If a woman decides not to breastfeed her baby it is her choice and must be respected, midwives are being told. The Royal College of Midwives’ new position statement makes it explicitly clear that women should be supported if, after being given advice, information and support, they opt to bottle feed using formula milk. Although breast is best, often some women struggle to start or sustain breastfeeding, says the RCM.
The National Childbirth Trust says women can experience unacceptable levels of pressure however they feed their babies – from family and friends, as well as from people they hardly know. Mothers who breastfeed their babies often feel pressurised and constrained about whether, where, how often, and how long they breastfeed. Similarly, mothers who use formula milk often feel judged or guilty too, particularly – but not only – if they planned to breastfeed.
Researchers at Liverpool University studied the experiences of more than 1,600 new mums in 2016. Among the 890 who did formula feeding, 67% reported feeling guilty, 68% felt stigmatised and 76% felt the need to defend their feeding choice. Similar emotions were less common but still present among the breastfeeding mums, particularly for those who supplemented breastfeeding with formula.
Investigator Dr Victoria Fallon, from the university’s school of psychology, said: “We looked at a range of emotions and found that women who started exclusively breastfeeding but then stopped were most likely to feel guilty, while those who bottle-fed from birth often felt stigma