A breastfeeding mum and her baby.
A breastfeeding mum and her baby. Picasa

Breast is not best: Feeding your baby is best

Can you imagine denying a new mother what she needs to feed her baby? I can't.

But that's exactly what's happening as "breast is best" is pushed on stressed women in maternity wards across the country.

It happened to a friend of mine in Sydney only a few weeks ago. She had just given birth to her second child and on her gorgeous baby's second day on earth, she knew he was hungry.

Her milk hadn't come in, which she knew is quite normal - but she also knew the same thing happened to her first little baby, a baby who screamed to be fed and was terribly unsettled until her milk came in days later.

So second time around, said friend swore that wouldn't happen again. She wanted to enjoy meeting her new baby, not be anxious and stressed because her baby was screaming his little lungs out for food he wasn't getting. So, she did as any good parent would do and she asked for help.


She asked her midwife for a bit of formula to top up her baby - just one feed a day - until her milk came in. She was expecting understanding and comfort. What she wasn't expecting was the answer she got.

"No. I was told no," she tells me. "They wouldn't give me formula in the hospital at all - it was quite distressing because I knew the baby needed it."

As a result, the baby lost 12 per cent of his body weight and almost had to be readmitted to hospital - something she knows wouldn't have happened if she had been listened to instead of dismissed.

Another second-time mum I know had a similar experience.

"I was so traumatised from trying to breastfeed my first baby that I brought my own tin (of formula) to the hospital so I didn't have to ask for it," she said.

"It was horrible. I felt like I was doing something wrong. I was made to feel like a bad mother."

Incidentally, these two women happen to be two of the strongest I know, both the kind of people who would feed through bleeding nipples if it meant they were helping their babies. And both were scarred by their experiences and saddened by their inability to make their own decisions at such an important time.

So let's go through a few things here.

Of course breastfeeding is wonderful. It is an amazing source of life for a baby and an incredible way to cement the bond between mother and child. If you can do it, if your baby is happy and you are happy, you have achieved pure perfection. But it is not the only way.

Baby formulas have been proven to have the protein, vitamins and minerals needed to benefit and feed your child. They have their place - and a very valuable one.

If a woman feels her child is hungry and breastfeeds but, unsure of how much the child is getting, gives them a small bottle afterwards so they are satisfied, how could that be wrong?

And before breastfeeders the world over stone me for such outlandish comments, rest assured I know the mechanics of breastfeeding. I have fed three babies, two for 15 months each and one for eight months and for the most part, I truly loved it.

I absolutely understand that a child suckling on their mother's breast brings the milk down in a very natural supply/demand way. The more they suck, the more they get. I understand that those first few days of sucking, where the child is getting very little - and granted have such small stomachs they only need very little - are important.

But if a woman is struggling, if the baby is floundering instead of flourishing, if they both need a bit of help to make it through the next day, then give the baby a bloody bottle.

If nurses are concerned that one bottle will reduce a woman's supply, surely a breast pump could be offered to replace the sensation of sucking. If a baby hasn't latched on properly and given its mother a minuscule tear - a tiny tear big enough to send shooting pain straight into your soul every time you feed - a bottle may rest her nipples long enough to heal so she endures with feeding and isn't so traumatised she gives up completely.

New mothers are under enough pressure, they have endured enough trauma.

They are so strong, yet so sleep-deprived, and they are emotional, hormonal. They shouldn't be stressed to the point of breakdown, they shouldn't be made to feel they have no other choice.

Can we agree that yes, breast is best - but a happy baby is better.

Fed is Best is a new US-based movement that supports women to feed their babies, however is best for them, to prevent complications for babies who don't get enough breast milk. Conditions like jaundice, hypoglycaemia, dehydration are very serious for newborns, particularly for brain development.

When my third baby was born just shy of 37 weeks he had a low blood sugar reading because my milk hadn't come in yet. Well he was rushed to special care and given formula quicker than you can say breast is best.

The Fed is Best Foundation says it has found "that mothers often feel immense pressure by society and by current breastfeeding protocols to only breastfeed their newborns, even when they do not have enough milk to do so".

"When they do, they often cannot gauge if their infants are getting enough - and while mothers and health professionals are taught that it is rare to have insufficient breast milk, insufficient breast milk production affects at least one in five women in the first days of an infant's life," the Foundation's website reads.

I would say that more women than not struggle with this issue - and it's time we took the focus off the breast is best message. Instead, let's focus on these amazing mothers and their beautiful little babies.

Let's help them through the child rearing process - not deny them the most basic right of feeding their child. It's stressful for them and the baby.

It shouldn't be stressful. It should be the best.

News Corp Australia

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