Friday, February 10, 2012

Breast can't always be best

As a father, this whole Weepu bottle feeding thing gained my attention (as well as the breastfeeding on facebook thing, and the daycare is bad mmkay? thing).

Not sure if I should link the Herald since they kicked off the whole saga in the first place with a mix of accurate and not so accurate reporting, and the footage in question wasn't actually banned, just removed before the ad screened. As a father who bottle feeds a child, I thought the footage in question made Piri even more legendary, against guidelines or not. He is only doing what hundreds if not thousands of NZ fathers do every day, and positive male parenting images in advertising of this quality aren't that common. I think its undermining of breastfeeding promotion as arguable at best, since that undermining is based on assumptions about what the bottle actually contains, and the ad isn't about feeding at all; it is about being smoke-free (and some of the most odious responses to it I've seen have compared bottle feeding to smoking). It also makes significant assumptions about the intelligence of the viewer.

In all fairness to the groups consulted about the footage and reacting against it, they were bound to say what they did. "Breast is best" is the official Ministry of Health line, a catchy slogan and noble ideal, and granted breastfeeding rates in NZ need improvement, but of all the mothers amongst my peers I know, only one (that I know of) ever declared an intention never to breastfeed.

Breast feeding though does not work for all mums. Not because they are too lazy, are too busy, haven't tried hard enough, not persisted long enough, not had enough support, or not used the right technique. Sometimes it just doesn't work, for many reasons. You are not a bad mother if you can't breastfeed. Both Sophie and Charlotte were breastfed initially for some months. Charlotte was unintentionally weaned when Fi had to go back to work so we could keep a roof over our heads (not to live in frivolous luxury like the stay at home judgementalists would suggest), as expressing and teaching don't really mix, and Sophie was weaned when she simply began demanding more than Fi could provide. It isn't the way we planned or wanted it to be, it just is.

I'm pro-breastfeeding, but not at all costs, and there just doesn't seem to be any balance in promotion or support a la "Breast is best, but whatever keeps the baby thriving is good too". In our ante-natal group four years ago bottle feeding was the thing that shall not be named - I get the impression reading around that it still is. This is a noble ideal, but the flipside is that many that fail to sustain breastfeeding feel like parenting failures as a result, and are occasionally subjected to public judgement (as are breastfeeding mums - we have issues), or otherwise accused of not having their children's best interests at heart. Out of curiosity I had a look at one advocacy group's NZ facebook site. There are a lot of useful things on it, good advice, good support. And some not so useful opinions, like people openly advocating fathers not get involved in feeding their infant children at all if it involves a bottle, and not really being challenged in that by the faithful. As a father, this attitude I find alternately infuriating and depressing. Those quiet moments (often in the middle of the night) can be precious, as well as giving your partner a break. I don't have functioning breasts (short of hormone treatment at least); how else am I supposed to feed the babe?

The thing I find about parental criticism (and it is about the one absolute truism of parenting: no matter what you are doing with your child there will be someone to tell you you're doing it wrong), is that it most often comes from people who presume to know both your exact circumstances, and how they compare to their own equivalents, which then results in an attitude of whatever worked for them is the best way and will work for everyone else. It just isn't so, and if you are going to judge me or my partner (especially in public), just know I'm going to be judging you right back.

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