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

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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