Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why we still have to promote breastfeeding ....

... and why it isn't to make women who couldn't do it feel guilty.

Every time a media story comes out promoting a new (or often, not really new) reason why breastfeeding is "best"  normal, you can bet your life the comments thread will fill within moments with stories of mothers who wanted to breastfeed, but didn't, for all sorts of reasons. These can take the form of sadness but most often take the form of anger. I have even been on the receiving end of phone calls and emails attacking me and/or the breastfeeding association for causing guilt and distress to women by doing/reporting research which concludes risk from formula. For the record, it isn't actually me doing the research, nor is it ABA or any other breastfeeding support organisation - in fact, a lot of the studies done into breastmilk are funded by formula companies, desperate to know what is in it, in the hope they can replicate it (not always successfully - fish oil-flavoured formula apparently didn't taste so sweet, despite providing long-chain fatty acids!)

Yet, if we accept that everyone on the planet must, by now, know fully-well that breastmilk is what babies should be fed from birth - why is anyone still trying to convince people about it?

Simple - not everyone does know. Many still think they are making a choice about infant feeding, a choice between two products - human milk and infant formula. They think it is a lifestyle choice. Or perhaps, they don't even know this is about two distinct things: I have spoken to expectant parents who think formula is breastmilk in a tin. Yes, really. Others who think the word "formula" means something scientifically constructed from scratch, who don't know they have been feeding their baby modified cows milk from birth.

The term "uneducated" doesn't just apply to those who cannot read or write. If nobody has ever explained infant feeding to you, if every baby you have ever met has been fed some white liquid in a bottle, how would you know what it actually is? If you cannot read the print on the tin (you know, those big words in a tiny font), then you aren't going to find out from there. And if you or your family have grown up in a country where infant formula is promoted on billboards as being best for your baby, alongside cute pictures of healthy infants, how would you know it isn't, actually?

So yes - the educated woman reading the news or the blog post, the one who knows exactly what her baby didn't get because she didn't breastfeed, is going to respond with sadness or anger. Meanwhile, the woman who cannot read, who doesn't have a computer, is reliant on those who support her to be up to date. It means her community need to understand what she needs from them to breastfeed successfully - which starts with her making an informed decision that she will breastfeed.

To make an informed choice, you need information. And before you get too smug about living in a first-world country, take a moment to check out the wonderful presentation on this site - some third-world countries put the first-world to shame. And if you are wondering how this all came about, be sure to note all the references to formula promotion.

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