Breast vs Bottle. Lets move on?

Breast versus bottle – the age old debate. Is it not time to move on?

There is a clear body of research that suggests that breastfeeding is better for the mother and her baby.  While there are flaws in much of this research and ethical considerations make establishing the true benefits of breastfeeding impossible (basically you cannot take a randomised sample and construct control groups as you would need to conduct a scientifically robust analysis), I am not trying to dismiss the evidence in favour of breastfeeding. But, and this is a very, very big but, even if you buy into this, it does not mean breastfeeding is right for everyone.

The fact is many of our generation were bottle fed formula as babies. My husband was one of them. Admittedly one person is a relatively small sample, but I can assure you he is a well adjusted, healthy, happy and successful individual. He is able to string whole sentences together, he doesn’t put his clothes on back to front in the morning and he certainly hasn’t grown a third eye as a result of being formula fed.

I am obviously being slightly facetious. But It is for a good reason.  Mothers who do not breastfeed are often made to feel guilty about what could either be a choice or a necessity. And it is not ok. I will never forget watching my big sister torture herself about her struggles with breastfeeding. She tried, my god did she try, and it tore her up that it did not work. Were her two daughters healthy happy babies. Absolutely. Was (and does she continue to be) an amazing mother to those two little girls? Absolutely. Do they know how loved they are? Absolutely. Does she have a strong bond with her wonderful daughters. Stronger than titanium. So where is the problem?

In my view the problem is that my sister spent her first few weeks with each of her newborns tearing herself apart about breastfeeding. Let’s face it, when you have a baby you are exhausted, your hormones are running wild, you are digesting one of the most extraordinary experiences in life. This is not the time to torture yourself with something, that yes, is great if it works, but frankly not the end of the world if it doesn’t.

Before I had my first baby I had three key experiences that shaped my view of breastfeeding:

  1. First, I got to watch my niece grow up to be an adorable, kind, healthy two year old (on formula).
  2. Second, I had a fantastic conversation with a cousin and her best friend a few months before I gave birth.  My cousin was exclusively breastfeeding while her friend had actively chosen to use formula with her children from day one.  They talked openly and frankly about their choices and the pros and cons.  It was invaluable to me as a slightly nervous first time mum-to-be.
  3. Third, my husband and I watched two close friends dealing with a baby with severe reflux, to the point where getting any milk of any type via any method into their baby was a struggle and constant source of concern.  Any milk he did take and keep down was considered a huge success (this puts the breast vs bottle debate very keenly into perspective).

These experiences had a massive impact on me, and allowed me to approach breastfeeding with a very open and (I think) healthy attitude.  I was going to try, and see what happened. In the end I breastfed my three for the first four months before weaning them on to formula.

My decision to move the three of them on to formula at that point was largely determined by my experience with my first.  After four months of breastfeeding I was desperate to be able to let someone else feed my daughter so I could have a chunk of time to myself.  I remember the first day we started weaning.  It was a saturday.  I fed my daughter at 7 am as usual, I then showered and got ready and left the house.  I walked out with just a small bag over my shoulder (admittedly I did find a stowaway dummy in my pocket mid-morning, but still it was progress).

I did not have to be back until 2pm.  I had a whole morning to myself.  All to myself.  The sense of freedom was amazing.  I still remember it so clearly even now, nearly six years later.  And I know my husband loved having some time with our daughter all to himself, being responsible for feeding her and caring for her without having to pass her back to me after an hour.

Now I do not want you to think that I am anti-breastfeeding. That is not my point at all. I am, however, anti people judging and belittling others (particularly new parents) for their choices. Leave them alone! I have said it before and I will say it again, stop judging and just support each other.

The choice to breastfeed or use formula is not anyone else’s business but yours. It is not a choice that harms your child. As such it is not something that anyone has a right to intervene in. Anyone at all. Not family, not friends, not midwives, not health visitors, and most certainly not men (frankly unless you have actually experienced breastfeeding, pipe down).  Breastfeeding should not be prioritised over the physical and emotional well-being of the mother.  She counts too. She is not just a provider of milk. She is a person. A person dealing with a lot and in need of understanding, reassurance and love.

My friend Caroline (a fierce proponent for breastfeeding) I think is on the right track. Her view is that there should be more support for women trying to breastfeed and education around the benefits (both financial and health). And I agree with her. Where I feel however we are going wrong is placing too much emphasis on what women “should” or “must” do.

Provide the information and support but then let that woman and her partner choose what works best for them and their family. Support should be there for women who are trying to breastfeed, but that support
should also be ready to acknowledge when breastfeeding is not working for the mother and/or baby.  And
support should also be provided to those seeking to bottle feed.

This tolerance and understanding should also extend to mothers that choose to breastfeed their child much longer than average.  I openly confess to being one of those women that looks at a mother breastfeeding her toddler with slight horror and incomprehension (frankly I blame Little Britain for this).  And I apologise.  As this again is this mother’s choice, and should be respected as such.  

We all have our views and there is sometimes an instinctive negative reaction to those doing things differently.  But stop for one second and think.  Take that look off your face and smile, yes, smile at the mother exercising her free choice.  Because, in a world where so many women’s ability to choose how they live is severely restricted, that is definitely something to smile about.  

Useful links:

Breastfeeding support:

NHS

The Breastfeeding Network

The Breastfeeding Helpline

Bottle feeding support:

NHS

National Childcare Trust (NCT)

2 Comments
  • Joana at Mind The Mummy
    Posted at 15:32h, 21 April Reply

    I love this post. I wrote something about it recently as I felt the exact same way about the pressures and the judgement. Will message it through x

    • Iona
      Posted at 20:12h, 21 April Reply

      Thank you! We mums have to stick together! #nomorejudgement X

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