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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 19:41:08

I'm off for a brew and I'm going to hide this thread now. It's useless trying to explain.

reviewerofbooks Thu 14-Feb-13 19:42:58

Not patronising, just well informed and very experienced.

Andcake Thu 14-Feb-13 19:45:42

I think the whole debate really does women no favours making many women feel guilty. Nearly everyone I knew bf but after ds loosing 14% of birth weight countless hcp and a tube down his nose ( heartbreakinf) feeding ebm back in hospital for 4 days we gradually moved on to ff after months of exclusively expressing. Latch described as good and I had lots of milk, no apparent tt. Bf was a battle and did not help me bond with baby and expressing ment i couldnt spend time cuddling him as much making me v sad.

Many women start bf because they know 'breast is best' but fail due to this being a shallow message not backed up by support and medical expertise for things like tt. I was one of the last of my friends to have a baby and despite pre natal bf courses etc ( nct idealistic and useless in retrospect) failed and feel like a bad mother. MAny ff have to make peace with their failure. For me the feeding debate just feels like women turning against each other and being bitchy rather than supportive of each other. Ff is not always a choice. In fact I can't see why any woman would.

But I have to agree with another poster to say that more people on mumsnet have made me feel bad about my situation than in rl. I feel horrible if I have to ff in public and never did trying to bf even when ds was screaming nd hitting me as he hated it that much. My first weeks with ds will be marred by my feeling of failing to bf for life.

MolotovCocktail Thu 14-Feb-13 19:47:55

I'm still finding your posts incredibly patronising. By saying you're experienced, you're assuming that me, and mothers like me, are not.


reviewerofbooks Thu 14-Feb-13 19:53:01

Mothers are being failed by a system (and a society) that is often inadequate to support them to breastfeed but that is a reason for women to be angry with the system and not with those who are sharing how important breastfeeding is. There is support available from the breastfeeding charities, mthers who understand breastfeeding, and a wealth of reliable publications available from organisations like La Leche League.

reviewerofbooks Thu 14-Feb-13 19:58:03

@Molotov cocktail
No I am just standing by my convictions. I have breastfed for years and years and have been a counsellor for a long time too, Every mother is the expert on her own baby and I am in no way saying I am a better mother. There is far far more to being a good mother than breastfeeding.

Wowserz129 Thu 14-Feb-13 19:58:15

Oh for heavens sake of course

ScillyCow Thu 14-Feb-13 20:00:36

I am so glad I had excellent breastfeeding support.

My DTs thrived on breastmilk and I loved the closeness of breastfeeding. It is not the same as bottlefeeding.

How can breastfeeding (the natural baby food that babies have thrived on for thousands of years) be compared to bottlefeeding with formula,devised by commercial compaies to make money.

You can choose to feed your baby however you like, but I definitely feel I chose the best for my babies.

Wowserz129 Thu 14-Feb-13 20:01:54

Oh for heaven sake of course breast is best! It's a natural milk so common sense tells you it's better than formula which is a copycat. I don't care whether people FF or BF but don't understand how people can think formula is better for baby than bm although both the bf and ff baby will grow into healthy adults in most cases!

HoleyGhost Thu 14-Feb-13 20:12:22

Formula can be better for the baby if they are failing to thrive on breastmilk or if breastfeeding is making the baby's mother unhappy or ill.

Breastfeeding is not best for eveyone and it is oversold.

bemybebe Thu 14-Feb-13 20:16:03

I don't care what others do. My NCT/MN buddies ff and bf for their own unique reasons. What I do is none of others' business.

The type of comments "you can still retain an identity as an individual" make me think the person has no braincells present.

HoleyGhost Thu 14-Feb-13 20:23:18

If you found breastfeeding easy and enjoyable - bully for you. It is clearly not the case for all mothers.

 breastfeeding and bottle feeding involve risks and benefits and that these must be weighed in individual context

This. Not the nonsense at antenatal classes of risks associated with breastfeeding being dismissed.

StuntNun Thu 14-Feb-13 20:25:47

I am currently bfing and having some problems with oversupply so I have been block feeding (where you only feed from one side at a time, switching every few hours). I described this to my mum and she was astounded. She is a Health Visitor with 30 years experience, breastfed her own children, has attended every breastfeeding course she has been offered through her career and she had never even heard of such a thing. Heath Visitors and Midwives are often the first port of call with breastfeeding issues but they don't always have the knowledge to be able to help.

