Saturday, November 19, 2016

Breastfeeding Myths

All other things being equal, breastfeeding is best for babies. Current WHO advice is to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, and then alongside other foods for as long as you and your baby both want to, which they suggest could be two years or beyond. There are many good reasons to choose breastfeeding.

There are also a lot of bad and misleading "reasons" that get spewed forth with the good ones.

1. It is cheaper because it doesn't require special equipment.

Unless, of course, you want to be at all comfortable and retain any dignity while doing it. In that case, you will need a full set of nursing bras, which means sleep ones and daytime ones, and because your body and breasts will keep changing size and shape, you need to get re-fitted every few months. It will cost hundreds of pounds and comes as quite a shock to those of us who, pre-pregnancy, were small enough that bras were more about decoration than support.

Then you need breast pads, to avoid getting massive wet smelly circles of milk soaking through those expensive bras and making stains on clothes and upholstery, and also to try and stave off the risk of infection. A box of 60 decent ones (like other feminine hygiene products, value-brand ones are false economy) is about £6 and lasts 15 days (you use two pads at a time, obviously, and if you have a day bra and a sleep bra that's two sets per day) so for the two years the WHO recommend you breastfeed, that's about £300.

You'll probably want some nursing tops as well, if you want to feed on demand and intend to ever leave the house. In summer it's not too bad, you wear a vest that you can pull down underneath a lightweight shirt or top that you can either open or pull up. The other 40 weeks of the UK weather year, I for one want my shoulders and back and tummy to stay covered. Not just for modesty either, although that's part of it. But hoicking up a winter jumper on one side means trying to feed the baby around a huge amount of smothering, view-obscuring cloth while half of your back muscles scream in lopsided agony from the chill. It's not a nurturing experience! So you need tops. At least eight, to start with, because you need to account for laundry turnaround time and additional changes due to vomit and other fluids. At £20+ each that's another couple of hundred pounds. But eight tops won't see you through two years. I'm embarking on my second winter and the tops I wore last year are... well... they look like they've had a year of hard wear and are nothing like as warm or as presentable as they were at first. Also, after a few months, while a body might not be quite what it was, it's not post-partum shaped so anything that was marketed for pregnancy *and* nursing looks ridiculous, with armfuls of cloth over a bump that no longer exists. People ask me when I plan to stop nursing Jamie and I'm only half joking when I say not yet, I've spent £150 on nice warm nursing hoodies so it'd be a terrible waste of money if I stop now!

You could get a nursing cover, although I wouldn't recommend it. And you're expected to take breastfeeding vitamins as well, at about £15/month that's another £360 over the two years.

Basically I want to bang my head off things when people assert that breastfeeding is "free".

2. It saves a lot of messing about with bottles and steriliser and so on.

True, but only to a point. If you have any intention of outsourcing even one feed over those 730 days, whether that's for your return to work, or to allow you to have a drink, or when you are sick, or to give other caregivers a bonding opportunity, you need a steriliser and at least one bottle set. These cost the same and take up space whether you use them three times a day, or three times a year.

If you want that bottle to be full of breast milk rather than formula then you also need a pump, hand or electric, and storage containers. We got a "breastfeeding support set" which was about £150. You need to find time to pump while also making sure the baby is fed - no good emptying yourself out in the half hour before the baby wakes! The baby probably won't sleep through the noise of the pump if you're in the same room, and once they're bigger, then trying to find a solid fifteen minutes do anything without their interruption is impossible. Finding time to pump if you don't already have childcare is a fine art. And then you've got to scrub and sterilise all the pump components as well... Once you enter the world of pumping, the "messing about with bottles" argument flies out of the window. As soon as there is a bottle, formula is infinitely quicker, easier, and involves less washing up.

3. It's more convenient.

Again, true up to a point. Yes, in the middle of the night it's a marvellous thing to not be trying to mix or warm up a bottle, instead just sleepily undoing your nightie and latching the baby on in seconds. But the real winners here are the dads. Not only does the baby stop crying sooner, they are off the hook for night feeds, because even if there's expressed milk ready to go, no breastfeeding mama is going to be able to lie still while her baby does the Hungry Cry while waiting for daddy to warm a bottle. Quite apart from the noise level, the sound of the hungry baby causes a physical response of milk production. Bottle-feeding parents can share night duties, when the family is sick then bottle-feeding parents can alternate shifts to each get a solid eight hours of rest. Breastfeeding mamas have no such luxury. Exclusive breastfeeding from source is wonderfully convenient for daddies.

4. Breastfed babies don't need burping and don't have reflux.

Bollocks. Go on, ask me how I know.

5. Almost any mother can breastfeed!

Also bollocks and a really nasty line to pull on women who want to breastfeed but cannot. Note please that I'm avoiding the even more awful caveat "for genuine/valid reasons" because, as with disability, who the hell is a stranger to decide what counts as valid? There's so many factors at play.

6. There's lots of support available!

True, but it would be more useful if it was at all consistent. New mothers get conflicting advice even before leaving the hospital, as different midwives have their different ways of doing things. Websites, breastfeeding counsellors, friends and relatives, everyone has an opinion and at least half of them will believe that whatever you're doing is wrong. The price of "support" is a lot of pressure. At least formula has unequivocal correct instructions on the tin.

Don't misunderstand, I feel very fortunate that I've been able to feed Jamie. I believe, even if I can't prove, that it's been instrumental in turning him into the happy, healthy, secure little boy he is. I feel like I've achieved something significant and that I've done right by him. But I feel like the pro-breastfeeding gangs devalue their message by diluting the genuine advantages with silly half-truths that don't stand up to scrutiny, and this fanatical belief that breastfeeding is the only important duty of a mother.

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