To Educate or Not to Educate: Could Parents Be Better Off Not Knowing the Benefits of Breastfeeding?

A good friend of mine posted a blog on her site about a new voice in the ongoing breastfeeding debate suggesting that there should be less promotion and education about breastfeeding because it’s making mothers who choose not to breastfeed feel guilty.

Now I’m always a bit wary about how involved I get in the breastfeeding debate because, as I’ve come to realise, the choice of whether to breastfeed or not is one that has as many different sides as there are voices to express them. There are certainly indisputable facts about breastfeeding but there is also no ‘one size fits all approach’ and I think that this sometimes gets forgotten in the heat of debate. Having said that, this particular argument has weaseled its way into my head, nestled itself quite firmly and as this is a blog for the musings of a new Mum, here goes….

I find the argument suggesting that less education will lead to better outcomes mildly alarming. To suggest that new developments in any field should be kept hidden away in the dark recesses of the laboratories in which they were discovered baffles me somewhat. After all,

What’s the point of research if the findings aren’t going to be shared?

I admit that my decision to breastfeed started out as a largely uneducated decision in the sense that I didn’t go out purposefully seeking the ‘pros and cons’ so that I could make a balanced decision.  In actual fact, I didn’t really think about it all, I just assumed that I would.  As I progressed through my pregnancy and started to come across more information about breastfeeding, my position became: Of course I’ll breastfeed if I can.

And there are a myriad of different reasons why breastfeeding is just not a reality for some Mums. I’ve met Mums whose babies couldn’t latch successfully, Mums who have suffered through cracked and bleeding nipples to a point where they just couldn’t bear it any longer, Mums who have had to return to work and their supply has only lasted for so long, Mums who were losing so much weight through breastfeeding it was posing other health concerns (for real!) and Mums who just preferred not to. These are all individual choices that have been made in the context of individual experience – and what’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing!

How and what to feed our children is a decision that all parents have the right to make for themselves

But the suggestion that promoting the benefits of breastfeeding could cause harm is a little hard for me to get my head around. While breastfeeding may not be everyone’s decision (by choice or by circumstance) there’s no disputing that breast milk is the No.1 source of nutrition for babies. Or at least I didn’t think this was disputed.  I was surprised when I read an article in The Australian last year that revealed that 26% of the 28,000 parents who completed the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey believed that formula was just as good for their baby as breast milk. And it was because of this belief that these parents had either decided to discontinue breastfeeding or to not start in the first place.  To my mind, this finding suggests that there is certainly a place for the promotion of breastfeeding, but that’s just me.

My breastfeeding education started in our antenatal classes and for me it not only solidified my decision but it also drove home to me how amazing the human body is.  Of all the weird and wonderful tidbits that I learnt throughout my pregnancy, the benefits of breastfeeding were some of the most intriguing and interesting.  I would have thought that even if breastfeeding wasn’t an option there would still be room for appreciation. In that spirit, here are my Top 5 things I’ve learned about breastfeeding and why I personally think breast milk is just a little bit magical:

  1. Squeezing breast milk into an infant’s eye can clear up conjunctivitis.  Of course, anyone who’s actually tried to squirt breast milk with any kind of aim or accuracy knows just how unlikely it is that much would actually make it into the eye but amazing nonetheless.
  2. A mother passes her immunity to her baby through her breast milk. So for the first 3 months, when a baby has no immunity of their own, they’re protected against whatever their mother is immune to – come on that’s a little bit like magic right?
  3. Breast milk supply will naturally adjust to the needs of the baby from one feed to the next. So in the height of summer when bub is extra thirsty there will be higher levels of water in the milk to quench their thirst and likewise, when they’re feeling especially ravenous there will be a higher fat content to dull those nasty hunger pains. This is definitely one of my favourites!
  4. The skin on skin contact a baby experiences with its mother during breastfeeding acts as a temperature control device.  If bub is feeling cold the mother will warm them up and vice versa if they’re feeling hot the mother will cool them down.  What’s really nice about this one is that it also works with Dad, although obviously not during breastfeeding!
  5. Breast milk is custom-made to meet the exact and ever changing needs of the individual baby and these changes just happen naturally without needing to ask.

At the end of the day, no matter what decision you might come to, surely having access to all the facts has got to be more help than hindrance?

But what do you think – to educate or not to educate?

If you’re interested in reading one woman’s thoughts on the effects of media on the modern-day mother check out MUMmedia

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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