When breast isn’t best

Published: 21 March 2017

For many women, breastfeeding isn’t an option

Tackling the guilt of bottle-feeding

It’s the advice given to every mother-to-be: breastfeed your baby.

“The only message that you hear before having a baby and particularly being a first-time mum, is ‘breast is best’,” says new mum Liz Trevaskis.

But for many mothers, the reality is starkly different. While 97 percent of mothers begin by breastfeeding the child at birth, by six months of age, only 15 percent are exclusively breastfeeding – despite government recommendations to do so.

While breastfeeding does have health benefits for the baby, that can be outweighed if the mother is having physical difficulties such as low milk production or conditions like mastitis.

“From very early on there were problems with his ability to latch on, which he just wasn’t able to do, and my milk production,” Liz describes.

But determined to keep her young baby Archie fed, Liz turned to a breast pump – which led to a painful breast abscess, and three rounds of surgery to remove it.

“I was in hospital for two weeks when he was eight weeks old,” Liz describes tearfully. “I’d been doing this thing, that’s supposed to in part be about enhancing our bond, and I had two weeks really early on in his life where I wasn’t there.”

With so much emphasis on breastfeeding, many mums who turn to bottle-feeding feel guilty that they’re doing their babies harm. And it’s a guilt that’s made worse by judgment of the pro-breastfeeding lobby.

“I was never embarrassed breastfeeding in public,” says Madeleine Morris, “I was embarrassed pulling out a bottle because of the judgement that goes along with bottle feeding.”

And guilt like this can contribute to post-natal depression.

Understanding the struggles that many mothers face led Madeleine to write a book Guilt-Free Bottle Feeding and establish an accompanying website.

Liz has also founded a blog, The Full Bottle, where mums and dads can share their stories.

“It’s all well and good to say that ‘breast is best’,” says paediatrician Dr Daniel Golshevsky, “but there are plenty of times where breast is not best and it’s better to approach this and say that ‘fed is best’.”