Magazine article The Spectator

Breast-Feeding Battles

Magazine article The Spectator

Breast-Feeding Battles

Article excerpt

New mothers who can't keep to the breast-feeding orthodoxy face needless misery and shame

How should a new mother feed her baby? You might well imagine that was up to her. While some mothers take to breast-feeding as if their bosoms have been waiting all their lives for it, others find it exhausting, excruciating and demoralising. Sacrificing every waking hour to nature's cause, they still produce a mere soupçon of milk, not nearly enough to satisfy a ravenous baby. So isn't it sometimes better to bottle-feed, with formula milk?

Beware. To do such a thing, in our guilt-ridden, competitive age, is seen as stepping into an abyss of last resort. Never mind that your baby will stop crying at last, fall blissfully asleep: the goody-goody breast-feeding mothers in your NCT group will mentally vilify you as a slovenly baby-poisoner.

The La Leche League, the NCT, the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers and the National Breastfeeding Helpline try hard these days not to sound too judgmental. They do not like being nicknamed 'the Breastapo', although some of the NCT's bossier members can be terrifyingly dogmatic. 'We support all mothers, however they decide to feed their baby,' they insist. But their websites also explain that if you choose formula rather than breast milk, your baby is more likely to suffer from gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, respiratory, urinary, gut and ear infections, asthma, pneumonia, diabetes, obesity, leukaemia and a low IQ. Anna Burbidge, a spokesperson for La Leche League, quoted a recent Unicef survey saying that a baby will be more likely to be hospitalised during its first year if not exclusively breast-fed for the first six months.

No wonder so many mothers, struggling to teach their baby to breast-feed in its first week of hungry, bawling, weight-losing life, are so scared. They would do anything to avoid the drop of formula milk that would ruin their babies' chances of getting into Oxbridge and might be tantamount to infanticide.

Breast-feeding has become one of the 'halo' achievements a woman longs to add to her collection of lifetime virtues -- along with not having an epidural, only eating organic, getting a 2.1, passing the driving test first go and only marrying once.

But it's the middle of the night, and the baby is screaming because it can't 'latch on', and the mother is crying and the husband is desperate, so they ring the breast-feeding counsellor, who says, 'You will get the hang of it... keep persevering... remember, nose to nipple... whatever you do, don't give formula...' It doesn't work. And downstairs there's a carton of formula milk given as a promotion to pregnant mothers by a wicked corporation.

The weird thing is that many breast-feeding counsellors were themselves bottle-fed as babies, but have nonetheless gone on to live long, healthy lives, with a rewarding career. Can formula milk really be that bad, then? In the 1960s and '70s, bottle-feeding was the norm: mothers were routinely given an injection after giving birth to 'stop the milk' and maternity wards contained boxes of bottles and formula. That, to the current breast-feeding mafia, is a vision of hell: a dystopian scenario in which thousands of innocent babies were force-fed on processed skimmed cow's milk and denied the vital enzymes and antibodies with which to fight off the diseases life would throw at them. How could anyone do that to a baby? Emotions run high. And once I mention the person I'm about to mention, they'll run even higher. …

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