GMTV have a breastfeeding survey up
, which displays an incredible amount of bias. Before it even starts, it says "Did you breastfeed your child? Should mums who bottle feed be made to feel guilty? Let us know in our confidential survey..."
Then after some basic demographic questions, we go on to:
Do you/did you prefer breastfeeding or bottle feeding? Breastfeeding/bottle feeding
Should all mums be encouraged to breastfeed exclusively from birth? Yes/No
Do you/did you bottle feed your child? Yes/no/not applicable
If you say "yes" or "not applicable" to bottle feeding you get asked
Did you feel guilty about bottle feeding your baby? yes/no
Did you feel others tried to bully you into breastfeeding when you didn't want to? yes/no
If you say "no", then you are whizzed straight past this to the end, with no indication that it exists, except the numbering.
The final question is optional
Do you have a breastfeeding story you would like to tell us? Maybe you struggled to breastfeed and a bottle was your only option? Maybe you chose to bottle feed to give you greater flexibility for work or childcare? Whatever your situation, if you want to share your story please fill in the form below. Remember to leave us your contact details so that we can get in touch.
This is a survey to produce the desired result: mothers who bottle feed feel guilty and bullied and picked on by the "pressure" to breastfeed. Cue a nice bit of sofa interview on GMTV and an opportunity to lay into those annoying holier-than-thou breastfeeding mothers who just like to make formula-feeding mothers feel guilty about something they couldn't help. All good emotional catharsis and light daytime entertainment.
It won't surprise you that this leaves me fuming. I am a mother who "struggled to breastfeed" and found a bottle was NOT my only option; whose employer made a small concession (a short daily break, less time than the smokers take) so that work and childcare didn't have to mean the end of breastfeeding; who on the rare opportunities for comparison has concluded that breastfeeding is by far more flexible. But I could so easily have been a bottle-feeding mother and that I am not is far more to do with my friends and family than anything I did.
The choice to breastfeed is never made in a vacuum. It is a learned activity: mothers have to learn how to breastfeed along with their babies. Where breastfeeding is the norm, and acceptable in public, new mothers will see other mothers feed and pick up hints and tips almost unconsciously. They will have people to turn to when they are struggling. In the modern developed world this is rarely the case, and instead we have lactation consultants and breastfeeding helplines trying to fill the gap. Most women need some help or advice to get started breastfeeding for the first time.
My NCT class was made up of 6 very typical prosperous middle-class couples, all of whom wanted to breastfeed, but half of whom expressed serious worries about pressure from parents to bottlefeed instead. "It was good enough for you." "It'll be easier." "I'll just give him a bottle so you can sleep." (Please note the lack of questions in the GMTV survey about being bullied into bottlefeeding.)
If everyone around you bottlefeeds and expects you to bottlefeed and you have no experience of breastfeeding mothers to draw on, and breastfeeding isn't easy at first, and you have no support, it is hardly surprising that you "end up" bottlefeeding. Instead of guilt, it is anger and determination that we should be instilling in the women who "had" to bottle-feed. Guilt and a sense of victimhood lead to passivity and a sense that there was nothing that could be done: great for the formula manufacturers, unhelpful for mothers and babies.
I absolutely believe that all mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed exclusively from birth. But "encouraging breastfeeding" goes far beyond some posters in the hospital, a bit of exhortation from the medical profession, and a lactation consultant if you're lucky. The formula companies make millions and can outspend the breastfeeding campaigns thousands of times over.
Encouraging breastfeeding means cafes and motorway services saying "breastfeeding welcome". It means nursing rooms as well as places to warm up a bottle. It means the bottle not being a universal symbol for baby feeding. It means employers making provision for pumping and making it clear that returning to work before the baby is a year old doesn't have to mean giving up breastfeeding. It means nurseries and childminders knowing how to handle expressed milk, and the ways it differs from formula. It means banning the marketing of all baby milk, and getting rid of that invented definition "follow-on" milk. It means making it illegal to harass a mother feeding her child in public.
Encouraging breastfeeding is made up of thousands on thousands of everyday actions by individuals, organisations, companies and governments. It's bigger and more complicated than breast vs bottle "debates" on morning tv, and not nearly as entertaining, but the potential rewards are much higher.