Putting on my militant formula feeder hat for a sec….

I made a promise on the FFF Facebook page to discuss why this article bothered me so much, but after the conversation that ensued on my page after I posted the link, I’m not looking forward to writing this post. You all made some fantastic points and I’ve gone back and forth on what I initially thought was a no-brainer. Which is great, but also makes expressing my concerns far more difficult.

I hope that those of you who have followed this blog for any significant amount of time will agree that I take a (relatively) moderate stance, in general. I feel strongly that the fatal flaw in any debate (the abortion battle is a prime example) is an inability to give an inch, in fear of that fabled mile being Hamburgled as well (speaking of which… whatever happened to the Hamburgler? I miss that guy…). The more “hardline” either side of any debate acts, the less likely that debate can ever result in productive solutions.

Sometimes, though, my emotions get the best of me, and this is one of those cases. Maybe it was because I heard about the article in question through a series of Tweets that posted the link using the headline, “Bottle-Feeding Moms Outraged as NHS Withdraws Free Formula Milk” with zingers like “good on them” and “brilliant!” hanging like NYC subway rat tails on the ends. That probably put me in a bad place to begin with. And then, I read the article, and my blood pressure began to rise.

The story is pretty obvious; the National Health Service has decided to stop providing free formula to babies during the postpartum hospital stay. I’m feeling a bit defeated that I even need to explain why this is a problem, but here goes:

1. This is not a matter of doing away with free formula samples or stopping nurses from “pushing” formula. This is a blanket policy, for the express purpose of encouraging breastfeeding rates. To me, that feels awfully coercive. If NHS had said, “ok, guys, we’re outta cash, and we need to cut corners. Bring your own diapers, wipes and formula to the hospital because we’re not providing it anymore, you bloody leaches,” I’d have no problem. Really. I know it’s only semantics, but semantics matter, especially in the case of infant feeding, an issue which has a disgusting history rife with manipulating women (both to formula feed and breastfeed) for the “good of the nation”. 

2. Going back to that give-an-inch-take-a-mile thing, if I were going to be giving birth in the next 2-5 years, I’d be strapping on my running shoes, because that mile is ominously close to becoming a reality. I do not think it’s hysterical or melodramatic to suggest that policies like this – when implemented by people like the one quoted in the Daily Mail article, which I will address momentarily – could quickly lead to other punitive measures, like forbidding women to use epidurals or other pain meds since they lead to lower breastfeeding rates. After all, that’s what the studies suggest, and “baby friendly” policies are based on the same types of studies. 

3. I would lean towards believing that it may actually be a good thing for parents to have to bring their own formula to the hospital – it would stop people from assuming that its the evil maternity nurses who forcefeed formula to innocent babes, and also let parents be informed consumers rather than getting “hooked” on whatever (expensive) formula the hospital doles out (typically freebies given to them by formula companies in order to gain customers). But as I said on Facebook, what happens to the woman who goes in to the hospital assuming she wants to breastfeed, and has a change of heart for some emotional or physical reason once she’s faced with the reality of what nursing entails? I want to ensure that she doesn’t become the victim of some anti-formula agenda. So while I am not opposed to taking away free formula from hospitals on a practical level, I am violently against it on an emotional one. I’m scared to death of what it represents and cannot see it as anything less than anti-woman, anti-parent, anti-freedom and anti-choice.

Okay, so, that’s where I stand on the general issue of refusing to provide women with formula. Now onto the article itself, which is a real humdinger. Someone on Facebook pointed out that the Daily Mail is a bit of a trash publication, and if this is true, I suppose I shouldn’t take it seriously. But I think we’ve seen enough evidence that tabloid or not, these things have a way of leaking in to the general discourse surrounding formula feeding…. so we need to take them somewhat seriously, regardless of the source.

