Sunday, August 12, 2007

Inducing guilt in bottle feeding mothers

Today's cuppa: Echinacea tea (and a few cinnamon cookies I made yesterday!)

I was watching William, our chubby short-haired Persian, sitting outside in the rain this morning being attacked by swallows. They flew down, one at a time, right down to his ear height. William thought it was a wonderful game; tail wagging, paw up. He had no idea that he was an enemy in their environment.

I mused that his circumstance wasn't much different to mine. When you go into someone else's space, you risk everything and are open to criticism. I enter that space every time I write a blog or put out an issue of The Mother magazine.

This past week, or so, has opened up the breastfeeding debate once again ~ thankfully. Unfortunately, with it comes a load of incorrect information, even, and especially, from the very organisations we rely on to educate!

The chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, Belinda Phipps, wrote to The Times stating that they support a woman's 'choice' whether to breastfeed or bottle feed. You simply can not promote natural childbirth without educating about the importance of breastfeeding. As soon as we take a stance like that of the NCT, we're effectively saying 'there's no difference between breast milk and formula.' We're not talking about choosing between coke and pepsi, for goodness sake! Though coke and freshly squeezed orange juice might be a better analogy ~ one being dead, artificial and a path to death, the other being fresh, life-giving and packed with enzymes.

Nobody EVER talks about the baby's rights, you know, that little dependent creature who's forced to drink that toxic concoction of 'formula'. Every baby born on this planet has encoded into every cell of their being, the BIOLOGICAL EXPECTATION to breastfeed for anything up to about the time the milk teeth fall out. EVERY BABY!

Isn't it child abuse on the grandest scale to deny them this
because a mother can't be 'bothered'?

Imagine 50 billion dominoes all lined up, ready to be knocked over in order. Our neurons are like this… we wait for the right developmental need to be met, and bang, another 'domino' goes over ~ a 'connection' is made in the neural pathways. When we 'CHOOSE' a counterfeit milk, the dominoes don't get knocked over. When we choose to forgo the bonding which is specific to feeding at the breast, we are denying our child more than just their birth right. We're compromising their life-long physical health, emotional well-being, neuro-psychological function and healthy sexuality. When the cued dominoes don't fall over during the baby/child's expected developmental stage, they don't EVER get the chance for that to happen again. They may spend their adult life looking for quick fixes to sort out an aching emptiness which pervades their being.
Every hour of every day is important in the great biological plan of the human body.

In a few short generations we've deviated from our biological expectations. In a few short generations, cultures which rely on formula have become very ill and very dysfunctional. But it's a *choice*, though. It's become the norm for most people to survive, rather than thrive. When just about everybody is tootling along in first gear, rather than fifth, the culture thinks this is 'natural'.

Let's follow this through, though, because at the end of the day someone has to PAY for these choices. Not only will the person raised on formula have to pay with poorer vision, intelligence, hearing, well-being (the list is endless!), but society pays, and the Earth most certainly pays. Will breastfeeding mothers be able to CHOOSE not to contribute taxes to the National Health Service on the grounds that they took full responsibility for their child's health? That would bring 'choice' full circle. It might sound selfish, indeed, even a radical thought, but at the rate we're going, it might become an option. It would truly be a user pays service.

Our culture supports abortion ~ leaving it up to the woman whether she takes the child's life or not. Although socially accepted, does it make it any less of a child killing? Rather than support women in these circumstances, or ideally, show them how not to create unwanted pregnancies, we give them the 'choice'.

Breastfeeding is viewed in the same way. People are scared to speak up. If women want to choose bottle feeding over breastfeeding, I believe they should sign a disclaimer acknowledging the harm they're putting their baby in…and promising to take full responsibility for the outcome, even if it manifests decades later in depression, adrenal issues, heart problems, suicide, violence, etc., or reproductive organ cancers in the mother.

Another letter to The Times claimed that, as she was an adoptive mother, she had no choice but to bottle feed. This is simply another myth. A woman choosing to adopt a baby can induce lactation. This sort of information should be given out by adoption agencies.

The best letter by far was from Alison Blenkinsop who wrote that formula isn't second best, expressed milk from the mother is, and third best is donated breast milk. I'm so glad The Times published that!

