There are many advantages to breastfeeding. The World Health Organisation so strongly recommends it that in NZ, and many other countries, it is actually illegal to actively advertise or promote formula feeding to babies under 6 months of age. Breastmilk is generally accepted as the “perfect” baby food to about the 8 month mark when
Before Wriggly arrived I had already decided that I would be doing the breast thing, unless there was a good reason to go the formula route. Then we had all sorts of troubles, and on my part rather a lot of pain. Tubes, bottles, breast pumps, nipple shields, formula mixes and various creams all became a part of my life. For some odd reason, that I still don’t really understand, I persevered despite blocked milk ducts and a bathtub full of tears, and slowly the pain subsided. Now it seems very easy and convenient, but if you’d asked me a few months ago I would have had quite a different opinion of “the most natural thing in the world.”
Part of my frustration was the lack of support offered by my Lead Maternity Carer. I had fantastic help from the hospital midwives, who were caring and pragmatic. After five days under their tuition it was a shock to be home with the training wheels off and an independent midwife who seemed to be instructing me to ride around in ever decreasing circles. With no lactation consultants available until February at the hospital or Birthcare we headed to a Plunket Family Centre for wonderful practical support, which slowly turned things around.
My experience is not universal. I have friends and whanau who have turned to the bottle, from the birth, after trying breastfeeding for a few days or weeks, or when baby is a few months old. In my parenting class probably half of the women attending were bottle-feeding their babies with formula, and I’m glad that no one in our group* looked askance at them for bringing out the plastic.
I don’t understand why there is such disapproval when women take advantage of the scientific and social advances we have made. Formula, caesarean, fathers as primary caregivers (and mothers who go back to paid work) all have their stern detractors, many of whom aren’t afraid to share their pronouncements about other people’s lives. But without formula women and their babies would be worse off. Yes we got by without it for thousands and thousands of years, but that was when women were chained to their children, lived in communities where wet nursing was possible, and died from mastitis. Breast may be an A+, but formula is a perfectly good A, not an F.
Conversely I know of women still breastfeeding as they approach the one year mark, despite the public disapproval. Anyone who thinks women should be confined to the private sphere, and have no part to play in debating points of policy or practice, has clearly not encountered the political minefield of motherhood.
Those who end up relying on formula are not lesser Mums and they have not failed. Breastfeeding is only best if it works for both baby and mother. As with choices about whether or not to have a baby in the first place, I trust my fellow XXers to make the decision that works best for them and for their family.
* Including the Plunket nurse who ran the classes. To date I’ve encountered five different Plunket nurses (one of whom is a relative), and all of them have been pragmatic about formula. However I have friends who have not had such a supportive response from Plunket nurses in their area, which is a shame.