This week has seen a lot of talk in the blogosphere and on facebook about the UNICEF baby-friendly initiative, and how it affects formula marketing in hospitals.
I’d just like to say, before I get started, that I am categorically opposed to formula companies marketing their products in hospitals. It is a very sneaky and effective form of marketing and I don’t believe it should be allowed to continue. It’s dangerous to women’s health and the health of their babies. I support the baby-friendly initiative completely – this post is NOT about the rights and supposed wrongs of the baby-friendly initiative. It is about the out-and-out POISON that I have seen launched from woman to woman all over the internet, sparked off by debates over free formula given out in hospitals.
This week, I have been disgusted at the way women are speaking to (and about) their fellow mothers. Not only this, but the bloggers who have hosted their comments are very quick to to back up the viewpoint that it is anti-woman to offer free formula in the delivery room, but some of them neglect to oppose the comments that are also very obviously anti-woman, anti-choice and anti-simple-fucking-human-decency.
Allow me to paraphrase some of the gems I have read this week:
“I am sick of women using the fact that breastfeeding can be hard as an excuse not to breastfeed.”
“If a woman has to formula feed out of medical necessity, then that’s OK”
“I’m sorry, but “choice” does not come into it where an innocent baby’s health is at stake. Using formula shouldn’t be a free choice at all.”
I am shocked and incensed that women are turning on their fellow women in this way. I am a passionate supporter of breastfeeding and always have been, and I think as a result I have blocked out a lot of these vicious literary assaults on others regarding their feeding choices. I simply didn’t want to believe that mums could be so freaking nasty to other mums about an issue as emotional as this. I didn’t really want to believe that these scary lactivists actually existed – I would have rather believed that they were fabricated by a bitter formula mum with a chip on her shoulder. How wrong I was.
The hypocrisy from these people stinks. On one hand, they are saying (quite rightly, I might add) that the emotional experience of labour and birth is important. They support a woman’s choice to birth outside of the hospital, even if that may increase the risk of harm to themselves or their baby depending on the woman’s level of risk. They are also saying that causing emotional distress to children is not okay, which it’s not. BUT they think it’s okay to tell women that their emotional experience of breastfeeding doesn’t matter? That she should just push through it even if she is hating every minute of it?
On the one hand, they are saying that women are strong and capable, and able to make their own informed decision. On the other hand, they are saying that they are weak and vulnerable, and should put themselves through self-punishment in order to breastfeed their babies lest they not be a Good Enough Mother.
Maybe this is an issue close to my heart because I found breastfeeding to be so hard emotionally with my first baby. I am proud to say that I nursed him for 26 months, but for the first year it made life very hard for me – and as a result, for the rest of my family. I often feel as though I cannot talk about the fact that breastfeeding was incredibly emotionally taxing, or about the fact that sometimes I wish I HAD given up, because I would have been a better mother for it. Maybe my son wouldn’t struggle with the things he struggles with today had I not been near insane from lack of sleep and the stifling feelings of entrapment which, although caused by my PPD, were definitely exacerbated by the physical and emotional sensations of breastfeeding.
Frankly, I am shocked at the small, but definitely present, group of people who are insistent on spreading the lie of “Breast is Best No Matter What.”
You know what? Breastfeeding is not the right path for every mum. Yes, breast milk is the physiologically normal way to feed an infant. Yes, it is amazing. Yes, nutritionally it is better for babies than formula milk. Yes, I will support breastfeeding and do all I can to help other mothers breastfeed until the day I die. What I will not do is stand idly by and ignore these awful, venomous comments from MOTHERS to OTHER MOTHERS. This group of women need to listen up and realise that they have no idea what they are talking about.
Put simply: Nobody but THE MOTHER has the right to decide whether their reasons for formula feeding are valid. I am amazed by the amount of mortal humans who are, in their own eyes, omnipresent enough to know EXACTLY what any given mother at any given time is going through with regards to feeding her baby. The sore nipples that stop one mum breastfeeding may be easily overcome by another, but that doesn’t mean that her sore nipples were not a valid reason for HER to stop breastfeeding.
I’m not talking about political correctness here. I, for one, have been publicly attacked on several occasions for speaking positively about breastfeeding when there was no hint of judgement in my tone. I’m talking about having a bit of compassion, a bit of human decency and understanding.
No matter whether we breastfeed our children or formula feed our children, we need to come together and support each other’s right to make that choice for ourselves and our children. And a big part of that is telling the formula companies to get their advertising the fuck out of the hospitals. Taking formula marketing out of the delivery room is not taking choice away – true choice is informed choice. Here in the UK, formula companies are not allowed to advertise in this manner. Formula is still available at the hospital for those who medically need it, or for those mothers who started out breastfeeding and quickly decide they want to use formula. For mothers who choose to formula feed from the get-go, it’s simple – bring your own. Just like you’d bring your own nappies, baby clothes and car seat. I think it’s a good system.
Let’s look after each other. Let’s tell those formula companies to sod off with their marketing ploys and crappy breastfeeding advice. Let’s support each other as mothers, because let’s face it, mothering is hard enough without having to deal with the unwanted and unreasonable judgements from others.