Monday, 18 February 2013
The formula for life
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