|ISIS - the Egyptian Goddess of Motherhood, Magic, and Fertility|
Q: Why do the vast majority of mothers in the West formula feed their babies?
We all know that the vast majority of mums CAN breastfeed. There is nothing wrong with their 'equipment', and yet they struggle and give up. Some never even start. You hear so many different reasons why people didn't breastfeed beyond a few days or weeks. Often the same ones crop up.
- 'I didn't have enough milk' or 'my baby wanted to feed all the time'.
- Pain - nipples/ blocked ducts/ mastitis etc.
- The mother was told (by a doctor or other professional) to give a 'top up' and found the 'baby preferred/ was more settled on' formula.
- Unable to breastfeed because of medication (actually very rare..).
- Baby refused to breastfeed/ preferred bottle feeding
- Baby was 'allergic' to mum's milk (true breast milk allergy is also very rare although it is possible for a baby to react to something in mum's diet)
Often mothers who breast feed 'successfully' scoff at these reasons. Sometimes they say: 'If a mother is determined enough they will breastfed'. I'm afraid I don't agree.
That comment makes the assumption that all mothers should know where to go to go to seek out the support which would make breastfeeding possible. It assumes that they know that doctors and health visitors aren't breastfeeding experts. It assumes they can withstand pressure from their families and friends to give formula. It assumes they're confident enough to breastfeed in public. It assumes that everyone should be 'proactive' about finding breastfeeding support. It assumes that new mums are not hormonal or suffering from PPD/ PTSD and are able to reach out. It assumes a lot.
YOU know that good support and information is out there. But what if you've never even heard of La Leche League or the NCT? YOU might have heard of them, but that's just you.... What if a person didn't get good breastfeeding support in hospital or adequate information during their antenatal classes? What if no-one discussed their feeding options with them properly, allowing them to make a fully informed choice? What if they went to their doctor for help with a breastfeeding problem and were given poor advice? It happens a thousand times a day.
We know that only a tiny percentage of women physically cannot produce enough milk for their babies. However, if someone has been advised to give a top up/ doesn't know to put their baby to the breast often enough in the first days and weeks of life/ doesn't know how to ensure their baby is milking the breast properly and painlessly (etc etc) then that really CAN develop into a genuine supply problem. If they don't know how to correct the problem, then these mothers will find their milk supplies compromised permanently. They won't make enough milk, and they will develop a genuine supply problem. When a doctor tells you to do something, you do it - right?
That's a genuine breastfeeding problem.
That's a genuine breastfeeding problem.
It won't do any good for breastfeeding advocates to say 'you could have fed your baby if..' because that just sounds like criticism (even though your motives for saying so may be very different). The truth of it is that our environment is littered with genuine reasons for breastfeeding failure. When breastfeeding myths are perpetuated in the press and on television, in living rooms, buses, cafés and (some!) doctor's surgeries it's no wonder that so many people believe them to be true.
So I'd like to propose that a sizeable number of women who do not breastfeed their babies are actually suffering from a genuine breastfeeding problem. I'm going to call it ISIS.
Insufficient Support and Information Syndrome.
1. A group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, psychological disorder, or other abnormal condition.
2. a. A complex of symptoms indicating the existence of an undesirable condition or quality. b. A distinctive or characteristic pattern of behavior' (from thefreedictionary.com)
What are the symptoms of ISIS?
Well, everyone is different but the symptoms may include:
- Inability to breastfeed (usually leading to formula feeding).
- A genuine belief that they cannot breastfeed.
- Emotional issues (eg. grief at the loss of a breastfeeding relationship/ sadness/ feelings of failure/ anger/ resentment/ guilt)
- Increased medical problems (in mother and baby) as a result of breastfeeding cessation.
If you look at breastfeeding statistics you will see that ISIS is actually a very widespread problem.
'only 35 per cent of UK babies are being exclusively breastfed at one week, 21 per cent at six weeks, 7 per cent at four months and 3 per cent at five months' (from the UK Baby Friendly Initiative website)
The long term effects of this syndrome are genuinely massive. Not breastfeeding is costly both to the health of the mother and child, and leads to greater financial costs in terms of the health care those individuals may need. These are costs our whole society bears, and yet we seem unable or unwilling to recognise or address the problem.
You'd think given how many people are affected by ISIS there would be teams of intelligentsia meeting regularly in order to address the problem - but strangely enough there aren't.
Why not? Well - it might be because there simply isn't the demand. Our society genuinely doesn't realise that it's ill. It might also be because it's an issue that only directly affects women and children - and those women are usually on maternity leave when the situation is at it's most critical. ISIS generally doesn't affect a woman's ability to earn or pay tax because so few people currently go on to breastfeed and work (although you can!). It might also be because of the amount of revenue the governments get from the formula companies. The formula milk industry is worth £119 million in the UK per annum.
'At the lowest estimate of £5m the manufacturers spend £6.25 for each baby born in the UK. The government spends 9p-16p per baby on breastfeeding promotion' ~ from Baby Milk Action.
Who are the decision-makers in our society? How many of them breastfeed or have an awareness of breastfeeding issues? How often do you see this?
|Licia Ronzulli, Italian MEP with her newborn|
It is a (largely) invisible illness. I made the name up myself.
How can ISIS be treated?
The answer is both simple and hugely complex. We need to address the causes of ISIS. It is caused by a lack of support and good information. It is exacerbated by misinformation and societal pressures.
- We need to train our medical professionals properly. Breastfeeding should be CORE to their training given how important it is to our health - at the moment they don't need to have any.
- We need to ensure that new mothers are given accurate information about breastfeeding and the risks associated with formula feeding before they have their babies and good support afterwards. Without it they cannot make informed choices.
- We need to ensure that the media and mainstream public events targeting parents do not misinform mothers about breastfeeding.
- We need to ensure that formula companies adhere to the law when it comes to advertising and targeting mums-to-be.
- We need to fully implement the WHO code in law.
- We need to work to improve legislation to protect breastfeeding mothers (where I live in Northern Ireland our legislation is pitiful - the Equality Act 2010 doesn't apply here).
- We need to ensure that properly trained breastfeeding support is widely available on the NHS.
- We need to re-normalise breastfeeding, both online and in our local communities. Breastfeeding mums should feel supported to breastfeed - wherever they are, they should not be made to feel they are doing something grubby or obscene.
ISIS is real. The symptoms are real. The damage it does is real. Only the name is made up.