Ours is a culture that really doesn't want women like me to speak up and dispel myths. The myths keep everyone inertia ~ and stop them from taking action and responsibility, not only for their own health, but for the baby's health, and the effect on society and the environment.

So, I feel a bit like William with the swallows some times. Little arrows fly at me telling me to 'shut up, get out of our space'. Frankly, though, it's not enough for me to write or publish articles just in The Mother magazine. For the most part, it's preaching to the converted. Nothing wrong with that, of course, as we might just reach 100th monkey syndrome and create a breastfeeding revolution.

One of the most common things which come out of any breastfeeding conversation is that we mustn't make bottle feeding mothers feel guilty.

Firstly, NO-ONE but no-one can *make* you feel anything. The choice is always with you as to how you perceive or respond to an issue.

Secondly, guilt is not a feeling, it's a thought. We may feel sick in the stomach, chew our nails, eat a donut to get rid of emotional discomfort, but they are secondary responses. Guilt comes from 'knowing' we're compromising the optimum. It's a biological response to show us we're 'off the path'. Guilt is a fabulous thing when we listen to it, rather than suppress it.

Is it so awful (honestly??) for us to remind women that they've put their child in danger? Not to mention the woman's own health and increased risk from breast, ovarian and cervical cancers?
If you saw a child walking across the motorway about to be knocked over would you just stand there and do nothing? Bottlefeeding is no different! Death may not be so immediate, but the consequences can be just as devastating.

Is it so bad to remind women that true mothering means meeting every one of your baby's biological needs? How on Earth do we create change if we don't speak up?

People assume that the breastfeeding brigade is a bunch of sanctimonious trouble makers. I would say that they are women who are speaking from a place of love. It is love that brings us to action, that causes us to speak out. It's love for the woman and baby. It's love for all of humanity. One bottle fed baby affects everyone.

Personally, guilt would overcome me if I kept my mouth shut every time I heard a breastfeeding myth. Guilt would tell me that I'm not living my truth, walking my talk, or being authentic if I just smiled and said, 'there, there, never mind, it's a CHOICE'.

It's easy to target someone like Jordan for blatantly promoting bottle feeding. The truly sad part is that she doesn't feel she's severely compromising her children. It appears she gives no thought to the impact her disposable bottles have on the environment. Yes, as someone commented on last week's blog, she IS a victim too. It breaks my heart that she hasn't bonded with her baby or the planet. What hope is there for her children when they become parents?
I don’t feel, however, that I do anything to promote breast feeding by ignoring a situation like this. Sometimes we need examples to show how far off the mothering continuum some people go. She's very deliberately chosen to be in the public eye ~ and particularly, in this case, to promote her infant formula views. So, in some ways, she too is like William the cat!! (Fancy Jordan and I having something in common!!) Little arrows are coming to her from all directions. Sadly, though, like William, she probably thinks it's a game too.

There'll be women reading this who believe, hand on heart, that they really couldn't breastfeed. I have the utmost empathy for you. Any woman who still has intact breasts CAN breastfeed. One of the biggest myths in western culture is that of insufficient milk syndrome. The proportion of women who claim to not have enough milk rises in response to the availability of infant formula in their culture. End of story.

There will be other women who'll say they had to stop because they had sore nipples, mastitis [put in just about any reason here, apart from extreme illness or death]… It's very unfortunate that any of these things afflict breastfeeding women, but it is even more unfortunate that these challenges become reasons to stop. This issue is never about the 'problem', but about the incorrect support or information.

Even a high circulation 'natural parenting' magazine in the UK is continuing to print inappropriate breastfeeding advice. It's a vicious circle and I'm not surprised that women give up so easily.

