Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Brainwashed by the breastapo

Let's get one thing straight.  Breast is not "best".  Breast is "better".  Unless you think there are more than two options for feeding a new born of course.  Pate de foie gras?  Chicken biryani?  Steak and kidney pudding?

I have breastfed all of my children.  I did it because I believed, as I still do, that it is better for them and for me.  L, A and S consumed nothing but breast milk for the World Health Authority's recommended six months and beyond that they had it combined with food.   It was good for them. They grew and thrived and enjoyed it. 

But M, who is now four months, is different.  He is, clearly, enjoying it, and he is, equally clearly, thriving and developing.  But he is still not, really, growing.  At 19 weeks he's now about twelve pounds (I think), which is significantly smaller than a friend of mine's (admittedly very large) four week old.

He has, thus far, had nothing but breast milk.  And if I want him to put on lots of weight, which he is not at the moment, there is an obvious plan of action.  I can see it.  I can virtually smell it (unpleasant isn't it?). Formula.  Formula fed babies tend to put on weight quicker. They tend to be bigger.  They tend, let's face it, not all to grow up to be psychopathic killers.

But I can't do it.  I have been brainwashed.

I know, logically, that formula is fine. I have many friends who have either never breast fed, for whatever reason, or who have, again for multiple reasons, moved onto formula before weaning.  Their children are all just as exasperatingly,  infuriatingly, lovingly, brilliant as mine (well, not as mine, but as most other people's anyway...).   I also live in a country where I am fortunate enough to have clean water with which to make up my bottles.  Formula is not going to damage my baby.  I know this.

But I don't feel it.  And what's weird is clearly nor do the health visitors.  I think part of this is that although M is small we are not, now, worried about him. He is growing - just not as quickly as most other babies - and  he is tracking the bottom line on the authoritarian charts. He is doing all the things a baby of his age should do and he is happy and smiley with it.  But while no one is worried, we are all agreed that it would be nice if he were a bit fatter.  Yet when I wondered out loud about formula, I was met with looks of horror.

What is that about?  How did we all get so scared of something which, let's face it, the majority of mothers in this country use from birth?   How have we, intelligent women all, become so brainwashed?

How did I allow myself to get to the point where I feel that if I introduce a bottle, I will have failed. I will be that dread being, the bad mother?  And how is it that I know I am not alone in feeling like this?  Why am I ashamed by the thought of giving my baby a bottle in public?  Why is it that I know if I were to do so, I would be judged, and found wanting?  And, most importantly, how does that help the breast feeding campaign? Is this really what they would want?  How is that better for mothers or babies?

I know that formula is not going to hurt my baby, and I also know that if I choose to give it to him it will be for all the right reasons.  Surely that decision, whether made by me or any other mother, should be praised and not condemned.

There is, here, an added level, perhaps.  For me, dealing with three other young and demanding children, the time I spend on the sofa or in bed, M on the breast, secure in a bubble of us, is the best and most focused time I can give him.  He doesn't get much of me and this is something that I can do for and with him, and for him alone.  More than that, it is something that only I can do.  No-one else can (given the lack of wet nurses in the Yellow Pages) do this for my baby.  That feels very important.  I feel, somewhere visceral (or possibly mammarian) that I need M, in years to come, to know that I did this for him, that I loved him as much as his sisters.

But that's stupid isn't it? Because loving him as much doesn't mean treating him in exactly the same way. If formula is right for him then giving it to him is as much an act of love as breast-feeding him currently feels.

So I know all this.  I really do.  But despite that for the moment I'm going to hang on to my time with my tiny boy, and the experience that only we can share.  It just feels, perhaps against logic, right for us. Maybe I really have been brainwashed.


  1. I've been following your blog for a while now, but never felt the urge to comment (being a very new mum I haven't really felt qualified to offer an opinion!), until I read this post on breastfeeding.
    Like you, I was pretty relaxed (some might say ambivalent) about breastfeeding before the birth of my son, four months ago. I refused to get all worked up about it, on the off chance that it just didn't work out for me as it hasn't for so many others I know. But it did. Really well. And I know how lucky I am to have a baby that latched on well from the start, seems to enjoy it, and that I have lots of milk to meet his greedy little demands.
    But I am torn. I want a little bit of my life back and always planned on weaning my son on to formula after three months, but he's four months now and I can't bring myself to do it. I too have been brainwashed and feel a certain amount of pride and pleasure in having exclusively breastfed my baby since birth. Which is ridiculous because I know that he would be no less happy or healthy for having been formula fed - as many of my friends beautiful babies stand as testament to.
    What happened to the rational pregnant chick who quite rightly maintained that it wouldn't matter HOW her baby was fed, provided it was fed and loved provided for in all other ways?
    I have a horrible feeling I've lost her amongst the piles of baby books and NHS guides I've amassed, extolling the virtues of Breastfeeding above all else.
    That and the madness induced by long-term sleep deprivation of course...

  2. Number 1 was mix fed from 4 months, and am attempting to do the same with number 2. As you know they are both social misfits and doomed to a life of disappointment. ;-) Don't beat yourself up, you'll make the right decision, whichever way.

