So you’re having a baby? Congratulations! With the appearance of that faint blue line come so many decisions. Find out the gender, or wait for a surprise? Planned C-section or natural delivery? Yellow or cream cashmere booties? And, the real biggie: breast or formula feeding?
You may believe that this is just another relatively straightforward parenting decision to make in conjunction with your partner – perhaps after a chat with your midwife or OBGYN following an assessment of your preferences, lifestyle and maybe even a quick flick through your preferred baby book… sorry to break it to you, but the breast vs. formula debate runs much deeper than that!
With this one, seemingly innocuous, decision, you’ll be categorised one way or another. With the choice of how to feed your baby, you could be judged for making a political statement, condemned as a wilful exhibitionist or dismissed as selfish and feckless. It’s bare-knuckle match with other parents, healthcare professionals and even strangers in the ring. Pick a team; it’s going to get dirty!
Your so-called support network of other parents, friends and family members will all have opinions based on their own decisions, regrets, old wives’ tales and often crazy theories. Want to hear about the cousin’s baby who developed digestive issues from a formula milk diet? Or the friend-of-a-friend whose breast milk was insufficient to feed her baby? No? Well, you will hear those tales, and many more like them, regardless of whether you wish to! Thought your baby = your decision? Think again!
New parents invariably find that others have strange views on what is – and isn’t – acceptable for their infant. A mother choosing to formula-feed her newborn is often condemned for “not making the effort” to nurse her child. After all, we are constantly reminded, “breast is best” so shouldn’t she be ensuring that her baby gets the optimum start in life instead of selfishly suiting her own needs?
But not so fast! Skip forward to a few months down the road, however, and a breastfeeding mum may find that she is met with disapproval, or even outright disgust, for nursing her toddler. There is often an implication of something inappropriate about nursing a child beyond an ill-defined and unscientific “socially acceptable” age – at which point mums may feel that bottles are the only acceptable method to feed their baby in public.
Ah yes, feeding your baby in public. Another topic to invoke the breast vs. bottle battle, erode the confidence of new parents, and further muddy the waters of this endless, and, let’s be honest, pretty pointless, debate.
“It’s perfectly natural!” argue the breast feeders. “If it offends you so much to see a lactating breast, look elsewhere!”
“Bottles are more convenient!” cry the formula feeders, “Why shouldn’t women reclaim their bodies after childbirth?”
In fact, both sides of the debate have sensible points to make. However, the topic has become so fraught with emotion, defensiveness, and downright ignorance, that rational discussion is almost impossible. A quick browse online will show you just how polarising the topic of infant feeding is!
If this is all sounding a little daunting, then take heart. Your child will grow up healthy, happy and well nourished no matter how you choose to feed them. If you are worried about making the right choice, consider the adults around you. Can you tell who was breastfed as an infant and who was formula fed?
So how about we all pledge to politely ignore the judgments, comments, and, yep, sheer nosiness of others, and have the courage to raise our kids our way. In a few short years, we’ll all be wrestling over homework, video games, and chores, and wondering what all the feeding fuss was about. And please, at that point, do try and resist the temptation to share your own words of wisdom…