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Breastfeeding AND bottle-feeding NOT either/or

Penny Johnstone of ABC Baby Talk describes bottle-feeding as one of the seven pillars of mother-guilt. In this podcast she has a lively discussion with journalist Madeleine Morris about the pros and cons of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding.

As a younger woman, Madeleine had a breast-reduction operation. None of the health care practitioners who attended to her breast feedingduring her pregnancy, mentioned that this previous operation was a red-flag for potential problems with breast-feeding her baby. As a result, her baby daughter lost thirteen percent of her birth weight in the first six days of her life and cried constantly from hunger as Madeleine tried desperately to get her milk to come through. She eventually put her daughter’s nutritional needs above her need to breastfeed and started to give her baby formula in addition to breastfeeding her. Penny too, had to bottle-feed her baby until her milk came in after which she was able to breastfeed successfully.

Subsequently Madeleine discovered that other warning signs that you might not be able to breastfeed successfully include having a c-section, being an older mum, being obese or having fertility problems in the run-up to your pregnancy.

The ‘conspiracy of silence’ around bottle-feeding often makes new mums feel isolated and guilty. As Madeleine points out, only fifteen percent of Australian mums meet the recommended guidelines for breastfeeding. The other 85% either supplement with formula or put their babies on solids early.

‘So often you are made to feel as if it is an either/or situation. Either you are breastfeeding or you are not. This is not true. The reality is most mums do both. I know women who have done both for up to two years, formula-feeding during the day and breastfeeding at night,’ says Madeleine.

bottle-feedingShe says that mums who need to bottle-feed, for whatever reason, need to be properly informed. For example, did you know that if you are bottle-feeding, it is a good idea to switch the baby from side to side just as you would do if you were breastfeeding, as this helps their eyes to develop. Madeleine also advocates bottle-feeding with your top off, when possible, to facilitate the skin-to-skin contact that produces oxytocin, the love hormone.

This is a very even-handed discussion of the pros of both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. There is an additional dynamic when the two women discuss the politics around breastfeeding in other countries. Did you know that in East Timor, women are considered such inferior creatures that it is commonly believed to be better for babies to feed them sugar water than breast milk, a product of the inferior female body? Tragic. As a woman, this knowledge makes me angry and sad and grateful that I do not live under that kind of oppression.

You can listen to Penny and Madeleine’s full discussion, on the ABC Baby Talk podcast.

Madeleine Morris is a mum and an experienced journalist who currently reports for the ABC investigative news program 7:30. Her book Guilt-Free Bottle-Feeding is available from bookshops and online.