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The Breastfeeding Debate
Member Name: Mauri
The Breastfeeding Debate
Date: 16/10/07, updated on 19/06/09 (230 review reads)
Advantages: Best for baby
Disadvantages: Not always best for mum
Well for many this is not the case, increasingly more and more new mothers are turning away from breastfeeding either by necessity or by choice they are feeding their newborns with formula milk. So what is going on? Is this move away from breast-feeding a fashion brought upon by our society's obsession with body image and with a belief that formula milk is as good if not better than breast milk?
There do seem to be conflicting pressures on new mums, on one hand society doesn't seem to 'allow' pregnant women to put on weight these days as we read and see how celebrity mothers are able to fit in to their 'size zero' jeans the week after giving birth! The idea of breastfeeding and possibility spoiling the shape of the breast is increasingly becoming a preoccupation of young mothers. From the other side of the fence we keep hearing how it is so beneficial for babies to have breast milk and therefore if you are one of those unfortunate mothers who can't produce any milk you are 'harming' your child...how's that for pressure at what is invariably a very emotional time.
Where does the truth lie? Are the numbers of mums not being able to feed representative of some more general biological change in the population or has fashion and turned got more to do with it.
The first thing to look at is the claim that breast-feeding is better for a baby than bottle-feeding formula milk.
Here are some figures...
An analysis of 69,000 children found that breastfeeding protects against obesity, it also appears to reduce incidence of asthma, Allergies, childhood cancers, diabetes, ear infections, Crohn's and colitis.
(Taken from- S Arenz et al, 2004. Breast-feeding and childhood obesity: a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity, pp 1-10.) & (INFACT Canada and IBFAN, July 2006. Risks of Formula Feeding: a brief annotated bibliography. http://www.infactcanada.ca/mall/risks-formula-feed ing.asp)
Looking at trend in the UK in terms of breastfeeding as a nation we do about as badly as a developed nation can. In a recent survey of EU nations the UK comes second to last beating only Belgium. At the age of 6 months old only 21% of UK babies receive any breast milk while in Norway the rate is 80%. Another more shocking figure is that 24 %!!! OF BRITISH BABIES NEVER TASTE BREASTMILK in Norway it's 2%.
This data clearly goes against the argument that the rate of breastfeeding can't be increased because lots of women can't produce milk. The constraint on British women breast-feeding is not biological but political and cultural.
(From- Adriano Cattaneo June 18th, 2004. Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding in Europe: a blueprint for action. The European Commission. http://www.ilca.org/liasion/European%20Blueprint%2 0PDF/Blueprint%20English.pdf)
Of course it doesn't help that we in the UK have a slightly unnatural prudish dislike of breast feeding in public, going back to the example of Norway the government there has passed laws that make breastfeeding as easy as possible: all women are entitled to a years' maternity leave on 80% pay and state employees are given special breastfeeding breaks.
Here we are largely ignorant about the issue...A survey by the Dept of Health found that 20% of women under 24 thought breastfeeding would 'ruin' their bodies and that many overestimated the difficulties of producing milk.
More worryingly 34% thought that instant formula milk was 'very similar to' or 'the same' as breast milk.
The difficulty for many is striking a balance between giving the best medical advice that will be best for the baby and running the risk of stigmatising mothers who for whatever reason are incapable of breastfeeding.
As a society we all have our part to play in this. We must learn to accept that breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed a baby, the very fact that this needs to be emphasised seem incredible to me. We must learn not only to accept breast feeding in public if needs be but also to encourage breast feeding in public if need arises. Making mothers feel uncomfortable about feeding their babies because of someone else's misplaced sense of propriety should not be tolerated. Legislation should be used to back this up. Workplace arrangement should also be made to be more flexible to accommodate breastfeeding mothers returning to work. In the end though mothers should be persuaded to try breastfeeding and strongly encouraged to persist with it backed up by constructive support and help from family and health professionals.
I must declare at this point that I have (being a man) never breastfed but as a father of three in a family situation where both I and my wife work full time I have experienced the complexity of trying to balance what is best for the bay with what is reasonable for the parents. My wife was able to breast feed with very few problems and when she returned to work she made huge efforts to continue breast feeding for as long as possible by at either end of the working day and then by expressing milk to be used during the day. This was not easy and very stressful for everyone but we managed to carry on some form of breastfeeding until the infants were 8 moths old in all three cases.
There are cases where the mothers cannot breast feed and there will be many reading this review that will feel hurt by the idea that not feeding was a personal choice or that their inability to feed was through not trying hard enough, the reality is that unfortunately for many this is the reason. Mothers who can't breast feed should not be made to feel guilty about this they should be supported to adopt the best alternative methods BUT we must never consider this as a 'lifestyle' choice and where possible we must recognise that breastfeeding should be encouraged. If it can be done in most other countries then we should be able to do it here.
The wishes of mother's and the right to chose should be a important concern but the evidence for the benefits of breast feeding are there for all to see and beyond the rights and wishes of the mother the infant's health should always be the primary concern. With this in mind 'breast IS (almost) always best'!
© Mauri 2007
Summary: Is breast best?
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