Gisele’s being a boob with her breastfeeding zealotry
“It’s just like feeding your baby McDonald’s.’’ This was the blunt, uncaring and highly inappropriate comment made by a breastfeeding advocate to a friend who dared to confess she was considering giving her baby a bottle of formula.
The new mum had been through weeks of torture, suffering several bouts of mastitis and dealing with a son whose gummy bite was more brutal than Jaws and whose insatiable hunger was not dissimilar to the killer shark.
She had given breastfeeding her very best shot, but it was not working and, after six weeks, she and her son spent most of their days, and nights, in tears.
Fortunately, this new mum had a supportive husband and was strong enough to make the decision that bottle feeding was best for her and her baby.
She bought a tin of formula and suddenly she had a happy, satisfied baby and she never looked back. It took me four weeks to come to the same decision after my baby was born almost two years ago.
But, thanks to the immense pressure society puts on new mums, those four weeks seemed like a stress and tear filled eternity. And now, just when it seemed the guilt heaped on women unable to breastfeed couldn’t get any worse, supermodel Gisele Bundchen has entered the fray.
The new mum told US Harper’s Bazaar she believed there should be a ``worldwide law’’ dictating mothers breastfeed for at least six months. Clearly Bundchen thinks years spent prancing down a catwalk in pretty clothes make her a baby health expert.
I’m glad that breastfeeding worked for Bundchen and her baby, just as I am happy for friends who talk of their own blissful experiences of breastfeeding. But every family’s situation is different and should not be judged.
My son Hugo was born weighing an impressive 4.34kgs, but weeks later he was losing weight quickly, crying constantly and rarely sleeping.
I spent day after day on the phone to numerous helplines who frustratingly offered me conflicting advice. Feed him on demand, stretch the time out between his feeds, express more milk, take medication, don’t take medication - the more questions I asked, the more different opinions I received and confused I got.
We all know breast is best. It is drummed into us from the moment we fall pregnant. And of course mothers want what is best for their baby.
After nine months of denying yourself all manner of pleasures in order to ensure the well-being of the life growing inside you, there isn’t anything you would not do for the tiny being once they join the real world.
But sometimes it just doesn’t work. And when it doesn’t work, what women need is understanding, not stories about how giving our babies formula will lead to low IQs, childhood cancers, obesity and all kinds of allergies.
With lack of sleep and the relentless demands of new motherhood wearing me down, it was getting impossible to think straight. Then one day, a sympathetic nurse finally realised the stress my breastfeeding failure and my son’s constant hunger was causing and she sat me down.
“Breast is best,’’ she said, before adding sensibly: “But a happy mum means a happy baby, so get some formula and go home and enjoy your son.’‘
It was still a few more days before I made the decision to exclusively formula feed, such was the continued pressure from breast-feeding advocates. But once I made the decision, I couldn’t believe I didn’t make it earlier.
After all, this was my baby, and surely it was up to my husband and me to decide how to feed him, right? Sadly, not everyone manages to deal with the immense pressure new mums face to breastfeed at all costs.
New mum Katy Isden plunged to her death from a New York apartment block last May after suffering anxiety about her inability to breastfeed her baby is truly horrific.
It is more than likely that post-natal depression, rather than breast- feeding problems alone, contributed to 30-year-old’s death. But the fact remains this new mum was doing her best to take care of her baby, but was left feeling like a failure because could not master just one part of motherhood - breastfeeding.
In her mind, she may have figured that her son was better off without a mum who could not fulfill his most basic need.
We’ll never know now. And sadly there’s a little boy who will never know his mother who, despite her inability to breastfeed, would no doubt have loved and cared for him and guided him through life.
Perhaps Bundchen would like to visit Ms Isden’s grieving husband and baby and explain to them how a breastfeeding law would have helped their family.
For the record, my son Hugo is a happy, healthy 21-month-old who is easily achieving all his developmental milestones - despite being bottle-fed.
Over the next 20 years or so years my husband and I will make countless decisions regarding our son - what school to send him to, how much pocket money to give him and whether to let him get that tattoo he decides he really wants when he is 16.
While every decision we make about his welfare will be important, I doubt any of them - including the one to give him a bottle as a baby - will dictate whether he is a success or failure.
That will ultimately be up to him.
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