Does that mean I should shut up and say "it's a woman's choice to bottle feed?"
Not on their little baby's life!


flutterby said...

i'm sick of having to consider mums feelings.
i bottle fed my eldest due to a lack of support and a real lack of confidence. she was prem, had no sucking reflex and i struggled miserably trying to express - was undermined totally by my midwife who saw me as a 19yr old mum on a council estate who ought to just get on with the formula feeds... in fact she arrived the day after i got home with a couple of bottles of formula for me to try as i was struggling.... i tried to re-instate breastfeeding at 4 weeks and again had hospital midwives telling me not to be so stupid... i hate that my eldest was formula fed, i don't want you to shut up about how wrong it is to formula feed. the more we shout it out the more (eventually) someone will listen. i have never ever ever considered giving babies 2 or 3 formula, i always shudder when i see babies drinking it but i have given up with the screeching at my friends who already have babies, i tried before they had them, when they first had them and in the case of those that did feed all the time i could. i find it hard to believe that seemingly intelligent women can be so ignorant. now i'm the only 'breastfeeder' (insert weirdo if you like) left feeding and had to endure 'but is it alright to breastfeed and be pregnant..' 'isn't it harmful to the unborn baby' 'what's going to happen when this one's born, you'll have to give up then won't you' comments yesterday by lots of friends! no it's not harmful, no i'm not going to 'give up' and yes i can tandem feed. i did also get an "oh, how lovely baby's having a nosh" from one of the grooms aunts. now that made me smile.

i wish i had the ability to write down just how this topic makes me feel but unfortunately i'm not very good with words. you always say it all so well veronika.

keep up the good work

Harmonious Living said...

Celebrating your words!
And respect the warrioress within you -
x ruth

Jennifer said...

I recently was shown the tv interview that featured you and your family's journey with breastfeeding. I didn't think that this was indeed the "whole" story so I googled you and found this blog. You are a very intelligent woman and I am thankful to have come across this. I believe that formula is given often as a quick fix for a mother who is misled to believe she has insufficient milk production. As soon as my son was born I wanted to nurse him immediately. My nurses made me wait a few minutes, but it was so rewarding to finally have him here and be able to nourish him naturally. I believe formula should be prescribed by a doctor only to women who medically cannot produce milk, which I think is under 1% of the population. This would give children what they deserve and not a bottle full of garbage! Check me out at

thank you!

flutterby said...

my ex-husbands grandmother (and my daughters great-grandmother of course) donated to a milk-bank in the late 1940's. why is this not the choice given to all parents? i am planning to donate this time round (baby due in march), why aren't all mothers asked if they'd be willing to donate and all those of prem babies offered donated milk? if they are having trouble starting their supply. i have heard so many mums say 'he was premature so i couldn't breastfeed' you can, it just takes longer. i have one friend whose daughter was born 7 weeks early, she never did manage to actually get her daughter to latch on but she did express and feed that for 13months, with proper support of course she may have actually achieved the latching on but she never ever once dreamed of taking the easy option (that the midwives suggested time and time again..) and giving her daughter formula. her second child, a son, was born at 37 + weeks and she breastfed successfully from the start.

Veronika said...

hi's strange that, isn't it...we get told by the govt. to donate organs after death, but not a peep from them about donating breast milk for the start of someone's LIFE.

Most women could easily supply milk to four children at any one time..imagine if each new mum donated even just one litre of breast milk...600 000 litres in one year! awesome stuff for all the needy babies...

of course, it might mean the 'poor' formula companies lose a bit of money!!!
thanks for your posts :-)

christine said...

Great stuff Veronica. You say it all so well.

It seems to be politically incorrect to mention being successful at breastfeeding or childbirth. I had a home birth with my twins and breastfed them. I wrote about it in the local twins club newsletter. In the following edition someone wrote and complained that it didn't take into account the feelings of those who couldn't have a good birth and breastfeed and that they shouldn't print that kind of stuff!! Good job I didn't mention that I was also breastfeeding my 3 year old as well as the twins at the time!!
I mustn't feel GOOD about my SUCCESSES should I? It just might encourage someone.

Love your blogg.

Love Christine

Veronika said...

hi Christine ~ wonderful to read your comment about your tandem nursing of twins and sibling! A sign of our culture, and the 'need' people have to bring others down, when you can't even write your successful birth and breastfeeding story!

(stories like yours are ALWAYS welcome in The Mother magazine!!! My editorial goal is to celebrate such statements of natural parenting)

After my first daughter was born at home, in water, peacefully by candle light...i showed the video to a friend.

