Hallelujah! Doctors demand support for all infant feeding “choices”

I could never have imagined that a position statement from the Australian Medical association would simultaneously bring me to tears, and fill me with such hope. Of course, I could never have imagined having any kind of reaction to an AMA statement.

But the AMA has made a statement on breastfeeding. 

And I couldn’t breastfeed.

And my baby couldn’t breastfeed.

We tried, we persisted (oh, how we persisted) –  and we both suffered as a result.

And now the AMA has said what I’ve been aching to hear from leaders in the health profession, since our traumatic breastfeeding experience, and since hearing the stories of so many mums who felt unsupported in their varied breastfeeding journeys. That “non-breastfeeding mothers need greater support to help them feed their babies without being made to feel guilty”.

That “breastfeeding may not be the best choice for all families, and there must be a balance between promoting breastfeeding and supporting mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed.”

In fact, it’s not just what they’ve said, but they are saying something at all, that’s got me all emotional. They are recognising their responsibility to offer medically based guidance, assistance and evidence, in an area of public health that has for too long been dominated by three word slogans, and in Australia guided by an underfunded volunteer organisation populated by women who have ultimately managed to breastfeed.

They’ve even avoided giving their media release a catchy little slogan, and praise be, it’s the best seven word headline I’ve ever read. “Breast or otherwise, new mothers need support”

What? Let’s just read that again.

Breast – or otherwise – new mother’s need support. Of course! It’s so obvious, I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before! Except of course, those of us who did. Those of us who experienced real physical obstacles to breastfeeding, and needed that support in our journey into the ‘otherwise’.

Obstacles like a baby with tongue ties and lip ties who, no matter how much his little mouth was cut, or lasered – his mouth flesh seared off in an attempt to achieve this gold-standard of infant nourishment – who despite consultations with lactation consultants, paediatricians, speech pathologists and a maxilofacial surgeon – Could. Not. Latch.

Obstacles like chronic undersupply that no amount of herbal tea, lactation cookies (as delicious as they were) or medication could remedy. Obstacles like a bloody great big abscess that put this first time mother of   an unlatching baby in hospital for two weeks (baby not included) during the first two emotionally cataclysmic months of new motherhood.

Yeah – there are those of us who know just how critical that support is.

The AMA haven’t even couched this need for support in terms of mothers who are physically unable to breastfeed. They demand support even for women who chose not to breastfeed. Because guess what? Our bodies, our boobies – however uncomfortable it might make you feel, it’s our choice whether we breastfeed or not.

I was lucky to have a very supportive GP. To have friends who’d gone through something similar and could suggest who to turn to – and who not to turn to – for support. To encounter the work of an incredible journalist Madeiline Morris, who’s book “Guilt-Free Bottle Feeding” helped me get to the end of my breast feeding journey feeling like a bloody champion, and not a huge failure.

But where was all this sentiment, when I was educating myself before my baby was born? And why are breast feeding advocates so afraid to offer this support?

I will never forget the day I came home from hospital, after two weeks away from my newborn, my body smashed by IV antibiotics, with a giant open wound in my breast where an abscess once had been. Still pumping day and night to prevent another infection, but throwing my antibiotic filled breastmilk down the sink.

I opened my email and saw the latest magazine from the Australian Breastfeeding Association. On the front page it promoted the story: “The Carbon Footprint of Formula”.

And I thought “Fuck you. Just really, really fuck you. I’ve done everything I could possibly do. Without formula my baby would starve, or I would be another PND statistic. I wonder what the Carbon Footprint of burying dead babies and dead mums might be…” (I was very very tired, and very very angry…)

The ABA was established for a very important reason. To promote and support breastfeeding, when breastfeeding rates were in decline. When formula was perhaps ‘fashionable’, and breastfeeding not. 

But this is not the kind of messaging we need around breastfeeding. Heaping guilt onto mothers who feel bad enough, without having to grapple with their environmental impact – on top of everything else. 

The statement from the AMA feels like a huge breakthrough, for someone who has been coming to terms with the way their breastfeeding panned out, and helping to share other people’s breastfeeding stories – good, bad and unexpected – over the last 12 months.

I hope it helps those who advocate so passionately for a woman’s right to breastfeed to realise there is nothing to fear in being honest and open about the fact that it doesn’t always work.

That women who don’t breastfeed are just as deserving of support in their infant feeding journeys.

The AMA statement is not at odds with breastfeeding advocates. It starts out stating that “breastfeeding should be promoted as the optimal infant feeding method.”

But their statement is titled “Infant Feeding AND Parental Health”. And I am so, so grateful that mums are finally being considered, in the infant feeding equation.


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