Friday, 22 March 2013

6 Reasons I Hated Formula Feeding and Would Never Do It Again

Hmm. How shall I say this? I should probably put on some sort of protective armour before making this confession -- but here we go: I hated formula feeding. HATED it. Despised it. (There. It’s said)

But once I’d started my breastmilk dried up so I had little choice but to stick with it.

I'm totally aware that telling the world that formula feeding just wasn't for me will probably result in my being called a nazi, but I'm willing to do it, because this needs to be said.

When I had my son two years ago, I had every intention of formula feeding him exclusively. He took to the bottle fine and, as my milk came in and then dried up, I told myself a thousand times “I can do this” and swore to stay with it even though my breasts felt engorged with milk.

But then when it consumed my life and made me even more tired and low than I already was, I realized that formula feeding was never going to be my cup of tea.

By that time it would have been so much work to relactate so I didn’t. If I ever have another child I’ll breastfeed from the beginning and ditch the bottles without hesitation.

I’ll reiterate: I hated formula feeding. And here are a few reasons why.

1. It's all I did -- OMG. Those bottles needed constant washing and sterilising and then, because formula milk isn’t sterile, I had to make up one bottle at a time making sure that the water was hot enough before waiting for the milk to cool down. As soon as the novelty wore off for family and friends it turned out that I was giving that baby all its feeds anyway and by the time I was done I had to wash up and sterilise again, not to mention all the washing I had to do because everything was covered in formula puke.

2. I needed sleep -- Not being able to safely co-sleep because it’s not recommended for formula feeders really took its toll on my overall well being. My husband helped with some of the night feeds until he had to go back to work and then I had to get up every damn night, make the bottle, and then listen to the baby cry while it cooled down.

3. It hurt like the baby like hell -- I have always been jealous of those mums whose newborns can bottlefeed with no discomfort or pain. Mine wasn't one of them. I spent a fortune on different bottles and medicines to try to alleviate the trapped wind and I was constantly burping him, which often made him vomit. 

4. My baby was too full – Physiologically, all babies are surprisingly similar, born with tiny stomachs, but because my baby’s stomach was stretched with formula as soon as he was born he got used to taking massive meals infrequently. He was very sleepy in demeanor because he was constantly trying to digest foreign enzymes.

5. It made it hard to go out – Almost all my friends formula fed so I knew I’d fit in with the crowd, but what I didn’t realise was just how much stuff I’d need to take with me when I wanted to go out with my baby: clean bottles, formula powder, heated water in a flask. And if I ran out of milk while I was out or he vommed it all up I’d have to go back home. Sometimes I bought ready-made formula to make it more convenient, but it costs a bomb.

6. I wanted my body to be used for its natural purpose -- I know it might sound weird, but after being pregnant for nine months, I felt a physical bond with my baby that I wish I’d continued. People who breastfeed tell me that the closeness is something really special and that it turns out that boobs can be for babies and for sex. Who knew?!

Reasons I Hated Breastfeeding at The Stir

Thursday, 28 February 2013

We're Having a Giveaway

To celebrate the birth of our new Facebook page and blog we're giving away £10 to spend at Lactivist. 

You can find all kinds of funky pro-breastfeeding paraphenalia at Lactivist, including boobeanies hats, sleepsuits and mugs.

Additionally, all Loquacious Lactator fans will receive 10% off at Lactivist by entering the code LACTIVIST at the checkout.

You can enter via the rafflecopter widget as many times as you like.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

#Firsthour Freakout: the media response to a breastfeeding campaign

This week, reputable international charity Save the Children launched an initiative to save the lives of a potential 830000 babies worldwide. In the UK this was met with uproar. Why?
Because it was about breastfeeding.
The Save the Children initiative, called #firsthour, is essentially the publicity launch of its new, extensive report ‘Superfood for Babies’. The report suggests that if more babies born in developing countries were given breastmilk (colostrum, to be precise) in the first hour after their birth this could potentially raise the health profile of these babies enough to save up to 830,000 babies worldwide every year. The report describes colostrum as “the most potent natural immune system booster known to science.”  
‘Superfood for Babies’ is not all about formula milk; that is simply one of the ‘four barriers to [developing world] breastfeeding’ detailed in the report. The others are:

Community and Cultural Pressures - young mothers are often relatively powerless to make infant feeding choices compared to their husbands or mother-in-laws

Lack of Health Care Workers – up to one third of births happen without any trained attendee

