In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, I wanted to dedicate my first breastfeeding post to something that I’m extremely passionate about, that fires me up.
This topic is controversial – I know this will likely upset a few people here but I feel strongly about it and it needs to be spoken about more.
The ‘FED IS BEST’ movement.
The term was first coined in America back in 2016 in response to a news article surfacing of an infant who had passed from severe dehydration. The baby was reported to be exclusively breastfed and the article responded by writing that if the baby had been fed formula, it would still be alive today.
The public were outraged and rightfully so. I understand where the writer was coming from – it’s horrific to hear that a baby has died from something that is quite easily avoidable in our society. Just like the many advancements in the medical world, the use of formula DOES save lives and is a necessity in certain circumstances. Formula has a time and a place – no one is arguing that fact.
But that baby didn’t die because he was breastfed – he died because his mother was NOT supported. His mother was NOT adequately educated or given the right tools or resources to assess her baby’s input and output and therefore didn’t understand that his health was deteriorating.
SHE was let down by the very system that was designed to keep HER BABY SAFE!
The ‘FED IS BEST’ movement was established in response to stories just like this. And it’s not that I have a problem with the general premise or idea behind it – which is supposedly supporting parents feeding choices – it’s the way that it continues to spread misinformation and fear.
According to the ‘FED IS BEST’ foundation, the movement works to identify critical gaps in breastfeeding protocols and provides families with the most ‘up-to-date scientific research, education and resources to practice safe infant feeding’.
One of the main points that the ‘FED IS BEST’ foundation like to push is that parents need to be “informed of the risks of insufficient breast milk intake when supporting exclusive breastfeeding.”
If that sentence in itself doesn’t ring alarm bells in your head, then I don’t know what would.
The documents that they provide families with largely focus on the scare tactic that breastfeeding parents are not producing enough milk for their babies.
But let’s talk about actual statistics. In the 1930’s studies were published stating that roughly 95% of womxn had the ability to breastfeed their child without issues. But I’m a realist and we live in the 21st century.
There are real health conditions that impact a womxns ability to breastfeed. Tongue ties, breast surgery, birth complications like retained placenta and postpartum haemorrhage and confirmed medical conditions such as poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, diabetes, thyroid disorders and insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) are all on the rise and can significantly impact breastfeeding success.
That’s not even taking into account modern day challenges such as the loss of close-knit communities, the increased need for double income households and the crappy maternity leave offered by employers and our government.
A lot has changed in our culture the last 80 years so preaching these statistics would be foolish. Modern day studies have estimated that a more realistic statistic of 85-90% of womxn have the ability to exclusively breastfeed their baby.
That means that if we had a room with 100 new breastfeeding mamas, that 85 to 90 of those mamas should be able to breastfeed their baby without issues.
Those are damn good odds if you ask me! Because in the big scheme of things, you’ve actually got a higher chance of being diagnosed with cancer in your lifetime, than not being able to breastfeed your child.
So why are our breastfeeding rates in Australia so terrible?
Well let’s look at survey conducted in 2010 by the department of health. Statistics from the report indicate that 96% of womxn in Australia initiated breastfeeding after birth.
However, these exclusive breastfeeding rates rapidly drop to 39% at three months of age and drop even further to roughly 15% by five months.
That means that although the World Health Organisation standards recommend that ALL babies should be breastfed to a minimum of six months and continued to two years and beyond; less than 15% of Australian babies are meeting this standard.
Rates get even more dismal after 12 months of age with less than 28% of all Australian infants receiving any form of breastmilk, dropping right down to less than 5% by two years of age.
But why is this happening?
In a 2010 report conducted by the State Government of Victoria, the main reason for early breastfeeding cessation given by womxn were difficulties associated with breastfeeding.
Perceived low milk supply, attachment problems and nipple trauma and pain were among these top reasons. All common hurdles that many womxn face early in their journey and all problems that can be managed and most likely overcome with the support and guidance from knowledgeable breastfeeding counsellors.
The problem is, when a breastfeeding mama seeks help – its a total gamble of whether she will receive help she needs. The first port-of-call for most mamas is their local General Practitioner.
Now GP’s are fantastic when you have a general health problem that requires medical treatment, but they’re certainly not experts in breastfeeding.
In fact, GP’s and doctors in general receive very little, if any education on breastfeeding during their medical training. They may seek out additional education is this is an area that is of particular interest to them, but most do not.
Often advice that they provide to breastfeeding mama is outdated and incorrect. Sharing this misinformation can be extremely harmful to someone that’s already having a difficult time in their feeding journey.
And formula companies are powerful advertisers and have specific and targeted ways of persuading clinicians into promoting and advertising their products – sometimes even in ways that they may not even realise.
Making sure clinicians are adequately trained in up to date breastfeeding advice and information – not from infant formula companies – but from reputable organisations such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association would insure that breastfeeding womxn are getting the most up-to-date resources and support.
This would also assist clinicians to properly identify, diagnose and address issues with breastmilk production, which includes, at times, supplementing with breast milk substitutes.
But instead, clinicians are often influenced by scare tactics fed by organisations such as ’FED IS BEST’. One such tactic is the use and promotion of arbitrary feeding guidelines.
Post continued in part two.