Breast isn’t always best – so stop telling new mothers that it is

Breastfeeding is great – but it’s also hard, labour-intensive and just not even possible at all for some people

<p>Even without a US formula shortage, I’ve been amazed at how often this smug and simplistic mantra is trotted out to new mothers</p>

Even without a US formula shortage, I’ve been amazed at how often this smug and simplistic mantra is trotted out to new mothers

It turns out there is no circumstance, literally none, in which compassion trumps judgement once you have a baby. Just look to the US, where an infant formula shortage has left some parents struggling to find the food their children need. As a new(ish) mum myself, the idea of this is so viscerally terrifying that you could currently build some kind of fort out of the “stock up ahead” formula boxes in my utility room.

But even if your response to this news isn’t some casual panic buying, it should surely be one of empathy right? Right? Apparently not. As parents take to social media to try to raise awareness of the issue, for some people this is an ideal opportunity to remind these errant parents (and let’s be honest, we mostly mean “mothers” here) that they wouldn’t be having these problems in the first place if they’d only breastfeed (add “fun” detail about “as nature/God intended” or “not making excuses”, to suit.)

In fact, even without a formula shortage, I’ve been amazed at how often this smug and simplistic mantra is trotted out to new mothers. Baby grizzling? Just breastfeed! Not losing your baby weight? Just breastfeed. Alien invasion? Just whip out a boob and the crisis will be averted!

I’m being flippant here, but so too are the zealots who throw this advice around. It’s important to understand the benefits of breastfeeding – a new study that has just been released tells us that children who are breastfed for longer develop better verbal and cognitive skills – but the directive to “just breastfeed” is never that easy.

Breastfeeding is great – but it’s also hard, labour-intensive and just not even possible at all for some people. Besides the fact that sometimes bodies just don’t cooperate, what about adopted children, or gay couples?

You could be forgiven for wondering if there isn’t a certain vein of patriarchal traditionalism running through this advice. But rather than acknowledge this, the prevailing ideology organises the means by which your baby gets fed into some sort of moral hierarchy, with breastfeeding on demand at its absolute peak.

Worshipping at the cult of the boob as if it’s a question of moral right and wrong puts untold pressure and guilt onto anyone who falls short of this milky-bosomed ideal.

You might have already gathered from the formula fort story that I am not currently breastfeeding my own little munchkin. I thought my feminism would protect me from the worse excesses of the dreaded “mummy guilt”, but it’s surprisingly hard to shake off.

And I’ll be honest – I’m itching to share with you the relevant tale of attempted breastfeeding woe, just in case you think I’m a bad, uncaring mother otherwise. I’m not going to though, because it doesn’t matter.

Suffice to say that if in those early, exhausted days, having finally unhooked myself from my breast pump in defeat, someone had seen me giving formula to my child and suggested “just breastfeed” instead, I’d probably have punched them.

How much worse then, to suddenly find yourself struggling to get hold of the formula you’ve used for months and be told “just breastfeed” as if a) it’s a tap you can simply turn on and off at will; and b) the whole crisis is somehow your fault for not breastfeeding in the first place.

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

The truth is, breast is not best when it simply becomes a boob-shaped stick to beat people with. And despite some lingering sadness, I’m happy to report that there are actually some huge and underreported advantages of formula feeding. For starters, my husband and I share night feeds, meaning he gets some all important bonding time, and I’m not perpetually so tired I could vomit. So there’s that.

It’s also possible that some of breastfeeding’s miraculous benefits have been over-stated, though it feels like blasphemy to say it, so entrenched is the status quo here in the UK.

In the end though, the last thing I want to do is simply try to reorganise the hierarchy of “ways to ensure your baby stays alive”. What I do want to do is smash up this hierarchy completely, so that no parent has to feel ashamed of the way their child is fed.

And if your response to the US formula shortage is to shame struggling parents, then quite frankly, shame on you.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in