Tuesday 25 June 2019

Why banning formula milk adverts won’t work

So, apparently, Health Secretary Chris Fearne’s brainwave came about because of a longstanding EU directive which has been sitting there for several years. This directive, issued in 2006, states

1. Advertising of infant formulae shall be restricted to publications specialising in baby care and scientific publications. Member States may further restrict or prohibit such advertising. Such advertisements for infant formulae shall be subject to the conditions laid down in Article 13(3) to (7) and Article 13(8)(b) and contain only information of a scientific and factual nature. Such information shall not imply or create a belief that bottle-feeding is equivalent or superior to breast feeding.

2. There shall be no point-of-sale advertising, giving of samples or any other promotional device to induce sales of infant formula directly to the consumer at the retail level, such as special displays, discount coupons, premiums, special sales, loss-leaders and tie-in sales.

3. Manufacturers and distributors of infant formulae shall not provide, to the general public or to pregnant women, mothers or members of their families, or low-priced products, samples or any other promotional gifts, either directly or indirectly via the health care system or health workers.

In fact, the UK has been discussing this issue as far back as 2007.
This does not make it any less stupid, or patronizing to women. And how come we are so eager to implement this one of a sudden? After , I can think of quite a few much more important EU directives which Malta has blithely tried to wriggle out of. Spring hunting any one?

But back to the breast milk wars. It is clear that formula milk is seen as the enemy by those who advocate breastfeeding at costs. In fact, the directive goes further than restricting the marketing, but advocates refusing to give information to new mothers about alternatives to breastfeeding completely. How can this possibly be helpful to a nervous new mother?  As others before me have pointed out (see this excellent article carried in The Guardian published in March of this year)  what those who want to force women to breastfeed are refusing to acknowledge is that not every women goes down the formula milk route out of choice.

Here is an account by an acquaintance who has asked her identity to remain confidential.

“I was determined to breastfeed my child even though I hadn’t been breastfed myself. For that reason I put up with midwives handling my breast as though it was some piece of machinery to help my baby latch on when he was a newborn. I’m a very private person and the type to keep my boobs firmly tucked away and it was only at birth and at the breastfeeding clinic that my privacy was so short-lived. Breastfeeding is such a personal thing; it’s part of your body that becomes other people’s property, not just your baby’s.

We were told to feed every three hours, but with my son I was feeding with no more than one hour gaps as he needed feeding pretty much the time, and it got harder and harder. At ante natal class we were taught we would have enough milk for our child, but it seems I didn’t. Such a morale booster. And I did go to the breastfeeding clinic to be sure I was doing it right, so I took it seriously. I was even talked into buying an electric breast pump to give me breaks in between feeds, but despite being awful, that was also futile as while others were pumping out bottles, I had a third of a bottle to show after pumping for ages on that awful pump, feeling like a cow and crying.
The pediatrician suggested I should do both breast and bottle so my son would settle and get enough food. But the midwives were horrified and said I’d confuse my son because he was not yet two months old (I had to go back to work after three months).
Of course, they were wrong, and he adapted just fine. That made things better for me.
My Mum had told me not to chat while breastfeeding as I should use that time to bond, but I couldn’t not talk for so much of my day. At the same time I felt guilty for not just gazing into his eyes, because it WAS lovely when I did.
In the end, he was so much more settled with formula. Plus, I got a breast infection which was very painful. So that was it. I ditched breastfeeding after two and a half months and enjoyed him so much more. I felt equally a failure AND liberated.  I tried different brands of formula to help reduce colic until I settled on the brand that most suited him. My son and I are very close so there are no bonding issues. He is also slim and strong, God bless him.
Ultimately, experiences like mine show that, surprise, surprise, one size doesn’t fit . Who are others to impose, judge and bully? Unfortunately, bullying is what I got from midwives instead of support, despite my best efforts. In my situation I think I made the best decision for me and my baby.”

Of course, breastfeeding can be a wonderful and healing experience, as described by this other mother:

“My son was born with an ASD and VSD holes in the heart for which he had an open heart surgery at 2 1/2 months old. He was breastfed and totally refused bottle feeding even if it had breast milk in it! He recovered after a week only and the doctor told me it was due to breast milk that he recovered so quickly. The operation was done at Great Ormond Hospital. He also had a kidney removed at a 11 and a half years old and he was out of hospital after 2 days when in fact he could have stayed for 10 days to recover. doctors say his quick recovery was due to breast milk. In fact it was Chris Fearne himself who operated on him.  I only breast fed for 11 months but apparently the effect lingered on.”

My conclusion is that yes, educate and encourage women to breastfeed by means, but banning of milk formula adverts and making women feel like failures or bad mothers for wanting to bottle feed is doing more harm than good. What’s more, it certainly is not having the desired effect of leading more women to breastfeed because no one likes being coerced or forced into doing something against their will. When a new mother is already anxious and worried because she is not producing enough milk or cannot breastfeed for other reasons, the last thing she needs is badgering and bullying by midwives (or a doctor who is also the Health Secretary).

It’s her body and it’s her choice to make the best decision for the wellbeing of herself and her baby.  And I find it significant that, while acknowledging the indisputable benefits of breastfeeding, the women who commented on my article yesterday agreed on this.

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