We need to talk about Formula
"She actually went, hang on a second, she went and photocopied a leaflet that she had and basically looked out the door to make sure no-one was looking and slipped me something on formula.”
- May 9, 2017
- Neer Korn
The majority of mums would like to breast feed their newborns. After all everyone, including doctors and nurses, tells them that breast is best. But what happens to those mums who simply can’t breastfeed, for whom due to any number of medical reasons simply cannot or find it too painful to breast feed? Nobody seems to want to talk to them about formula.
Mums know the arguments in favour of breast milk for babies. It makes perfect sense that their body knows to produce what their child needs most. They don’t need convincing. Some mums may choose to bottle feed as a preference, but for many it simply isn’t their choice to make.
They speak of a deep sense of failure. That according to the standards of society they are not fulfilling their role as mum, they are not doing what they are supposed to. As one mum put it, “I would feel guilty to give a baby formula when I can breastfeed … I suppose I feel proud, some pride in it as well but – the baby deserves it.”
New mums don’t feel great about resorting to formula, and it is resorting. It’s filled with a long list of ingredients they are unfamiliar with and which they must trust is beneficial to their child. But no one talks about it other than in a clandestine way out of earshot of others. What really bothers Australian mums is that in maternity hospitals, baby clinics and respite centres formula is considered a sacred cow and unmentionable.
One mum shared her introduction to formula. “With my first born I did try and breastfeed because I thought it was the right thing to do and the information wasn’t there for me to make a valid, a really good decision on it. I found the Early Childhood Centre were really funny about it, they kept saying breastfeeding is best; breast is best, breast is best. One of the ladies, she actually went, hang on a second, she went and photocopied a leaflet that she had and basically looked out the door to make sure no-one was looking and slipped me something on formula. I took it away, it was a brochure saying what formula is and what it does, not this is what happens when you finally make that decision and this is what happens and the differences, it was nothing like that it was just like formula, sterilise the bottles, add the formula in.”
The campaign to promote breast milk has come at a considerable cost to these women’s emotional wellbeing. According to mums it is well time for the pendulum to swing back somewhat and provide new mums with all the information, especially those for whom breastfeeding difficulties are clear. They believe health professionals looking after mums who have just given birth should inform them about the available options. And do so without judgement or shame.
They would like more nurses, like this one who is also mum to a young one and a participant in our group discussions. “I’ve always told my friends when they were struggling with breastfeeding, ‘just change to formula, it’s not a big deal, don’t worry about upsetting anyone. If anyone says anything to you about it just ignore them, it’s not their problem, and it’s none of their business how you feed your child, as long as your child is fed.’ … I think there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to it and there is a stigma attached to bottle feeding with formula, major stigma attached, like you should be breastfeeding, why are you not breastfeeding?”
New mums who are unable to breastfeed are thankful for the innovation and availability of baby formula. They just need the rest of the world to tell them it’s okay as well so they can focus on bonding with their child and the magic of a newborn.
Note: The findings on formula form a small part of our recently published Mums of Young Ones Edition – our latest social trend study.May
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