This week we had our first trip to the radio and we absolutely loved it. We were invited to take part in a discussion of the results of a survey commissioned by BBC Sheffield and BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour that aimed to find out how women were feeding their babies and how that made them feel. You can listen to Erin, one of Feed’s founders, on BBC Sheffield sharing the Feed point of view, on one of a series of shows that covered this topic.
We thought that we’d share our thoughts on the survey so you can see inside the working of our minds!
The results were largely positive
We think it’s worth noting that there’s a lot of positivity to take away from the survey, more than we’re used to hearing in fact!
- Over half of women were meeting (27%) or exceeding (30%) their breastfeeding goals (57% in total)
- Two thirds of breastfeeding Mums (66%) said breastfeeding was the best part of being a mother
- The majority of formula feeding women enjoyed involving their partners in feeding (76%) and enjoyed the freedom that formula feeding gave them (75%)
- Almost two thirds of formula feeding Mums (64%) said they and their baby were happier using formula
- The majority of Mums (68%) felt that the support they received was helpful in helping them feed their baby in the way they planned
Overall we feel this shows something that really shouldn’t be surprising at all [drum roll please]
Families can be trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies and their babies!
We still have some work to do
Before we crack open the champagne, we have to tell you it’s not all a bed of roses, as the data suggests we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to antenatal education:
- 33% of women felt pressure to breastfeed
- 50% of women felt that they’d let their babies down when they hit breastfeeding difficulties
- 38% of formula feeding women felt like they let their baby down because they formula fed them
- 41% felt judged for giving their babies infant formula milk
- 15% felt that their infant feeding choices negatively affected their mental health
We are absolutely unwavering in our belief that guilt, shame and judgement have no place in infant feeding decisions. It’s time to take a long, hard look at why our current antenatal education system is leaving some families feeling so awful.
Spoiler alert: a narrow focus on breastfeeding to the exclusion of all other infant feeding methods, together with the use of risk based language to describe infant formula will do that.
It’s troubling also to note that 16% of breastfeeding Mums didn’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public and 30% of formula feeding Mums would have liked to have breastfed but would have been embarrassed to do so in public. Breastfeeding in public is protected by law (Equalities Act 2010 in England and Wales and Breastfeeding Etc. (Scotland) Act 2005). It’s clear that we need to do more to ensure that no families are harassed while feeding their babies in public but in the meantime, you can download our handy #It’sGoodToBeRight feeding cards and check out our witty(ish) comebacks to keep the busybodies at bay!
Hold the bus: there are some caveats
The study was conducted online but we don’t know where it was shared, what groups it was shared in or who goes to those groups. It’s particularly difficult to reach formula feeding mums with online studies and the responses are usually skewed towards breastfeeding women. However, in this survey only 40% Mums stated a desire to exclusively breastfeed. We have no way of knowing why this figure is much lower than we often see. It could be because a different demographic took part in this survey, women may have felt more comfortable stating their true intentions on a less formal survey as compared to their midwives or other healthcare providers or that the survey was victim to ‘selection bias‘. Perhaps these results are a true reflection of where UK Mums are at but without the Infant Feeding Survey, decommissioned in 2010, we have no way of knowing. Side note: BRING BACK THE INFANT FEEDING SURVEY!
The survey had a decent response rate; 1162 Mums who had a baby in the last ten years took part. Ten years is quite a long time and given that we can’t remember what we had for breakfast on Wednesday, asking mums to recall information from ten years ago opens up the survey to ‘recall bias’.
So we need more support, right?
The publication of any survey or article on infant feeding is almost always greeted with cries for ‘more support’. However, taken together, the results of this survey , the parent testimonies we heard this week, and the body of scientific literature looking at women’s feeding experiences, present a more complex picture.
The survey tells us that families are making infant feeding decisions that suit their own, personal circumstances and that they are largely happy. However, many are still experiencing guilt and shame, particularly around the use of infant formula.
The parent testimonies featured in the programme made it clear that infant feeding classes do not include sufficient information on using and preparing infant formula milks. This was a key finding that has also come out of the recent APPGIFI formula costs inquiry and in direct contravention of the Royal College of Midwives recommendations. In addition, families are frustrated by lack of consistent advice on breastfeeding and managing breastfeeding difficulties.
The main reasons given by the Mums in this survey for stopping breastfeeding were low milk supply (51%) and nipple pain (33%), in line with previously reported data. The problem is, we have no effective, evidence based solutions for these common breastfeeding problems. Before we fling more support at the issues, we need to invest in research into managing these difficulties or else the advice we are able to give women will continue to be conflicting and unhelpful. How can we counsel women when we don’t fully grasp what aspects actually work?
On the programme it was great to hear that some other infant feeding organisations will absolutely help formula feeding women with support postnatally, but the details on how much education is provided on formula and combi-feeding antenatally continues to be sketchy. Why is it so difficult to accept that infant feeding decisions are flexible, that the majority of women will use infant formula milks at some point and that this is absolutely their decision to make, and to provide these families with the support they need?
What are Feed doing about it?
We will continue to be the voice of reason in this arena. Families deserve unbiased, compassionate, science based infant feeding information and support, and the respect to choose what works best for them.
We will continue our work with other experts and organisations to promote infant feeding choice and support for parents who breastfeed, formula feed, tube feed or do a combination of all.
We will continue to campaign for a change to the current antenatal education system in the UK. Being focussed specifically on breastfeeding and applying blanket rules-based recommendations alienates parents and does not allow families the flexibility that they need when they’re adapting to parenthood and their babies’ needs.
We will continue to place the mental health of parents as a priority. Ante-natal education should be delivered without shame, disclaimers or any other practise which contributes to a feeling of judgement or shame.
We hope you will join us in changing the face of infant feeding support in the UK.
Team Feed xx