I have selected my favorite snippets, for your reading pleasure – phrases of note are highlighted:

An NHS Trust has sparked outrage by revealing plans to stop supplying free milk to new-born babies…Under the controversial new policy new mothers will be expected to bring their own formula milk, or send a family member to a shop to buy some, if they are unable or unwilling to breastfeed…maternity staff will now have only a ‘small emergency stock’ and mothers who insist on bottle feeding their babies will have access to just one bottle after giving birth…

Notice the language – mothers who insist on bottle feeding.  I haven’t seen much “outrage” sparked over these policies thus far, but I would bet my life savings that there would be rioting in the streets if thesame phrasing had been used in the reverse: “Mothers who insist on breastfeeding their babies…”

Liz Mason, infant feeding coordinator at the trust, said mothers who do use formula will receive advice and support to prevent them overfeeding..She said babies who are bottle-fed formula milk gain weight too rapidly in their first year of life – putting them at risk of obesity and potentially developing childhood diabetes…

I am hoping against hope that Ms. Mason was misquoted; she may well have been considering the highlighted bit is not in quotations, implying that it is not, word for word, specifically what she said. But again, these memes spread quickly, and we already have been fighting an uphill battle getting folks to realize that the obesity/formula thing is a bunch of correlation-not-causation hooey. And by saying that babies who are fed formula gain weight, rather than something like “may gain weight” or “some formula fed babies” confuses the issue further. Not all formula fed babies gain weight too quickly. Not by a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong shot.

A price list for baby milk at a local supermarket, as well as opening times, is also fixed to the wall in the day room at the women and children’s hospital…’Bringing two or three cartons in to the hospital with them is relatively inexpensive.’… She added: ‘They have already made that commitment to bottle feed and it will cost them more than £600 in the first year.

….’By offering improved education and support for the mothers who have chosen to bottle feed, it will help reduce the risk of their baby gaining too much weight too quickly and putting the child at risk of becoming overweight or clinically obese…Mothers will be shown how to hold their baby closely and how to safely feed their baby with a bottle.’

Oh, holy hell. Here I was, about to applaud NHS for doing something slightly helpful, and their spokesperson has to ruin it with snark. Veiled snark, but snark all the same. In both these passages, Ms. Mason ruins any guise of trying to support formula fed babies and their parents. Why is it assumed that parents who formula feed will not know to hold their babies close while they do it? And notice I said parents. What about the damn dads? Bottle feeding allows for true co-parenting, so why not embrace that fact and help the dads learn to be more nurturing? And is it really necessary to teach parents not to overfeed in order to “help reduce the risk of…the child becoming overweight or clinically obese?” I might concede that point, if the whole shebang wasn’t based on one recent study that suggested babies who gain weight too quickly will become obese later in life, rather than definitive evidence. Instead, I just find it insulting.  

Real support for formula feeders would be a no-questions asked policy for all parents, allowing them to choose to feed their babies how they see fit, and providing non-judgmental support for everyone. Maybe some instruction on proper mixing techniques. Or level the playing field a bit, and let all parents know that gaining weight too fast isn’t good; that it’s not necessary for babies to nurse or bottle feed every time they cry… although I’m still firmly of the mind that you really can’t overfeed a newborn. They spit up whatever extraneous food you give them. As someone who has both over- and underfed (the first due to comfort feeding and the second because I was overly paranoid about comfort feeding) her bottle fed babies, I speak from experience. You know what would help? A real guideline on how much a baby should be eating depending on age and weight. An explanation about growth spurts. Maybe some education about what hunger looks like in an infant (the rooting reflex is the same, bottle and breastfed babies alike).

So, I’m not convinced that this policy will truly “support” or educate parents. Rather, I think it is one more way for the powers that be to shame women into breastfeeding, instead of focusing on better assistance for those that want to breastfeed. The fact that it is couched in a lame attempt to help the “unwashed masses” makes it all the more disgusting.

I know many of you disagree with me on this, and I totally respect that. But on top of trying to be moderate, I also try to be honest. I would love to stay safely in the middle ground and not veer into the same type of zealotry I rage against, but fear makes me emotional. And policies like this, described by articles like this?

They scare me.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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31 thoughts on “Putting on my militant formula feeder hat for a sec….

