Should mothers who use formula feel guilty?

Should mothers (and fathers) feel guilty for using formula rather than breastfeeding?

Plenty do - or feel they are expected to. Here's a comment someone has just posted anonymously on an earlier blog here:

Since all of you are clearly obsessed with the idea that formula feeding is bad, bad, bad - perhaps I should mention that for some mothers, it's the only alternative. My wife tried to breastfeed and in the end had to resort to bottle feeding. We didn't want to, and we didn't like it. But it was the only option we had. So for all you mums who sneer at the poor ignorant women formula-feeding their babies - good for you. We had no choice - and guess what? Our baby is a year old, healthy and a joy. So stick that in your narrow-minded obsessive pipe and smoke it.

I've also recently been contacted by a health worker who says she sees the ill health resulting from formula feeding - such as gastro-enteritis, ear infections - and raises the greater risk of diabetes and other long-term illnesses. She asks: " There seems to be an obsession about fear of "making Mums feel guilty" when it comes to breast feeding, but NOT with other health advice e.g. smoking and healthy eating and vacinnation advice etc. I don't know why this terror of Mums feeling guilty seems UNIQUE to breast feeding."

I stand by my often repeated - but as often ignored - comment that it is a mother's decision how she feeds her child and nobody should attempt to make her feel guilty about it.

I appreciate that some may disagree, but my view is that mothers have a right to accurate, independent information on infant feeding and the health implications of not breastfeeding. If a mother makes an informed decision not to breastfeed, then there are presumably reasons why other factors were judged to be of greater importance than breastfeeding. If she decided not to breastfeed because she was misinformed or misled by company propaganda which suggests formula and breastfeeding are equivalent, or did not have the support to overcome difficulties with breastfeeding, I'm not sure that it is either fair or productive to blame her for being failed by those responsible for regulating marketing practices and providing support.

Remember, in the UK, 90% of mothers who stopped breastfeeding before their child was 6 weeks old said they wanted to breastfeed for longer. The mother cited in the first quote, tried to breastfeed and wasn't able to make it work.

The ones who should feel guilty are those who have failed to implement and enforce the marketing standards that were adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 and Resolutions since which update and clarify them. In the UK, this means the drafters of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations which allow misleading advertising and labels to go onto the market. The ones who should feel guilty are the company executives who, as policy, seek to weaken legislation and systematically break the Code and Resolutions.

Those of us trying to promote and support breastfeeding need to do a better job of reaching mothers - it is not easy because the formula industry is far better resourced and uses dishonesty to undermine breastfeeding and suggest that formula feeding and breastfeeding are equivalent (or formula feeding is better - despite the legally required 'breast is best' message).

Rather than using guilt as a lever over mothers, I think a better approach is to understand the role of formula marketing and find better ways to communicate to mothers, particularly those who have had, or are having, a bad experience with breastfeeding. I do appreciate tireless efforts are being put into this already by many.

I do think all of us who are attempting to change formula-feeding cultures back into breastfeeding cultures - which exist or have been recovered in many countries - should redouble our efforts. Promoting the ONE MILLION CAMPAIGN is a good start:
http://www.onemillioncampaign.org/ - also shaming Nestlé, the worst of the baby food companies by promoting the Nestlé boycott: http://www.babymilkaction.org/

As a final thought, I think it is important that those who do use formula, for whatever reason, are also protected. Information should be accurate. Instructions should be correct. And formula should be cheaper - it has one of the highest mark-ups of any product. This is the aim of our safer formula campaign - see the site.

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