to be pro-breastfeeding, and in addition to be deeply concerned about the lack of support to help mothers breastfeed in the UK today (I speak as a mother who tried and failed to establish breastfeeding with her first child). I don’t think the concept of pro-choice has any application at all in this context, sorry.

Sarah // Posted 11 November 2008 at 4:24 pm

You don’t think pro-choice applies? How would that work, exactly? I don’t see how breastfeeding can be anything but a choice, unless you want women to be forcibly hooked up to milking machines like dairy cows!

I am all for more support for women who do want to breastfeed, and agree it has many proven advantages for both mother and baby. But I’ve never before heard the suggestion, even from the most extreme anti-feminist or ‘natural birth’ fanatic, that it should not be a choice. Even the anti-abortion crowd don’t go that far.

It’s scary how many people feel human rights should no longer apply once someone has got pregnant.

Frances // Posted 11 November 2008 at 4:27 pm

I think this insistent intervention on the part of the (broadly) white, male medical establishment is part of a wider phenomenon that merits deeper exploration; i.e. a generalised assumption that men are the voice of rationality and ‘know best.’ I’m reminded of shampoo commercials that infantilise women’s capacity to govern their own appearance “My stylist Leo knows what’s best for me, while I just stare vacuously at my male-regulated image reflected back at me in the mirror.

Indeed, there has been much visceral comment on this very website about the ubiquitous Gok Wan and his patronising panoply of double standards; outwardly fighting against patriarchally imposed appearance norms whilst reinforcing female objectification.

Women rub up against these panoptic influences most tangibly in the birth, as generally, it is a situation where women actively elect to enter the medical establishment, and rightly expect to make the final decision. This is unusual in hospitals, whose beds are filled (by and large) by the passive victims of accident or disease.

Qubit // Posted 11 November 2008 at 4:33 pm

“I don’t think the concept of pro-choice has any application at all in this context, sorry.”

Out of interest does that mean you think mothers should be legally required to breast feed for a certain amount of time unless it is actually impossible.

As someone who has never had children I am reading this post with interest. It strikes me as those who bottle fed feel that women should do what feels best for them while those who breast fed feel that all women should breast feed their child.

Cath Elliott // Posted 11 November 2008 at 9:58 pm

Thanks for this Abby, and my word, hasn’t the thread confirmed exactly what you were trying to get across in the article!

I’m so glad my children are older now, and that I don’t plan on having any more; the guilt trip some of the posters here try and lay on other women who choose to do things differently from them just does my head in.

For what its worth, and just to lay out my credentials from the outset, just in case I get accused of not being qualified to speak on this subject – I’ve got 4 children; I’ve had 1 forceps delivery, 1 induction, 1 “OMG panic panic we’ll have to cut the cord while the baby’s still inside, push it out now or you’ll never forgive yourself!”, and 1 home birth.

I breastfed 1 for 9 months, 1 for 2 weeks, 1 for 4 months (and got criticised and told I was selfish for stopping when I had to go into hospital for emergency surgery ffs – apparently I should have taken the baby in with me and carried on with the breastfeeding despite being completely out of it for 2 days and unable even to walk let alone lift an infant) and 1 for 3 years.

And do you know what I learnt from all of this? None of it makes one iota of difference to your child growing up strong, healthy and well adjusted.

A difficult delivery that doesn’t go how you wanted it, followed by bottle feeding much earlier than you’d planned, and certainly earlier than the earth mother absolutists and the bloody NCT (no offence to anyone here, but my advice would be avoid that bunch like the plague) would have you believe is healthy, is not going to result in you producing some kind of juvenile delinquent with heart disease, obesity and an inability to form attachments to others 16 years down the line.

I accept that in developing countries where access to clean water etc is an issue then breastfeeding is best, and I fully support Baby Milk Action and the Nestle boycott, but that argument really doesn’t wash here.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed breastfeeding and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone, but it’s not the be all and end all that people here are trying to make it out to be: the world won’t suddenly stop turning if you decide it’s not for you.

As for: “Positioning breastfeeding as a lifestyle choice, is both the language of patriarchy, and of capitalism”

I’m sorry, but that’s complete and utter tosh. If you’re going to go down that route I could just as well argue that breastfeeding suits the patriarchy because it helps keep women tied to home and hearth and out of the workforce, and indeed that you’re adopting patriarchal language and aggression by trying to dictate to women how they should live their lives.

Women need to do what feels right and most comfortable for them and their child, they don’t need to be told what to do or made to feel guilty about their decisions by every other woman who’s ever given birth.

