If you've ever followed a breastfeeding post on social media, you've highly likely seen emotionally charged comments like:
“Stop shaming mothers who cannot breastfeed!”
“My formula fed baby is perfectly healthy! So this information can't be true.”
Do we really need to share breastfeeding information in the media?
After all, the important thing is that babies are fed and growing.
Does sharing breastfeeding information serve a purpose beyond drumming up emotions?
Some feel sharing breastfeeding information shouldn’t be allowed because it makes some mothers feel guilty for how their baby was/is fed.
So, should breastfeeding articles be published and shared or not?
Public Health And Breastfeeding – Why We Need To Share Information
From a public health perspective, breastfeeding is important. If fewer babies are breastfed, the health of large groups of people is worse off.
Leading health organisations such as Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), America’s Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization all recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, then continuing to breastfeed with suitable complementary foods for at least one year.
For these reasons, breastfeeding should be promoted, and any initiatives that help support mothers to breastfeed and improve breastfeeding rates should be undertaken.
This is exactly what other countries are doing to successfully rescue their dire breastfeeding rates. Mass education for healthcare providers and the public has resulted in countries with exclusive breastfeeding rates of 11-13% able to increase to a whopping 74%. It simply works. Australia is not far off these countries, with only 15% of babies being exclusively breastfed at 5 months of age. Even at 2 months of age, 50% of Australian babies are fed some or all formula.
Unique Individual Situations and Why Information Should Still Be Available
Sometimes individual circumstances override population level risks. Indeed, not breastfeeding may be the best option for individual families given their unique set of circumstances.
If you are a family with circumstances that make formula feeding the right choice, you needn't feel guilty about information that is shared.
Breastfeeding information isn't meant to make a family feel that they made the wrong choice. Information is shared to reach a society as a whole.
A Lactation Consultant's Role In Sharing Information
As a lactation consultant working with mothers, my job is to meet mothers where they are at. I provide them with unconditional positive regard, empathy and support. My job is not to judge, pressure or belittle.
My job is also to provide information to help mothers make their own fully informed decisions. When it comes to the provision of information to a mother, what information is provided, when it is provided, and how it is provided are all important. Information needs to be provided in a supportive manner.
Every mother is an individual, with individual life circumstances. As a lactation consultant, I offer support without inflicting any of my own personal breastfeeding ideologies on her.
Information On The Internet – Why It's Beneficial
A major way that many mothers access information is via the internet. Therefore, it's important that up-to-date and evidence-based information be available. The BellyBelly team of writers aims to do this.
Whether on Facebook, Twitter or simply by googling, mothers may come across information that doesn’t fit with their own personal experiences or ideologies. Reading this information is sometimes hurtful.
It's important to remember that all of our experiences are different. None of us have led exactly the same life. It can help to try not letting our own experiences or ideologies get in the way of what we read on the internet, no matter if they are about the experiences of others or what research says about infant feeding. What might work for your family may not work for another family, and vice versa.
Is Sharing Information Insensitive To Mothers That Can't Breastfeed?
Not all women are able to breastfeed. Yes, this is true, even though most can. Most breastfeeding challenges can be overcome with timely and skilled support and accurate information.
Equally, for some mothers, even if they are given timely and skilled support and accurate information, not breastfeeding may be the best option. There are certain conditions that make breastfeeding impossible.
Understandably, reading about breastfeeding research can be difficult for mothers that aren't able to reach their breastfeeding goals. However, not sharing any breastfeeding information might prevent other women from reaching their goals, that may have been possible with proper information and support.
The Importance of Respectfully Sharing Information Online
Sharing and posting breastfeeding information over the internet needs to be done respectfully. It's important that women have access to accurate and up-to-date information, but we needn't be insensitive.
If a mother asks a question about breastfeeding, it can be a great time to make suggestions and provide information. Sharing information straight after a mother has indicated she couldn’t breastfeed (regardless of the reason), is not helpful.
Putting Risk Into Perspective Helps In Receiving Information
Remember that scientific research doesn’t speak in absolutes. It speaks in terms of risks.
For example, if a study comes out that indicates that formula fed babies are more likely to be hospitalised due to gastroenteritis, this does not mean that this will happen to your baby if he is formula fed. It just means that when looking at large groups of babies, those who are formula fed are more likely to be hospitalised due to gastroenteritis.
Different health outcomes associated with how a baby is fed carries different levels of risk. For example, according to the NHMRC, formula fed babies are 257% more likely to be hospitalised for lower respiratory tract diseases in the first year as compared to breastfed babies. Also, according to the NHMRC, formula fed babies are 56% more likely to die of SIDS as compared to breastfed babies.
It's important to put these risks into context. For example, SIDS is not very prevalent (about one in every 3,000 births). So while there is a greater risk of SIDS amongst formula fed babies, since the incidence of SIDS across Western populations is very low, even if all babies were formula fed, the overall incidence would still be low.
However, for parents (perhaps especially for those of whom a baby died from SIDS), information about any risk they could modify (no matter how small) is likely an important part of being fully informed.
So next time you read something on the internet, remember that you and your baby are individuals. What works for one mother and baby pair doesn’t necessarily work for another. You are a great mother, no matter how your baby is fed. Be proud of the mother you are, and above all, love your baby as best you can, because after all, this is the most important thing.