Shelley Bridgeman’s opinion piece in the NZ Herald today “Not all families are equal” really got my blood boiling!
I must preface this with some information about me. I’m 33 weeks pregnant with our first child. I have no direct experience with breastfeeding nor parenting. My comments are based on discussions with friends and family and all the new things I’m hearing at antenatal classes and from our midwife.
Bridgeman’s article is a prime example of middle/upper class privilege gone crazy.
I’ve had many a debate with friends around the pressures of pregnancy – to breastfeed or not to breastfeed; how long to breastfeed for; how much weight they put on during pregnancy; how fast they lost it afterwards; how many stretch marks they had; how they feel about those stretch marks that are left; whether they are comfortable whipping their breast out in public; raising the ‘perfect’ child; dealing with colic, disability; whether to have a drug free birth or interventions that might be wanted/needed. Just the start of the list I’d say.
I want information about many of these topics, but I don’t want anything rammed down my throat. I have a great deal of respect for Plunket, the World Health Organisation and the Parents Centre; I also have an enormous amount of respect and time for the experiences of my friends and family.
Bridgeman is pushing her experiences down our throats in this article. She makes revolting, patronising comments about how other families raise their children and it is obvious that she is most disparaging of lower socio-economic families and mothers in developing nations. How hypocritical that she says "not all families are created equal" and then in the next breathe extols her way as the only way to go.
WHO's recommendations about breastfeeding are about the best start you can give children, the milk that comes from women is a very nourishing, complete food and I would suggest from the women I know that not breastfeeding has more to do with issues they might have (infection, pain, latching problems etc) rather than some upper class notion that they will need breast surgery afterwards or can't find good quality water in which to mix formula.
The author’s focus on the superficial issues with breastfeeding shows that Bridgeman and her peers need just as much advice as the lower class and developing nations – just maybe they need advice about body acceptance, the way advertisers manipulate our environment and they desperately need some assistance being empathetic to others’ lives.
I have reliable anecdotal evidence that there exists a small and privileged sector of society for whom the act of breast-feeding leads to the acquisition of breast implants a few years later. WHO's recommendations, while a godsend for women in developing countries, aren't doing their counterparts in Remuera and Herne Bay any favours by inadvertently leading some of them to undergo major surgical intervention in order to remedy their dissatisfaction in their post-feeding breasts.
She continues to say “Once the risks and costs of surgery are factored in, bottle feeding would seem a no-brainer for this particular subset of women.” So, her needs come first and she feels validated by other peers saying that they too have put themselves before their children. I’m not sure she read WHO’s 10 facts on breastfeeding in much depth. Colostrum contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses, later in life it is shown the breastfed babies have lower blood pressure, lower rates of overweight, obesity and type-2 diabetes; and for the mother it reduces the risks of breast and ovarian cancer, helps a return to pre-pregnancy weight faster, and lowers obesity rates.
It’s not stacking up as a no-brainer for me yet when breast surgery costs thousands of dollars and has a heck of a lot of risks. It seems to me after my little bit of research that we could be saving thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in health care costs over a child’s lifetime if they get at least a little breast milk. Plus, there are benefits for the mother, one of them is even superficial about getting back to a pre-pregnancy weight.
I won’t really get into the ‘flat head syndrome’ – I’ve heard many theories – that babies spend too much time in car seats (as many of them now clip into pram bases); that sometimes they just come out with some flat bits on their head ... oh hang on, do I really care if my baby has a flat piece or two on its head but its healthy and happy? No I don’t! If that’s all the Bridgeman family has to worry about then aren’t they lucky!
Bridgeman decided that we all needed to hear the superficial reasons why she didn’t breastfeed when she could have taken the opportunity to give some information from some experts and her friends and family about how they navigated the amount of information about how to care for their infant.