“Wix said:

Good God. I’m almost 3 months pregnant with my first child and all this is scaring the crap out of me. Oh well, I just hope I’ve got the guts to stand up for myself when the time comes!”

And as you can see from the thread, unfortunately its not just the medical profession you’ll need to stand up to.

Good luck, be happy and enjoy your baby, those are the more important things :)

Rooroo // Posted 11 November 2008 at 10:25 pm

Cath – you said everything that I wanted to say, only better.

“Thanks for this Abby, and my word, hasn’t the thread confirmed exactly what you were trying to get across in the article!”

Indeed.

Jane // Posted 11 November 2008 at 10:42 pm

I hated breastfeeding, absolutely hated it. But with my first child, I would lie and say that I would have loved to continue, only I didn’t feel supported. I lied because it was less horrible to be subjected to patronising lectures, and tut tutting, than deal with the self-righteous anger of breastfeeding advocates. The second time I still hated breastfeeding, only this time I told anyone who stuck their nose in to fuck off. It was really rather empowering.

Lucy M // Posted 11 November 2008 at 11:40 pm

Maia said:

Some of these (longwinded) posts remind me again of why I’m so reluctant to have children. Yes, everyone sure does have an opinion. And most people would be more than happy to foist their opinion on me, regardless of whether or not it was requested.

Hello? This a blog which invites you (and me) to ‘Have your say’. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to ‘have my say’ on this subject which I care so deeply about, knowing as I did that some people would think that I should ‘just shut up and mind [my] own business.’ But I decided that my flameproof jacket was fitting well yesterday…

Now then:

‘I think some of these comments smack of smugness and privilege, not to say being downright wrong, i.e. that you’re more prone to high blood pressure or diabetes in later life if you’re not breastfed.’

Maybe some of these people should check their facts before they comment:

Blood pressure: A 2004 study of 4763 British children showed that 7.5 years later, those who were breastfed as infants had lower blood pressure compared with those who were never breastfed. In another new study from the U.K., a small but important reduction in adult diastolic blood pressure is associated with having been breastfed as an infant.

Martin RM et al (2004). “Does Breast-Feeding in Infancy Lower Blood Pressure in Childhood?” The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Circulation 109

Martin RM et al (2005). “Breastfeeding in Infancy and Blood Pressure in Later Life: Systematic Review and Meta Analysis.” American Journal of Epidemiology 2005 161 (1): 15-26

Diabetes: There are many studies linking development of insulin dependant Type I diabetes (formerly referred to as “juvenile diabetes”) to lack of breastfeeding. The results of a study from Finland suggest that the introduction of dairy products at an early age, and high milk consumption during childhood increase the level of cow’s milk antibodies in the children’s systems. This factor is associated with an increased risk of insulin dependent diabetes. Now a new study has indicated that breastfeeding in infancy may help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. This sort of diabetes was formerly referred to as “adult onset” diabetes, but has been mysteriously occurring in more and more youngsters.

Young, T.K. et al. Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2002; 156(7): 651-55

Gerstein HC. “Cow’s milk exposure and type 1 diabetes mellitus”. Diabetes Care. 1994;17:13-19

Virtanen et al: “Diet, Cow’s milk protein antibodies and the risk of IDDM in Finnish children.” Childhood Diabetes in Finland Study Group. Diabetologia, Apr 1994, 37(4):381-7

Virtanen SM, Rasanen L, Aro A, et al. “Infant feeding in Finnish children

Lucy M // Posted 12 November 2008 at 12:25 am

OK, I was going to reply to a specific comment about ‘privilege’, but there’s so much up there now, I can’t find it. :o(

Yup, some of us arguing for breastfeeding (I’m holding my hand up high here) come from a position of ‘privilege’, of a background where we got the education, money, attitude and confidence to do what we wanted in life (more or less). And it is certainly true that more professional educated women breastfeed than women from lower socio-economic groups. And that professional educated women are more likely to shout about it. But many widely-respected breastfeeding activists and supporters come from extremely ‘humble’ backgrounds (including one who has posted comment here – be careful who you throw the accusation of privilege at ;o) .)

And it is *not* true that it isn’t possible for breastfeeding activism to arise from other groups of women in the population.

