Can we stop talking about the “Benefits of Breastfeeding”? 

Photography: Chantal R Mercier

By Sofie Eriksson

This piece is one that I hold dear. It had a huge response the first time I posted it, so I’m bringing it out from its dusty corner and reposting it!

As the World Breastfeeding Week 2017 is approaching, a UNICEF report with a four step plan, has been circulating!  

Its aim: an attempt to improve the low rates of breastfeeding in the U.K. (UNICEF 2017). The rates and the reasons for these is a subject that is often avoided in the U.K as a result of the strong emotions attached! Yet, somehow, the “milk wars” gets a firmer hold for each year that passes, and with it, the resentment grows between the self proclaimed “camps”, all to the glee of the formula companies. 

When I’m reading the “Call to Action on Infant Feeding in the UK” report by UNICEF, something jumps of the page! I read “Powerful new evidence about the benefits of breastfeeding” .

There are no benefits of breastfeeding! 

You might wonder were I’m going with this so before you become concerned that I’m pushing the abandonment of breastmilk, I’ll explain!  

Breastmilk is what humans are supposed to drink. It is created by us, for us! Its intention is to give us the best chance in life, in both emotional and physiological development. Breastmilk supports us with what we, as young children, have not yet developed, such as our immune system. It supports our development in the most optimal way possible. Human breast milk is biologically correct for human babies. 

There are no benefits of breastmilk, as that would indicate that artificial milk is ideal for us; but breastmilk isn’t the deviant!  The idea that formula milk is somehow the baseline is damaging. Indicating, that by giving breastmilk to your baby, you’re simply adding these extra benefits- like the icing on a cake! But these “benefits” were supposed to be there in the first place! They are what a brand new body expects and needs to develop to its full ability. 

I looked for support in the early days of motherhood – I was so determined I was going to breastfeed that I did everything I physically could! Yet, in the midst of my battle, I was told to surrender. I was told by health professionals that “fed is best” and that formula is “just as good” as breastmilk, and to not push myself any harder. 

I wanted to breastfeed my daughter, yet a chain of events left me unable to do so, and I do find that my inability to breastfeed my first upsets me; even more so as I’ve been able to successfully breastfeed her little brother.

In ways, it feels as though I failed one of my two children, yet I don’t like being patronised with the illusion of benefits, rather than being spoken to in honesty about the clear risks. 

Throughout life, we get told about healthy eating and what foods are more suitable as fuel for our bodies! We talk about the risks of unhealthy eating and how we are putting our bodies under strain. A visit to the doctor can lead to a long discussion about a healthy diet, yet in infancy this is somehow taboo – we must not question the quality of the milk, which the majority of us readily give to our babies!  

So, here’s a suggestion! Instead of becoming defensive we need to be open! We need to recognise that there is a huge difference in what we feed our babies!  

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