Read all about it

I can’t believe my family and I are in the Daily Mail today! If you’ve found me here as a result of that, then welcome.

What I’m trying to do is provoke a sensible debate about the insane pressure and, at its worst, bullying, many new mums face over breastfeeding even when:

a) it’s not working

b) their own health is at risk

c) they simply don’t want to.

I’m not anti-breastfeeding by any means, but I am pro-common sense, and that seems to go out of the window all too often as soon as a nipple enters the equation.

If you’ve got a few minutes, get a cuppa and scroll through this blog and/or buy the book (which obviously would be pretty damned awesome of you) – ¬†you’ll find lots and lots of stories from women who were treated like shit because of breastfeeding. It makes me so mad. I think it’s about time we all chilled out a bit and helped each other out rather than refusing to accept that sometimes nature has other ideas.

We could start by no longer going on about “failure” and “giving up” when we talk about bottle feeding. Surely what we actually mean is “got on with the very important job of feeding our newborns, however that may be” – right?

I’m really chuffed that this subject is getting the coverage I think it deserves, even though it’s pretty weird to have my face all over it. By the way, I promise I don’t usually sit around in heels, full make up and a brightly coloured wrap dress in the middle of winter while I’m at home looking after my toddler.

I’m not that bonkers.

No, Formula milk is not like cigarettes

Do I really have to write this post?

Apparently I do. Today, a children’s charity, in its wisdom, has declared that Formula milk should be plastered with “cigarette-style” warnings that “breast is best”. It must be true – it says so in the Daily Mail.

I cannot imagine how devastated I would have been to have seen such a thing when I was desperately trying to feed a hungry newborn and had no breast milk worth writing home about. And I’m sure all the anxious parents pacing the corridors of the Neonatal Intensive Care Units around the world would feel amazing too about seeing that being given to their tiny little ones as they clung to life.

And what form should these “warnings” take? The report is a little, um, vague. Are we talking photos? Of what? Take your pick – some people will have you believe Formula is responsible for every single ill imaginable.

Here’s Dr Sue Battersby, a retired midwife and lecturer, specifically on the subject of childhood diabetes, in my book (what do you mean you haven’t bought it yet? ūüėČ )

“We know that the number of young children getting diabetes has increased. Diabetes is an auto-immune disease and exposure to cow’s milk (on which most formulas are based) can contribute to the body getting auto-immune failure… but you need pre-disposition too. You can’t say being breastfed will stop you from getting it or being formula fed will give it to you.”

And here’s another quote, from an academic called Dr Joan B Wolf, also in my book:

“We know there are antibodies in (breast) milk, we know they line the baby’s gut and fight bacteria. But we don’t have any evidence that they go anywhere else in the body. Are they ultimately excreted along with everything else?”

According to Cancer Research UK, smoking is the cause of 86% of lung cancer deaths in the UK and 25% of cancer deaths over all. Did anyone think to check whether or not these poor people also had the so-called “misfortune” to be bottle fed? Ah but what if you were breastfed and your parents smoked? Or you were bottle-fed and you smoked but lived to be 102? Did you grow up in an urban or rural environment? Were you exposed to asbestos? What’s in your DNA? You see – there are a million and one factors that come into play when you start to think about it.

I hope it goes without saying by the way that I am not anti-breastfeeding. I am just fed up with the demonisation of mothers who, for whatever reason, opt out. I’d be interested to see some properly researched statistics on the number of babies who are admitted to hospital dehydrated and under-nourished (I know of dozens, anecdotally) because of the incredible pressure to breastfeed in cases when anybody with half a brain cell can see that it isn’t actually working.

And plastering disapproval all over the one product available to avoid all that is not, in my view, particularly helpful.

UPDATE: Thanks to mssres on Twitter for sending me this interesting breakdown of the headline figure in the report which is that “95 babies an hour” could be saved by colostrum (the very early milk).

Obviously as the report itself claims, newborn mortality varies from country to country. But check Fullfact.org’s final paragraph:

Even in terms of these neonatal deaths, data from the Office for National Statistics show that in the UK 85.9% in 2011 were related to events occurring before the actual birth like congenital anomalies, antepartum infections and immaturity related conditions. None of these could have been prevented by breastfeeding. 

Well said.