Fiona Edwards explores why breast is not always best!
She shares her struggles as a formula feeder – and argues it’s time we changed the messaging to new mums.
Every time I opened the tin of formula, I got angrier and angrier. The words printed on the side burned through me like hot iron; ‘If you choose not to breastfeed...’ I didn’t f*cking choose it I would scream quietly. To this day, those words infuriate me.
Society today is so breastmilk led that even the mention of formula is enough to warrant opinion. The message? Breastfeeding equals success and formula equals failure. That’s pretty much the black and white of it. But what affect does societies views have on mothers, like myself, who for whatever reason don’t breastfeed? In my opinion, a scary and potentially damaging one. Why do we still feel like this in 2017?
My Baby Feeding Journey
Amongst other complications, extensive blood loss during my daughter’s emergency, C-section delivery had left me anaemic. My body was too sick to properly produce milk despite exploring every option to its fullest. From supplements to prescription medication I tried it all, however, I just couldn’t make it work and my mental health was on the brink. By 6 weeks old my daughter was fully formula fed. She’d had every drop of breast milk I could produce when my body finally said no more.
As I continued to formula feed I found myself having to defend my ‘choice’ to not breastfeed. Was I really doing such a bad thing? Was bottle feeding my daughter a terrible act of neglect? Hell no! Formula feeding is not punishment, its nourishment! Feeding my baby was the goal and whether that milk came from a tin or my breast was completely irrelevant. The problem was however, I didn’t always feel this way.
The negative messaging we receive
‘Breast is best’ is the phrase shoved down the throat of expectant mothers. When I was pregnant the option to formula feed never entered my mind. It was never spoken about and breastfeeding seemed to be the expected route for everyone; an unspoken, unwritten ‘rule’. I’d dismissed formula to the point that when it was evident my milk wasn’t coming in properly, I was distraught and consumed with guilt. Was formula feeding okay? Nobody really said I had a choice. I felt like a failure because of the messaging I had received.
Who’s to blame?
Personally, I blame what I like to call ‘The Breastmilk Mafia’. Some people, staff and organisations who message us to ‘breastfeed at all costs’ seem to do so forgetting what the act itself is for; nourishing a baby. Surely, it’s not better to see a distressed mother struggle to feed her troubled baby with her breast than to see a calm mother feed her content baby with formula? I know which one I’d pick. But the messaging isn’t on happy mums or nourished babies, the messaging remains on how baby is fed.
If the struggle is common, why is the messaging not changing?
Despite many women struggling with breastfeeding the pressure to continue can be relentless. When the health of the mother or baby is potentially at risk comes the point where we must accept breast is not best. No child should have to suffer and no mother should have to feel shame, guilt or failure because she doesn’t breastfeed.
I’m not a health professional but I am a mother of a formula fed child who is happy, healthy, smart and developing just perfectly. I’m not denying the numerous benefits of breastmilk; what I’m saying is that it’s okay to formula feed your child despite what you might hear or read. There, I said it…cue the controversy. Agree with me or not, it’s a statement I strongly stand by.
Be your own champion. If your baby is fed, you’re doing it right!
Breastmilk is always going to be the preferred option for feeding a baby but it’s not the be all and end all of baby nutrition. A healthy happy baby and a healthy happy mother should be the be all and it’s time we re-program the messaging! Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t or can’t do it. Nor should we judge others for their choices or reasons. Breast is not best; what works for mother and baby is what’s best. The sooner society drops the stigma surrounding formula and comes around to this way of thinking, the better. I welcome that day.