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Guest blog: 'Breast is Best' - has breastfeeding been oversold?

(327 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 14-Feb-13 14:15:47

Prof Joan B Wolf is the author of 'Breast Is Best?', which argues that mothers are being pressured to breastfeed for reasons that aren't, in fact, based on good evidence.

In our guest blog debate, she explains why she thinks that the science behind the 'breast is best' health claims might be fundamentally flawed. On the same page Anna Burbidge, Chair of the La Leche League, responds to some of her arguments.

Do read both, and let us know what you think. Is breastfeeding being promoted as part of "an ideology of total motherhood that stipulates that a mother can and should eliminate any risk to her children, regardless of how small or likely the risk or what the cost is to her own wellbeing in the process"? Or do you feel that, far from breastfeeding being an orthodoxy, society still feels awkward and uncomfortable about it? If you blog, don't forget to post your URLs here.

We know the breastfeeding/formula feeding thing is a hugely emotive subject on MN, as in real life, so please do remember that Mumsnet supports parents' personal choices on this issue - we're all about making lives easier. Please be kind and respectful towards those whose views or experiences differ from your own.

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 17:23:32

I've come to the conclusion that it's best to use whichever feeding method suits the particular family. Its no-one's business how a mother/parents choose to feed their baby and the judgementalness - about bf or ff - needs to be switched off somehow.

I think that in developing counties, where sterility of feeding equipment is difficult to maintain, bf is an obvious goer. But here (UK), it's more about personal choice. The baby will receive nourishment whatever way. The immunity benefits are absent with ff, but from my perspective, that's the only difference (as well as the sterility issue).

My personal feeling is that bf is oversold in the UK. If a woman wants to bf, then she should be given all the help and support available. If she chooses not to bf, then she should not be made to feel guilty. (The 'made to feel' comment is the only way I can adequately express this; it is the only way i can describe such feelings, given the overselling of bf in this country).

KatieMiddleton Thu 14-Feb-13 17:29:00

Personally I don't care how you feed but I care how you feel about it.

If you wanted to feed and didn't get enough support I care about that because that's wrong.

If you didn't want to feed and someone said or implied you are a bad or inadequate mother I care because that's wrong.

If you we're given misinformation I care because that is wrong.

I will read the blogs later, assuming the resulting bunfight hasn't melted the interweb.

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 17:30:15

And , it's interesting how opinions about vb vs cs (ELCS in particular) also can trigger a similar gulf - and extreme points of view. As in, the 'naturalness' of vb and bf are somehow associated/enmeshed and pitted against the 'unnaturalness' of cs and ff. Its as if cs+ff= bad, vb+bf=good. These are not my opinions, btw, just something I've noticed.

stargirl1701 Thu 14-Feb-13 18:08:08

YY to Plenty. I wanted to bf. I cried at every feed for 9 days post birth. On the 10th day, I was admitted to hospital with blood poisoning from infective mastitis. I kept bfing for the next 8 days while in the hospital attached to 2 IV lines.

My right nipple had a giant crack and a milk blister. The milk I was pumping out of it was green and solid like a string of spaghetti. But, I was determined. I fed from the left with a nipple shield and topped up with formula. I got home and it all fell apart. Alone (as DH back at work) bfing 30min, expressed milk top up, formula top up, then 30 min pump on the right. It took 90 min and dd was feeding every 2 hours. After 12 hours of this I gave in and ff.

I was seen by at least 50 HCPs in these 18 days. Everyone told me the latch was good. It wasn't as it fucking hurt and my nipples were shredded. It won't be a surprise to many to know that dd had a posterior tt. I was in a hospital, with a surgeon who cuts tts, and not one HCP suggested we should maybe check for that.

I have since relactated and I am managing to get a latch in the morning when dd is sleepy. I finally have some good bf memories and experiences. The assistance to do this has been from the LLL.

We don't need money in bf promotion. The vast majority of women want to bf. The money needs to be put into supporting women to bf. We need lactation consultants on wards, we need dentists and doctors able to spot and cut tts, we need RL help from community midwives in our homes in the first 2 weeks. If staffing levels were higher then there could be more support. This is where the money needs to go.

By Jove, this was epic!

Whydobabiescry Thu 14-Feb-13 18:10:45

I don't have much to add only that ff feeders are definitely seen as second class mothers by some health care professionals. This was reinforced for me today when I took my son and dd (6 months) to a sports and family event held at the leisure centre. Whilst my son was trying out netball I wandered around the various stalls getting info on toddler groups, sport for kids etc etc when I stopped for a browse at the one providing info to pregnant mothers. The lady in charge started cooing over dd and what a bonny baby she is etc, then asked me outright if I was breast feeding - why? What business is it of hers? When I said no she looked at me as though I was dirt on her shoe and turned away! This from someone who is supposed to be supporting parents - I almost felt the need to explain why I stopped bfeeding but tbh couldn't be arsed.

There are some very rude pro breast feeders who never stop to think that maybe just maybe there may be good reasons for ff, not just that mum couldn't be bothered.

reviewerofbooks Thu 14-Feb-13 18:16:37

What Joan Wolf fails to understand is that breastfeeding is massively enjoyable. We are hormonally wired to love it. It's physically and mentally relaxing, time and money saving, sensually delightful.

