Ever heard complaints about how much pressure there is to breastfeed? You know, the midwife who made a mother put her baby to the boob against her will, or the child health nurse who pushed a woman to keep breastfeeding even when she was struggling and her baby wasn’t putting on weight? I think stats show this to be more of a myth than reality. Only 18 per cent of Australian women are actually exclusively breastfeeding their babies at six months of age. As an ABA counsellor and lactation consultant on the breastfeeding frontline, the stories I constantly hear from mums are quite different – the midwife who says ‘a little bit of formula won’t hurt’, or the child health nurse who isn’t happy with adequate weight gains and suggests beefing baby up artificially with top-ups. Really, when you look at it, society is actually pressuring women to bottle-feed, not breastfeed. And it’s winning.
Bottles and formula are everywhere. In your junk mail catalogues, and on TV. A bottle is often used as a symbol for babyhood in books, on greeting cards, newborn hampers, even on the doors of baby change rooms in shopping centres — no wonder a bottle is the first thing that springs to mind any time a feeding issue is raised. The marketers of formula, bottles and teats must be rubbing their hands together in glee. They have also managed to spread the ‘guilt’ message far and wide. Mention any sort of breastfeeding malady – from mastitis, to supply struggles, to cracked nipples, and friends and family (and the media!) are very quick to say – ‘Oh well, you tried your best, don’t feel guilty if you have to put him on the bottle’. Huh? Surely, more supportive of the mum would be to say ‘Have you called the Breastfeeding Helpline? Or, ‘I know this great lactation consultant’, or even offering to drop in a frozen dinner, look after the other kids for her or drive her to the local hospital breastfeeding clinic.
It stings even more when it’s the people closest to us challenging us instead of cheering us on. ‘I was blessed with two babies who woke 6-10 times a night for the first six months,’ one mum told me. Needless to say her other half compared his children to colleagues’ bottle-fed babies who happened to sleep much better and “frequently suggested formula and bottle-feeding during the first year.” Just what she didn’t want to hear. Another mum I know felt let down by her own mother, who told her in pregnancy ‘I wouldn't be able to breastfeed because she and my sister couldn't and therefore I shouldn't even try.’ Or the uniformed but well-meaning dad, who rushed out to buy formula when his partner developed mastitis. ‘He thought it was the done thing as his sister had stopped breastfeeding when she had mastitis.’
Breastfeeding is often laid to blame when babies are just being babies or mothers aren’t coping with mothering. Yes, sometimes babies don’t put on enough weight, are unsettled, have reflux, colic or wind. Sometimes their mums have to take drugs for hayfever, develop post-natal depression, breast infections or don’t eat properly and get run down. These things happen to all mums and bubs, not just breastfeeding ones. Let’s get past all this bottle-is-the-solution mentality and care, support and help our mummy friends to breastfeed. We owe them that.