Loss of knowledge
But we have lost sight of this normal breastfed baby behavior. Some of the most common questions new parents ask are “Is he feeding too much?”, “Does this mean I don’t have enough milk?” and “Isn’t he satisfied?”. We perceive normal, healthy feeding patterns as a sign of something being wrong. These are exacerbated by suggestions that back in the 60s and 70s, routines were normal and babies only fed every four hours and that anything else indicates a problem. This is true, babies were indeed often fed this way but breastfeeding failure rates were also very high and this was not a coincidence; spacing out the feeds too much led to insufficient milk being produced and babies being very “unsettled” as they weren’t being fed enough.
The UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world and this cannot be explained purely by physical issues stopping women from breastfeeding. Women in other countries such as Sweden and Norway breastfeed for far longer suggesting that our issues with breastfeeding are at least in part, societal. This is not to say women are simply stopping breastfeeding because society does not like it, but because our society is not set up to support breastfeeding, and this can damage it.
…we’ve simply lost track of what babies are really like. We expect them to act in a way that is physiologically incompatible with breastfeeding and then wonder why breastfeeding has gone wrong.
Estimates of primary physiological inability to breastfeed are very low. However far more are having difficulty with breastfeeding. This is in part to do with a lack of good investment in maternity services, meaning that mothers are not receiving the practical help they need after the birth. But it’s wider than that and another central reason is that we’ve simply lost track of what babies are really like. We expect them to act in a way that is physiologically incompatible with breastfeeding and then wonder why breastfeeding has gone wrong.
Because even though we might promote breastfeeding, in reality after the birth, whenever there is an issue, formula is often offered as the solution. Worried baby isn’t getting enough? Use a formula top up. Wanting baby to sleep through the night? Offer formula before bed (a strategy that doesn’t usually work by the way). Wanting to see how much they’re drinking? Give a bottle. Formula is perceived by many as the answer to all problems and to achieving the mythical good baby (even though many mums will tell you changing to formula certainly didn’t change their baby’s behavior). Instead, what all these things typically do is decrease milk supply as formula is being used instead of breast milk and the body thinks the milk isn’t needed.
Supporting new mothers
So if we want to stop topping the tables of poor breastfeeding rates, we need to look to the wider society in which we are trying to raise our babies. We need to support and care for our mothers to mother, rather than questioning how “good” their baby is and pressurising them to care in a certain way. And most of all we just need to let our babies just do what babies are designed to do and not label them as doing something “wrong” just because they are feeding, sleeping and seeking comfort in the way nature intended.
Originally published HERE.
Professor Amy Brown is based in the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences at Swansea University in the UK. With a background in psychology, she has published over 70 papers exploring psychological, cultural and societal influences upon breastfeeding and introducing solids. Her research seeks to understand how we can shift our perception of how babies are fed away from an individual mothering issue to a wider public health problem – with societal level solutions. Amy is a mother to three human children and three book babies: Breastfeeding Uncovered: Who really decides how we feed our babies, Why Starting Solids Matters, and The Positive Breastfeeding Book: Everything you need to feed your baby with confidence.