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'A new law is not the right formula'

'A new law is not the right formula'

Published: 07 Nov 2012 12:56 GMT+01:00
Updated: 07 Nov 2012 12:56 GMT+01:00

Sweden’s severe ‘breast is best’ mindset only serves to push newborns away from the bosoms of mothers who fail at feeding time, argues The Local’s Christine Demsteader.

For nine months, I was prodded and poked. As my belly grew bigger my blood pressure got higher. The midwife regularly quizzed me on my eating, sleeping and toilet habits. She compassionately handled my raging hormones and shared tips on relieving my swollen ankles.

As giving birth became ever more imminent, we discussed the finer points of pain relief alongside the joys of parenthood. Physically and emotionally, I was prepared - and I have nothing but praise for the medical professionals in Sweden who helped me bear my firstborn during a pretty hassle-free labour.

Over the course of those nine hours I was once again prodded and poked. Soon after my son’s primal scream into Sweden he was - immediately and without consultation - plonked on my breast to feed. It worked and there he stayed put for the best part of the three-day stay on the labour ward.

But he was a big lad - over four kilos and a born feeder. My balloon-sized breasts couldn’t keep up with his demands. And that kept us awake all night. Exhausted and exasperated, I asked for help and was given a breast pumping gadget and some random instructions.

But then it happened. In the early hours, with a crying baby in my arms I found a stash of formula and a microwave, seemingly hidden from view and certainly not talked about.

At no point during my pregnancy was I asked how I wanted to feed my baby. The pros and cons of breast versus formula were not up for discussion. I was advised to attend a breastfeeding demo at the health centre where a stern Swedish nurse informed me that nipple cream was of no use.

Like most other mothers-to-be, I had of course read up on the subject and referred to my largely loaned library of baby bibles. My decision was just to go with the flow, provided there was any, and feed as I saw fit.

If you can breast-feed, Sweden offers a haven of privacy, even in public. No one bats an eye when a mother whips out a boob to feed their baby, be it on a park bench, a bus or, my personal favourite, down the frozen vegetable aisle in the supermarket.

Yet Sweden makes a failure of mothers that can’t. Formula is as poo-poo’ed as a freshly filled nappy. Midwives will encourage the try-again method until mums shed more tears than their child and the only thing the doctor can prescribe to cure mastitis is a dose of antidepressants.

Sweden is, however, a beacon for the World Health Organisation’s recommendation on breastfeeding. The percentage of babies that are breast-fed for the first six months hits the high nineties here.

But providing those bodily-brewed nutrients comes at an unhealthy cost to the many mothers in Sweden who simply can’t produce.

Regardless, they often succumb to the pressure of the medical profession’s one-way philosophy that breast is best. Choice is rarely even a factor.

Sweden hasn’t found the right formula when it comes to finding a middle ground on breastfeeding.

What doesn’t add up is news of a prospective law to ensure milk of the powdered variety is used in the “right way.”

Instead of adding a legislative proposal as such it would perhaps be better to start taking away the guilt felt by mothers in Sweden that fail to breast-feed.

Christine Demsteader (christine.demsteader@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

17:51 November 7, 2012 by skogsbo
Well the breast seems to have worked for the ladt how many tens of 1000s of years!
19:48 November 7, 2012 by caitnor
Thank you for writing this. I totally agree. Formula is already stigmatized so much. A fear of restricting it further is that mom's will turn to the widely accepted: välling too early. As to the comment that the breast seems to have worked for the last 1000s of years, yes as a species that is true, but that is little consolation to moms and dads who lost babies due to milk not coming in and other complications of breastfeeding. Formula has saved many lives and is a fantastic alternative to breastfeeding in that it is the only other thing that babies consistently thrive on (as opposed to cow's milk, goat's milk, etc..). If you can't or don't want to breastfeed exclusively formula should be readily available. The one thing that is nice about this proposed law is to make the instructions more clear about proper handling. This might save babies from getting sick when it is not used properly. Hopefully it will not lead to moms making themselves sick or starving their children because they feel that formula is bad.
21:10 November 8, 2012 by dizzymoe33
@skogsbo

There are many women who are not able to breastfeed so they have no choice but to use formula instead.

It should be the mothers choice and no one else's business whether she breast feeds or uses formula. Yes the baby receives the anti-bodies from the mother's milk but a woman shouldn't be ridiculed or prosecuted because she is not breast feeding.

This whole thing is so stupid there are more important things to worry about than breastfeeding or not!!
13:11 November 9, 2012 by terriergirl
Formula has its place. Breastfeeding should not be used as a stick to beat new mothers with but it often is. In the UK, hospitals try to boost breastfeeding rates in order to win the UNICEF Baby Friendly award. Often this is at the mothers' expense as little attention is paid when babies fail to breastfeed in, my experience.

