Monday, February 27, 2012

The Propaganda Overwhelms Me!

Far be it from me to wade into the whole 'Breast is Best' debate, but last week one of those little things happened that got me feeling all annoyed, and it has sort of snowballed in my head ever since until there's now an avalanche of indignation pouring around my ears.

OB's Health Visitor came round for a visit and while she was here NB reached into her bag and pulled out a leaflet.  She let him have it to play with, saying, "He might as well play with that - we're not allowed to give them out anyway."

After she'd gone, I had a good read of the censored leaflet - always the rebel!  It turned out to contain two excellent and informative articles about toddler nutrition which taught me a lot I didn't know and had me searching on the internet and amending my weekly shopping list immediately!

And the reason the Health Visitor is not allowed to give it out?  It's produced by Cow & Gate (a brand of infant formula milk) and therefore she can't give it out to parents in case it looks like she's promoting bottle feeding.

Seriously.

The leaflet wasn't about bottle feeding and in fact the only time it mentioned milk feeding at all was in a section entitled 'Protect Your Back' which showed good postures for sitting and feeding your baby (feeding method not specified) and for lifting and carrying your baby.

And yet because there was the Cow & Gate logo on the front of the leaflet, parents were to be denied access to the valuable and thought-provoking articles on toddler nutrition?

I've had many friends that have breastfed their children and their experiences have run the full gamut from abject misery to serene happiness but, as I personally haven't tried it, I suppose I'm in no position to comment on it.  Suffice it to say that I'm not going to contradict the 'Breast is Best' message that every mother must surely have heard ad infinitum by now, unless living on another planet.

My point is this:  why is it not enough to educate women about breastfeeding and encourage them to try it?  Why is it necessary to run a propaganda campaign that would make the efforts of some dictators look weak and foolish?  Why is it necessary to restrict all information about formula feeding?  Why is it necessary to prohibit sales and promotions on infant formula milk so that it costs the same (expensive) price in every shop you try?

I can just see it now.  The breastfeeding mother wanders down the baby aisle in the local supermarket and sees that formula milk is reduced in price this week by £1.  'Oh,' she thinks, 'formula milk is £1 off.  I'll give up breastfeeding, which is free and best for my baby, and spend a fortune on bottles, a steriliser and formula milk immediately!'

Unlikely.

I can't pretend to know all the reasons why women choose not to breastfeed, but I'm almost certain that none of them are a belief that formula feeding is in some way good value for money.  It is not.  Formula is expensive.  And as one of the many women who have absolutely no choice whatsoever about what I feed the babies in my care, I really resent the prohibition on any kind of promotional offers or sales.

I also resent the message, often voiced openly (for instance on the BBC TV Programme "Is Breast Best?"), that women who bottlefeed can't possibly bond with their children in the same way that breastfeeding mothers do.  Where exactly is the research evidence to support this assertion?  What is the excuse for piling even more guilt onto mothers who have tried breastfeeding and given up in despair?  They already feel like failures.  There's no need to make them feel like bad mothers as well.

It may well be the case, as a breastfeeding counsellor once said to me, that proper support and education can overcome the vast majority of breastfeeding problems that women encounter.  If that is true, then good.  And more power to the elbows of those who are taking on this job. 

But I also think that here the breastfeeding propaganda does women another disservice.  All the pictures of breastfeeding I ever see are of beautiful, calm women with their babies snuggled contentedly at the breast feeding away.  I've seen women breastfeeding in real life and it doesn't always look like that.  Perhaps if the leaflets were more forthcoming about the realities of it, then women wouldn't have such a shock when it proves difficult and give it up as a bad job after a few weeks or even days. 

Again, this is not from personal experience, but I understand that breastfeeding can be painful, difficult and exhausting.  For some women it just doesn't seem to be the beautiful, natural thing shown on the leaflets.  I recently discovered that breastfed children will need vitamin drops from 6 months as breastmilk does not contain enough iron and other things for babies as they grow.  So why are women being encouraged to breastfeed for longer and longer?  I'm sure there's a good reason, but I don't really know what it is!

So I guess what I want is for everyone to just lay off shouting 'Breast is Best' at women all the time and help us to understand the real issues!  I'm pretty sure that women agonizing over the best way to feed their babies do not make their final decision based on a logo on the front of a leaflet, or when seeing a sales promotion on formula.  Less banning and restricting, and more educating and encouraging, please!

And finally, take pity, for goodness sake, on those many thousands of women, like me, who have no option but to bottle feed their fostered and adopted children and yet still feel like pariahs queueing up at the supermarket with that carton of Cow & Gate in their baskets.  I'm not a bad mother who doesn't care about the possibilities of future obesity, I'm these children's safe shelter.  Being given formula milk is the least of their problems.

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