Baby-feeding politics


Raising a child is a highly contentious activity — countless women are more than ready to point out the merits and sins of any mothering method one cares to think of, and surely no issue is more divisive than the question of food source. The last thing I wanted to do was get caught in the cross-fire. But that was exactly where I found myself.

I would dare to say (and I know of many women who’d agree with me) that New Zealand is quite hostile to formula-feeders, on the whole. ‘Breast is best’, is the mantra touted by the masses. I’m not inclined to argue with the science of that, but the attitude put forward is that to feed a baby anything other than breast milk is child endangerment.

There’s an abundance of support groups for breastfeeders, but nothing of the kind for bottle-feeders. Official infant support services look past them, as if those mothers are either beyond help, or wouldn’t accept it anyway, as they obviously don’t care about the health of their children.

I discussed this with someone within the belly of the beast acquainted with the system’s policies, and I came away with this understanding: basically, to legally operate, a support service has to have the principal’s gold star, from government. To get the gold star, they have to promote breastfeeding, and push formula-feeding under the rug. Even if the head of Example Service A personally formula-fed all her kids, she’s not allowed to recommend it to other mums, and would be in a sticky grey area if she were to even discuss merits of it, presenting it as a healthy option.

So when I was nearing the end of my rapidly-fraying rope in regards to feeding Timmy, and it was becoming more and more impractical and difficult to do things ‘the natural way’, I still felt unable to make the jump to formula feeding. That would make me a Bad Mother. I’d be spoken ill of, in the village. I’d be a pariah; a selfish woman who, for the sake of her own convenience, would doom her child to development retardation.

It’s an easy impression to get, from New Zealand’s parenting society. Thus, a valid anxiety. (Despite the fact I know some extremely high achievers who were formula-fed as babies. Anxiety quashes all reason.)

Maybe seeing a list of pros and cons for formula feeding Timmy will help me make the decision, I thought.

It didn’t.

Although my ‘Pros’ list was four times as long as the ‘Cons’, the Cons still contained the most damning factor: guilt. In fact, that was one of only two Cons — the other was expense. Formula’s not cheap when it’s off the supermarket shelf, and the special prescription formula Timmy would need via the pharmacy was even more so. Finances were already tight. If I was going to go the Formula Way, I’d need to seek some sort of financial assistance, and that could probably only be partial subsidy. Would that be enough?

So even though the Pros outweighed the Cons in numbers, the Cons won out in weight. So I still felt torn between the two. How could I possibly make this decision? It felt huge, not just because of how I’d be treated, but because once my own supply dried up, there’d be no going back. No changing my mind.

The power of the guilt factor must be no small thing, because even when I discovered that with Timmy’s Special Authority number the expensive formula would be free, 100% subsidised by the government (the one that hands out the gold stars for not promoting formula — how ironic is that?), I still felt unable to make the leap, even though now the only disadvantage to going to formula feeding was psychological.

I was encouraged to give it a try for a few days. I was assured I wouldn’t dry up in that time, so it was a safe way to see how it would work for us.


I can’t believe the difference it’s made, to everything! The world has more colours. I have more energy. Timmy has more smiles. He sleeps well at night. It was a wonderful shock to my system — to go from having to get up six times a night, to only two!

Without a doubt, the fear of guilt was immeasurably worse than the guilt itself — which so far, I haven’t felt. How could I, when we’re both so much happier?

So far I haven’t felt the sting of society’s stigma, but it’s early days yet. (That wasn’t meant to sound hopeful!) I’ve prepared for the eventuality as well as I know how: I’ve amassed support from fellow bottom-dwelling bottle-feeders. We can reassure each other that we’re doing the right thing by our babies, regardless of what official bullies say.

I can also passive-aggressively blog about it.


(6) Comments

  • Naomi
    19 Jul 2012

    When it come to the bottle versus the breast it is the same in oz, bottle feeders are looked on as the worst. I remember I had made the decision to go with the bottle from the start (as family history has shown women in my family are not good at breast feeding ) I was told I would have to hide my formula while I was in the hospital. Now the hospital were I had my child dose not even provide a bottle cleaner. Yet the same here if you need special formula it is subsadised by the government. Talk about confusing mothers.

  • Rachel
    19 Jul 2012

    Well done. It is nice to breast feed if you can but sometimes we can’t. These titty-nazis don’t seem to have noticed that sometimes the decision is not the mother’s, it is the baby’s. If he refuses to feed properly, or at all with some, then the adult in the equation has to make a decision to ensure good nutrition. I know of one ubertittynazi whose son abruptly weaned himself and would have nothing to do with that titty thing. She had been waxing lyrical about breast feeding, adamant everyone could do it, then had to pull her head in. Life is a balance. Stress and guilt do more harm than choosing alternative nutrition for the baby’s benefit. You go girl. Make your decision and stick with it, and if anyone judges you for it, remind them that they do not know the full situation and politely tell them to pull their head in too. There is more to live than pleasing others. You are answerable to God and Shaun only. Go for it and enjoy Timmy without the uberstress you have been having.

  • Jenny
    19 Jul 2012

    It is so political isn’t it? I really think you have to do what’s best for you and your child… each situation is different. And I’ve had friends whose milk just never came in.

    I was fortunate enough to be able to breast feed my kids but there were times with Noah when I think I only battled through because of guilt. He would throw up his whole feed and I would have to give it to him again and then only wanted to be fed lying down (he was really distressed otherwise especially at the let-down). I realised that I had major over-supply issues and this was causing him to get flooded with the first part of the feed without the enzyme contained in the hind milk which helps break it down and this caused him to be extremely irritable and throw up. I started feeding one side per feed and it reduced my supply and completely solved my problem. Woahh! That was an essay… Annnnyway… I think there are so many parenting things (eg sleep routine, birth plan and feeding etc etc) that there are so many different ways to do it, but not necessarily a right or wrong way, after all each baby and Mum is different. Jenny 🙂

  • Duncan Lennox
    20 Jul 2012

    Excellent article. Well done! Government and government funded agencies are a blight on our society when they use coercion to promote their own political and philosophical agendas. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The government needs to be kept out of people’s families unless they are a serious threat to its members. Breast v bottle is not government’s legitimate domain. Good on you, Eve, for striking a blow for freedom.

  • Ritu
    20 Jul 2012

    Good on you Dear. We should do what is best for our babies’ health, and not what is there to please others. If Timmy is healthy and happy, and Shaun understands you, it is the BEST thing ever. Good Luck.

  • Elise
    10 Aug 2012

    I struggled through breastfeeding for 3 months, hating every painful moment (Calliope was terrible at feeding). It got to the point where I did not want to have anything to do with her in between feeding times, I was so distraught by them.

    It was a wakeup call when I acknowledged that my misplaced determination to stick with something (mainly due to the guilt factor) was destroying my relationship with my child. I had absolutely got my priorities wrong.

    That realisation, plus some well-timed advice from a mum at church who was really the first person to tell me that NOT to breastfeed was fine (and who spouted out a list of all the mums at church who had not breastfed: before that I thought that every single other mum was an angel of breast-feedingness) was a great help in my decision to quit. I never looked back as my relationship with my daughter immediately improved several orders of magnitude.

    I think the whole breast-nazi thing is so wrong.

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