So breastfeeding is being promoted but not effectively supported.

ScillyCow Thu 14-Feb-13 20:26:14

I didn't find breastfeeding twins easy or enjoyable at all at first. But I persisted because I believe it was best for my babies.

And I am glad I did. I understand why some mothers need to feel bottlefeeding is as good, but I don't believe it is.

MmeLindor Thu 14-Feb-13 20:33:45

You may think you are being helpful, but if that is the kind of things that you say to struggling mums who are having trouble establishing BFing then, I am sorry, but you are part of the problem.

Telling me that FFing is bad for my baby is not going to help if I truly can't BF. I know this is the point where you come back and say, that if I had had the necessary support, I would have managed. Maybe so, but I am not going to have another child, so we will just have to suppose that.

Some women don't manage to BF, even with the lots of support. And now you have planted this 'FFing is bad for your baby' and compared it to smoking. How does that make that new mum feel?

Don't you see how damaging that is?

I agree with Brighton - BFing should be seen as the norm, with FFing totally acceptable alternative.

I also agree that spending money on promotion is false, and that we should spend that money on actual support.

batfuttocks Thu 14-Feb-13 20:33:55

They don't. They simply didn't have as positive an experience as you may have.

I don't understand why it is so hard for mothers who have enjoyed bf and felt the benefits of it to appreciate that for others, it is an awful experience.

Fwiw, I have had both experiences. Hideous bf experience with poor latch, no support and milk never coming in. And a second child that made me go "ooh, so THAT'S what it's supposed to be like".

I am having a third: rather like childbirth, I intend to give the natural way a good try and if it ends up being hellish, will go for whatever allows my baby AND I, and my existing family, the best overall chance at a happy ongoing existence.

Encourage and support bf, yes. Give us access to experts - definitely. But if it still goes tits up, let us bottle feed without being judged by those who have never walked a mile in our shoes.

amillionyears Thu 14-Feb-13 20:35:02

Agree with Tee.
An issue on MN.
Not so much elsewhere.

MmeLindor Thu 14-Feb-13 20:35:57

Also - someone mentioned the different rates of BFing in Germany. I would say it was much more socially acceptable to BF a baby in public there than here in UK. I have never heard of a woman being asked not to BF in a cafe, or being tutted at etc

ScillyCow Thu 14-Feb-13 20:38:05

I don't disagree, batfuttocks. For me, it was 1 1/2 - 2 hourly feeding for four months, mastitis, thrush. A nightmare. But I did keep gong. I have walked a mile in the shoes of those who found it really hard - I did too.

I am still glad I persisted.

Titchyboomboom Thu 14-Feb-13 20:38:56

For me, breast feeding my 2 year old dd, I love breast feeding. There were stressful times but it works for me, and my sister does it too. My other sister however never considered it...

So, which is best? The one where you stay sane!!!

batfuttocks Thu 14-Feb-13 20:39:51

Scilly: when YOU persisted, it turned out ok for you. That's not a universal thing. You didn't try harder than the next person. You didn't walk a mile in my shoes - how can you possibly know all the factors that influence a decision?

ScillyCow Thu 14-Feb-13 20:41:47

I can't.

I only know that I am glad I had good support. I was also very determined.

I didn't walk a mile in your shoes - and you didn't walk a mile in mine.

So you can be happy that you made the right choice for you and your babies - and I can be happy that I made the right choice for mine.

MmeLindor Thu 14-Feb-13 20:44:19

I am glad that you had the support and the strength to carry on. I didn't. Not everyone has that strength.

No one is saying formula is as good as breastmilk - I think we can all agree on that being a given.

reviewerofbooks Thu 14-Feb-13 20:45:43

I certainly didn't find breastfeeding easy. I had a very difficult four months with my first.

I don't judge other mothers. My own mothering is far from perfect.

This is a public forum and I am not offering support here. I am stating what I think .

batfuttocks Thu 14-Feb-13 20:46:15

Listen: i am genuinely glad it worked out for you. I'm quite determined too and would hazard a guess that many "failed" breast feeders are too, and equally feel they made the right choice for their babies.

All I ask is that you don't think your hard experience, and subsequent happy ending, means everyone else would have the same experience. You simply don't know and therefore it is not helpful to suggest that you do.

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