Monday, 18 February 2013

The formula for life

Save the Children launched a report today on breastfeeding, Superfood for Babies, in their words calling the report "a global call to action to rediscover the importance of breastfeeding and to support mothers to breastfeed their babies – especially in the poorest communities in the poorest countries." Now I'm all for public health messages that ensure we're all well informed about the choices we make, but the report's recommendation that made the headlines in the UK, that there should be cigarette style health warnings on boxes of formula, made my blood boil.

Parents (that's right, parents, not just mothers, not that you'd believe it from reading the press around this that fathers are also involved in decisions about caring for their children), choose to formula feed their babies for many reasons, none of which are anyone else's business. And I just don't believe that any of those people do it because they don't want the best for their children.

What such a recommendation does is make parents feel guilty for decisions they have made when trying to do this best. That's why the breast is best slogan is wrong. Best in what way? Better than a mother so exhausted she has a breakdown? Better than infected cracked nipples? Better than slow decline into malnourishment? Better than being able to leave your baby and go out and earn a living? Sod it, who has the right to say it's even better than being able to wear an outfit with the confidence you won't leak all over it? We make decisions as individuals to suit our specific circumstances, and I just don't believe most people make decisions for anything other than the greater good of their family.

What's more, the recommendation is ridiculous. Once you have decided, or realised, that formula will be part, or whole, of your baby's diet, there is only a small window in which you can change your mind. Milk supply is difficult enough to establish in the first place, but almost impossible to re-establish. Do Save the Children really want people who stopped breastfeeding a week ago, a month ago, six months ago, to feel shit every time they give their child food?

I owe many people in the National Health Service a debt of gratitude for the care they have given me and my children. Midwives, surgeons, radiologists, fetal medicine experts, cleaners and so on. But one that sticks in my mind is the paediatrician who told me kindly when my daughter was (literally) slowly starving, that we don't actually have an obligation to breastfeed our children, but we do have an obligation to feed them. What did we do in the end? You can find the answer elsewhere on the blog. For the purposes of this post it's irrelevent. Not that you'd believe it from the headlines, or the parenting forums, but it's not us v them when it comes to breastfeeders and formula feeders. We're all parents, all muddling through, all trying our best, all hoping to keep our children safe. And fed.

Because that's the thing about formula - it feeds children safely. Contrary to popular belief, there were no halycon days in the past when all women contentedly breastfed their happy chubby babies. No, the past is littered with dead or malnourished children who may have survived had formula been on offer. Lack of milk, inability to breastfeed or circumstances that make breastfeeding difficult are not another kind of yuppy flu that only exist in modern times. They have always existed, but the outcomes were far worse than today. Cigarette style warnings Save the Children? Don't be ridiculous - bottlefeeding doesn't kill, it actually does the opposite. Sure, put large public health messages on boxes of formula, but make them accurate. 'Formula saves lives', that's what they should say.

Related post: The great unsaids - bottle feeding

Friday, 1 February 2013

What rabbits can teach us about feminism

I suspect that my children won't give two hoots about my professional life pre (or post) their existence, so they will probably never read my book, The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism (buy it here).  

Nevertheless I hope to bring them up to be feminists just by modelling what I think the key aspects of feminism are - shared domestic duties, workplace equality, economic independence (or interdependence) and having and using choice in how you live your life.

When my daughter had an operation at three months old, we needed something to do while she was in theatre. We decided to go and buy her a present for when she woke up. We went to the Build a Bear Workshop and bought her a bear. Well, a rabbit actually. You can choose a heart and kiss it and put it in the toy while making a wish. Utterly schmaltzy, I know, but it seemed appropriate at the time. For an outfit we chose doctor's scrubs, and we called it Dr Ormond after the hospital.  

Our daughter has taken an interest in Dr Ormond recently, probably because we are at our GP with the regularity a newborn with all its newborn ailments requires, so all things medical hold a fascination for her.  She has also started to get to grips with personal pronouns, again probably due to the arrival of her brother. She is exploring he and she and you and its and mostly getting it right.  

One popular test of people's gender stereotypes is the riddle that goes something like this: a father and son are in an accident and are rushed to hospital. When they arrive the surgeon takes one look at the younger man and gasps "that's my son." How can it be?  

The answer of course is that the surgeon is the boy's mother.  

Yesterday my daughter was playing with Dr Ormond and dropped him under the bed. "I dropped Dr Ormond," she said, "Where is she?" I was so proud. There's no reason for her to think doctors are men - our regular GP is a woman and her consultant is a woman. Yet still I assumed she would assume doctors are men. Turns out it doesn't matter whether my kids read my book. They don't need to.