It is the quintessential motherhood statement to say that it is good for babies to be breast-fed. It is not the purpose of this blog to list the benefits or why we should encourage mothers to breast-feed. We all know this.
Plus, virtually all women want to breast-feed their baby and the vast majority of women do so for variable lengths of time.
Over human history some mothers have struggled to successfully breast-feed. In previous centuries those with enough money could hire a “wet nurse” to feed their baby.
In modern times we can substitute with formula, which whilst is not as good as breast milk, is not all bad. At the very least, as John Cleese said in one episode of Fawlty Towers, “it can certainly be used in an emergency”. (No he was not referring to breast-feeding but the principal applies!)
You might think that this is all pretty straight forward and should not be a source of stress or anxiety. In fact it should be a source of joy. Yet I am finding new mothers increasingly anxious about whether they can breast feed and will they get it right!
Can you really get it wrong?
Breast-feeding is a bodily function. It is not something learned from a book or a lecture. All mammals do it! It is something innate. Mothers with more than one child will say that each baby was slightly different. Nature finds its own way. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen and nothing can change this. Sometimes, assistance will help.
This is where lactation consultants and nurses come in. Ideally they can provide tips, ideas and practical suggestions. In the real world this has morphed into something more zealous. I am amazed at the number of stressed mothers “told off” for doing it wrong!
Their “error” could be feeding at the wrong time, on the wrong schedule or in the wrong position.
Even worse, they are made to feel like failures or bad mothers!
The stress felt by mothers is increased by a myriad of studies claiming breast fed babies will do everything from get better grades in school, to getting sick less often and being generally streets ahead of their bottle fed brethren.
These observational studies prove nothing. We know that breast is best. But that does not make those mothers who are unable to do so bad mothers. Use of formula as a part of full replacement is not a hanging offence.
It is sad to see mothers placed under this pressure. Apart from the obvious it is also counter productive. Increased stress hormones will not augment milk production or make the experience better for mother or baby.
So, lets make life simple. The world will not end if formula is used. We do not need to pressure mothers. We can support women who are doing their best in a positive way rather than hectoring them and making them feel they are failures and bad mothers!
Dr Joe Kosterich M.B.B.S is an author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, who wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life. Dr Joe also gives practical, motivational health talks for the general public and organisations where he is known as “An independent doctor who talks about health”.
His latest book “60 minutes to Better Health” is available on Amazon.