BREASTFEEDING BATTLEGROUND: WHY MUMS ARE UP IN ARMS
MOTHER’S MILK OR FORMULA? THE DEBATE OVER HOW BEST TO FEED OUR INFANTS IS DIVIDING WOMEN AT A TIME WHEN THEY MOST NEED SUPPORT. BY Sharon Labi
Such is the gulf between breastfeeders and bottle-feeders that when supermodel Gisele Bündchen recently said women should be forced by law to breastfeed for six months, her comments were met with both applause and derision.
Women the world over who had fed their babies formula were outraged that this leggy Brazilian was accusing them of pumping chemicals into their babies’ bodies.
Realising her error, Bündchen apologised for offending millions of women who, by necessity or choice, feed their infants formula.
But why are women pitched against each other at a time when they are overcome by hormones and severely sleep deprived?
Australia has one of the highest breastfeeding-initiation rates in the world – 92 per cent – but that figure slumps markedly with each week of babies’ lives, leaving us lagging behind many developed nations.
The Federal Government last year released its National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015, but there has been little action.
It took two years to get a breastfeeding helpline set up following a recommendation from a parliamentary inquiry in 2007. Run by the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), the helpline receives 1600 calls a week.
Carey Wood, ABA spokeswoman and midwife, says women need to persist with breastfeeding. “There are times when you think, ‘What’s the point of doing this?’ and they’re the times you need reassurance. For some women, it’s not pleasant, but they realise it’s important, and they’re prepared to persevere.”
Wood says women are stunned to learn they might need to feed their infant up to 12 times in 24 hours.
Robyn Thompson, from the Australian College of Midwives, says babies should be left to work it out for themselves during that crucial first feed. Midwives should only offer guidance and not touch the mother’s breast or the infant.
Thompson, who is writing a PhD on the subject, says of the 806 women she studied, 49 per cent gave their babies formula within three days after birth. She says hospitals should give babies formula only in extreme circumstances.
“If we look after the mother’s wellbeing, she can look after her baby, but if we put expectations on her that she can’t work with, or she feels uncomfortable about someone grabbing her breast and putting the baby on, we disempower her from what she knows innately.”
Breastfeeding advocates say women often turn to formula because of a “perceived” lack of milk supply.
Lactation specialists aren’t cheap and most women who deliver in hospital are sent home on day four, right after their milk comes in and before they’ve had a chance to establish their supply or technique. There is also a lack of consistency at hospitals, with mothers often not seeing the same midwife twice.
Those who support bottle-feeding say it’s sometimes in the best interests of the baby’s health and mother’s wellbeing to use formula.
Melissa Macdonald, author of Breastfeeding: Real Mums Tell You How (self-published), says there is too much pressure on mothers and no support for women who bottle-feed.
“Give breastfeeding a go and if it doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world,” she says.
But opponents say formula is full of chemicals and additives.
“There are detrimental health impacts when we remove human milk from the diet and replace it with artificially concocted substitutes,” breastfeeding counsellor Yvette O’Dowd writes on the ABA website.
Dr Patricia McVeagh, a paediatrician at Sydney Children’s Hospital, says while breast is best, breastfeeding is not always easy and those who have problems should talk to a lactation consultant, GP or paediatrician.
“Any breast milk is better than no breast milk, and continuing partial feeding is better than weaning,” she says.
Who to call:
Australian Breastfeeding Association’s National Helpline: 1800 686 2 686 (1800 mum 2 mum)
❝ I think there should be a worldwide law that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months
Supermodel Gisele Bündchen