Midwives ordered not to judge new mothers who choose to bottle feed

New mothers will no longer be made to feel guilty for not breastfeeding.

In a major policy shift, they will be offered the same help with bottle- feeding as those who give their babies breastmilk.

The Royal College of Midwives says the change of approach acknowledges the fact that many women cannot breastfeed, or do not want to. Its new guidelines say midwives must respect a mother’s decision.

New mothers will no longer be made to feel guilty for not breastfeeding

In the past the college has championed the benefits of breastfeeding, urging its exclusive use for the first six months.

Only a third of British mothers achieve this target, making for one of the lowest rates in the world. However the ‘breast is best’ approach, which is endorsed by the NHS and the World Health Organisation, has been blamed for making some women feel inadequate.

Those who want to breastfeed, but are unable to, are up to two and-a-half times more at risk of post-natal depression.

Gill Walton of the RCM said the new guidelines would help ensure such mothers did not feel guilty. ‘We want to respect women’s choices and make sure they have the right information and support to either mixed-feed their babies or formula feed their babies,’ she added.

‘We would focus on the risks and benefits of both breastfeeding and formula feeding – and help them do that – rather than say “Oh, this mother’s decided to formula feed, we’re not going to help her”.

‘That’s not right. Women have reported to us that sometimes the advice and support has been lacking to formula feed or they can’t breastfeed.

‘There’s something then about encouraging parents to positively parent and bond with their baby and not feel guilty about the feeding choice they’ve made.’

Breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for a baby and has been shown to prevent infections, reduce the risk of obesity and even boost IQ. It also helps shift pregnancy weight by burning up to 500 calories a day, the equivalent of a small meal.

Breast always best says current advice

Women are advised to feed babies only breast milk until they are six months old by the NHS, the World Health Organisation and the Royal College of Midwives.

The recommendations not to give them any formula milk or solid food have been in place since 2003. Before then mothers were told to give babies solids from about four months. The current consensus among health experts is the longer the babies are given breast milk the better.

It contains antibodies from the mother that help fight off infections, allergies and asthma. Breastfed babies are also less likely to become obese as the milk has a lower fat content than formula. The act of breastfeeding burns between 300 and 500 calories a day for the mother.

WHO experts suggest women should continue to breastfeed toddlers while giving them solid food until they are two or beyond.

Its website states ‘virtually all mothers can breastfeed’ provided they have ‘accurate information’ and support.

In Britain only 34 per cent are still giving their babies any breastmilk at six months, including just 1 per cent who exclusively breastfeed. This compares with 73 per cent in Norway, 62.5 per cent in Sweden and 49 per cent in the United States.

Many women find the process painful or struggle to get their babies to ‘latch on’. Others are worried about breastfeeding in public or at work.

The RCM’s new breastfeeding ‘position statement’ instructs midwives to give women proper advice about formula feeding, including how to sterilise bottles.

The guidance still encourages midwives to promote the benefits of breastfeeding, but they must ‘respect’ and ‘support’ women who opt not to.

It states: ‘If, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected.’

The recommendations have been broadly welcomed by parenting charities, including the National Childbirth Trust, which has been criticised for its zealous breastfeeding stance.

Abi Wood of the NCT said: ‘Parents need information and support for breastfeeding and bottle-feeding and it’s up to them to decide how to feed their babies, so we wholeheartedly support the RCM’s new statement, which tallies with our position.’

Lauren Marks-Clee, 31, founder of the website The Parenting Chapter, who developed post-natal depression after struggling to breastfeed, said: ‘The change in position is a much-needed step toward parents having choice, but without as much guilt, when it comes to how they feed their babies. It will hopefully give new mothers the permission to create a Plan A and Plan B if they wish to try breastfeeding, but then need or want to revert to combination feeding or solely formula feeding.’

The RCM, which represents 47,000 midwives, said the guidelines would be circulated among midwives in hospitals and followed feedback from women who felt they lacked the right information.

Some hospitals do not allow women home after giving birth until they have shown they can breastfeed. It is not clear how the recommendations will affect their policies.

This latest move follows a decision by the royal college last August to end its campaign promoting ‘normal’ or natural childbirth.

 Pressure to breastfeed made me depressed 

A mother has revealed how she is now in therapy after the stress and pressure to breastfee

A mother has revealed how she is now in therapy after the stress and pressure to breastfee

Lauren Marks-Clee said the pressure to breastfeed worsened her post-natal depression.

The 32-year-old, from Sevenoaks, Kent, felt under pressure to breastfeed as soon as she attended NCT classes, which did not discuss the possibility that some women might struggle.

She sought the help of three breastfeeding experts after her son Flynn was born two years ago but none suggested an alternative. Miss Marks-Clee said: ‘My feelings of failure and not being able to do the “natural” and “best” thing, led to me retracting from my son so I didn’t have to sit with my anxiety and what was, unbeknown to me, PND (post-natal depression).’

She had therapy and found a catalyst for her depression was her breastfeeding experience. Miss Marks-Clee has set up website The Parenting Chapter to offer parents an alternative to NCT.

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