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.

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11 thoughts on “It’s Open Season on Parents

  1. I won’t be flaming 🙂 I absolutely agree. Warning labels on tins where will it end? A woman’s right to control her own body should extend to her right to not breastfeed if she chooses not to. Not to mention all the mothers who want to breastfeed but can’t, and who are feeling quite enough guilt already.

    • Thanks 🙂 I think the feminist angle really rings true for me too. We definitely should know the benefits, however if a woman chooses not to breastfeed then that’s ok too. I’m honestly so deeply sad for all of my friends who have been through and are going through the guilt of not breastfeeding. For whatever reason their babies were bottle fed. They are all wonderful mamas.

  2. Well said, Clair. I was on the opposite end of the spectrum where my baby lost 13% of her body weight, has shocking reflux, and was put in the special care nursery with an NG tube. All I wanted to do was feed her a bottle and they kept pushing the breast on me. I breast fed for as long as I could, but always topped it up with formula. I was just so frightened of her failing to thrive that, truly, I thought formula feeding was best. Eventually, I did that exclusively. And she ended up very happy and healthy, as a result! Yet I am still made to feel like a bad mother for making that choice. Hey, fuck it, she’s alive! That’s what matters to me.

  3. my Ali was ng fed ebm for his first 8 weeks after being born 11 prem. my milk dried up, I went onto medication to bring it back, I spent all of my time on the pump instead of spending time with him. but it felt like it was for nothing, the nurses where adding fortifiers to my milk as he was losing weight. and starting at 2lb 2, he didn’t have alot to lose!
    he managed to latch on once and it was so much effort for him he fell asleep.
    I made the agonising decision to swap to formula. I cried so much about this.
    he was put on nutriprem, basically a proteinshake formula for preterm and underweight babies. he started gaining weight and thrived infront of our eyes. he came home from the hospital a week later!
    with my youngest, I tried so hard to bf, but he couldn’t latch and I was in so much pain.
    I changed to ff and again it went so well.
    I’m totally prochoice. as long as mum and baby are happy then I don’t think it matters.
    I just wish the ‘breastfeeding Nazis’ would get off their high horses and cut us ff mums a break.
    it’s a bit like the natural vs c section birth debate. the ‘natural’ mum’s think they are superior to section mums.
    but that’s a rant for another day!!!

    • I’m so sorry that when Ali was born you had all of your feeding issues to cope with on top. It shouldn’t be a guilt thing, because the decision was taken off your hands. However I know that you’re a wonderful mum & do the absolute best by both of your boys so I can understand your anguish & sadness.

      I truly truly believe that if you can BF, then that’s awesome, but it’s not the end of the world if you can’t. Not when you’re spending so much time worrying about expressing & supply & how many millilitres or ounces you can get out, at the expense of actually spending time enjoying your tiny baby xx

  4. Pingback: Brain Freeze | Evie Meeny Miney Mo

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