Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NOT chilling out about breasts

On Monday, celebrity mother Mia Freedman posted a blog post "Let's chill out about breasts" which was picked up and published online (and I presume in print) by major Australian newspapers.

You can read the original article here. I say original, as she has since amended her blog post with the facts about BFHI being an international organisation working to make heath services around the world "Baby-friendly" when it comes to breastfeeding. You can read about BFHI in Australia here.

I will leave you to read her words and make of them what you wish, however I want to share how I feel about them. Hurt. So are many of my friends. Libeled is another word that comes to mind.

I have posted my thoughts on Mia's blog, amid the comments from women who are adding to the bitterness and misunderstanding as they label ABA and its volunteers as anti-formula and out to make women feel guilty for not breastfeeding or giving formula.

Having been a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor for 20 years in May, I find it hard to reconcile this with the organisation I have known for 28 years. I have been fortunate to know many hundreds of women who have volunteered in this time, across the country in this socially-connected world we now have. I have trained volunteers, led discussion meetings and read 28 + years of the newsletter and magazine. I have been involved in writing books, booklets and magazine articles. I have spoken to groups of mothers and health professionals. I have attended countless conferences, seminars and local group meetings and I have NEVER heard disparaging remarks about formula- feeding mothers from ABA volunteers. Yes, occasionally zealous members may voice such opinions in a group discussion but part of our training is how to HALT such comments, move the discussion on and explain how our code of ethics does not allow such statements at our meetings. I have sat alongside bottle-feeding women who have been welcomed in ABA and in many cases, gone on to breastfeed their next baby successfully and train as ABA volunteers. I work with one such mother. I don't judge her for formula-feeding her first child and neither does anyone else I know.

It seems that women who breastfeed find themselves on a double-edged sword: if they talk with pride at overcoming problems, they are seen to be saying formula-feeders didn't try hard enough - if they don't talk about their problems, other mothers say nobody told them how hard it could be. If they breastfeed too long, too often, in public or any other circumstances that someone disapproves of, they are judged and humiliated just as the formula-feeders say they are. If they conceal themselves or hide their breastfeeding from family and friends, then they know they are perpetuating those perceptions. If the formula-feeding mums feel they are judged, then they should see what it is like on the other side of "the fence".

Organisations like ABA have NEVER used the term "breast is best" - that was a term formula companies took on-board for their labels, where it is usually followed by the word BUT. Breastfeeding organisations have no funding for research, it is not them behind the research findings that are declared as benefits of breastfeeding - often, it is formula companies who support the research, as they try to replicate breastmilk. It is the media who add the spine-chilling headlines, not the researchers or breastfeeding advocates.

There are NO benefits to breastfeeding - it is what nature intended babies to eat. Please don't attack me if learning how a person's health can be impacted if they are not breastfed or weaned prematurely - I am sorry if it makes you distressed to learn what those impacts can be. If you want to be aware of these, then this is an excellent summary. Yes, it makes me uncomfortable too - I weaned my first child at 9 months and she was given formula top-ups in hospital. She is about to turn 28 and I still worry. I am a mother, that is my job.

Tonight, I have posted this directly in response to a comment Mia freedman made, where she said:

Hi kstock, I’m sorry for whatever distress this column may have caused you. My experience was a genuine one and has been echoed by many other commenters. In no way did I intend to imply everyone at the ABA were extreme – of course they do great work and I acknowledged this.

Mia, nowhere in your article is there any indication of contact between your friend and ABA, yet you continue to imply – even in this comment – that ABA have somehow been involved. What you haven’t considered here are the feelings of the individuals, the mothers who have undertaken training as breastfeeding counsellors – across the country, there are women truly distressed by this article. I invite you to visit my Facebook wall, where I posted the orignal article and also Tara’s response – people are feeling hurt. They have had sleepless nights and some are questioning if it is all worth it. I would challenge you to spend some time with ABA volunteers and members – at a group meeting, at a volunteer’s home while she does a four-hour helpline shift or at our Breastfeeding Centre in Melbourne on drop-in day. Visit the website, find out about how the volunteers are trained, learn about the code of ethics every volunteer is bound by. Attend a branch conference, where hundreds of volunteers, along with babies and toddlers, give up their weekend to continue their learning about breastfeeding. Go along to one of our seminars for health professionals and hear the latest research and clincal practices from experts from around the world – there is one in Melbourne on Monday and others around the country this month. Look into the ABA complaints process. And then write another blog post, sharing what you learn – from research, not heresay.

I suspect Mia freedman, like many other people who write such influential blog,s has not done the research to support her perception of groups like ABA. It is just so much easier to listen to the disappointed voices of women who did not hear what they wanted to hear when they called the helpline and lash out the only way they can, with harsh words. I know some of the women I have taken calls from are so stressed out, they cannot really take in everything I say - and to then later recall and speak of the call, they are reliving the emotions they were feeling at the time, not the information they were given or the way it was given.

I doubt Mia will take up my offer, but if she did, she could then do some real good with her writing, rather than fuel the endless emotional "us against them debate" where nobody is validated and nobody can win. it just churns round and round in the media. But if she does take my suggestion on board, I would be more than happy to introduce her to the real ABA, the one I know to be supportive and non-judgemental and one that I hope to continue my involvement with for many years to come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh my. I am not going to even read her article, I imagine I will just feel like stabbing myself in the eyeballs or something..
I have however, when speaking positively about breastfeeding, copped attitude about it, involving incredibly inaccurate information about the ABA - being told that if they would just let all mothers join up, not just the breastfeeding ones, then perhaps the breastfeeding rates would be better. HA!
I actually joined the ABA while formula feeding and was welcomed in without any weird feelings or judgement.
Anyone who believes these things about the ABA has obviously never gone along to any ABA meeting!!