  3. I mixed fed Luke from a quite a young age - I did all my normal breast feeds and then some additional bottle ones. That meants I knew I was doing the best I could for him and he could the extra he needed as well. Worked well for me. The other 2 were exclusively breast fed.

    It is hard because you think you make the best decisions for your children and that you think that exclusive breast feeding is best. I rationalised it to myself as being I make the best decision for each individual child. What is best for one is not necessarily the best for the others. For Luke it was best to feed him formula and breast milk. So that is how it was.

    Good luck with it, and listen to your own instincts rather than what everyone else is saying (or what you think others will think). He's your baby. You do know what is best for him.

    Big hugs. xxxxxxx

  4. Mixed feeding is breastfeeding, surely. They're still getting all those antibodies. They're still getting the one-on-one time.

    I totally understand the need to prove you are treating him the same way as his sisters. Oh yes. And soon he'll be able to say "it's not fair", which will make it worse! The only answer to that conundrum is to have an only child, and I'm afraid you've blown that one already.

    With my oldest, now 14, we were encouraged to get them onto bottles. Seems strange looking back. We were weaning them onto first foods at 4 months, and no-one, as far as I know, no-one used breast milk to mix up those veggies or baby rice. (Only hospitals had breast pumps - nobody had them at home.) Knowing that you were going to be using formula at 4 months made it less of an evil entity. I remember my health visitor encouraging me to get my baby used to a bottle before 6 weeks, even if only with water in it, on the basis that if you don't get them used to the feel of a bottle early, then you can have real problems getting them to take one at all (I didn't, and I did).

    And guess what? Most 14 year olds are perfectly healthy! But yes, it's very hard to make decisions outside the prevailing wisdom.

  5. Well, it turns out I overestimated - he's 20 weeks today and we are just back from the health visitors where he is weighing in at 11lb 10oz. Or not very much.

    They're going to discuss it and let me know... I will let you know...

    But I think it really comes down to whether a) I actually want to put him on to formula and b) whether it's actually necessary. I'm relying (perhaps foolishly) on them for the latter (although I sort of don't feel it is - if he were hungry, I would, but he's not) and on the former, I just have to work out why it is that I don't really want to - is it pride? Brainwashing? Or reluctance to do extra washing up....?

    But yes, as you all say, formula never hurt any baby, and nor did early weaning - and it's interesting anyway, how quickly the advice changes. 14 years isn't really very long after all. Probably in 14 years time people will think I was mad to breast feed at all!

    ps and anonymous, definitely no need for qualifications to be entitled to comment! The more the merrier....

  6. PS As you know I'm also in the early (ish) weaning camp (though I take the view that 4-6 months is fine, given that they are suppose to be on three meals a day by 6 months you have to get there somehow...) and M's brother-from-another-mother is loving baby porridge and purees morning and evening. Might be a way to avoid the formula route.

  7. Can you think of it (if you do decide to go for formula) as supplementing breastfeeding, rather than replacing? I still maintain that mixed feeding is breastfeeding.

    Let us know what you do.

  8. If I was you and you haven't switched to formula yet, speak to a lactation specialist (there will be one at your local hospital) before acting on HV advice. They are the ones who run peer supporter courses and have a vast amount of knowledge on bf. I was given wrong advice along with illness caused me to stop bf my oldest at 7 mths.
    The more I find out about bf and its benefits the more 'scared' I have become of formula (not that I can voice these fears in the company of formula feeding mums) which I'm not sure is a good thing. If I had another child and was unable to bf from the start I would be distraught! I am however able to accept how others choose to feed their babies and think that bf should be promoted on its own benefits not on the perceived failings of formula and more support should be given regarding formula feeding.

  9. In fact we ended up going with slightly early (22 weeks) introduction of solids. As I say, my HVs seemed to be even more scared of formula than I was but we were all agreed that a bit of parsnip or apple was unlikely to hurt him at this stage. In fact (he's 24 weeks today) he's taken to it like a humpback whale to krill (just been watching Frozen Planet - can you tell?) and the weight is finally going on... The poor thing isn't much enjoying the change to solids at the other end though - watch this space for lots of fascinating posts about poo.

  10. I tell you what, I'm hearing more and more reports these days about unsupportive HV's and midwives who don't seem to even want to understand their patient's needs. This horrifies me. Has our health service become incompetent that hardly any women have a good word to say about their service? My HV was bloody useless. Seriously crap. She failed to notice anything different with my daughter who has autism and told me Amy's head was too big! What an utterly stupid thing to say. But I'm digressing from the subject; I bottle fed Amy from the start and physically, she's a very healthy and fit young lady and always has been. I have no respect whatsoever for the breastapo and their insecurities. Breast milk is likely to be better right at the beginning because of colustrum but formula is also a good. My daughter is living proof of that. And as I'm a sheep farmer I realise how important colustrum is for my lambs, but they also thrive on formula. I wish these so-called experts would have some decency and stop trying to brainwash women who are often accused as being hormonal and incapable of making an informed decision.

    CJ x


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