And, Lack of Maternity Legislation – maternity leave provision is scarce in the developing world, especially when women have casual and labourious jobs.
The report talks about formula marketing under the heading ‘The Big Business Barrier’. Sadly, the dubious practices of the BMS (breast milk substitute) businesses are nothing new. We know that they have almost universally ignored the 1981 International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (the Code) wherever they can get away with it, and that they have been pushing their product on populations that can barely afford it, and who cannot access clean water or fuel to make it. The BMS businesses sponsor health care professionals (think, free pens and prescription pads) in order to increase infiltration of their product and encourage midwives to tell new mothers that their breastmilk isn’t nutritional enough for their babies. In just a couple of generations this dubious message has become common ‘knowledge’ and resulted in the deaths and illnesses of millions of children who, with breastmilk, could have been saved.
This is horrible. So why the uproar? Well, tucked away at the bottom of page 45 in the report (remember, this is a report focussing on developing countries), in the recommendations section, one tiny paragraph:

While the International Code states that companies must include health warnings and details of the benefits of breastfeeding, in practice these warnings cover a small proportion of packaging, are written in small type and are designed to be unobtrusive. To strengthen the power of these warnings, national laws should specify that health warnings should cover one third of any breast-milk substitute packaging.
Cue Daily Mail screaming about ‘cigarette style warnings’, rolling our Claire Byam Cook to tell us that it will pile guilt on UK mums (and, by the way, breastfeeding isn’t that great anyway), and over one thousand comments like this one:
oh that's the way to go, make all of us who cannot breastfeed feel worse than the world already makes us do! my daughter was allergic to breastmilk and soya formula for her was the best thing since sliced bread give the formula companies a medal for saving all us mothers and babies but I swear if I have to justify it anymore to show-off naturalists like that lot I will scream!

And that wasn’t all. People have been calling for others to stop giving money to Save the Children, Mylene Klass, one of the campaign’s celebrity faces, has had to defend herself on Twitter, and many blogs, like this one, have decried the recommendation as ‘blood boiling’. The Telegraph printed a particularly vitriolic personal account of yet another Western white woman who stopped breastfeeding and now doesn’t want to be made to feel guilty about it (and, by the way, breastfeeding isn’t all that great anyway).

Well sorry, but I don’t care. Despite the fact that the Daily Mail’s original outrage was entirely hyperbolic because the Save the Children report doesn’t talk about UK formula, but rather urges individual countries to enforce the recommendation themselves, and despite the fact that one could argue that UK formula is often exported and therefore should have large warnings just in case it ends up in a developing country, I still don’t care. I don’t want a single woman anywhere to feel guilty about her infant feeding choices, but this is one occasion on which sparing the feelings of relatively affluent Western women is not anywhere near as important as saving the lives of over three quarters of a million children.
In the only sensible article that I have read on the subject, Ros Wynne-Jones asks “ our world really so unfairly weighted that the hurt, guilty feelings of a minority of western women count more than an annual loss of life that's three times the death toll of the 2004 tsunami?” The absolute bottom line is that this isn’t another excuse to have a pop at the ‘breastfeeding mafia’ or an opportunity to talk about any individuals painful nipples, this is a chance to save the lives of human beings. The British media have entirely missed the point by focussing on the warning label issue but, for the record, I would happily contend with one third warning labels on anything I buy if it could make a positive difference to that many families.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

I breastfed my baby but...

If you’ve ever been inclined to read the bottom half of the internet when it comes to breastfeeding articles then, apart from the usual ‘formula is just as good’ and the occasional troll-like ‘bitty!’ comment you’ll almost always find somebody explaining that, while they breastfed themselves, they were extremely careful not to rub it in anyone’s face.  These comments often go along the lines of ‘I breastfed my baby for eight months but I think that the breastfeeding mafia go too far’.  Or ‘I am pro breastfeeding but I think that it’s everyone’s personal choice’. Here is a real example:

Breast milk or formula...who cares. What's important is your child is fed. I'm a breastfeeding mom and I don't pres my views onto others. If you want to give your child formula....great! Go for it. I hate how everyone seems to have a view on how other children are raised and fed. Get out of other people's business.

This breastfeeding ‘mom’ has carefully aligned herself with the cultural premise of personal choice and distanced herself from those who have an opinion about (breast) feeding. This seems to be a popular position. Breastfeeding mothers are in the ideal position to criticize ‘lactivists’ because they can’t be accused of feeling bitter due to guilt (as formula feeding mothers sometimes sadly feel). They can say ‘look, I breastfeed but I’m not going on about it’. This kind of political positioning seems to be highly acceptable.

