Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Normality of Breastfeeding

I live in a place where breastfeeding is the exception rather than the norm. It came as a surprise to me when I was first presented with this fact, about 10 years ago, when a friend of mine had a baby and was the only new mum in the 13 bed ward who was breastfeeding. I also remember being asked in a questionnaire why I chose to breastfeed - and that my reason (because it's the normal way of feeding a newborn) was not an option.

It makes me wonder if the low breastfeeding rates in certain places may be related with formula feeding being perceived as the norm, and if re-establishing breastfeeding as the norm may lead to improved breastfeeding rates.

One example where formula feeding was established as the norm was when someone decided to base the growth charts on formula fed babies. This has since been changed - so this time around, Snowflake is measured against growth charts of breastfed babies (and following her line spot on) while Cubling was measured against formula fed babies (and kept dropping as time went on, giving me a lot of worry if I was doing the right thing). Although these charts gave me worry with Cubling, I never questioned them. But now that I'm more relaxed about weight gain, and can see my own different attitude and how the new chart gives me confidence that things are going well, I realise how crucial this change is. Hopefully it will give confidence to many breastfeeding mums, and more than that, demonstrate that the norm against which baby growth is measured is that of a breastfed baby.

At nursery, Cubling has been learning all about babies. It's been a great theme, just at the right time. She comes home and continues the role play with her favourite teddy (she's not into dolls as such, her teddy is her baby, it's a girl and her name is Snowflakes middle name). She tells me all about why babies cry, that they can't walk yet, that they visited the baby room and how proud she is that she has a real baby at home. She'll change nappies, wipes teddy bums, dresses teddy for bed and outdoors. And she's filling up bottles to give milk to teddy.

Mummy cringes. All my nursing and my daughter at 3 years already fills up bottles (of the breast pump at least, but bottles they are nonetheless).
I cringe even more because when I dropped Cubling off at nursery one day, and Snowflake was crying (I didn't get the timing of feeds right), a nursery teacher passed and asked Cubling if her baby sister needed a bottle.
Bless Cubling, she just retorted by saying "no!" and pointing to her breast.
What it shows though is that at nursery, the message given out to our youngest is that the normality of baby feeding is the bottle (filled with formula, why else would you measure milk?) - possibly out of a false sense of prudishness (I'm guessing). It's an opportunity lost, an opportunity to re-establish the normality of breastfeeding in an area of Glasgow where the rates are bound to be doddling around the 10% mark.

And I'm particularly disappointed because this is a nursery that prides itself in its eco status, it's environmental awareness and does generally so well in these areas. Shouldn't this not also translate into some gentle encouragement of the message that breastfeeding is normal? It's not about promoting breastfeeding, just about treating it as the norm, to which there will always be exceptions.

Have you experienced situations where breastfeeding wasn't/isn't treated as the norm? Should I take this up with the nursery?



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