  1. 600 pounds a year on formula? Oh my. Only if you're making it up and pouring it down the sink! I know different people have different circumstances and I am lucky (although often don't feel it!) – but, if I couldn't find the 350 pounds a year (a more realistic figure) then I would seriously question whether it was “right” for me to be bringing a child in to the world.

    I was lucky enough to get specific advice on formula from my midwives/health visitors/doctors – at every monitored stage of my son's life so far they have said something along the lines of “OK, at this stage, he “should” be having in the region of 6/7 feeds a day at 180ml a time” – this has been enormously helpful.

    Like you, and I'm sure MANY other FF's – “overfeed a baby”? If I overfill this one it all comes back out.

  2. I haven't yet commented anywhere about this (or even post the story yet on Bottle Babies) cause I have no idea where I stand on it. I am not even sure what to say here. I think it is reasonable for a mother who has made the valid decision that she will be formula feeding to take her own formula to the hospital for many great reasons. The reasons they listed in the article were a slap in the face and unfounded (as you pointed out) and it worries me that these bais and stupid statements came from a midwife at this hospital. It all does scary me and I have reasons to be worried about this.
    A local hospital in our area started off this way also – only supplying formula for 'emergency' cases (ps – who decides it is an emergency case – who gets told, ok – you have tried hard enough let's give your baby some formula, not 'breast is best – you just have to keep trying'?) Long story short they now separate parents formula feeding from breastfeeding mothers (I guess cause they don't want breastfeeding mothers who are struggling to be distracted with bottles) and pretty much formula is forbidden from sight in the hospitial at all. Formula equals something to be hidden and ashamed off. 🙁

    This is my questions: How long will it be before the breast police deem “A price list for baby milk at a local supermarket, as well as opening times….fixed to the wall in the day room at the women and children's hospital.” as formula advertising and illegal, calling for it to be taken down?

    Will education on Formula feeding be another avenue to beat informed women who are happy formula feeders with the 'breast is best – formula is poison' stick making then second guess themselves?

    Does this scare me – god yes.

  3. One thing which I do feel compelled to point out is that this is one NHS Trust doing this. Not the whole of the NHS. Think of it as each individual state setting its own policies on health, it's a similar thing. Doesn't mean that every mother in the UK is going to be hit with this, it's just those unfortunate Mums living within that area.

    As I said on FB, I do appreciate that the NHS has to save money. As a student nurse, facing the prospect of qualifying in a year's time with no hope of a job, I'm far too aware of it. But I reckon that if they took some of the money which gets pushed into producing endless leaflets and DVDs for the antenatal “BREAST IS BEST!” push, and plowed that into providing real support for women postnatally, that would have a far better result than forcing parents to bring their own formula.

    Formula isn't what stops women breastfeeding. A lack of support is what stops women breastfeeding. And it's amazing that the NHS, who prides itself on always carrying out “evidence-based practice” hasn't realised this yet.

  4. One correction: It isn't the whole NHS doing this, but a specific trust (basically, a couple of hospitals combined under one management).

    I can definitely confirm that the Daily Mail is a rag that shouldn't be taken too seriously, though!

    This policy disturbs me because, in every other circumstance, providing food and drink for patients is considered part of the health care trust's duty towards them. I mean, this isn't some Third World country where the families are expected to bring in food for each patient. But babies are considered the exception, apparently. On the plus side, it sounds as though they're probably doing a good job of making sure all mums get good feeding advice (though I do hope it works out that well in practice).

    Does anyone know how I could access all the comments on your Facebook conversation about it? I only seem to be able to get the last few.

  5. 1. “This is a blanket policy, for the express purpose of encouraging breastfeeding rates. To me, that feels awfully coercive.”

    I don't know if coercive is the right word to use. Of course this policy is meant to encourage breastfeeding rates. What's bad about that? Even on this blog there are plenty of mothers willing to say that breastfeeding is good for babies. Given that mothers unable to breastfeed will be given formula, and those who plan to formula feed can bring it with them, and given that no hospital will let a baby starve anyway – I can't really see it as a coercive policy. Women who want to FF still can.