And breastmilk = knockout drops. I have had only one truly sleepless night while breastfeeding (when my third child had an ear infection on holiday at 5 weeks). My partner can vouch for this. Once you've got it sorted (and there is nearly always a breastfeeding solution to a breastfeeding problem) it makes life so much easier. I am far too lazy to get up in the night let alone sterilize anything.

As a mum who has breastfed three children and helped many mums to breastfeed over the past 15 years, I feel sad that so many mothers are cheated of this experience that makes a tough job (mothering) a hell of of a lot more pleasant.

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 18:42:35

^^ Just the sort of attitude I can without as a mother go chose to ff.

Please do not pity me and mothers like me because we wanted to ff our babies.

I was not cheated of the bf experience. I simply did not enjoy it. It was far from "sensually delightful" for me.

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 18:44:48

Just realised there's going to be a mahoosive bunfight; I may or may not join in

SolomanDaisy Thu 14-Feb-13 18:59:58

There's no data in Joan Wolf's post, so it's impossible to judge whether her definition of 'marginal' is the same as mine. Anna Burbridge actually cites a respectable study suggesting that Joan Wolf's arguments are bollocks.

I don't like JW saying 'the kinds of sacrifices breastfeeding demands'. What sacrifices? I don't feel like I sacrificed anything to feed my baby, it'ss easy, we enjoy it, we've all had plenty of sleep. For some women breastfeeding is hard or impossible, but to assert that it necessarily demands sacrifice is patronising to the many women who both want to and enjoy doing it. I would be interested to know her personal experiences of feeding and why she thinks they are universal.

HeyHeySaturday Thu 14-Feb-13 19:00:13

physically and mentally relaxing ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!

<leaves thread>

reviewerofbooks Thu 14-Feb-13 19:02:03

So much anger. Mothers should be supporting each other not yelling.

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 19:02:08

Ditto HeyHey

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 19:03:49

FWIW, I am very supportive of bf mothers but I feel saddened reviewer that the feeling is not reciprocated towards ff mothers (as reflected by your post).

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 19:05:58

It's more of a pity thing. Pity and patronising ... which cause the feelings of irritation.

13Iggis Thu 14-Feb-13 19:10:36

It is physically and mentally relaxing (disclaimer: FOR ME )
And gives me plenty of mumsnetting time whilst doing so.
If I'd never got past those first horrendous weeks though I would have a very different impression of bf. Nowhere near enough support was available.

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 19:14:36

I think it might be the actual feeding ofthe baby that is physically and mentally relaxing. I certainly feel this way when dd2 has her milk from her bottle.

reviewerofbooks Thu 14-Feb-13 19:18:06

When research first began to appear to indicate how damaging smoking was it was poo poohed. There are now in excess of 13,000 reliable research studies showing problems with formula-feeding. Take a look at the Unicef Baby Friendly website to see the most up to date. Mothers who believe it doesn't matter are being duped by those who are incapable of supporting them to establish breastfeeding or by those who have an interest in their not doing so.

5madthings Thu 14-Feb-13 19:19:13

It can be relaxing and enjoyable when it works.

Tbh I don't need science to tell me that human milk, tailor made for my baby is better than formula, but if bfeeding doesn't work out formula is fine.

Bfeeding didn't make me lose my individuality or stop dp from bonding with his children.

It isn't disgusting or like taking a dump in public as/has been said on here.

I think there is a problem that breast is best is pushed so much but health professionals are woefully trained when it comes to actually helping women bfeed. There is a lot of misinformation about bfeeding among drs, midwives and HV.

It needs to be personal choice and women should get the appropriate help either way breast or bottle.

reviewerofbooks Thu 14-Feb-13 19:19:37

oxytocin. it's the love hormone.

5madthings Thu 14-Feb-13 19:20:00

Bfeeding does actually produce hormones which aid sleep and are relaxing.

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 19:22:27

reviewer can you honestly not see how patronising your posts are?

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 19:23:56

And just how exactly have mothers been 'duped' with ff?

ILikeToMoveItMoveIt Thu 14-Feb-13 19:24:10

I don't quite know how to respond to this without being anecdotal.

I knew/know of all the benefits of bf'ing (for the baby and mother) but I don't really think that they are purely the reasons why I chose to bf. To me it just made sense to bf. Why would I give my child second choice when I can give it the milk that it is supposed to have? It didn't make sense to give them another mammals milk. I didn't sit there bf'ing and think 'oh, I'm giving you a few extra IQ points', or 'that has lessened my chance of ovarian cancer.'

When you do bf you also realise that it is about so much more than milk - and those things I don't think can be quantified in a scientific study.

glenthebattleostrich Thu 14-Feb-13 19:32:24

I just don't understand how people can argue that anything other than the milk designed for your baby by your body is not best.

At the end of the day, as long as you feed your child I don't really care how. Just don't sit and judge me when I feed my DD.

reviewerofbooks Thu 14-Feb-13 19:40:04

To the poster who wants to know how ff mums are being duped I suggest she read "The Politics of Breastfeeding" by Gabrielle Palmer.

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