Women (and the occasional man) who do hold strong opinions about breastfeeding, however, tend to be vilified. It’s acceptable, even in mainstream media, to label us as ‘mafia’, ‘breastapo’, and ‘nazis’ amongst others. I used the term ‘lactivist’ tentatively above because, although it’s been somewhat successfully reclaimed, it still has negative connotations. I don’t actually know what term to use.

Of course, one reason for the objection is that our opinions offend people. Most Western parents give their babies formula milk. If you suggest that formula milk, on balance, is potentially harmful and that breastmilk should be the norm that’s going to irk a whole lot of people. Nobody wants to be told that they are putting their child at risk and some are going to respond by shooting the messenger. It’s not a new idea amongst breastfeeding commentators that the phrase ‘breast is best’ is harmful to the cause because it carries the implicit message that formula feeding is standard; most people are satisfied with being standard and suspicious of overachievers.  A preferred message is that breastfeeding is normal, but then the implication is that formula feeding is inferior. What would happen if that was the explicit message: formula is potentially harmful? Respondents to this very question of my Facebook page were pretty sure that this would not be met gladly. In this area of public health we’re more concerned with ensuring that we don’t offend those who have already made a choice than providing information to those who are yet to make one.

Another potential reason why the general population seem to be turned off by the ‘breastfeeding gang’ is that we’re perceived as being a bit weird. While I cannot even pretend for one second that I have any data to back up this assertion, parents who are interested enough in breastfeeding to get political about it are often the same parents who babywear, use cloth nappies (or EC), baby-led wean, co-sleep, and buy organic produce. We’re hippies. And it’s easy to take the mick out of a hippy. Of course, I’m not supposing that this is always the case. There’s a spectrum. But it’s about perceptions. That’s why it’s so important for us ‘booby mob’ to flag it up each time a famous woman says she’s nursing; it raises the profile of breastfeeding as a whole (sadly, accompanying articles invariably talk about ‘baby weight’ loss, but I must be careful not to complain about everything).

Whilst I don’t have the space or inclination to pick apart the minutiae of it here, one element that shouldn’t be dismissed when trying to establish why the ‘nursing clan’ are so utterly vilified is feminism. I will undoubtedly be invited into a boxing match of fact presenting for announcing this, but I am a feminist. I sincerely believe that a person’s sex or gender shouldn’t define their opportunities. I don’t think that men and women automatically display different traits (not all men are ‘masculine’ and not all women are ‘feminine’) but I do think that we’re foolish if we try to ignore sex altogether; biological males can’t get pregnant and they can’t breastfeed. There is a brand of feminism that argues that women are not viewed as equal – particularly in the workplace – because they are forced by society to undertake the burden of the majority of child rearing. I’m not saying that this is not true, but this type of feminism would have it that breastfeeding is one of the causes of this and that, just like modern science gave us the Pill to give women freedom of reproduction, it also gives us formula milk to free us from the shackles of lactation.

To my mind, feminism should not be about establishing methods to allow women to become more male-like to increase their chances in a patriarchal workplace, it should be about respecting and valuing femaleness, one defining factor of which is our ability to perfectly nourish an infant. In a recent collection of self-promoting articles, professor of gender studies Joan Wolf asserts that the old adage that breastfeeding is free is untrue because it supposes that a woman’s time is worth nothing. She uses this as an argument against breastfeeding, but other researchers have suggested that this is, instead, an argument against the devaluing of women and of their contribution (via breastmilk) to the health and wellbeing of society. Wolf invites readers to “imagine if men had functioning mammary glands. Would breastfeeding seem as urgent? Or would we say that its benefits were marginal...?” I’d like to suggest that we certainly would see breastfeeding as urgent. We’d throw resources into examining breast milk and proving its fabulous properties, and we’d establish a culture that allowed for men to continue to nurse while continuing to add value to society in other ways, such as on site crèche facilities, breastfeeding in the boardroom, and lengthy paternity leave at full pay. This would ultimately benefit everyone.

Us ‘bap chaps’ (nah, that’s crap) need to be aware of how we are perceived by others but this shouldn’t stop us being political. It’s fine to have an opinion about infant feeding. It’s good to want parents to have the correct information. And it’s great to try to change the world. In fact, it’s not about changing the world; it’s about reversing the damage. Damage that has created financial gain for one industry and resulted in measured harm to the rest of society. So shoot the messenger, but it won’t be in my back because I’ll be facing you and I’ll be speaking my message.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Making Feeding that Little Bit More Simple: Unpicking Mothercare's Innosense Ad

I've been watching the response to the latest Mothercare ad with interest. The interesting bit is that, even on pages aimed at breastfeeding mothers, most people are fairly sure that there’s nothing wrong with the advert at all. To be fair, if you’re an advertising executive or a multinational baby kit supplier, the ad is pretty awesome. If you’re interested in increasing the rate of breastfeeding prevalence for the benefit of mothers, children, and society at large then it’s somewhat crappy. Let's examine why:

It Contravenes the WHO Code

Ad execs love breastfeeding
The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was drawn up in Geneva in 1981 and subsequently agreed to by many countries, including the UK. It recognises that the advertising and promoting of certain products fundamentally undermines breastfeeding. Most people are aware that advertising infant formula is against the code (a clause which formula companies have side-stepped by heavily advertising almost identically labelled ‘follow on’ milks suitable from six months) but the WHO code also applies to bottles and teats. It’s actually irrelevant whether the bottle is full of expressed breastmilk, formula, or caramel latte; it’s the bottle and teat that’s against the rules.

Article 5.3 of The Code says that there should be “ point-of-sale advertising, giving of samples, or any other promotional device to induce sales directly to the consumer at the retail level such as special displays...” I wonder if Mothercare's extensive programme of posters, television advertisements , website and youtube promotions count as a ‘special display’.

It Pretends to be Pro-Breastfeeding

The TV ad starts with a Mum breastfeeding a baby in a creepily clean house. I say ‘breastfeeding’, the baby is shown to be latched on (which is further than most ads go, I’ll grant) but active mouth movements are obviously a step too far. A mere 25 seconds in Mum is transported to the kitchen and it’s Dad’s turn to gaze at the baby. Mum pops the lid on one of the fantasta-bottles, which contains some white liquid, and brings it over to Dad: bottle in mouth, smiling Dad, sleeping baby, smiling Mum, family cuddles. The whole ad is underpinned by Mum’s disembodied whisper about how much she loves baby, and it’s interesting to note that words like “protect” and “amazing” are rolled out when the bottle is in shot.

Not from the ad
Now, I’m not saying that bottles have no place in breastfeeding. Many parents find that ability to leave expressed milk for their babies when they go to work or elsewhere means that they can avoid formula altogether. That’s great. Important also are the Mums who tirelessly express milk to preserve their supply while breastfeeding problems are ironed out. But this ad shows neither of these scenarios. The Mum is in the same bloomin’ room. The whole thing rides on the back of years of formula marketing which profligates the message that Dads should bottle feed in order to bond with baby, along with thousands of ‘well-meaning’ mother-in-laws in a chorus of “you’re hogging that child”. We now know that the action of a baby suckling is the best way to balance milk supply and that breastfeeding isn't simply about the milk itself, but about the physical act of feeding. We know, for instance, that the mother's body ‘reads’ pathogens from the baby and their shared environment to produce milk with the required antibodies for that point in time, and that milk produced for a three month old has a different composition to the milk of a toddler. Pumping, storing and bottle feeding is not an equal alternative. Necessary sometimes, but not equal, and certainly not required for Dad to bond. And that’s without even touching on the potential for nipple confusion or overfeeding that are associated with the use of a bottle.

Poster campaign
The accompanying poster ad, for some reason, seems to have gone in a completely different direction, proclaiming that a smorgasbord of bottles, teats and sterilisers are “everything you need to feed your baby”... except the boobs. They don’t say that last bit, which is kind of the problem.

It's Extraordinarily Pleased with Itself

The Innosense bottle’s tagline is ‘feeding from a new angle’ alluding to the fact that somebody has made the teat a bit jaunty to reduce the swallowing of air. The tagline for the entire range (as far as I can gather) is ‘making feeding that little bit more simple’. If Mothercare were really honest they’d concede that having to use a heap of accessories is always going to make feeding quite a lot more complicated, actually, and that there’s nothing wrong with whatever angle Mum’s boobs happen to sit at. Of course, as with all of this kind of advertising there is a queue of people ready to denounce anyone who complains as petty, over-thinking, and of being a member of the ‘breastapo’. What that doesn't take into account is that advertising makes a difference to more than just the people who are deciding what to buy. The Analytical Armadillo put it succinctly (if not cynically) when she said “Adverts don't influence what people use/buy, they're just a way for very rich companies to get rid of spare cash - they're actually a source of unbiased information, ask any marketing exec....” Of course, if the opposite were not true there wouldn't be billions spent on making us decide what to eat, wear, buy and think. Anyone who considers that they are not affected by advertising is, I’m afraid, utterly naive.

That said, I sincerely wish that the defenders are right. I hope that this blog post and all the complaints about Mothercare's most recent endeavour represent a massive waste of breath because the Innosense range will have no bearing whatsoever on any future breastfeeding relationship. I fear that my wish is in vain.