    2. Yes, that's an interesting and worrying thought.

    3. Anecdotal, but I know several parents in the UK who asked that their babies NOT be fed any formula, and their babies (in SCBU) were supplemented anyway. It's not just a myth that nurses supplement without permission.

    As I've said before, I don't believe any hospital is going to let any baby starve. Mothers who change their mind will no doubt be given formula for their babies until someone can buy some for them. Let's not forget that the UK has a deeply ingrained formula-feeding culture already. Midwives are not about to stop giving babies bottles, especially those who need them.

    As for being anti-woman: I tend to disagree. Nobody's freedom of choice is being harmed. Given that pro-formula policies affect successful breastfeeding rates, and breastfeeding has several health benefits for mothers, you could argue that a policy of free formula for all is anti-woman.

    Regarding the Daily Mail article: meh. It's the Daily Mail. Their language is intended to incite, they are generally pro-bottle feeding as a publication but will do anything for a rise.

    “Why is it assumed that parents who formula feed will not know to hold their babies close while they do it? And notice I said parents. What about the damn dads? Bottle feeding allows for true co-parenting, so why not embrace that fact and help the dads learn to be more nurturing?”

    Firstly, I think you're reading way too much into this. It's not a snark, it's just basic baby-feeding info: the right way to hold your baby. Breastfeeding mothers are also shown the right positions to hold their babies in. Are they supposed to take that as a snark too? I have known both BF and FF mums who started off holding their babies the wrong way while they fed them – getting it right when you've never done it before is not always as self-explanatory as you may have found it.

    Secondly, dads of breastfed babies are no less true co-parents. Sorry for the gripe, but this is a bugbear of mine. If mum is doing all the feeding (presumably not expressing), dad can do nappy changes, clothes changes, cuddling, baths, babywearing, entertaining while mum sleeps. Ability to co parent has nothing to do with how a child is fed.

  6. I always get ticked about the overfeeding thing to. As I said on facebook my daughter took almost a year to double her weight and even though she had obesity on both sides of her family, this kid is non stop action and very lean (she'll be 5 in six weeks). I don't know how much formula was wasted in the first year of her life because she stopped when she was full, but it was quite a lot.

    I struggle with so much emphasis on first year feeding equalling later obesity. I wonder if time could be better spent helping parents learn better nutrition and tips on keeping the family active for the rest of childhood and not just on year one.

    But reflecting on the article yesterday I did find it very condescending. I couldn't imagine recovering from my csection and having to get up and prep bottles. I also was at the hospital twice as long as expected ( so the hospital provided extra diapers and pads).

  7. In the UK many hospitals already have such policies- King's College Hospital and St Thomas' Hospital in London have done so for a few years now. I have dug out my notes for St Thomas' as I am due to have my second baby there in 5 weeks' time. In the 15 page information section at the front there is absolutely nothing about formula feeding. Sorry, yes there is- in the 'Mothers Guide to Breastfeeding Policy'- (no possessive apostrophe used- but I digress). Anyway, in a long list of points this is the only mention of formula feeding:
    'During your antenatal care you will be able to discuss breastfeeding individually with a midwife who will be able to give you up-to-date information about the health benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby and the health problems associated with formula feeding such as eczema, cows milk intolerance (apostrophe missing again- grrr)gastro-enteritis etc.'

    That is the hospital policy on feeding.
    I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions. As for individual time with a midwife? This is a busy, busy central London maternity unit- trust me, at times, midwives simply don't have the opportunity to help support a woman who is struggling to breast feed.
    You make an excellent point about pain relief- that one is already out there and women discouraged from having epidurals because it will interfere with breastfeeding. It was the first thing I was told when I asked for one after being in labour for almost three days.

  8. I agree with the others, wrt to the terrible reasons behind making the parents bring their own formula. Bringing their own formula in and of itself is not bad, but yeah, make it about the budget, which is probably one of the real reasons this sort of thing happens anyway.

    I also question the “emergency”–what constitutes emergency? I sure as hell hope that preemies count, or full term babies that need NICU care. Of course getting breast milk would be ideal for preemies, but if mom isn't making any yet and/or baby can't latch, they have to eat something.

