Saturday, July 14, 2007

Breastfeeding myths

Bethany in Forest Row last weekend.

Today's Cuppa: Ginger and orange tea

I mentioned in my last blog entry the constant tug of war within me ~ isolating myself from society, or being very much part of it and educating others.

One topic which certainly has the old tug of war rope chaffing my stretch-marked belly is that of breastfeeding. I've endured a lot of flak in the past year and a half over appearing in the Extraordinary Breastfeeding documentary. Unfortunately, the programme did very little to educate the ignorant masses who still see feeding our infants and children as something optional or even unnecessary, if not downright disgusting ~ something akin to urinating in public. The mind boggles. Clearly some people really can't tell the difference between a living food and a bodily waste product.

Those people aside, one of my biggest frustrations is related to people who work in the parenting field who perpetuate myths.

The biggest ones are:

1.) It's normal for breastfeeding to hurt ~ expect sore nipples

Nipple pain is either caused by an infection (such as thrush or herpes) or, most commonly, by incorrect latch-on. It's important for all mothers to know that nipple pain is completely avoidable, and not a 'normal' part of breastfeeding, and that the first sign of discomfort for any mother is a warning bell that her baby isn't latched-on properly.

Nipple pain is never a matter of bad luck,
but to do with breastfeeding mismanagement.

In order to increase breastfeeding rates, we have to ensure women are given correct information so they can avoid discomfort, and enjoy breastfeeding for the pleasurable experience it was designed to be.

We would see a tripling of breastfeeding rates (according to the British Medical Journal) if women gathered in breastfeeding groups to learn about breastfeeding. A sad consequence of our nuclear family society is that most women don't get to witness breastfeeding until they have their own baby. How tragic, given it is something so fundamental to the survival of the human species. Breastfeeding has become a dying art. Without breastfeeding, humanity as a species will deteriorate, and then die out.

2.) Bottlefeeding allows dad to bond with baby ~ so get expressing.

Breast milk was never meant to see the light of day, and we do the baby, mother and the father a disservice to suggest bottle-feeding as a way of bonding. Our aim as parents should be to raise our children optimally, not to compromise them in any way. Bottle-feeding is a massive compromise and should be reserved for emergencies, not used as a lifestyle choice.

When a father feels 'left out' by the breastfeeding experience, this is to do with subconscious memories of his own feeding experience in infancy.
Had his needs been fully met in infancy and childhood, there'd be no reason for him to feel left out as a parent.

3.) Babies need iron by six months of age

I've just read a 'natural' parenting magazine which allowed the iron myth to be published…again undermining successful, exclusive breastfeeding beyond the six month age.

There are so many studies which prove that a breastfed baby has plenty of access to adequate iron in breast milk (regardless of the mother's iron status!). The confusion and misinformation regarding infants and iron has been taken from formula fed babies' tendency towards anaemia, and reliance on synthetic iron. The vitamin c in breast milk allows the iron in it to be utilised by the baby.

If you are seriously concerned about your baby's iron levels, then keep up with exclusive breastfeeding! As soon as you introduce solids you are reducing the body's ability to absorb iron. Sadly, the most common foods introduced to babies (rice, cereals, etc ~ in the belief they'll supply iron) are the worst things that should be introduced in the first or second year of life. If you must introduce solids, stick to RIPE, raw fruit and NEVER introduce any food before six months of age. Anything else is a massive insult on a premature digestive system.

My own daughters weren't introduced to solids until the end of their first year of life. They've never had commercial baby food. Their 'weaning' foods were organic bananas, avocados, strawberries, pears, apple, etc.

Later in their second year they had some lightly steamed sweet potato, pumpkin and broccoli. It wasn't until their third year they were introduced to the meals Paul and I were having. They've always been good eaters and not fussy about fruit and vegetables as commonly reported amongst children. Sure, they have their likes and dislikes, but for the most part they eat a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, seeds, whole grains and nuts.

4.) She's ready for solids

There's so much pressure to introduce solids to babies. I believe it is all part of the cultural bulldozer which seeks to separate mother and child. It's all heavily camouflaged behind the idea that when a baby is putting things in her mouth, or having a growth spurt, that she's ready for food. Breast milk IS FOOD!

TV presenter Lorraine Kelly labours under the misguided belief that babies should be fully weaned as soon as their first teeth appear. How much would she eat if her mouth contained just two, tiny pearly whites?

Why does common sense go out the window in so many aspects of child rearing?

5.) Formula milk is as good as breast milk

Formula is a static product. It shouldn't even have the world milk tacked onto the end of it. No matter how many artificial and synthetic vitamins and minerals the companies add to it, it is impossible to come remotely close to what nature intended our children to feed on for their first few years of life.

Recently I was sent a press release by a group of breastfeeding mothers in London showing some statistics regarding their ideas on breastfeeding; dismal to say the least. One of the quotes in the release went something like this: "Anyone would think formula was poison and that I was murdering my baby by giving him formula instead of breast milk."

