Monday, March 10, 2008

Formula Debate

Before I get started I want to make it clear that I do not have any problem with people who need to use formula for whatever reason. I do not even have a problem with people who choose to use formula for any reason, so long as it is an informed choice, made with the knowledge of the difference between breast milk and formula. This is not intended to beat up those mums at all (but I will look at mummy wars in postings to come).

Lily is now a little over 8 months old and I continue to breastfeed. It is easy - free (bonus for a SAHM) and works well for us.

What I am finding interesting is that breastfeeding support follows something like this:

Pre-birth: 'Oh you are going to breast feed, aren't you, it is the best for the baby...'

Birth: 'It is so great that you are giving breast feeding a good go, it is the best for the baby...'

3 months: 'Great that breast feeding is working so well for you, it is the best for the baby. So, when do you think you might introduce a bottle - it will help baby sleep through, give you a break...'

6 months: 'Wow, you have been so good with breastfeeding. So when are you going to start weaning?'

8 months: 'Oh, still feeding then, will you stop at a year?

1 year: *uncomfortable silence*

Why does this happen? Why is it great to start feeding your baby, but then have to move onto a formula so that other people feel comfortable? And why do some people feel uncomfortable about such a thing anyway?

For the record, I used to think it was a bit icky when people fed past 2 years. I still don't think it is a choice i would make, but now I can see why they might choose to feed. Not to mention the longer you feed, the better the health benefits are for the mother!

I think that it is no coincidence that the general societal acceptance of weaning onto formula at around 6 months occurs at the same time that formula is allowed to be advertised. Currently formula companies cannot advertise new born products. Most maternity carers are very limited in the information they give so they can push breast feeding. That means that many people who need advice on formula early on, when their milk supply is low or non existent for example, cannot access information easily.

Then at 6 months they suddenly come out of the woodwork - ta da! Formula time! So it becomes more normal to give formula than to breastfeed.

There is even an ad for a 'follow-on' formula for babies over a year - so you can be sure as to give your child all the nutrients they need.

Perhaps their parents haven't heard of food? You know, vegetables and fruit and well balanced meals? Why are they guilting parents into getting something they don't actually need?

So, next time you see someone feeding past 6 months, a year, 2 years... stop and think about why you feel the way you do, especially if it is negative. Chances are that the feelings are created by advertising, rather than from something you really believe.


Julie Fairey said...

Thanks, this is a v interesting post! In the hospital we had to use formula when my son was first born and while the midwives were all very non-judgemental I felt a very strong sense of defensiveness, which I still do now. I didn't know it was illegal to advertise it for babies younger than 6 months, that certainly explains a few things! I have a friend who has formula fed basically from the beginning and her baby is now 4 months and she has found it incredibly hard to get any support or information. Neither Plunket nor Parents Centre seem to be helping her (although that may be down to the individuals she is dealing with, I have found Plunket more open minded in my neck of the woods).

Undomestic Goddess said...

It certainly seems true that the support through Plunket with formula feeding is very much up to the nurse you have. And that is also true for people like myself who want to breast feed longer, as there is often pressure to say when you will wean around the 8-10 month visit.

I just don't see how either attitudes are in the best interest of supporting women through what can be an isolating confusing time!

poneke said...

My three children were breastfed until they weaned themselves, at about 12 to 14 months. They went from breast to cup, and none had a bottle even once.

As they got older, they had fewer and fewer breast feeds as they started using cups, with the last to go being the good-night feed with all three of them.

It saved a lot of bother, and as you note, it was free!

Kathy said...

Great post! I breastfed my daughter almost exclusively(ie: no food/formula added) for her first fourteen months. I did offer and offer and endlessly offer all kinds of food but to no avail. It would make me quite livid when people would be all judging that she wasn't reaching her "developmental milestones" (or letting me know it was a wee bit gross to be feeding such a "big girl" and my plunket nurse was so unsuppotive that I stopped going after the 10mnth visit. I did find that my local La Leche Leaugue people were super helpful and supportive so that saved the day more than once. She finally weaned herself just after turning two and is the healthiest, brightest little girl around.

Deborah said...

It's not quite free.... I found that I needed more high protein food myself when I was feeding, and also that I got very, very tired. Not everyone has the same capacity to breastfeed. It's a bit like cows - some of them simply produce more milk than others, despite having exactly the same living and feeding conditions. But breastfeeding was terribly convenient, and much easier than the bottle palaver. (I breastfed my eldest, but was unable to breastfeed my twins beyond the first few days, so I do have a valid point of comparison.)

Shelley_101 said...

Re support for formula feeding, it is such a tricky one to balance - giving support without undermining breastfeeding. This within the context of commercial interests with a very big stake in selling their product - formula.

I feel for mothers who feel defensive or guilty about formula feeding. But the issue there is them coming to terms with the fact that breast is best and for whatever reason they were unable to give their child the best. Ufortunately that is a fact.

As a breastfeeding advocate, I often felt hamstrung about promoting breasfeeding in case it upset formula feeders.

The risk is that in order to reassure formula feeders, breastfeeding and formula feeding come to be seen as equally beneficial infant feeding methods. This is simply not the case.

The challenge is to provide an environment which is trully supportive of breastfeeding, so fewer women 'choose' to formula feed.

Undomestic Goddess said...

Shelley, that is a really interesting point and part of what is so hard with the promotion of breastfeeding. I think that it comes down to the reactions people give to formula feeders. If someone says they are formula feeding, instead of a look of horror, a shocked gasp etc (I am sure that you don't do either), asking the question, 'Was there anything anyone could have done differently to suppport you in breastfeeding that would have had a different outcome?' would give information that might help others in the future. Or give the FF a chance to say no, if they don't want to divulge personal information.