A Response to ‘BREAST IDEA? I’m a maternity nurse – why I believe breastfeeding is NOT always best…’
Updated: Oct 2, 2022
When I read the aforementioned intentionally evocative headline, I did not feel particularly strongly about it. In fact, I secretly hoped to read a compassionate argument about how mothers around the world struggle with the demands of breastfeeding. I personally recognize the challenges that come with becoming a mother in a world that proclaims breast to be, ‘best,’ without actually supporting those who want to do it. I agree wholeheartedly that breastfeeding is not always the ideal feeding choice for every family, all of the time. I also agree that every parent needs support and validation and that nothing in the world is ‘best’ for everyone. However, this article published by The Sun in Fabulous magazine is full of misleading misinformation based upon one woman’s heavily biased opinion as a nanny. It is seriously lacking in scientific fact; it contradicts guidance from qualified lactation consultants and it does not fairly reflect the collective experience of breastfeeding mothers around the world. Motherhood truly is wrought with guilt because of the unattainable ideals and expectations that society places upon us but to blame breastfeeding for that guilt is ignorant and grossly irresponsible.
The recommendations shared in this piece read like an instruction manual on how-to-ensure-that-you-are-unable-to-breastfeed. If I was to thoroughly dispel each myth, I would need to write a book (believe me, I’m tempted). Nonetheless, I feel compelled to illuminate some of the key points for fear of the damage that not doing so could do. Advice like, feed your baby on a, “Four hourly schedule,” once they reach 8lbs in weight is almost guaranteed to jeopardize the nursing journey of any new mother and leave her new baby hungry and unnecessarily distressed. If you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby, the WHO recommends feeding on demand until six months old (1). In normal circumstances, this is the only way to ensure that your body produces enough milk for your child. Is it demanding? Yes, incredibly so – but with support and education, it is also possible if it is what you want.
Another way that this piece directly contradicts the guidance of lactation consultants and medical professionals is by advising moms to express their milk soon after birth so that others can feed their baby rather than breastfeeding. This implies that the process of expressing breast milk is easier and more stress-free than nursing your child at the breast. This so-called ‘advice’ has clearly not been written by anyone with any experience of breastfeeding. Have you tried expressing colostrum recently? I have and believe me, it is no mean feat. Perhaps there is some truth in this if somehow you manage to pump colostrum in those early days postpartum and you can afford a full-time nanny like Louenna to wash and dry your pump parts after every feed. However, even if that is the case, anyone with even a moderate understanding of breastfeeding knows that those early days are crucial for establishing a good milk supply. Skin-to-skin whilst breastfeeding is beneficial for mother and baby as you both learn how to breastfeed. Skipping this step by choice could lead to supply and latching issues, as well as your baby refusing to nurse at the breast. If you want to successfully breastfeed on your own terms, introducing a bottle is not recommended before four to six weeks, because of the risk of your baby developing bottle preference/nipple confusion (2). There are many other ways that dads, siblings and other family members can bond with babies until six weeks that do not include feeding them such as: bathing, rocking to sleep, winding, changing, baby wearing and doing skin-to-skin.
For your information, Louenna, babies do not “Learn to cry for feeds.” Please, please stop spreading such an outdated and unfounded misconception. They are born with crying as their only form of communication. Full stop. Babies cry for food, hydration, warmth, comfort and love because crying is the only form of communication that they have. Responding to babies’ cries nurtures the mother, baby dyad. From a psychological perspective, responsiveness is essential for teaching babies to trust in loving caregivers. Equally, telling parents that each feed should last no more than an hour is just as damaging. Cluster feeding is when a baby nurses constantly for what may be several hours at a time, in order to boost a mother’s milk supply. This is normal and healthy nursing behaviour. Therefore suggesting that babies move to a four hour feeding schedule once they reach 8lbs is awful advice. Some babies are born heavier than that and stretching feeds four hours apart would almost guarantee that a new mother does not make enough milk for her baby. Just for the record, clusterfeeding alone does not lead to sore nipples. A poor latch, or conditions such as thrush, or Raynaud’s syndrome do.
With sub-headings like, ‘Buy Formula,’ the arti has clearly been written to cause controversy and to scare expectant mothers into abandoning all hope of feeding their children in the most natural possible way. If the author of this piece had any moral conscience, they would have included any unbiased, evidence-based information to support parents to make the right decision for themselves and their children. Breastfeeding improves life chances for mothers and their children and has been proven to do so by numerous studies. From reducing a mother’s risk of developing breast cancer (3), reducing the likelihood of developing postpartum depression (4) and even reducing the risk of heart failure and strokes (5). The benefits are numerous and are not just for babies. If you are a mother who is struggling to breastfeed though, facts like these do nothing to support or empower you. I believe that the only way to truly empower families to make the right choice for them is through candid, evidence-based education and experiential support.
If you are experiencing issues with breastfeeding such as latching problems, supply issues or pain when nursing, I urge you to seek support from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant ASAP. If however, you are physically able to breastfeed, but you are struggling to look after your own physical and mental health as you do so, I’m your gal. I quite literally had a nervous breakdown in the first year of my son’s life, trying to do it all. Everyone told me to stop breastfeeding, as if that would suddenly make my son sleep through the night and give me a break but breastfeeding was the thing I loved most about our days and being told to give it up felt like a slap in the face. Since then I have applied my knowledge of psychology, yoga, mediation and motherhood to write my debut book: ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition’ available here, now: https://www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com/book
As I write this article, I am still breastfeeding my son, who is 3 years old and I am incredibly happy and grateful to be doing so.