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We all know that "breast is best", but is it always?

Posted on February 11, 2011 at 7:50 PM

Recently I participated in a debate on the merits of obtaining good breastfeeding advice and support. Some of you may be shocked to learn that a hospital in my hometown has a horrible track record for supporting women in that key first 24 hour period. They send moms who have made the decision to breastfeed home pumping because they “have no milk, you gotta pump to bring that in”, nipple shields, and supplementing with that handy free formula (never mind the WHO regulations against this).

Two friends of mine kind of went head-to-head on breastfeeding. One mom, Pam, exclusively breastfeed her 2 children for 1 year, the other , lets call her Shelly, had the misfortune of giving birth in the above hospital and came home with a pumping, feeding, sterilizing schedule recommended to her by the Postpartum care nurses. Shelly was also given Nipple Shields by her Midwife to help ease the pain from all that damn pumping and sucking. Let’s just say that after weeks of working with a Lactation Counsellor, supplemental feeding devices and herbs, poor Shelly was still struggling to get her baby latched and made the choice to formula feed. Was Shelly being a lazy mom and taking the quick way out?

I was chatting with Shelly later that week, encouraging her to write a letter to the hospital to inform them of her breastfeeding plight. How else is a hospital supposed to know that they are doing a poor job? They only see a Mom on the Birthing Floor for a period of a few hours to a few days. No follow up appointments, no after care. Just “Thank you, come again!” How much vested interest do these overworked, under informed nurses have in these new mothers? How many have received training in breastfeeding? Even the Midwives, I asked them at a breastfeeding course one day how much training they get in school for breastfeeding. I was stunned at the answer; one day. A 3-4 year education on how to take care of a Mother and Baby during pregnancy and birth and just 1 day spent on how to breastfeed.

I offer breastfeeding support and the problem has gotten so systemic that when a Mom calls me in tears and tells me her story, I can tell what hospital in my Middle-sized city she has birthed in and if she had a Dr or midwife (and sometimes who). Knowing that this is a road that so many new moms have travelled, is it any wonder why I see such a number of moms formula feeding, that didn’t intend to.

Shelly, my ‘formula feeding’ friend, has a huge guilt upon her shoulders for not breastfeeding, and with people like Pam, my ‘breastfeeding friend’, out there judging people like Shelly, is it any wonder. Does openly accusing formula moms of being ‘lazy’, help the relationship between Moms? Why do we not instead ask them about their journey to formula feeding? Maybe they tried desperately to breastfeed; maybe they were given poor advice and no support. Why, as breastfeeding advocates, do we not take the opportunity to inform or educated these women so that if there is another baby in their future, mistakes of accepting poor advice can be changed. You do catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

I was reading some online blogs on this topic after the debate with my friends. It seems that some women can get right on nasty when hidden behind the computer screen. Sometimes the issue is not a black and white; the path travelled by so many women is coloured grey. We will solve nothing by attacking each other and touting “Breast is Best…No matter what!” and making those most vulnerable feel guilt. The problem is much bigger than a blame game between the sides of Extreme Lactavists and ‘Pro-Choice’ formula feeding.

I will be honest, I am a Lactavist. I do not agree that formula should be directly advertised to Mom’s, as outlined in the WHO formula marketing guidelines. The studies have been done, formula feeding results in more allergies, more asthma, more Type 2 diabetes, more breast cancer, more ovarian cancer, and the list goes on. Formula advertising even says that “Breast is Best”. However, if Mom’s were properly informed of the risks of formula, had unlimited, free access to proper breastfeeding support, we might be a more breast-friendly culture and would not have the great divides. We would have compassion for the Mom’s that must formula feed due to poor advice, poor support, and misinformed on the ‘benefits’ of formula feeding. Formula is a necessary drug, but as with all drugs, overuse and misuse leads to problems, like we are seeing with increased rates of certain diseases. If more Mom had better, unbiased, information, the choice would be more clear; Breast is Best, but formula does have a place.

Categories: Breastfeeding

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1 Comment

Reply Erika Kafka
10:17 AM on February 13, 2011 
It is amazing to me, having experienced two very different birth and breastfeeding experiences, how women are not educated on the breastfeeding/formula options. My first experience was twins, c-section and supplements/prescription with pumping, and the second-time I had a singleton, VBAC (with epidural), doula and midwives and natural - no pump, no supplement b-feeding.
I will agree that there is no support from OB's on breastfeeding and little support on the subject from midwives. I even took the breastfeeding class in the prenatal courses offered by our health unit the first time, and I did not learn much - especially since I was carrying twins and needed to know different info than the rest of the moms.
The second time around - with my doula, I spent a lot of time researching b-feeding and reading books (although I did that the first time too) and just trusting my body. That is the biggest change. I had faith that I could do it and I refused to use formula on that Day 2 when the baby "wakes up" and is starving-my twins were given formula in the hospital b/c the smaller one lost more than 7% of his birth weight (which I later found out was an arbitrary amount with no research to back it up as a reason to introduce formula). After that, I never had confidence that I could feed both of my boys together. ;(
With my singleton, I put him to breast every 45 mins to an hour on that demanding Day 2 and the next day my milk was in. With no supplements and no pumping, AMAZING!!! My 9lb 4oz baby has received nothing but breast milk and is now 11 weeks old and 15lbs 13oz.
What a feeling of accomplishment!
I must thank the lovely ladies who helped me with my entire birth journey this time around. They made sure that my confidence never faltered and my lovely postpartum journey and healthy baby boy are proof of success enough for us all!!!