Arguably the most successful peer support scheme in the country is ‘Little Angels’ in Blackburn and Darwen, an area which includes some of the most deprived communities in the UK. There, they train and employ local mothers to provide peer-to-peer breastfeeding support and empowerment within their local communities. This is a social enterprise company that has grown from the grassroots of a local breastfeeding support group to have such a huge impact on breastfeeding continuation rates that it is attracting national attention. I was at their conference last week. Yes, there were posh people in suits. But mostly there were mothers in t-shirts and tattoos, mothers in hijab, babies, toddlers, and the odd dad. And the posh people in suits had mostly come to Bolton to find out why the girls in pink t-shirts were so successful. It was a fantastic day.

It is true that women with money can often buy themselves out of trouble. One thing that some women choose is to hire an Independent Midwife, and avoid the NHS altogether. This costs, but many women scrape together the funds to do it, especially those who have had a previous bad experience. However, there is a chance that this might change. Although Independent Midwives have chosen to work outside of the NHS there is currently a National Government Supported Campaign to make independent midwifery FREE to all women. They just need to convince local PCTs that there is a local need. If this is something that you would be interested in supporting, you can add your details here: http://www.kentmidwiferypractice.co.uk/ and they will be forwarded to your local PCT as part of a petition.

[Dear moderator, if that last paragraph is inappropriate, please feel free to remove.]

Ruth Moss // Posted 12 November 2008 at 10:06 am

“It’s also interesting that so many posts here from women who feel strongly about breastfeeding are so angry. And tell women who haven’t breastfed that they should be angry too, and with who.”

You are right, I do get angry, because I come into contact almost every day with women who wanted to breastfeed but weren’t able to, because they didn’t get the right support, and others who are about to lose their right to breastfeed because they’ve been lied too.

That makes me angry. (I was one of those women who didn’t get support, too, or not for a long time, and only by virtue of luck in the end, sheer luck helped me find good support group; yes, it makes me angry I should have had to rely on luck alone.) And yes, it makes me angry when I hear myths spouted by people who don’t have any idea of the research and science behind breastfeeding.

For example, the blog writer’s friend’s baby who isn’t gaining weight properly. More information please! Is that on the new WHO charts? Breastfed only chart? Current chart which is based on a mixture of breastfed and formula fed babies? Is the baby perhaps exhibiting “catch-down” growth? Who says it isn’t gaining properly; a Health Visitor who thinks all babies should be big and chubby and follow the centile on which they were born *exactly* otherwise they need topping up with formula (funny they also say that about big babies too)? Is the baby healthy in other ways; is it meeting all its developmental milestones for example? Is it producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies? Is it gaining, just gaining slowly? Is Mum, or the baby’s father, genetically slim or small? Could everything actually be okay, and this is got out of all proportion by some health visitor who thinks all babies should follow their line perfectly and be big and bonny? Could the reason why the midwife isn’t bothered be because everything’s actually okay?

Alternatively, if the baby really isn’t gaining well and is exhibiting signs of faltering growth (formerly called failure to thrive) then yes, it’s a disgrace that the midwife isn’t bothered, and the midwife should be referring the mother, if she wishes to breastfeed, to an experienced LLL Leader, Breastfeeding Counsellor or Lactation Consultant to fix the problem. Is the baby being given a dummy rather than having its sucking needs met at the breast? Is it because the mother has tried to put the baby on a three hourly schedule because she’s read some book by a “guru” that tells her that is what should happen? Or does the mother have a physical problem with producing enough milk? If so, is there any way to fix that? Would the mother be prepared to take fenugreek, fennel, or even domperidone, to increase her supply, if that is the case? If formula is needed (and where are the milk banks for women who can’t produce a full supply?) would she be prepared to use an SNS to protect the supply she has whilst mix-feeding?

I don’t know the answer to these questions – I don’t know whether the blog writer does, either – but the way it’s written you’d think the breastfeeding mother is starving her baby and the midwife is being negligent in allowing it to happen. In fact it could be totally different. And yes… yes… it makes me angry (and on a personal level too; my petit baby – whose father is 5’8″ and skinny btw – was constantly being looked at by HVs with shaking heads and tutting tongues, bottles at the ready, but was actually perfectly healthy).

I’m angry because not once, not twice, not three or four or five times, but more than twenty times in the time I’ve been breastfeeding my own child I’ve been told I need to give him formula, for various reasons. I’m angry because I did, in the first few days, because I believed what they told me in hospital, thus depriving him of most of the colostrum he needed (apparently, I had to wait until my milk came in to breastfeed him! That was why he wasn’t interested! Nothing to do with the labour drugs that had me and him out of it for two days, oh no).

