Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Breastfeeding…. Bottle feeding…

I am not sure if there are words that are more controversial in parenting (well maybe with the exclusion of vaccination – but we can do that next week!).

Let me put this out there right now – I was a Brand Manager for an infant formula company for many years, both here in Australia and overseas. I have sat through hours and hours (and hours) of market research watching mums talk about breast feeding, bottle feeding, about how (when still pregnant) that they will have routines, their lives won’t change, how (post birth) they wish someone told them not to expect to have a routine, why they often feel guilty that they can’t live up to their own expectations (let alone other peoples) and how much they wish other parents/ grandparents and society would not judge them for their feeding choices… And interestingly, how they wished they could get more information about infant formula and why they feel so very guilty.

Yes, I worked for a formula company. Yes, it was in our interest to hear this. But in reality, there is very little ability to share good, thorough information about infant formula in Australia. We are not even able to call it baby milk here (you can in the UK). Here we have a mandated name so that it sounds clinical and scary and not as good for babies.

And I understand that breast milk is best. Not only did I have to write the “Breastfeeding is best for your baby” statement on any “marketing literature” that I developed in Australia (creating guilt for mums much anyone?), but I also did breastfeed both of my children. But I was able to and I wanted to. At the time of working for the “Big Pharma” company, I had read all of the current studies on why breastfeeding is beneficial and researched at length what ingredients I should be lobbying to have included in our formulas to make them better for babies and as close as possible to breast milk. Because, you know what, isn’t that what we all want? If we can’t, or chose not to breast feed, don’t we want to give our babies the next best thing?

And you can yell at me and tell me I am biased, but no matter what, I have worked in the industry and seen the research involved. I understand that without profits, there would not be significant research gains. Unless governments are going to start fully funding research and development into every illness, every health requirement, we need companies to make a profit. Otherwise, we all need to dig a lot deeper and start donating significant amounts of money to research of all kinds.

So as a mum who breastfed, as business women who worked for a formula company and as a parenting writer, I believe that we need to give mums (and dads) respect for their intelligence. We need to support mums in their choices. Help them to breastfeed, but not at the expense of their baby’s health or the mother’s mental state. When they can’t (or chose not to) breastfeed, give them the information to help them chose the right formula for their child. It may not be the most expensive formula (or maybe it will be), but without full access to unbiased information, how can a parent make an educated choice between formulas.

We need to take a step back from the health professional bashing and “it is all about profit” claims.

We need to work together. We need to make it all about mum and baby.

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