Michelle Atkin's awesome spoof of the Mothercare ad. Check out her breastfeeding coach page here.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Under Pressure

Women are under too much pressure to breastfeed, my friend complained recently, and that’s not fair to those who choose to formula feed. I’ve been digesting this for a while. And, actually, it’s an argument I keep on hearing. I suspect I’m not the only one?

At first I wanted to dismiss this. I’ve never felt a pressure to breastfeed. Not an external one, anyway. If this perceived pressure, however, is resulting in feelings of negativity towards breastfeeding and breastfeeders, then it must be taken seriously, surely.

Initially, I want to think about what pressure is. We don’t tend to talk about feeling pressured to do things that we find easy and enjoyable; I don’t feel pressured to eat this slice of chocolate cake (I wish I had a slice of chocolate cake) although, technically, I probably was by advertising, special offers, and the fact that my mate told me she had some chocolate cake last night. You probably don’t feel pressure to take a bubble bath, cuddle your partner, or read that juicy novel you’ve been into. These are nice things to do even though they sometimes require a little effort. Perhaps those women who feel pressured to breastfeed don’t see nursing as an enjoyable activity. That’s not to say they don’t see nursing as beneficial; passing exams and earning money are beneficial, for instance, but much more likely to be loaded with feelings of pressure because they’re hard work. To what extent do women who feel pressure to breastfeed see it as being an unpleasant and difficult activity?

I suppose to answer that we need to think about who is feeling this pressure. To me, two groups are distinguishable: those who already have first-hand experiences of breastfeeding, and those who haven’t. The feelings of pressure will be rooted in different places for each of these women. Women who have previously breastfed but feel pressure to do it again are likely to have had negative experiences, which are possibly wrapped up in guilt and since that’s another blog post let’s take the ‘virgin’ breastfeeder first:

For a woman who has never breastfed her first encounter of pressure to do so is likely to be from the midwife she sees while she is expecting her first child. Whether or not you or I would interpret the midwife as pressuring is irrelevant, really, as this pregnant mother does and it’s her response that we’re currently concerned with. We have to remember that it’s highly likely that this mother’s experiences of baby-feeding, right up until the point of conversation with the midwife, have been formula-skewed. It’s likely that she would have been formula-fed herself at some point and that her brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews would have been too. She would also have seen bottles everywhere; almost ubiquitously hailed as the icon of baby feeding and printed on cafe walls, bibs, and baby clothes. The chances are pretty high that when she played with dolls as a child she ‘fed’ them from a moulded plastic bottle (or one of those where the ‘milk’ vanishes if you turn it upside down if her parents had the cash). She would have seen acres of shelf space given over to SMA and Aptamil, and a fair few formula...sorry, follow-on milk adverts on TV. Statistically, her friends with babies will have started off breastfeeding, before moving to formula. This will result in her having heard plenty of explanations as to why breastfeeding ‘didn’t work’, ranging from the painful (“my nipples were virtually hanging off”) to the mysterious (“the baby just wouldn’t latch on”). She’ll have heard that ‘breast is best’, but she’ll also be pretty damn sure that it’s hard work. If she was raised in Western society – as we’re assuming she has been – our pregnant mother is almost certain to have been bombarded with images of unobtainable female bodies and sexualised breasts for two or three decades and therefore have a deeply ingrained understanding of how she should view her own boobs (imperfect and rude). She’ll probably never have risked exposing her nipple in a public place.

Cue the midwife and her leaflets about the positives of breastfeeding. Leaflets that tell her she must outdo all her friends by exclusively breastfeeding for six months. Leaflets that turn over at least half of their printing space to troubleshooting ‘common problems’. And leaflets that are often accompanied by a demand for intentions right there and then. When the midwife asks our pregnant mother how she is going to feed her baby there only seems to be one correct answer... and it’s not the one she’s used to being exposed to. I’m not saying that the picture I have painted is representative of all expectant mothers, but if she was part of a society in which breastfeeding was seen as normal, pleasurable and public, would she feel pressure to nurse? Or would she just do it because that’s what people do? What if she lived in a world in which the question wasn’t asked because breastfeeding was so near-universal? Would she feel more or less pressure in this situation? Would the nursing be more or less achievable?

The experience of pressure doesn’t just come down to which side of the argument is louder or who spends the most money on advertising. It’s about perceptions of normality and about the extent to which an individual feels comfortable about what she is being asked to do. People don’t have to be persuaded very hard to do things they see as easy, positive, and normal. The pregnant woman sees the midwife’s leaflets and questions as pressure because her mind’s already made up how she’s going to ultimately feed her baby. Her mind has been made up for her.