Earlier this year I was asked to write a foreword for a book entitled “Born to Breastfeed” by Rowena Gray. I read the manuscript, was really impressed and so agreed. The book was published recently and I spoke at their launch event. The feedback has been mostly positive but what surprised me was the reaction from some media camps. It seems that just talking about breastfeeding divides women. It falls into that camp of ‘judgment’ and ‘mother guilt’ that inevitably accompanies anything to do with parenting and mothering in particular.
So right up front I want to make absolutely clear. This is not about judging anyone. As women we should always have each other’s back and be a support to one another. That’s the way any women worth her salt behaves. So if for whatever reason you are formula feeding your infant or did formula feed, this is not about shaming you. There are a myriad of reasons that drive a mother’s decision as to how to feed her baby. Sometimes it is a choice and other times it’s not. Each family has their own unique circumstance that drives the outcome.
What I am concerned about however is that in our fear of judging women, who formula feed, the conversation about exactly why ‘breast is best’ is being muted. Several media outlets have refused to run any breastfeeding stories and to me that is doing women and their babies a disservice. Regardless of the topic, my goal is always to give women all of the information available so that they are in a position to be able to make the best choice for them. Without the correct knowledge how can an informed decision be made?
Sadly this is exactly what is happening. Yes there are circumstances, be they medical or situational, where formula feeding might be best for a particular family. But where there is a choice, it’s a woman’s right to understand the full benefits that come with breastfeeding. They then need to have the support and guidance along the way to get the best outcome for them and their baby.
The WHO and our own NHMRC recommend exclusive breastfeeding to around 6 months, continuing breastfeeding while solids are introduced until 12 months, and longer if both mum and baby wish. Here in Australia we are falling far short of these recommendations. While we have fantastic rates of initiation of breastfeeding with 96% of women choosing to do so, this falls away rapidly such that by 3 months of age only 39% of babies are being exclusively breastfed, and by 5 months only 15%.