Well, the more you educate yourself about breast milk, it's pretty hard to conclude anything else. Personally, I would put it in the category of poison.

I would move the earth (and moon) to give my children breast milk. Formula wouldn't even be a last resort!

There are so many reasons why I get frustrated by the constant pushing of infant formula. It isn't just about its complete inadequacy in providing optimum nutrition, but also because it simply can not provide for our long term emotional and mental needs. There are biochemical nutrients in breast milk with are absolutely CRUCIAL to our long term emotional health. Formula can never provide for this.

Work done by the marvellous James Prescott PhD shows that by breastfeeding for 2.5 years or longer, an absence of suicides and depression was found in most cultures. Breastfeeding bonding (affectional bonding) is imperative in a culture which seeks to live peacefully.

Some of the leading health problems in the world related to sexual, social, mental or emotional dysfunction (such as rape, suicide, depression and homicide) are found in cultures with next to non-existent breastfeeding in infancy and childhood.

Breastfeeding statistics are appalling. As a culture we have NO excuse for this!! We consider ourselves in first world countries to be rich ~ nothing could be further from the truth.

In the US, for example,

6.8% breastfed at 12 months
2.7% breastfed for 24 months or more
1% was breastfed for 30 months or more

How is it that 97% of children are not even meeting the minimum age set for breastfeeding by the hugely conservative World Health Organisation? Have we simply made it too easy for women to choose fake milk? Tribal cultures wouldn't even be able to comprehend such statistics. They don't have incidences of women 'choosing' not to breastfeed or believing that they can't breastfeed. They just do it!

If we didn't have formula milk companies we wouldn't have stats like those above. We'd have a 99% breastfeeding-from-mother rate, and in cases where a mother was unable to breastfeed due to illness (or death) a wet nurse would be available for the child. In my book, The Drinks Are On Me, I take a look at the spiritual and emotional reasons behind a woman's belief that she 'didn't have any/enough breast milk'.

Every time I see a breastfeeding myth perpetuated, I see breastfeeding slip further away from humanity's grasp. We simply won't survive many more generations without this optimal source of nutrition and bonding. A destructive culture has no choice but to destroy itself. Violence is like a cancer.

How will we ever explain to future generations that we had the evidence for full-term sustained breastfeeding, but as a culture we chose to ignore it?


Mary said...

I just wanted to say that when my daughter was born last year, she struggled at first to latch on, and then for her own reasons lost more weight than was 'expected' during her first two weeks. The health visitor had me go to the hospital with her, which I did out of fear, as my first child was nothing like this and breastfed easily. The idea of expressing milk was constantly pushed on me, and I was never able to express very much...this they said was proof that I wasn't making enough milk. I did not believe this.
After 'supplementing' my daughter on formula that made her sick and allergic, we chose a goats milk based alternative, to the dismay of the establishment. This worked well for her, but once she and I got the hang of it, I took her off and she is still happily breastfeeding now at 18 months.
Even though she was a homebirth and my first was an emergency section, each baby is unique and will have their own needs. I intended to breastfeed no matter what, but I felt extremely pressured to make her gain weight, to express bottles as well as regular feeds, and also to 'top her off' with formula. I think the advice would have put off a less inclined mother.

Anonymous said...

I was just reading today about breastfeeding, in the Bible of all places.. Psalm 131, verse 2: "But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." The study notes explain that the Psalmist has learned to rely on God for his needs, as a weaned child has learned to trust its mother for all its needs. A child weaned before its time (or worse, never breastfed) will not, can not, have this trust in his/her mother. Ancient Judeo-Christian culture valued breastfeeding, whether by the birth mother, a wet nurse or both, and the Jews would throw parties when a child was weaned (at about 3 or 4 years old). Weaning was considered a 'ripening' - you don't pull the fruit from the tree before it is ripe, you allow it to fall off when it is ready! Pulling it off too soon will spoil the fruit! I truly believe that the key to all sin is pride/selfishness, including the selfishness of mothers who choose not to bf, and the selfishness of those who discourage or try to stop bf'ing. God created bf'ing, along with childbirth and the role of women as mothers and primary caregivers, and He said that everything He made is 'very good'. It is sin and arrogance to say that we know better than God, or to call 'bad' what He calls 'good'. Never stop educating people, Veronika.

Veronika said...

hi Mary ~ I can never understand the huge push by 'health care workers' to express breast milk.

Most women simply don't *let down* for an inanimate object as they do to the feel, sound, touch and smell of their baby. Your children are very lucky to have such a dedicated mum. You're right, many mums would have been put off.

The push for formula as a top-up or supplement to breast milk is one of the biggest contributors to a mother 'not making enough milk'. How those who regularly work with breastfeeding mums haven't made the connection is beyond me.

