This week has been World Breastfeeding Week and across social media I have seen some wonderful, supportive and informative posts as well as photos full of pride in an effort to normalise breastfeeding. Because breastfeeding still is not considered the social norm, especially natural term breastfeeding.
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding a child exclusively for at least 6 months and then continuing up to and beyond 2 years of age, yet the idea that children be breastfed beyond 6 or 12 months still seems to cause repulsion at times.
However, as well as the posts in support of breastfeeding, I have seen a huge amount of posts about other feeding methods, reasons why specific people have relied on formula and people posting their personal experiences and why they feel shamed about being unable to breastfeed. What really struck me, was that people who made the informed decision to formula feed didn’t appear to be amongst these so much. They were informed and made their choice which they are secure in, I am not writing this post to put those mamas (or any mamas at all for that matter) down in any way shape of form, informed choice IS the best choice there is and we are all ultimately just doing what we believe is right for our children.
The issue I have noticed, is that of those I see who are complaining if feeling shamed by World Breastfeeding Week posts, most begin their posts on social media with “I wanted to breastfeed”, “I planned to breastfeed”, “I tried to breastfeed” or “I was unable to breastfeed” and this seems to highlight the need for breastfeeding awareness and the purpose of World Breastfeeding Week more than ANYTHING else! Because the intention is not to shame, it is to educate. Not just mothers, but to push for greater support, training and education for professionals. To support mothers to be informed and to make those informed choices. The majority of these women making these posts in truth probably *could* have successfully provided human milk for their babies had they been given the correct information and support to do so.
This isn’t an argument over what is best, this isn’t the “breast is best” vs “fed is best” campaigns. This is the acknowledgement of the fact that human milk is the biological norm, a product, specifically created in nature, to provide everything that a human child needs. Formula is a fab alternative when human milk is not an option, yet it has become more acceptable in society to feed a child on formula over breastmilk.
The fact that social media has been filled with so many posts from women who WANTED to breastfeed and who feel so strongly about it that other women sharing about their breastfeeding success cause them insecurities, only serves to highlight the need for greater support for more women to be able to breast feed successfully does it not?! Because no one is saying that it is wrong to feed a child with formula. Just that mothers need to have access to support should they wish to use breast milk, and I am specifically stating “use breast milk” over “breast feeding” because I understand and acknowledge that not all babies are able to be breastfed for a number of reasons. But all children are fed right?
I was having a discussion on social media about this topic when another mum commented that it was like the “All Lives Matter” discussion. That really hit home with me and made sense and I wanted to share it with the world, I felt that mothers deserve to see and understand, that however they choose to feed their children is down to them. No one deserves to be shamed or disrespected for that, because the important thing is that children are fed and loved and cared for. BUT there are mothers being failed by a system that is not providing adequate support regarding choice of feeding, and that is what needs to change. Right now, mothers who make the choice to want to breastfeed, are struggling and need support. They need praise, they need encouragement, they need acknowledgement. Right now, World Breastfeeding Week is aiming to raise awareness of breast milk.
It isn’t right that professionals are so quick to turn to formula milk when a mother is expressing a desire to breastfeed and it doesn’t feel right that a struggling mother be put under pressure to feed her child artificially mass produced infant formula without providing her with support to breastfeed, or the means and support to express breast milk, or the knowledge of the community who assist with sourcing donor breast milk and the possibility of re lactation. If these things are provided and a mother chooses to opt for formula, there is no shame in that. That is informed choice.
I wish these mamas who have done their best, who are raising and caring for their children the best way that they know how despite some very difficult situations, would stop seeing breastfeeding posts as personal attacks and begin to acknowledge the utter truth behind the situation. You wanted to breast feed, and if there had been greater support available you may have still been able to do so. This is not an attack on parenting choice, this is a push for support and access to informed parental choice!