And no, I don’t feel guilty; I did my best and I had no choice – or at least, I wasn’t aware that I had a choice, I just thought that what midwives tell you is what goes. But I do feel angry, and angry because this is happening constantly.

And telling other women they should be angry too? I don’t think I need to really, because as you can see from so many of the posts on here, women *are* angry. Telling them with whom to get angry? Well, maybe a bit, yes, because so often I feel that that anger – which is already there – is directed at people like me, for daring to say that there is a difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding, and that in many cases the difference can be quite a large one.

The point a few commentors have made about being born into poverty is absolutely the case. And you know what? I’d like to quote the former director of UNICEF:

“Breastfeeding is a natural safety net against the worst effects of poverty. If a child survives the first month of life, the most dangerous period of childhood, then for the next 4 months or so, exclusive breastfeeding goes a long way towards cancelling out the health difference between being born into poverty or being born into affluence. It is almost as if breastfeeding takes the infant out of poverty for those few vital months in order to give the child a fairer start in life and compensate for the injustices of the world into which it was born.”

But then again UNICEF is probably just another woman-hating patriarchal servant taking the moral high ground.

Clare // Posted 12 November 2008 at 1:26 pm

Surely the most important thing here is that women feel empowered to make the decision that is best for them. That means good, unbiased information and support – whichever path is taken. Partners are also crucial in making women feel comfortable with what they choose to do.

Women should be able to breast-feed in public without tutting but more places should also cater for formula fed babies. How about sterilisation units in libraries/shops/restaurants etc?

I’ve breast-fed two children (currently mid-weaning the second) and found it was the perfect choice for me but equally I have a relative who was unable to breast-feed despite a real concerted effort as her nipples were inverted. In some cases it might be possible but her decision was that she needed to bond with the baby and constant stressing over expressing equipment and unhelpful comments wasn’t helping.

However, for every breast -feeding “nazi” there is out there I did find the NHS’s attitude very contradictory and confusing. For all the emphasis on “breast is best” there was very little support. From day one, when I had my pregnancy confirmed, I was handed a pregnancy pack sponsored by Bounty. Inside were reams and reams of information on joining Bounty’s mum’s club and money off vouchers. This was followed up by mailshots from other formula milk companies who avoided advertising but got all the benefits through similar means.

There was not one iota of information on how, practically, you were supposed to get a baby to latch on or how to deal with any problems. It was just assumed it would go swimmingly. When I later had problems with my first I would have loved someone to suggest something to help me out – other positions/better latching on etc but had to rely on my and the baby figuring it out together somehow. A couple of months of sore nipples later I managed but I would rather I’d had some support in the beginning.

I think there is also a class issue here. Some doctors seemed to make a lot of assumptions about my background – class, aspirations etc. Perhaps the fact that I am a young unmarried mum lead some of the medical staff to assume that I wouldn’t be so assertive or that I would naturally opt for formula. This went for the actual labour as well as breast-feeding. Luckily I’d primed myself with a very good book – “Misconceptions” by Naomi Woolf – which gave me more confidence to ask for what I wanted and needed when the time came.

Surely having the confidence to assert yourself here is the key issue.

Ruth Moss // Posted 12 November 2008 at 4:58 pm

You know what Jane, I’m not totally naive, I do think that even if every woman in the UK was totally 100% supported to breastfeed…

(and by support I’m including things like higher and possibly longer SMP, additional help around the home in the early days, including extra paternity/partner leave and campaigns to get fathers/partners understanding the need to do some bloody housework, campaigns to make public breastfeeding totally acceptable including making it illegal to hassle a nursing mother in public, less sexualisation of breasts etc., more baby friendly places to go out, in addition to the physical support of highly qualified and trained specialists to Mums latch babies onto their breasts, probably using BN-type positions to avoid nipple trauma – which is really a very horrible pain – been there – and can almost always be avoided…)

… I still think there would be some women who just *hate* breastfeeding. Fair do’s. Their body, their breasts to give or refuse to their baby.

But maybe if more women breastfed for longer, and donated milk, these women’s babies could have donor milk in their bottles. Maybe some women would rail against giving their spare milk to someone who “just” hated breastfeeding, but if the support network for breastfeeding was in place, I think there would be very few women who actively chose not to breastfeed:

If you look at countries where that support network *is*, to some extent, in place (a commentor earlier mentions Germany, for example, and many Scandinavian countries have very high breastfeeding rates, as does iirc New Zealand) the vast majority of women choose to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding;

And those women that genuinely just couldn’t stomach breastfeeding, why shouldn’t those who don’t mind it, or enjoy it even (although surprisingly, you’re not really supposed to enjoy it *too* much are you? Playing the milkshake game with your toddler or asking “which side next” is very much looked upon with disdain as I’ve discovered, and this is when *I* want to say “fuck off”) give a little to those that don’t?

