Home ContentA Mother’s Choice

A Mother’s Choice

Published : June 07, 2015

The cry of a healthy new born baby echoes through the maternity ward. The baby’s mother is overwhelmed with instant love and protection for this tiny bundle of joy that she has carried for the past nine months. As a new mother she will be faced with many hard and life changing decisions throughout her child’s life but they all begin when she hears the first cry of her newly born child.

By Kyree Meagher

Parents are faced with many decisions that aren’t always easy ones to make. 

For some issues there isn’t even going to be a right or wrong answer, as it will depend on what is best for parents and baby at that time.   How babies are fed has been an ongoing issue since formula was introduced in the late 60s.  Mothers now still have to decide whether they will breast feed or formula feed their baby and this can sometimes be an extremely distressing choice to make.

Janice Weir, registered nurse manager within child and family health is extremely passionate about breastfeeding all babies.

The mother of three is a well respected midwife and paediatric nurse.  She is also an active member of the International Board of Lactation Consultants.

Janice said her passion for breastfeeding began when she had her twin boys during a time that breast milk was the only accepted option.  She now believes it is the greatest thing women can experience.

“I promote breastfeeding because of the positive benefits on the baby physically as well as mentally and also within the family,” she said.

Janice explained that breast milk is the only healthy, natural food that’s genetically modified and designed specifically for your baby.

“Breast milk is cheap, it’s on tap, it’s normal and it’s natural,” she said.

Janice said breast milk contains half of the mother’s genetic makeup so it’s specially created for the baby giving them the only nutrients they need.

“It’s the only time your child will ever have anything that’s exclusively designed for it,” she said.

There are many benefits of breastfeeding Janice can explain.  She sounds almost excited when she talks about the topic.  She said mothers will tend to lean towards breast milk when they know how many antibodies it contains.

“Breast milk is very high in fat and high in antibodies and these have been created by the mother,” she said. “When babies are born they are very sterile and have no immunity and it’s essential they get lots of passive immunity from their mother in those first early days.”

Jodie Tirant is a mother of three and chose to breastfeed even before her children were born.  The 33 year old said she had strong and influential women in her life that encouraged her towards breastfeeding.

“I feel it is very special to be able to breastfeed, there is a natural bond between mother and baby that is enhanced by love and the physical contact of skin to skin contact,” she said. “I honestly didn’t think I would be able to have this same connection if I used formula.”

Janice said there is a lot of new research proving breast milk is a better option for both mother and child for at least the first 6 months.  She said breastfeeding increases resistance to obesity, infection and disease, reduces the likelihood of allergic diseases such as asthma and is also associated with higher IQ scores.

“The long term benefits for that child can’t be denied,” she said. “Mothers who breastfeed tend to experience a quicker recovery from childbirth and reduced risk of breast cancer before menopause.”

Both the Australian Government and the World Health Organisation recommend that babies are fed only breast milk until 6 months of age.

Mother of a one year old Kelly Short, desperately wanted to continue breastfeeding until her son was age one.  But the 24 year old found that what she wanted wasn’t realistic.

“My milk started to disappear at 3 months so I had to introduce supplement feeding until he was only on the bottle,” she said. “I don’t agree with bottle feeding if it is chosen for convenience, but I had to choose formula in the end because my body chose to stop.”

Janice might sound as if she only supports mothers who breastfeed but she says she will support any mother no matter what choices they make.

“Mothers who don’t breastfeed need to be supported no matter what. If they have chosen not to then there is no way you’re going to be able to change their minds especially if they have good reason,” she said.

Jodi said she can understand how mothers can give up breastfeeding so easily because it can be hard.

“I was a little shocked at how difficult the initial days were, especially in hospital,” she said.  “I imagined it would come naturally and I didn't realise it would take perseverance.”

Jodi chose to keep trying even though she suffered in the process.

“Breastfeeding can be really difficult and it was initially hard to get the babies to attach,” she said.  “I had mastitis, suffered cracked nipples and it can be very tiring on the body.”

Mother of two Tina Gibson, believes that formula feeding her children is better for her family and chose to instantly put them on a bottle.

“I was originally just too scared to breastfeed so both my kids went straight onto formula,” she said.  “I also wanted all the help I could get from my partner and he obviously couldn’t pull out his boob.”

The 24 year old gave breastfeeding ago with her second child but found it far too painful.

“I needed to feel like I had tried everything right as a mother but it only lasted a week.  Every time he would latch I would cry, it was just too painful and I was absolutely exhausted.”

Janice said no one can berate a mother if she chooses not to breastfeed because there are always going to be underlying issues behind personal choices made.

She explained there are a percentage of mothers who do try to breastfeed but just can’t do it.  She has found after working in her field for so long that family history plays an important part.

“If your mother breastfed you and her mother breastfed then there is a high chance you won’t have any problems breastfeeding.  Regardless of what sort of trauma you had in the first couple of days of breastfeeding, the chances are you will successfully breastfeed because of your family history.”

Women who do try to breastfeed and find it too difficult can suffer emotionally.

“If you go into a family where no one’s been able to breastfeed, the success rate isn’t as great and this can be extremely traumatic for a lot of mums,” Janice said.  “This is because of the harsh stigma behind breastfeeding, women now feel as if they must only breastfeed.”

Jodi said it was her Aunty who had the strongest impact on her decision to breastfeed all three of her children.