    My babies were not allowed to leave the hospital until their weight loss stopped and they remained stable and/or started to gain. Thanks to formula, they were only there for 3 days. They were born at 1am—let's say it takes my husband a few hours to find an open store that sells formula—that's not good enough, my boys needed to eat. It seems like feeding formula to low-birthweight/IUGR/preemie babies is a no-brainer, but I don't know what the NHS considers an emergency.

    Like FFF, I find the wording offensive–clearly the people who were interviewed for the article have an agenda. I sure as hell hope this doesn't lead to a slippery slope of denying women pain relief in labor (to save money of course, but they would be told that epidurals are bad).

    -Amy M

  9. Suzanne and Lisa – I agree with both of you. I don't think it unreasonable to ask parents to plan to FF to bring formula, but for the women who plan to breastfeed but end up having no colustrum (like me), or encountering a physical of psychological barrier, supplying formula (and possibly more than on bottle) would be important. I don't see how letting babies starve is “baby-friendly”.

    As for this giving way to no epis, etc. policies, I hadn't even thought of that. That is scary indeed. On the other hand, as someone whose labour was going perfectly fine, albeit slowly, and was pushed into having her bag of water ruptured artificially to speed things along, and ended up getting an epi because the contractions became unbearable, I do wish that they would let the women who *want* a natural birth alone, thank you. Unless there are medical concerns, of course.

  10. I didn't take the passage about teaching parents to hold babies close while bottle feeding as snark. My son had dysphagia, and I had to be taught- by a lactation consultant -how to bottle feed him and hold him close at the same time. He had to have feeding therapy, and getting the correct angle was difficult. Bottle feeding correctly is not obvious. Even before my son's incorrect swallowing was diagnosed, we needed help knowing how to tighten the bottles, how to hold his floppy newborn head up while he ate, how to get his little lips flanged around the bottle nipple. No one bothered showing us until I started crying when the nurse was leaving the room because my son wouldn't eat.

    A lot more people are going to need bottle feeding help than are going to be traumatized into formula feeding against their original intentions. I think overall that the NHS policy is not so bad. Formula feeders for the most part will speak up for themselves sooner and get the advice they need on healthy bottle feeding, and the women who have to turn to formula as a second resort will have access to the emergency supply.

  11. Add me to the list of people having a very mixed reaction to this. Same as you, on a practical level, I'm fine with hospitals requiring parents to bring their own formula. I know their are plenty of hospitals out there that require you to bring formula, diapers, and so on, so in that light, this doesn't seem like a big deal. I have no idea if UK hospitals function like US hospitals, where the bulk of formula is given to the hospital anyway, so I can't know if this is partially a cash issue and partially a pro-breastfeeding thing or what.

    I do agree with your comments about giving more support to all parents, of course. It would have been great to know how much per day, how often, etc. That information applies bottle or breast.

    The cost thing is interesting to me, as a side note. I buy organic formula, which actually ends up cheaper than Similac or Enfamil, because of the bonus-sized packaging. I only have to buy one can a week of it, versus a container of Similac lasting me about 4 days. My average cost is a little over a $100/month, which totals out to about $1200/year. Is formula cheaper in the UK?

  12. And what about the woman (or teenager) who doesn't have any support and no one to run to the store? Is she an emergency?

    I read the FB conversation, and to me what stuck out was the fact that here in the U.S. we feed hospital patients, including babies.

  13. What is this separation of breastfeeding and formula feeding moms? Do these hospitals not have private rooms? Because the hospital I was at had private rooms, and I have no idea how any of the other moms there were feeding their babies (for some strange reason, we mostly kept to our rooms aside from the occasional walk around the ward to stretch our legs during labor or after birth).

  14. I was going to say exactly what Brooke said: to me, this is a very simple issue of a newborn being a hospital patient, and of that patient having the right to food provided by the hospital. Our hospital (a dedicated maternity hospital, to be fair), provided formula and breast pumps and pump parts and lactation consultation. You'd see those charges on your bill, obviously, but I just assumed (dumb me) that it was standard practice to having everything on hand.