Reduce the demand on the breasts and they reduce their supply.
best wishes, Veronika

Veronika said...

hi Alison ~ that's so spot on...breastfeeding is all about trust and it is here that all our relationships in life are formed. If we can't trust our mother (because she hasn't met our biological needs) then who can we trust?

Thank you for sharing that.
Blessings, Veronika

Flowerpot said...

I am still breastfeeding my son at the age of nearly 3, he loves hi milkies and feeds on and off all day and night, he has free access to it and I never say no, however, although he is my 4th child, my ex husband didn't believe in breastfeeding so he is my first one to feed as I found out I was pregnant after he had left us, I was dreading breastfeeding and it has been a pleasurable experience for me so far, I ate onlt raw foods while pregnant and for the first year of feeding, the foods I weaned him onto were as you suggested bananas, avocado etc not organic as funds don't allow been a single parent, my problem now is that I am totally exhausted, everyone says I need to wean him as he is wearing me out, he doesn't sleep well as he constantly wakes up all night for Milkies, I have allowed this due to him been ill for the first 2 years of his life, despite all my healthy habits he had constant ear and throat infections up to 3 per month,then he got whooping cough [he is not vaccinated] he is now well and not been ill since December but I am still reluctant to wean him and take away his enjoyment and comfort, any advice for a 4 time mum but first time breastfeeder lol.

Anonymous said...

It is during the first week that women need a lot of help and support to breastfeed because if it is too difficult they will give up.
When I had my first child I knew instinctively that I would breastfeed (all those bottles, mixing formula and sterilization would have had me in a high level of anxiety). I knew nothing about babies-any knowledge came from the age of 5 when my brother was born! I just assumed that it would be easy but it wasn't. He was born in a big hospital and it was difficult to get hold of a nurse and if I did it was never the same one.We couldn't get the latching on and you do get very sore.In those days you had a week in hospital and luckily I then transferred to my local small hospital, the staff had more time and you could see the same person. By the time I got home we had mastered it.
I didn't have any problem with my next two children and it was relaxed from the start. I couldn't feed my middle son discreetly because he sounded like a milking machine! He used to be going full tilt and then break off suddenly to give me a wonderful toothless milky smile! Unfortunately I had to try and stop him doing this because it gave me mastitis every single time, I don't think you mentioned mastitis but it comes on suddenly and takes away all your energy.
Anyway I managed to breastfeed all three and they never had any formula milk but it might have turned out very differently without the support at the start. Unfortunately I only discovered the NCT when my first child was about 6 month old.
Giving women the right to breastfeed in public places is a step in the right direction but more support is definitely needed.
(I could never get the hang of expressing milk.)

ruth_parkinson said...

I watched the program and was so inspired. If God ever blesses me with a husband and children, I plan to breastfeed for at least two years.

Ruth Parkinson

Laura McIntyre said...

What a wonderful post and it completly rings true , there are so many breastfeeding myths out there. People always seem to assume you cannot breastfeed and have a life - kids will never sleep all night etc.. ,

Isil Simsek said...

What a lovely post! As if you had read my mind...I am wondering how long term feeding mothers introduce solids to their babies. I was too shy to ask you ;)My baby is 28 weeks old now, we have just started,but very slowly.She eats 1-2 tablespoons of pureed veg or fruits. My HV said I should give her solids at least 2 times a day since they are expected to eat adult food by the time they are one year old. However this doesn't make sense to me.I don't want to replace breatmilk with solids at this stage and I want to feed her as long as she decides to stop.
I love your magazine, you are such an inspiration!
Would you write about this subject in the coming issues?How exclusively breastfed babies began their journeys with solids ?I would love to read your and your coloumnists experiences..
With love,

flutterby said...

as always your blog rings true to me. even now when e is just 18 months i get asked when i'm going to get round to weaning her off the breast. i couldn't tell my mum i was pregnant last week as i knew she'd be up in arms about me being pregnant AND shock horror breastfeeding my shockingly old bf baby!
i'm chair of my local branch of the NCT and come across so many mums who have had their breastfeeding undermined by the 'experts' that are there to help, the midwives, the HV grrr. i always pass on details of our local bf counsellor but the number of mums who just don't want to know is unbelievable. i even have a friend who told me that breastfeeding was worse "than feeding your own snot to your baby"
if we could just convince everyone that breastfeeding is normal, that formula isn't a substitute and that although bf isn't always easy to start off with almost all issues can be completely resolved.
i was undermined bf my eldest daughter who is now coming up for 14, it's something i will never get over but i do accept, guilt isn't good for anyone - i did the best i knew at the time (which thanks to both midwives & HV's was not a lot), i fought and suceeded with baby number 2 (now nearly 11 & bf to 2yrs 4mo in spite of no support) despite being in intensive care. baby no 3 is still feeding happily and will be for the forseeable future - i can't say how long i will breastfeed her or the baby that will arrive around marchtime but i know that it won't be my decision it will be theirs.