[Although I *hate* *hate* *hate* pumping – did it for three months when went back to work when baby was nine months – so if spare milk’s needed, I’d be much happier to give it at source! Don’t think anyone would let me though, so yes, if necessary, I would pump.]

Jane // Posted 12 November 2008 at 5:00 pm

“From day one, when I had my pregnancy confirmed, I was handed a pregnancy pack sponsored by Bounty. ”

Bounty are the Devil Incarnate! All you get is a truckload of leaflets, a few measly pence off their crappy products and EIGHTEEN YEARS OF JUNK MAIL. Give them a false address for heaven sake!

Aimee // Posted 12 November 2008 at 6:32 pm

“only pro-woman stance is to be pro-breastfeeding”

No. This is not true. This is exactly the kind of attitude that spawns hoards of midwives and doctors who bully women into breastfeeding. Coming from someone who has spent time in a labour ward crying in sheer desperation at not being able to properly feed my baby, weeping in agony at the pain of breastfeeding and at the frustration of not being able to latch on properly, at the shame of having my breasts manhandled by a tired, stroppy midwife who wants her 12 hour shift to end so she can finally go home, I consider this stance to be positively ANTI woman.

If there was a better support system in place, if midwives were not so thinly stretched and had more time for individual patients (and were perhaps in a better mood!), if women weren’t made to feel like ‘bad women’ if they choose NOT to breast feed and weren’t made to feel guilty for not being able to ‘do the best for baby’, if I wasn’t so goddamn ASHAMED of my overly sexualised breasts to the extent that I simply could not abide the thought of having to expose them to my friends, my family, the public and even the midwives, then perhaps I would have been more successful at breast feeding.

It is women who are made to feel guilty for the system that has failed them. It is women who have to sit in hospital waiting rooms covered in pictures of happy perfect mothers breastfeeding their happy, perfect babies with their perfect breasts.

The pain and anxiety caused by unsuccessful breastfeeding and the subsequent feeling of guilt exacerbated by all these factors are, in my opinion, much more detrimental to baby’s development that not breast feeding. The damage to the mother is obviously not mentioned in breast feeding literature because it’s clearly not important enough. By all means, be pro breast feeding. Do not present it as the only choice, especially when measures are not in place to ensure that every woman receives the support she needs.

Amity // Posted 12 November 2008 at 7:37 pm

Agree with Jane about Bounty. Run away…far away! There must be entire forests that are cut down to make the reams of paper they push on pregnant women and new mums, featuring crappy advertising and formula coupons.

I’d advise against giving a false address though. Just tell them you don’t want it and refuse to sign up. Nothing wrong with that!

Anna // Posted 12 November 2008 at 8:04 pm

‘In June 2004, the United States’ main regulation agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), issued a letter warning women not to take domperidone, citing unknown risks to parents and infants, and warned pharmacies that domestic sale was illegal, and that import shipments from other countries would be searched and seized. Domperidone is excreted in breast milk, and no studies on its effects on breastfeeding infants have been reported in the literature. Individual incidents of problems with the drug include cardiac arrest and arrhythmia, complications with other medications, as well as complications with improper intravenous use’

From wiki. I can get various other more reliable sources if required, I’m just lazy tonight.

More to the point, what the absolute hell? You’d put a new mother on a *dopamine antagonist*, one that is secreted in breast milk.. because she wasn’t producing enough milk to feed properly? Sweet christ.

Ailbhe // Posted 12 November 2008 at 8:42 pm

Saying that women “choose” not to breastfeed is about as meaningful as saying that Irish women in the 1950s almost all “chose” to have large families. Adequate information and technical assistance simply are not available at present; if you have current average information, your chances of naturally controlling your baby-and-breasts combo are fairly random.

Excellent information and occasional technical assistance exists, but it’s not widespread, and it’s vaguely shameful to talk about it, or coercive, or other scary things.

Great.

