New mums should not be shamed into breastfeeding and their choice to bottle feed must be respected, midwives have been told.
New advice from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) stresses 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.
The decision about how to feed her baby is a woman’s right, the organisation states.
Commenting on the guidance, Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM said: “Evidence clearly shows that breastfeeding in line with WHO guidance brings optimum benefits for the health of both mother and baby. However the reality is that often some women for a variety of reasons struggle to start or sustain breastfeeding.”
She goes on to say that women “should be at the centre of their own care” and midwives and maternity support workers should “promote informed choice.”
“If, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected,” the senior midwife continued.
Mums should never be made to feel guilty
The RCM continued to say that women should not be made to feel “guilty or embarrassed” about how they feed their children.
“We recognise that some women cannot or do not wish to breastfeed and rely on formula milk. They must be given all the advice and support they need on safe preparation of bottles and responsive feeding to develop a close and loving bond with their baby,” Walton continued.
The professional body believes women who choose to breastfeed should also be offered more support.
“Women should not feel guilty or embarrassed about breastfeeding in public and as a society we must continue to develop a culture of positive support for women who wish to breastfeed and educating the public is key to this,” she said.
“There must be more investment in postnatal care services and specialist midwives to enable each woman to get the support and advice she needs to make informed choices about feeding her baby.
“We know that every woman wants the best for her baby and we want to be able to empower our members to support women to be the best they can be and enable them to decisions that are right for themselves and their babies.”
That’s something that Linda Bryceland Head of Midwifery at Private Midwives agrees with.
“I would advise any mother who needs support and advice about breastfeeding, to speak to their midwife and remember that every woman’s body is different, and it is important that they listen to their body’s wants and needs, as breastfeeding is not right for every woman,” she tells Yahoo Style UK.
“Those who choose not to breastfeed should be supported in that choice, just as those who do choose to breastfeed should be given effective support and consistent advice.”
UK’s breastfeeding rates among the lowest in the world
The NHS recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies during the first six months, explaining that the feeding method has long-term benefits for baby that lasts right into adulthood. But breastfeeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world.
Currently almost three-quarters of women start breastfeeding when their child is born but by six to eight weeks this drops to just 44%.
“When it comes to breastfeeding, we acknowledge the benefits breastfeeding has for both mum and baby, however, we would advise mothers to do what feels right and comfortable for them as every woman’s body and baby are completely different,” explains Liz Bryceland.
The new stance by the RCM will form part of an ongoing debate about the best way to encourage mothers to breastfeed.
Earlier this 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.
Last year, 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.
Last week, TV presenter Alex Jones discussed the subject and expressed her belief that big companies, like the BBC, don’t do enough to help breastfeeding new mothers returning to work after maternity leave.
‘The One Show’ presenter and new mum believes employers could do more to help support new mothers by providing a crèche or space for breastfeeding.
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