I was vilified when my son failed to latch on and didn't breastfeed. The hospital then the National Childbirth Trust provided bullying rather than help (also a lot of ill-informed nonsense about my son becoming asthmatic if he was given a bottle - seriously!). I was made to feel a bad mother. However, my son thrives.

However, a year later I successfully breastfed twins. Not such a bad mother! Twins also thrive.

I think it worked better that time mainly because I was determined to do things my own way.

Mothers should make their own informed choices. Breastfeeding is not the be all and end all of parenting.
19:15 November 9, 2012 by Kitwisdom
The vast majority of women (around 98% I've read in studies) can breastfeed. There are very specific reasons why a mother can't. Check out what kellymom has to say: http://kellymom.com/bf/got-milk/supply-worries/insufficient-glandular-tissue/

That said, when I first became a mom, I wish someone had told me how HARD breastfeeding is. I am glad that I had someone to tell me that it gets better. And it did. But at first, constant eating, constant crying, painful nipples, even clogged ducts are normal. Sleep was few and far between and I remember feeling desperate, but am so glad now I kept with it.

That said, I think this law is pretty silly. What is more important is education and support. In the United States, women frequently go to lactation consultants to help in the early days. The most help I had was a midwife who literally grabbed my boob and shoved it in my baby's face. I do know that La Leche League is starting meetings here soon, which I think will be a godsend to a lot of new mothers out there.
02:18 November 10, 2012 by BackpackerKev
While breastfeeding is good for the baby, my problem is that Sweden is under the impression that laws are there to enforce opinions onto people and secondary for the safety or greater good of the country and its citizens.

What little freedom we have is slowly being taken away by limiting our choice of options and conforming to regulations that say we must do it a certain way.
16:56 November 10, 2012 by oledeluca
Without getting strident on the breast-feeding issue, it's important to realize that often times infants need to be fed when disaster strikes. At those time formula and food are not readily available. These can be due to storms, political action, tectonic activity, etc..

At those times, it is helpful to realize that mothers can feed them in times of need and reduce their stress often long enough so that they can survive. Adults and children can usually go up to 30 days or slightly more with only water. Infants about 4 days. At those times, the mothers do not need to be helpless as their infant slowly starves.
21:29 November 10, 2012 by skogsbo
isn't parenting about doing the very best for the child, not the line of least resistance.

Besides you can feed anywhere, any time, plus no cleaning, shopping or sterilising required, less clutter to carry around too.
17:13 November 11, 2012 by Grokh
breast is best only if the mother isnt a smoker, drinker etc how can they say its best when they dont know what the mother puts in their body that directly goes to the baby?
22:37 November 11, 2012 by smbd
Breastmilk Stem Cells: It's not just food. By Hilary Butler

Posted: 15 Oct 2012 06:59 AM PDT

Interestingly, in my 30 years of working with parents of children who have been damaged after vaccines, by far the worst damage I've ever seen, was in formula-fed children. It's [...]
04:06 November 13, 2012 by Ted Greiner
While I don't condone any unkindness to individual women, I strongly applaud the Swedish commitment to breastfeeding. The UK to a larger extent lacks this, and this is likely the main basis for Demsteader's discomfort.

The best sign of a breastfeeding friendly culture, clearly seen to anyone who has spent time in Africa, is that breastfeeding is ignored. Breastfeeding is normal and requires intervention/assistance only when something goes wrong--just like for all other normal bodily functions.

Demsteader also ignores the fact that Sweden provides the support women need to succeed in breastfeeding (for example a long period of paid maternity leave). Without this, pressure to breastfeed (which I believe in Sweden is more perceived than real) is of course nonconstructive and risks blaming the victim.

Demsteader is simply incorrect to say that many women cannot breastfeed. Indeed, more women deliver babies addicted to alcohol or other drugs than are "unable" to breast feed. To avoid making those women feel guilty, should public health officials avoid saying anything about their addictions?

Like having an addicted mother, the simple truth is that formula feeding puts babies at increased risk of disease and death. Two recent estimates for the USA in pediatric journals put it at 700-900 babies per year who die from something that would not have killed them if they'd been breastfeeding. Either figure makes formula feeding the 7th highest cause of infant mortality there. It's so frustrating that most modern societies base most relevant policies on a false assumption that formula feeding is "safe" or even more or less equivalent to breastfeeding.

Avoiding making women who don't breast feed feel guilty is simply not among the tasks of public health professionals or policy makers. All of us parents, each time we make choices that are bad for our children, have to cope with our own guilt. Do we really want governments that take on THAT role? Just for the sake of the
15:55 November 18, 2012 by wakeupdummy
love it, parenting is 'what's doing what is right for the child' when you are a woman, when you are a man, it is about being part of a unit called a family where everyone's rights and opinions are valued and taken into consideration. A woman's breasts are her business - she alone decides.
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