Kate // Posted 12 November 2008 at 8:51 pm

Abby, I never said I wished to silence you, but I did say I’m bored (which I am) with commentary here on childbirth, breastfeeding and mothering which comes almost exclusively from people who haven’t done it. Go on saying what you wish to say; I won’t read, and I won’t, I think, comment again. The F Word makes me feel my perspective as a feminist breastfeeding mother isn’t welcome; makes me feel that I have to section off being a radical queer activist from my occupation of raising a girl and a boy as best I can in the heteropatriarchy, when to me it’s my most feminist, most profound and most important act.

smallwhitecat // Posted 13 November 2008 at 3:11 pm

Those who say they are “pro-choice” re the decision to breastfeed – and no, of course I would not advocate something so utterly ludicrous as forcing mothers to breastfeed, which, apart from anything else, simply wouldn’t work – need to acknowledge that when a mother makes a choice, she is not just making it for herself. The person most affected by her decision is her baby, who doesn’t get a say. I think the language of “pro-choice” ignores this. No-one should be compelled to breastfeed if they don’t wnat to, but let’s not pretend that choice is being made in a vacuum, and there aren’t other parties affected by it.

una // Posted 13 November 2008 at 8:28 pm

there seem to be a lot of comments on here relating negative experiences of breastfeeding and for people who may be considering breastfeeding it could be very offputting.

I cant speak for anyone else but personally I found breastfeeding my children fine. Many of my friends have breastfed their children, many havent. Neither I nor any of my friends have had any problems with breastfeeding. Thats not to say that no-one has problems, a lot of women obviously do, but I think for the majority of women who decide to breastfeed it is fine, and actually an enjoyable and empowering experience.

My first child was born in hospital 6 years ago and I was the only woman in the ward breastfeeding, whenever I went to the baby clinic or for immunisations, I was the only woman breastfeeding. My second child was born last year at home, again whenever I brought her baby clinics, I would be the only one breastfeeding in a room full of women and young babies. Women often expressed surprise when seeing me breastfeeding because for many people it is an unusual sight. If health professionals really are overly pushing breastfeeding on women, then how come so few women actually breastfeed.

Ruth Moss // Posted 13 November 2008 at 8:36 pm

Anna,

Re: Domperidone

I am fully aware of the FDA’s ruling and the subsequent controversy, thank you.

And it’s rather a large controversy actually.

Domperidone was found to cause some problems ^when given *intravenously* in incredibly high doses^. Not orally, in low to medium doses.

http://www.lowmilksupply.org/domperidone-safe.shtml (fully referenced)

http://www.workandpump.com/domperidone.htm

And if you re-read my comment, I said, “if she wanted to breastfeed… would she be willing to…?” it was a question. Did she want to breastfeed? IF SO, would she consider trying X? I don’t know. The whole point I was trying to make is that we just didn’t know enough about the Mum in question, but that the blog writer made it sound like she, or the midwife involved, were somehow negligent.

To say “you’d put her on” – no, I wouldn’t put anyone on anything; I’m not a Doctor! As if! Please, re-read my post.

I wouldn’t even personally make the suggestion; I’d refer her on to someone who, *if* it was suspected she had physical problems producing a full supply, might then present that to her as an option.

But as I’ve mentioned before, physical low supply is actually fairly rare (though it does happen and there are a variety of choices for a mother to make, as I pointed out in my earlier post).

I rather resent the implication that I “would put a new mother” on anything.

And I also would like to point out that there is a community of low supply Mums out there (http://www.mobimotherhood.org/MM/default.aspx – they have a mailing list that anyone struggling with supply issues – including oversupply – can join) who are doing anything and everything they can to get what little breastmilk they have into their babies. No one has coerced them into it; they do it because they want to. Some of their stories would make you weep. And many of them take domperidone; no one has “put them” on it.

Anyway, I think finally some of us who may disagree on other matters have found some common ground in our mutual dislike of Bounty. If I ever have another baby, I’d like a home birth… not least because it would get me away from the bloody bounty photographer and their free crap and endless bloody sales phone calls!

polly styrene // Posted 16 November 2008 at 10:25 am

Lucy M

I was bottle fed. I have my blood pressure tested regularly and it’s slap bang on normal (120/70). I also don’t have diabetes. Both of these despite the fact that I AM both middle aged and overweight. Oh and I was acknowledged to be the most intelligent child by a country mile in my primary school class. So there goes the IQ theory. I had a reading age of 13 when I was 6.

Can I suggest that the ‘results’ of breast feeding you cite may equally possibly be the result of class differences between the type of people who breast feed and those who don’t. A correlation (two factors which tend to occur together) is not the same as a causal relationship (one factor directly causing another).

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