    If we take this to the extreme (and this is a horrible place to take it, I know): say that the mom won't or can't breastfeed and has no one to go out and buy formula. If you don't feed your child, it's a clear case of neglect, right? So whose responsibility would that become, the mom's or the hospital's?

    Also interesting, as others have said, is the definition of “emergency.” To me, emotional/psychologial barrier = emergency, but how do you prove it? Who decides whether you get some of the stockpile?

    If the idea is not to make bottle feeding the easy choice, that's just damned unfair. Make formular feeding easy and breastfeeding even easier if you want to increase BF rates.

  15. FFF, I agree with you pretty much on all points. I also would be fine with them not providing formula as a way to save money (I plan to bring my own next time anyway since my daughter needed hypoallergenic), but to turn it into a breastfeeding vs bottlefeeding issue is just ridiculous. It seems like they are basically saying that they are going to make it so inconvenient to formula-feed that moms will just give up and try breastfeeding. No one should be coerced like that into using a feeding method that they did not want to use – how is this different than the hospitals giving formula samples to breastfeeding moms, or nurses supplementing against the mom's wishes? How can coersion on one side be ok, but not the other? Bottom line – all moms should be fully supported and provided for in their chosen feeding method while in the hospital, and all babies should be fed, just like other hospital patients are.

  16. @Summer and Meryl,

    IRT to the passage about teaching moms to hold babies, I don't think I was reading too much into it, since this is one of those classic and common misconceptions about formula feeding parents – that we don't hold babies enough; that we need to be taught to bond whereas breastfeeding moms pick this up naturally. The use of the word “safely” is also strange. Sounds rather ominous, considering the worst that happens is a little too much gas if the baby gets too much air.

    Incidentally, if anything, I think that the way most breastfeeders bottle feed friends' babies (at least how I've seen my nursing friends do it unless they spent a significant amount of time pumping/bottle feeding or had to supplement regularly)is awkward – simply b/c they haven't done it enough. They often hold the bottle at a weird angle (to avoid air bubble or whatever they've read somewhere), away from their bodies, hold the baby strangely, etc. When I feed a baby a bottle, I hold it at breast level, so that the baby's mouth is right at my nipple, trying to position him/her as if they were nursing as much as possible. I honestly think for me, this released a ton of oxytocin, as the suckling on the bottle can still be felt on the breast. When I was shown how to bottle feed at the hospital, it was nothing like this. I figured it out for myself.

    Likewise, when I was trying to nurse my son, the positions they showed me at the hospital were horrible and impossible for us to “get”. It took time spent with a personal LC to get a position that worked for us.

    Again, if you have the right person- an understanding one without an agenda – helping you do these things, it makes a huge difference. But its hard for me to believe that the same folks who are implementing this strategy to discourage formula feeding are going to be showing mothers how to formula feed in a positive, helpful way. It's easier for me to imagine a nurse doing it with a sneer on her face and making comments under her breath, you know? Maybe I'm just jaded by all the stories I've heard here, or all the medical professionals I've encountered who have acted like this.

  17. Coming from the context of the US, where literally everything you need is provided by the hospital during your stay, I find the notion of singling out formula to not be provided to be particularly bothersome. I know things are different in the UK, and I'm not sure what is provided and what isn't. Personally, I think people bringing their own formula to the hospital would be a disaster. The hospital uses the disposable ready to feed nursettes with disposable nipples. Yes they are wasteful, but they keep it simple and hygienic in an environment where most people aren't able to wash and sterilize bottles and store/reheat extra formula. I use powdered formula now, but in the hospital it would have been a mess. I am glad the hospital took care of me during my stay and I did not have to worry about anything. Have we forgotten that mothers are patients in recovery and can't just run out to the market to get formula?

    I also take issue with this constant barrage that formula feeding = obesity and we have to be constantly vigilant about not overfeeding. Infants should not be put on a diet, and I am concerned that this could lead to parents underfeeding their babies because they are afraid of making them fat. From my experience it's not very easy to overfeed a baby, nor is it easy to deny a hungry baby food.

