Has Shaming Parents For Formula Feeding Their Babies Gone Too Far? Midwives Told To Lead By Example

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Googling “Formula Feeding Shame U.K.” returns over 4 million hits in under half a second, surely it’s time to stop this madness.

This week, the Royal College of Midwives said that more is needed to be done to support parents who choose to formula feed their babies and calls for greater respect for their decision by midwives.

Before you throw your lanolin soaked nursing bras on the pyre, the statement on baby feeding is not a departure from the current advice that breastmilk is the best source of food for a newborn.

They stress the point – it is the only section in bold in the whole document!

What is exciting, is their call for greater empathy and support for parents’ feeding choices, whatever they may be.  

The RCM’s Chief Executive Gill Walton says

“Evidence clearly shows that breastfeeding in line with WHO guidance brings optimum benefits for the health of both mother and baby. However the reality is that often some women for a variety of reasons struggle to start or sustain breastfeeding.”

The reality is, the UK has the lowest level of breastfeeding in Europe.

Less than 1% of women breastfeed up to 12 months, let alone the full 2 years advised by the World Health Organisation.

In recent years there has been a lot of media coverage on how poorly UK breastfeeding rates compare to our European neighbours.

But rather than encouraging us all to pull together in some sort of Dad’s Army war effort, emphasising these low levels has only served to normalise formula feeding. To change this RCM are changing tact and taking the time to understand the societal pressures on new mums.

“We recognise that some women cannot or do not wish to breastfeed and rely on formula milk. They must be given all the advice and support they need on safe preparation of bottles and responsive feeding to develop a close and loving bond with their baby.

Increasing the level of support available to women relying on formula milk shows that the RSM are adapting to meet the needs of the pubic they are there to serve.  

They are also acknowledging the need to prioritise treating pregnant women and new mums like adults by providing information on the various options available to them.

“Balanced and relevant information (should) be given to parents choosing to formula feed their babies, whether exclusively or partially, to enable them to do so safely and with support to encourage good bonding.”

A more supportive and less judgmental approach to infant feeding should increase levels of breastfeeding because when people do try to establish breastfeeding they will not be burdened with added pressure and will be able to feel more relaxed. I can not think of a single bodily function that delivers if you are under pressure so why should breastfeeding be any different?  

“We know that every woman wants the best for her baby and we want to be able to empower our members to support women to be the best they can be and enable them to decisions that are right for themselves and their babies.”

This statement should be on the front cover of every red book in the country because it is not the message currently getting through to new mums.

For a lot of women deciding not to breastfeed doesn’t feel like a decision at all.

I hear countless stories of how hard someone has tried to breastfeed but has been made to feel like a failure for being unable to do it.  Only made worse by shaming and judgment from parents who can.

I don’t know any women who are unaware that breast milk is the most suitable food for a baby.

At a time when 1 in 10 new mums are experiencing postnatal depression, this reframing of the RCM’s position on breastfeeding is spot on.    

The Royal Society Of Midwives statement is so relevant and such a fantastic show of support to new parents because it calls on midwives to show greater empathy for both the physical and mental pressures of feeding a baby which in turn will open up a more effective dialogue between midwives and their patients rather than alienating people and leaving them feeling alone and vulnerable.

The very fact that a leading organisation has felt compelled to release this statement requesting greater respect for individual parenting choices highlights how damaging this culture of mum shaming and judgement can be and how it really is time that it stopped.  

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