Mum guilt is something many mothers battle with, but a new survey has revealed the contribution that breastfeeding makes to those feelings.
The poll, commissioned by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and BBC Radio Sheffield, revealed that half of new mums felt they let their baby down when they struggled to breastfeed.
Meanwhile more than a third of the 1,162 respondents admitted to feeling ashamed for giving their child formula.
Illustrating the different breastfeeding experiences many mothers go through, the poll also found that while two thirds of women who breastfed their baby say it was one of the best parts of being a mother (66%), half (49%) say it was one of the toughest parts.
The survey investigated the factors affecting how women chose to feed their babies, including public pressure, mental health and ability to breastfeed.
Other findings include a third of women who breastfed their baby feeling pressure from society to breastfeed (33%) and three in ten women who formula-fed their baby (either exclusively or in addition to breastfeeding) say they would have liked to have breastfed but felt embarrassed to do so in public (30%).
Maybe because of the breastfeeding shaming that some mums experience.
Last year a woman was shamed by a shopping centre after she wrote a Facebook post explaining that she was unable to find somewhere to breastfeed her baby.
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, and continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
But in June last year 2018 the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) guidance published new guidance for mothers, claiming mums should not be shamed into breastfeeding and their choice to bottle feed must be respected.
The new advice advice also stressed that new mothers should be given appropriate support if they make an informed decision to bottle feed.
The guidance marks a shift in position from previous advice emphasising the ‘risks’ of formula feeding while also focussing on the benefits of breastfeeding.
Though the new advice recommends babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life, in line with advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the RCM has acknowledged that some mothers struggle to start or continue breastfeeding.
While the organisation deemed the exclusive use of breast milk the “most appropriate method of infant feeding” for the first six months, fundamentally the decision about how to feed her baby is a woman’s right.
The RCM has also commented on the latest findings of the BBC survey: “Women should not feel guilty if they are struggling to breastfeed their baby or choose not to,” Clare Livingstone Professional Policy Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) responded.
“While evidence clearly shows that breastfeeding in line with WHO guidance brings optimum benefits for the health of both mother and baby, it is not always possible.
“The reality is that some women, for a variety of reasons, struggle to start or sustain breastfeeding. For some women switching to formula milk is actually a decision not a choice, as they may need to return to work for example, or have other caring commitments.
The organisation says breastfeeding mothers need to be well supported by health services and respected by wider society, particularly when feeding their babies in public.
“This survey shines a light on what it feels like to be a new mother in the 21st century. Breastfeeding can be a very positive experience, but there are a number of considerations in the totality of women’s lives that need attention, support and understanding.”
No doubt the results of the new survey will contribute to the ongoing debate about the best way to encourage mothers to breastfeed.
Last year Public Health England (PHE) launched a new tool, offering women help to breastfeed through Amazon Alexa.
If new mums ask the chatbot specific questions, it can give advice on topics such as latching and frequency of feeding, and the answers will be provided tailored to the age of the baby.
The tool was created following a recent survey of 1,000 mothers that revealed nearly two thirds believe access to 24/7 support would make new mums more likely to have a positive experience of breastfeeding.
Meanwhile another professional body announced they believed the importance of breastfeeding should be taught to schoolchildren as young as 11.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) called for schools to teach children about the benefits of breastfeeding as part of compulsory personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons which are taught at secondary school.
A new position paper on breastfeeding has also urged the Government to bring in regulation that would ensure employers support breastfeeding through parental leave, feeding breaks and facilities for feeding or expressing milk.
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