Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Dita De Boni: 'I have never chanced upon these so-called breastfeeding Nazis'

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Breast may be best, but, those who bottle feed have every right to feel they should be allowed to do so unmolested. Photo / Thinkstock
Breast may be best, but, those who bottle feed have every right to feel they should be allowed to do so unmolested. Photo / Thinkstock

Wow, I must live in a parallel universe or something. In the seven years of being pregnant, having babies and going about my daily chores, I have never chanced upon these so-called "breastfeeding Nazis" that currently have everyone up in arms.

I imagine it must be quite annoying if you are Jewish to hear that people who are advocating and promoting breastfeeding are like Hitler's Third Reich, but then I suppose no description is too damning for the people that spend their lives working closely with mothers and babies.

The current debate about the footage of Piri Weepu bottle feeding his daughter, which was dropped from an anti-smoking TV ad after complaints by the College of Midwives, Plunket and the La Leche League, has sure brought out the stridently pro-bottle feeding brigade.

They have every right to feel that they should be allowed to bottle feed unmolested. I think they do have that right. Going up to someone you don't know (or even someone you do), and commenting on them bottle feeding a child is bad manners, and rather stupid.

Obviously it's none of your business, and better that the child is fed than starved.

But to take umbrage at three long-established groups, all committed to building better bonds between mothers, fathers and their children, just because they give an opinion in response to being asked for their opinion - an opinion totally consistent with their own mission statements - seems completely over the top.

I have been a Plunket volunteer for six years as well as dealing with Plunket as a client, and the nurses I have known are not zealots. Yes, they believe breast is best, but at the end of the day they cannot put a gun to anyone's head to ensure breastfeeding takes place. They can suggest, coerce and press the issue, but it is a mother's choice in the end whether or not to take the advice proffered.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful thing but it can often be torturous to establish - and certainly has been in my experience, three times over. The first child, 11 weeks premature, took ages to get the hang of it. The second was severely tongue-tied. The third was starving and partly detached my nipple he fed so often and with such vigour. Each time I would get to a point where I wanted to cry whenever the child needed feeding, the pain was so intense and the baby seemingly so unsatisfied.

And that is why breastfeeding advocates do push the issue - some with more tact than others, granted - because they know that most mothers have obstacles to clear before breastfeeding can be smoothly established. There is a percentage that simply can't breastfeed, and then there are those who cut their losses and opt for the bottle, which is an understandable choice, but one the professionals would like to help avoid. Unfortunately there just doesn't seem to be the resourcing for every woman experiencing difficulty to have a lactation consultant on call in the middle of the night when it's become unbearable - mores' the pity.

It is up to women to have confidence in their choices. As long as a baby is fed, clothed and loved, it will thrive, or so almost every baby book on the market says. Each one I've read goes out of its way to validate bottle feeding, in accordance with the new norm that promoting breastfeeding too strongly will make bottle feeding women feel bad. Talk about PC gone mad!

After all, you can still be asked to leave a restaurant for breastfeeding - you won't for bottle feeding!

It's possible that these organisations asking to remove Piri Weepu's bottle feeding footage from the TV ad was an over-reaction. Certainly the news of their advice has been a PR disaster for breastfeeding advocacy. But it's a bit rich of Weepu to go on the offensive, assuring us he's not going to allow anyone to tell him how to bring up his kids. After all, he's in that ad, telling people (presumably parents) that it's best to have smoke free homes. Why is it ok for him to advocate, but not for others?

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