I read the articles on infant feeding this morning. I read the information from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) too - and I cried. As someone who calls themselves an "infant feeding practitioner" rather than a breastfeeding supporter, because it is not my business how you feed YOUR baby, I found all of this made me rage and not for the reasons you might think.
The scale of the problem
The problem is that we live in a culture where breastfeeding is described as best and championed as something women "should" achieve BUT is not supported by the public, professionals or the government. This problem leads to a culture where women feel shamed for their choice to bottle feed, shamed for their choice to breastfeed, shamed if we try to breastfeed and "fail", and shamed for the act of breastfeeding both in public and in their own homes. This situation is broken.
There should be no call whatsoever for anyone to ever need to tell a clinical professional not to shame their patient. I mean, is that really necessary? Let's all stop and agree that shaming anyone's choices is completely unprofessional and shows a lack of humanity. No arguments.
And I think the way midwives (and breastfeeding advocates) have been portrayed today is unfair. I think they have been shown as bullies by the media and they are not. Yes, I think sometimes women feel a lot fo pressure to breastfeed in our society and, during the times when midwives are giving information about breastfeeding, this pressure can feel overwhelming. But is this the fault of the midwife? Although I am sure there has been the occasion when midwives (and others) have taken their passion too far (and I hope that this document may go some way in reminding those few practitioners that women's choices must always be respected), for the vast majority they only want to inform women so they can make their choice powerfully.
Back to the media. What happened today was that the RCM published a position statement, one sentence of which stated "If, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected". Now to me, this isn't really a change in position, and it certainly did not require the media headlines we have had today:
"Bottle feeding mothers must now be respected"
"Bottle feeding babies is a woman's right - midwives told"
"Midwives ordered not to judge new mothers"
"Midwives should no longer pressure new mums into breastfeeding"
These headlines have, and were designed to, create a storm across social media. We are supposed to now argue about women's rights, as if we don't all agree. We are supposed to argue about whether bottle or breast is best, as if there is one right answer for everyone. And we are supposed to be angry and upset or feel validated or vindicated. Why? Because it makes the media a lot of money.
I also sincerely hope that I am wrong in thinking that the RCM are also a little culpable here. Last year they voted to retain a situation in which they receive funding from formula companies, which leads me to assume that a statement like this being spread across the media in a biased way, would sincerely benefit not only the media but also both formula companies and therefore the RCM financially.
Can you see why it is so broken? They all profit from our distress - all of our distress as women and families. All except the poor midwives who are being called out as bullies when all they ever wanted was to advocate for women and babies in the way they can manage, with the resources they are given by our government.
We need to actually change our culture
Problem 1: We lead busy, disconnected lives (on the whole)
We are also pretty disconnected from each other, so learning about infant feeding or parenting in general is a lot trickier than it used to be, and managing it without a tribe or village around is near impossible,
Problem 2. The government wants your money
Problem 3. The government thinks only in the short term
Problem 4. The media wants your money
Problem 5. Formula companies want your money
But how can this change?
1. Respect and value parents and babies equally
How about we live in a culture that values the role of partners and fathers in ensuring a healthy family and that the rights of that family and its members are respected and protected. Where society supports partners to be present in the home for a longer period of time, taking pressure off new mothers and advocating for their family. Simple: provide much longer paid paternity leave.
How about we live in a culture that sees babies and children as human beings, who also have rights. Equal rights. A society that inherently considers what is best for the baby in the short and long term in equal proportion to considering the rights of parents.
*Unfortunately it isn't that simple to solve the problem in our society that prevents women and children having all the rights they deserve, but change is happening and we keep working.
2. Unbiased health professionals
3. Educated health professionals
4. Educated parents
5. No advertising or promotion
"Why does it matter how people feed their babies?" I hear you cry
Breastfeeding saves hundreds of thousands of lives, for mothers, and babies now and in the future.
Formula saves hundreds of lives when it is needed. SO IT REALLY MATTERS!
To ensure our babies (and mothers) get the best possible lives (which is clearly what we all want) we need a culture that puts the needs of the mother and baby on equal footing to each other, and ahead of the needs of the government, the workplace or profits. If the mother cannot, or does not want to breastfeed, for medical reasons or emotional reasons, then that is balanced against the need of the baby to be fed, and to be fed the most suitable "food". Sometimes breast isn't the right choice for some people, and it must absolutely go without saying that a woman has the right to choose what she does with her body. BUT if we openly and knowingly choose to sustain a culture in which women choose not to breastfeed because it isn't the done thing, where women feel ashamed no matter how they feed their baby, we need to think about the fact that we have a broken culture.