“I felt like in her eyes those that don't successfully breastfeed haven't tried hard enough.  My Aunty is extremely passionate about it to the point of making those who choose to bottle feed feel inferior.”

Kelly said that formula feeding her baby has changed her life.

“Bottle feeding is definitely easier, if you don’t mind all the washing up,” she laughs.

Janice said there is overwhelming pressure forced onto new mothers in all aspects of life.  But the pressure to choose how they will feed their baby is phenomenal and this is where Janice comes into their lives.

“As a lactation consultant I would choose to breastfeed no matter what but my role is to support the woman in her decision,” she said. “The emphasis should be on the new mother and not on anyone else who likes to think they will have a say in it.”

Tina said she thinks there is too much pressure on breastfeeding as the only choice.

“It’s not fair how bottle fed mothers are criticised.  Every mother is different and breastfeeding just isn’t for everyone.”

Janice said there has always been a misconception about what milk was best for babies but she still believes breast will always be best.

“In the last 30 years I’ve been nursing things have changed dramatically and the knowledge we had about breast milk has increased.  Back then they didn’t know much about it, they just knew it was a body fluid that we fed our babies with.”

Tina said bottle feeding has been the best decision she had made.

“Bottle feeding is easier for sure and has helped me out a great deal.  Every family member was able to help out and because I have two babies close in age I already had a young one who needed my attention.”

She said she felt that her children had a strong bond with her and their dad while bottle feeding just like mums have during breastfeeding.

“When feeding a baby from breast or a bottle they are still snugged in close to your heart.  Daddy’s need to bond with their babies too and being able to feed them is a good way to do it.”

Kelly said changing her son to formula meant his father could start bonding with him deeper.

“My partner pined to be able to feed our son, he felt really left out and not needed.  It was a huge bonding experience for them both when I started using the bottle.”

Nestle brought out formula in the late 1960s and had convinced the population that breast milk was dangerous for their children and only formula was safe.  At the beginning of the previous century, before the widespread use of infant formula, breastfeeding or the use of a wet nurse was the most common way to feed a baby.

Janice said that most Australian newborns were breastfed before the 1940's but by the 1970's only 40 to 50% of babies were breastfed.

“This misconception is still active today and has been passed on through generations of women who were brainwashed by the breast milk hysteria,” she said.

Women choose how they feed their babies based on the lifestyle they will lead.  Some women have to go back to work immediately after giving birth but other women choose to take time off.   Deciding how soon to go back into the work force or even at all will have an impact on how they will feed their baby.

“Women will decide not to breastfeed because they feel like they can’t if they have to return to work,” she said.  “Returning back to work may not be a choice for some parents and it is extremely unfortunate that these mothers and babies miss out just because the work environment doesn’t freely accommodate for it.”

According to a 2005 Pregnancy & Employment Transition Survey, there are over 75 thousand women who return to work with babies three months old or under.  There’s an additional 43 thousand women return to work with babies aged four to six months.

Jodi said she found breastfeeding more convenient and chose not to go back to work because she wanted to commit to it.

“I never had to prepare to go anywhere, everything the baby needed was right there in my bra,” she said.  “I made a choice to not return to work while breastfeeding as I wanted the baby with me at all times so I could still do it.”

Times are changing with companies and governement approaches to paid maternity leave and what is offered to women employees after they give birth.   Currently, some mothers are forced to return immediately, depending on their financial situation.

Janice says she is hoping Australia will make it compulsory for all companies to offer a paid maternity period of 12 months so women have the freedom of choice to breastfeed for the full year.

She believes the lack of support women receive in the work environment is why some women prefer to bottle feed their babies.

“There are so many benefits for the employer if they were to allow mums back into the work force and support them choosing to breastfeed,” she said.

“It means the mum is more content and you don’t get as many of the mental health issues that are attached with mum going back to work.  If employers did allow it the work force would be more content and there would be less sick leave taken.”

Janice recommends that mothers should consider all options and be creative, be persistent, and to be positive about the choice they make. Mothers can choose to express their milk so they can return back to work as well as remain breastfeeding.

“Expressing may seem difficult at first but most working mothers say they get very good at it quickly, and the benefits are worth the effort,” she said.

Janice said employers need to make it easier for mothers to return to work without them feeling that great wrench of guilt.

“If they return to work that wrench feeling will be there anyway, but we need to transition them easier than what they are at the moment,” she said.  “Mothers shouldn’t feel guilty about the choices they make but mothers are the most guilt ridden people in the world, it’s just the nature of who we are.”

Jodi knows of that guilty feeling well which is why she is choosing to remain at home until her youngest stops breast feeding.  She believes it is the mothers right to chose how her baby is fed.

“The greatest influence on a new mother is the women she associates with whether it be her family or friends or midwives,” she said.  “But it is mothers who should be the one to choose if formula or breast milk is better for her child.”

Kelly says a mother knows what is best for her child and her choices should be respected as long as they aren’t selfish decisions.

“If you need to bottle feed because of circumstances out of your control then all the power to you.  But if you choose to bottle feed from birth because breastfeeding is an inconvenience then I think that speaks for itself.”

Tina wants new mothers to be comfortable with the choices they make and not feel pressured to choose a certain path based on someone else.

“You will know what to do when your baby is in your arms and take it as it comes,” she said.  “As long as your baby is getting fed I really don’t see how matters.”



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