Her own baby's birth, which she'd planned to be a waterbirth at home, became a c-section. It shocked me though that her response was so negative and nasty.
"That wasn't a REAL birth!" she said.

Somehow, because of her pain, she felt **everyone** had to go through a similar experience.

On the other hand, i've another friend with two emergency csections to her name, and she is always so genuinely delighted when she hears of systers birthing easily and naturally.

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm thrilled for you and your family.

Thanks too to you Jennifer for your comment and for taking the time to see through the sensationalism! ;-)

Claire said...

I personally would always try to avoid making any mother feel guilty about her feeding choice. I feel it is counter productive as it can alienate some people from the whole issue.

The way forward has to be education in my view - starting with people who can strongly influence new mothers - doctors, hospitals etc.

My first baby spent much of her first few months in hospital with a condition I was told was 'incompatible' with breastfeeding. At that time I knew no better, I wanted to breast feed my baby but wasn't prepared for the circumstances which unfolded and consequently followed the consultants opinions in the mistaken belief he knew best.

Thankfully when I gave birth to my second child four years later, at home this time in the presence of a hands off midwife, I was better prepared. The same 'issues' have arisen and try as I might I haven't managed to avoid all hospital intervention but almost two years on we are still going strong with mama's milk!!!

I feel so guily about my first child. That is why I'm always very wary about what I say to formula feeding mothers - for all I know they may have been advised to do so by a consultant who thought hypoallergenic, partially predigested, artificial crap was the best thing for their child.

The government allegedly spend a lot of money on promoting breast feeding. Yet here I am, mother of two, pressured and frightened out of my choice to feed my first baby and at times I've felt I have had to fight for the right to breast feed my second amidst comments such as 'breast milk is dangerous for him' from paediatricians. Where is the money going? If the medical profession don't support women in their attempts to breast feed, rather actively discourage it at times, then something is very very wrong.

Incidentally, I just found your blog. I'm glad I have. I keep meaning to re subscribe to The Mother. I particulalry like the Unschooling article. It makes me feel less issolated as the only home edding mother in the village :-)

Mother of one said...

Veronika, please can you have a word with this lady

I read this piece and was incensed, lazy journalism to say the least.

Queen Frostine said...

This is a wonderful read. I breastfed all three of my children until they self-weaned, one at 3.5 years, one at 4 years and one at 5 years. It was one of the best things I've ever done as a mother. I'm so thankful that I had so much support from my family and my husband. I cannot imagine having foregone that lovely bonding time with my babies.

They're quite grown up now, 16, 12, and 9 and healthy as can be. I cannot help but attribute much of that to their healthy start in life.

I detest the commercials I see on TV, "Breastfeeding is best, but if you cannot breastfeed, then our formula is perfectly fine." What a load of rubbish.

I am thankful that there are people like you who are willing to speak for the babies who cannot speak for themselves. Excellent.

Anonymous said...

I always envied women from the ancient times, when if they really had problems breastfeeding, they could have their babies breastfed by other mothers. But STILL breastfed. I envy them because they were totally free from the "sense of guilt" women have nowadays.

Also, know that you have my full admiration for fighting a so precious battle for babies' rights! *worships*

Phoenix said...

Absolutely spot on. I totally agree, but you say it much better than I could have.

I am also an ex-Formula Feeder, I had my firat daughter and breastfed her with minimal problems, but she did not gain enough weight according to the 'health visitor', and I was encouraged to give formula top-ups, it was a slippery slope that led to fully formula feeding from 16 weeks.

I totally agree that we NEED to speak up more and not pussy-foot around the RISKS of Formula, sugaring it up as breastfeeding having 'benefits'.
Perhaps if someone had dared speak up to ME when I was considering or resorting to formula, I may have had the power to stop.

I'm pleased to say however that I took it upon myself to educate myself when pregnant with my second daughter.
She is 18 months old next week, nurses often, has never even had a rubber teat in her mouth, and I'm pleased to say has never tasted a drop of formula.
Oh and she was not given anything other than breastmilk until she was 27 weeks and 3 days old, when we introduced solids - BLW fruit & veg.