28 May 2015

#Bressure: pressure to breastfeed ‘has gone too far’

Some new mothers say the pressure to breastfeed – reinforced by the craze for breastfeeding selfies, or “brelfies” – is making those who feed their children by bottle feel like failures.

Mother and child (Getty Images)

The recent online craze of “brelfies” (breastfeeding selfies) has contributed to making bottle-feeding mothers feel overwhelmed and negatively judged, a new study reveals.

More than a third of 2,075 new mothers surveyed by online parenting forum Channel Mum said they had recieved nagtaive comments for feeding their child with a bottle, with half of this amount saying they had endured cruel comments from other mothers they know. Overall, 69 per cent of bottle-feeding mums said they felt negatively judged and 41 per cent said they were made to feel as if they had “failed as a mum and failed their child”.

Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums and now Channel Mums, said they commissioned the research after hearing how the pressure of feeding was causing so much grief among those sharing their experiences online. She told Channel 4 News:

“The one thing that kept coming up again and again was this issue of feeding. I don’t think there was that pressure when I was first a mum – in some ways it is great that the message breast is best is now one everyone knows, but I kept hearing from those mums who weren’t feeding this sense that they had failed, not just a breastfeeding, but by extension at being a mother. And that really worried me.”

Some mums who were bottle-feeding also reported lying to their family and friends about how they were feeding, saying they were mix-feeding between bottle and breast when they were not, or that the milk in the bottle was expressed, or that they had breastfed for longer than they actually had.

The vast majority of women in the UK now start breastfeeding when their baby is born – almost 80 per cent of women, according to the study, which reflects Unicef’s most recent stats for the UK. But by the time the baby is six months old Ms Freegard says, it goes as low as 1 per cent.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends mothers should give their infants nothing but breastmilk until they are six months old and then go on breast feeding as a supplement to solid food up to the age of two if possible. This could save about 800,000 child lives a year, the WHO says.

Many women surveyed said the often highly stylised and perfectly angled pictured posted online by celebrity new mums made them feel comparitively terrible.

New mum, blogger and YouTuber Charlotte Peach took part in the #bressure online campaign and shared her experience.

She said her experience of feeding her baby was, at times, horrendous. She combined breastfeeding and express feeding with formula milk.

“I felt the pressure to breastfeed even before my daughter was born,” she told Channel 4 News. “When she was born she had a lip tie that was undiagnosed so she just wasn’t latching, which was missed by the healthcare professionals.”

She said the pressure came from all around her, but she says, was especially hard on herself. “I wore myself into the ground trying to do what I was told was the best thing to do and ultimately when we swapped over to formula I thought to myself under so much pressure?”

While she said she appreciated the benefits of breastfeeding, she believes it should not have to “come at all costs to mum”. Natasha Bailie, vlogger, blogger and another mother who took part, says she regrets the massive amount of pressure she put on herself, and says she wishes she had of stopped sooner.

She told Channel 4 News her experience of breastfeeding was “heartbreaking” and said she was so bombarded with information and other people’s expectations that she felt swamped and overwhelmed.

“Everyone chucks this bonding thing at you, but I remember looking at my son and wishing he wouldn’t wake up so I wouldn’t have to feed him.”

She said she wished she had trusted herself more, and says her first year of being a mother was an a real struggle. She endured bleeding nipples and absolute exhaustion attempting to breastfeed. She said:

“It really affected the first year of being a mum for me. It was just a constant struggle. I did everything in spite of myself because I didn’t want to be judged. I went through bleeding nipples – I mean, who does that?

“It is only now I can see that it was no way to live. I felt so much bloody pressure from everywhere. I am not pro-breastfeeding, or pro-bottle. I am just pro-mums.”