i Editor's Letter: Why are we making mothers feel guilty?



Twenty years after I had my children, I can't believe we are still discussing the pros and cons of breastfeeding.

There seems to be little doubt that it is beneficial, both from a financial and a medical point of view. Mothers pass on their antibodies, and it's cheaper than buying formula milk and all the paraphernalia that entails.

Research points to health benefits for mothers too. Breast-feeding helps you lose weight after pregnancy, apparently - not that I ever noticed. (But then I lived on Danish pastries when I was breastfeeding, because that's all I ever had time to eat.)

However, there are plenty of reasons why women don't breastfeed. It's painful - to begin with, at any rate. Some women worry their bodies will be ruined by it, and I don't think this should be dismissed as mere vanity. Pregnancy is a strangely invasive, dehumanising process, and by the time you've been poked and prodded at the antenatal clinic, and in the labour ward, there's a sense that you want to protect what is left of your bruised, flabby frame.

Some babies just don't thrive. My sister, for example, was told - by her health visitor - to stop breastfeeding my niece because the baby wasn't putting on weight quickly enough.

I think the key to helping mothers choose to breastfeed is encouragement and support, not moral blackmail. If they find it painful, shove a tube of Kamillosan in their hand, not a leaflet about the health benefits. Making mothers feel guilty seems to have become a national pastime, and it's time we stopped.

Stefano Hatfield is away

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