  18. Forget about the mothers, babies whose mothers can't or won't breastfeed deserve to eat. The state should provide food for those babies whose mothers cannot afford it. Period. This isn't about convenience. This is about feeding babies.

  19. I do not think it's hysterical or melodramatic to suggest that policies like this – when implemented by people like the one quoted in the Daily Mail article, which I will address momentarily – could quickly lead to other punitive measures, like forbidding women to use epidurals or other pain meds since they lead to lower breastfeeding rates.

    It's not hysterical at all. My eldest child was born in a small, rural hospital in Canada. The two hospitals in the area could not guarantee that there would be enough staffing for every woman who wanted an epidural to have one. So they just made a blanket edict–no epidurals except when used for a c-section.

    But instead of being honest about the cost/staffing issues, their way of tackling this problem was to demonize epidurals. From my doctor, to the childbirth instructor, to the L and D nurses, all I heard was how epidurals caused horrible things to happen. How could I want one? The childbirth classes really pounded on how epidurals ruined breastfeeding–and if you can't breastfeed, your BABY is ruined!

  20. FFF – you've just reiterated that you don't think teaching mothers how to hold a baby while they are being fed is necessary… And then gone on to talk about seeing women bottle feed awkwardly/strangely. Contradictory much?!

  21. Maybe you can do a post with foormula feeding tips, FFF. It would be great if women looking for emergency feeding advice in the middle of the night could find your method of bottle feeding. We figured things out for ourselves, too, but had to have special help with our son due to his dysphagia. In the book I read about formula feeding, the author was so overobsessed with safety that she made the bottle prep system sound downright ominous as well as unwieldy. In reality, mixing a bottle is not that difficult, and sterilizing is pretty simple, too. Maybe we could share our best tips on a post, to help other moms navigate formula feeding, since the establishment doesn't do a great job of teaching without judgment.

  22. @Meryl,

    I don't think I was being contradictory at all, but maybe I wasn't clear enough. My point was that I learned how to hold my children close while feeding them instinctively. Nothing I was shown or taught online or in the hospital led me to that; it happened organically. Just because there's an artificial nipple between my baby and my skin doesn't negate my motherly instincts. And you know, that came from time spent as a formula feeding mom. An LC or breastfeeding advocate most likely hasn't spent quality time bottle feeding. Is that clearer?

  23. @Summer,

    That is a fantastic idea. I'll work on it and we can all share tips and ideas in the comments section. Thanks for the suggestion!

    While I don't believe women need to be taught how to hold their babies closely just b/c they are bottle feeding, I agree with you that there may be some techniques that we have all found through trial and error that may be helpful to new bottle feeders. Since there is no one-size-fits-all way to feed a baby, I think community input is a warmer, more organic way to get some ideas.

  24. Yes, that's clearer 🙂 I don't think mothers need advice on holding their babies closely just because they are formula feeding either… Though I do think that education on how to correctly hold a baby while they are being fed is a good thing, whether BF or FF.

  25. I think your instincts are spot on. The trouble I have with this policy is that I feel that infant feeding should be an indvidualized, medical decision made within the context of good health care decisions overall. This policy makes a blanket medical policy that is rife with potential for abuse and bullying, and ignores the need to make health care decisions for *each* patient, not a group as a whole. The equivalent would be to make it hospital policy to give every cancer patient chemo–no ifs, ands, or buts, and only in the case of medical emergency would an operation or radiation be considered. We don't make these kind of blanket policies for men, nor do we for other medical decisions a patient might face, so why is it acceptable to do this for women and children?

    I feel that the “breast is best” movement in general is short-sighted to the point of encouraging punishing women who are making the appropriate health care decision for themselves and their families. It is an anti-woman movement because it second-guesses a woman's ability to make such a decision and instead puts it in the hands of patriarchal, faceless bureaucracies with little to no recourse. It essentially tells women they are too stupid to make their own decisions. I'm sure some lactivists will disagree and instead say that women are ill-informed because of the pressures of the formula industry, but that's tantamount to saying that only some women have the brains to see through the advertising–it is, in effect, the same thing. Lactivism taken to a level of “breast is best” advocates one-size-fits-all medical care for women and encourages people from mothers in supermarkets to doctors in hospitals to make assessments about what is medically best without even considering the mother's and baby's (babies') medical history. Quite frankly, there are better ways to advocate breastfeeding than coercion.

