It’s Open Season on Parents

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog will know that I had a really ordinary start to parenthood and that my experience has vastly changed my perception of parenthood and how parenting ‘should be done’.

In January this year, a popular Australian television presenter made comments about a mother breastfeeding her baby in public, saying she should be more “discreet”. This was in response to the same woman contacting the media because she had been asked to go somewhere private to feed her baby, even though she was supervising older children. You can read my thoughts and links to the story in question, here.

It just seems to me, that there is no middle ground when it come to infant feeding. A good friend of mine who ended up formula feeding her daughter, after breastfeeding, said at the time of the situation mentioned above, that the same people who judge her for formula feeding are probably the same people who would have judged her for breastfeeding in public.

We know the WHO lists formula feeding as the fifth most appropriate choice for feeding infant children (but do you think I can find the article?!) after breastfeeding, expressing breast milk, wet nursing by another woman and feeding donated breast milk, however in Australia, donating and receiving donated breast milk is not common practice, nor is it easily obtainable, certainly not through medical channels.

So this leads me to this news article released today:

Warning labels on babies formula tins

Yep. I’ll let you take a few moments to digest that. If you’re like me, you’ll think that it’s a lot rich that this is being proposed. Already, the ‘Breast is Best’ information is promoted heavily in Australia. There is also information already on the tin stating that the child should be breastfed as a first priority. Formula company websites in Australia also have disclaimers that you have to read prior to clicking through to their product information. I’m a registered nurse and in my duty at work in the emergency department and even in the high dependency unit, I have helped mothers breastfeed their babies and establish their supply. I have personally given them and their partners information regarding the Australian Breastfeeding Association. However I have also been there at 3am on triage when a desperate mother is crying in front of me because “my boobs just don’t work, my baby is hungry” and have phoned the kids ward for a bottle and some formula.

My personal situation was that I breastfed for 15 months. When she was born, she had silent reflux and was medicated. She would not settle and I quite literally wore her or had her in my arms 24 hours a day. Somedays I did not eat or shower. When I would put her in the car seat, she would cry until she went to sleep while driving (which thankfully wasn’t very long into the trip).

When she was born, she was slow to gain weight. She lost more than ten percent of her birth weight in her first four days and the paediatrician advised me in the ward to “just give her formula”. My breasts were sore and bleeding. I was exhausted. I was recovering from major surgery (caesarean section). My child’s urine was concentrated, small in amount and she was so unsettled. However this suggestion was absolutely out of the question for me! Why? Because the thought of putting formula into my child was just wrong. The ‘Breast is Best’ message had been so continuously repeated to me, that I believed it. I actually risked my daughter becoming unwell because of the message.

When my milk did eventually come in, it wasn’t the ‘Holy milk ducts, Batman!’ that I had been expecting. Then her constant need to breastfeed made me feel trapped and anxious. When she wasn’t feeding, she was screaming. I would top her up with 50ml of expressed milk (which would take most of an hour to express) and then it was two hours after starting her initial breastfeed, so she’d be demanding it again. So I started taking fenugreek until I smelled liked maple syrup, in an attempt to increase my supply.

My husband, mother and father would all say to me that I should switch over to bottle feeding. They could see the physical toll that breastfeeding was taking on me. However I would say “No, breast is best” and keep on. I was one of those mothers who judged other mothers for switching over to formula feeding! I would look at my own situation and think “if I can do it, why can’t she?”

What a disgusting and shameful attitude.

Here I was struggling with (undiagnosed) PTSD and PND. I was anxious all the time. The first time I was able to leave my baby with anyone was for a couple of hours maximum when she was nearly seven months old (which also coincided with her reflux clearing up). I became a breastfeeding machine. I failed to exist as Me. I wasn’t anything but a feeder.

So this brings me back to the article today. I don’t know any mother who hasn’t agonised over switching to formula feeding. Those post birth hormones and sleep deprivation fueling her already delicate mental health, now dealing with her supposed ‘failure’ to feed her baby as nature intends it. She sees other mothers breastfeeding their babies in shopping centres and cafes. She feels the guilt of the information out there, that her baby is now more susceptible to illness an infection. More susceptible to obesity and other adult health problems. The other mothers in her mothers group saying to her to “just keep feeding and your supply will meet the demand”.

While more appropriate labels might be informative to parents and they will certainly allow them to better know what they are really feeding their child, I actually wonder about the negative connotations they will have. I honestly don’t believe that a parent who chooses to formula feed from birth or has no desire to breastfeed, that these labels will make any difference to their decision. These labels do not, in my opinion, help the confused mother who returns to work, who has to find a formula, against her best intentions, to give her baby when she has been exclusively breastfeeding from birth.

Just today, I have spoken with several friends who struggled with formula feeding their babies. Their feelings of guilt and inadequacy. As a mum who did manage to breastfeed successfully, even after our very shaky start, this makes me extremely sad. We speak about people being free to make decisions to do anything they want to do in our society, however for some bizarre reason, when it comes to parenting, it’s an open season on judging. From the moment the child is conceived, the ‘advice’ and judgment starts.

You can be the judge on this. I’ve said my piece. I would just like to see a society where mothers don’t feel judged and harassed for formula feeding their babies, regardless of the circumstances why they need to.

You can follow me on Facebook