Almost as soon as my daughter was born eight years ago, I began rejecting much of the official advice new parents are given. In defiance of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines I bottle fed. And despite Plunket's suggestion that babies should sleep on their backs we relentlessly put ours to sleep on her side.
After reading WHO's website I decided that I would certainly breastfeed if I lived in a developing country where there was no clean water, no guaranteed supply of good quality formula, questionable levels of hygiene and poor education standards.
As I was lucky enough to live in a comfortable Auckland home, many of the much touted benefits of breast-feeding simply did not apply.
Even the supposed 'convenience' factor was rendered redundant by the fact we were fortunate to have the ultimate convenience: an in-home Karitane nurse to attend to baby's every need.
Additionally, I have reliable anecdotal evidence that there exists a small and privileged sector of society for whom the act of breast-feeding leads to the acquisition of breast implants a few years later. WHO's recommendations, while a godsend for women in developing countries, aren't doing their counterparts in Remuera and Herne Bay any favours by inadvertently leading some of them to undergo major surgical intervention in order to remedy their dissatisfaction in their post-feeding breasts. Once the risks and costs of surgery are factored in, bottle feeding would seem a no-brainer for this particular subset of women.
Plunket recommends babies sleep on their backs to reduce the likelihood of Sudden Unexpected Death of an Infant (SUDI). Legions of mothers have identified that this regimen also increases the likelihood of the baby developing an unsightly flat head from always sleeping in the same position.
Our Karitane nurse showed us how to wrap our baby in a muslin cloth with her bent lower arm forward enough to render falling from her side onto her face impossible. Each time we put her down to sleep we alternated the side in order to evenly spread any pressure. A notebook that recorded time of sleep and duration also noted with military precision whether she was on her left or right side.
Now I understand that for many parents, especially where education levels are low and daily life so tough and frazzled, the notion of a book to record details of the infant's every sleep seems indulgent and precious. And we've all read about methamphetamine-fuelled households filled with multiple 'lifestyle beneficiaries' whose only success is to fail to supply the necessities of life to those tiny babies unfortunate enough to live with them.
Obviously sterilising bottles and correctly preparing formula would be beyond many of these people - as would the art of muslin-wrapping. So it's quite understandable that official guidelines should serve as a safety net for the offspring of our most disenfranchised parents, and as an ethical society we wouldn't want it any other way.
But those of us who don't fit these categories should have the courage to question some of this one-size-fits-all advice. Our household was calm, orderly and had no less than three intelligent, doting adults to care for one small baby.
My husband and I had the inclination and the resources to seek one-on-one professional advice about caring for our baby. We did not feel the need to indiscriminately subscribe to guidelines designed to be accessible to those in even the most unfortunate circumstances. And for other new parents, who perhaps have more in common with us than those at opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum, it may be worth considering the derivation and underlying intent of some of this official advice before blindly following it.
All families are not created equal.
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