    I find it odd that natural birth advocates are so zealously against the medical establishment pushing women into one form of birth and yet themselves push women toward one form of infant feeding sight-unseen and with no regard to their medical situation. It is indeed medically coercive to tell a patient that a valid option is only available in the case of medical emergency. I also find it odd that medical professionals, for whom risk/benefit analysis should be part of Medicine 101, could ignore the bedrock of health care in favor of a fad.

    I ask, how does it save money to force all women into breastfeeding and then have to spend taxpayer dollars on treating post-partum depression and infant starvation if the mother is medically ill-advised to breastfeed? How much will the bullying cost, if mothers end up suing hospitals or this particular sector of the NHS for giving them and/or their babies substandard care, turning their children into a cause?

    Given the myriad examples on this blog and elsewhere of women being bullied into breastfeeding against their or their babies' best interest–not just by laypeople but by medical professionals–I think your points are spot on. Many lactivists take “breast is best” to the extreme and there seems to be little will in the lactivist community as a whole, much less the medical community, to weed out these bad apples. It will be women and their babies who lose out in so many ways, taxpayers secondarily, because of this extremism.

  26. Teri: Ah, but the natural birth advocates are only against medical professionals pushing women into the kinds of birth not approved of by natural birth advocates. Haven't you ever seen them wring their hands in consternation over the fact that many women actually do prefer elective caesareans?

  27. You've brought up some great points once again, FFF. This does seem like as much of an anti-FF policy as a financial one. If money is such an issue, then stop free diapers, wipes and formula.

    I would suggest that if money is the real issue, the NHS could provide the above items for a fee. I'm suggesting doing so at cost, not for exorbitant prices. Financial problem solved. They could be upfront about these charges during prenatal visits. Parents could decide whether they want to pay the NHS or bring their own. It would also be a helpful option for those who forgot, ran out, brought items that aren't working for them, or tried BFing and decided “enough is enough”.

    The whole argument that breastfeeding moms are better at recognizing hunger and fullness cues has always annoyed me. Surely FFing moms could be taught to recognize them, too. If FF parents aren't as good at this, I blame poor/ absent instruction.

    I think free samples could be fine, too. The suggestion that moms will abandon BFing in favor of formula just because they get a sample is insulting. I don't think there's any need for moms to get hooked on a certain brand because it's what thy were given in the hospital, either. Again, you're either calling new moms stupid or not instructing them properly. Simply explain that most babies will be fine on any commercial formula and can switch brands with no issues. If companies gave the NHS lots free formula (as I understand they sometimes do for hospitals in the US), it might even solve the cost problem.

  28. I know it's anecdotal, but I always knew when my babies were hungry…they'd cry. And when they were full…they'd stop eating. I think that is more due to some inherent trait in the baby, rather than what it eats. (I know you are not arguing that FF moms can't figure this out, but I just wanted add my 2 cents.)

  29. Yeah, what's up with that? I had a few friends that chose elective C-Sections for myriad of reasons. Like who really cares? I really feel for those moms who feel like they need to give an explanation on why they had to have a C-Section and so forth and then all the stuff people tell them like they could've avoided it if they were more informed blah blah. I say that's BS. If you were not the Dr. attending their labor then you dont' know anything. This is coming from someone myself who had a quick vaginal labor. I hate seeing other women get put down for their C-Sections. As far as I'm concerned all births are natural.

    -MichelleK (I don't why it gave me a new name)

  30. Finally got round to blogging about this policy:


    It took me a while to figure out and put into words just why I disliked the sound of this policy, and then I just didn't get round to blogging about it… then picked up your recent link to the argument on feminist blogs sparked by a similar newspaper article, and that spurred me on to finally write about it. Would welcome comments.

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