Breastfeeding Fake News

When I was pregnant with MissM I spent two hours waiting for an obstetrician appointment. The clinic was rammed, one of the doctors was off sick. It’s annoying but it happens.

The real problem was the video screen in the waiting room. This showed two videos on loop. The first was full of smiling midwives and triumphant “empowered” mothers explaining the joys of a wonderful, straightforward, home waterbirth. The kind of birth I’d have loved, but which would now never be an option for me, or most of the other women in that afternoon’s clinic for high-risk pregnancies.

The second video was another grin-fest this time to extoll the many benefits of breastfeeding and the perils of the dreaded formula. By the time I saw the doctor I was so upset by the first video and so irritated by the second that my blood pressure, which had been so low I’d been keeling over for most of the pregnancy, was so high I had to come back in for monitoring the next morning.

A rather petty part of me was briefly tempted not to breastfeed this baby just to get back at whoever put that video up.

I did breastfeed her, and am still breastfeeding her little sister, but my irritation with a lot of breastfeeding promotion remains and it has put me off seeking help when I’ve struggled.

Getting to a breastfeeding cafe or support group or indeed anywhere felt like a near impossible challenge in the weeks after a C section. I couldn’t drive or even stand upright, never mind get myself and the baby out the house and on a bus. When I had my first baby and was really struggling with feeding, I simply couldn’t face attempting it when I wasn’t sure if I’d find evidence-based help or just tea and propaganda.

Does propaganda seem a bit strong?

I’m struggling to find a better word here. I know enough about scientific studies of breastfeeding to know that it has definite, proven benefits. But there are an awful lot of other benefits, which are promoted enthusiastically, but where the evidence is actually weak. 

 When these contested benefits are thrown into the same list as the well-proven ones, with no note of caution, I begin to wonder:

Is that because the person writing it doesn’t understand the science? Or are they trying to influence what I do by manipulating what information I see?

So at times when I’ve struggled with breastfeeding, I’ll admit, I’ve not sought help. I’m sure there are many great people out there giving great, impartial advice to Mums. But first, you have to get through the gateway of extraordinary claims and that’s where I’ve tended to lose faith.

The other thing that turns me off breastfeeding support is when the focus is on the negatives of formula.

Formula is fine. Yeah, breast milk is a bit better overall but some of the language I’ve seen makes it sound like formula feeding mums are giving their babies bottles full of toxic sludge. Or else they (we – I use formula occasionally as I loathe pumping) have been hoodwinked by a shadowy global conspiracy with a striking resemblance to that evoked by anti-vaxxers. I have no interest in lining the pockets of Nestle, but to read the comments of some breastfeeding advocates you’d think that merely acknowledging the existence of formula is enough to derail otherwise capable women from making rational decisions.

Yes of course #NotAllBreastFeedingSupport. Yes, of course, lots of it does great work and has helped vast numbers of the Mums and babies who have turned to it. But while so much breastfeeding information continues to ignore or conceal the limitations of the evidence, or turn the alternatives into something to be feared and ashamed of,  then I, and I suspect many other women, just won’t be able to trust in the help on offer. Common sense or a quick google is enough to raise suspicions.

I want there to be more help with breastfeeding, I would gladly join a campaign to make sure there is more of it and that feeding in public is normalised. But I can’t get on board with groups that use scare stories, muddled facts and, to be all 2018 about it, fake news.

So please, can we just have a bit of straight up honesty here? We don’t need to portray breastfeeding the way that damned annoying video did. It’s not all smiles and cuddles. We don’t need to wrap it in magical properties or claim it’s responsible for every possible benefit. These messages are for grown-ups and we’ve mostly moved on from fairy tales. Let’s have the facts but let’s also acknowledge the ambiguities, the positives and risks. Then let’s support women in whatever choice they make.

And PLEASE, let’s not have any of it in a video on loop in a waiting room!



DIY Daddy

3 responses to “Breastfeeding Fake News”

  1. Why don’t we need to portray breastfeeding in a better light, though? When the entire system sees women’s bodies as inherently flawed, obscene, sexual, when parents get CPS called on them for not switching from breastfeeding to cow’s milk at one year (yes, I kid you not, it happened to a friend), when judges are saying that women are breastfeeding to “alienate” non-custodial fathers and telling them they must wean a young baby so the father can have access to the child for weekends starting from early on, we have a problem. I don’t know where you are, but in the USA, hospital births are not at all empowering, and many cases are abusive, so maybe that’s why that video was played about the empowering home birth (but why can’t hospitals be more empowering, too?).


    • Yes! We should absolutely be portraying breastfeeding in a good light. We should be normalising breastfeeding and helping and supporting those who want to do it and we don’t need to exaggerate the benefits or hide the complexities of the evidence to do that.

      I’m in the UK and hospital births certainly have their issues here too. I’ve had three, the first was horrendous, the second was wonderful and the third was somewhere in between. I’m also all for empowering homebirths and had things gone differently with my first birth it’s something I may very well have done for the others. Unfortunately, like most of the women in the clinic where the video was shown I (after that first birth) was very unlikely to have anything other than a very medicalised birth. So being told over and over again how wonderful something could be, while knowing that could now never be true for me, was very upsetting and of no help to most or possibly any of the women in the room that day.

      Your last point is so important. I worry that most of the talk about improving birth in the UK is focused on getting more women to give birth in midwife led units and at home rather than in hospital obstetric units. Those options are great but they aren’t possible or even desirable for many many women so it’s really important that we also make improvements to the medical hospital birth experience that many of us have to rely on.


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