Infant Feeding Alliance’s Empty Square

Hello, we are Infant Feeding Alliance.

You can see some of us in the banner image above, a collage of pictures of ourselves and our family members, mostly feeding our babies. You may have noticed a blank square on the right. This is not a placeholder or a mistake, in fact it has a meaning that we would like to share.

When we asked our members if they wanted to supply a picture for the collage, a few said that they barely had any photographs of themselves with their baby in the first few months of their child’s life and no images feeding them. They explained that postnatal depression and anxiety, and feelings of failure and shame kept them from being photographed with their babies. These parents had felt unable to record this important moment in their lives, or to take any pride in their achievement in helping a new baby to thrive.

Several of our members, including myself, experienced postnatal mental illness after the birth of our first child. For some of us, our mental health problems were connected to our early infant feeding experiences. We experienced feelings of intense shame about feeding our babies formula; we felt that we had failed our babies already; we believed that we were bad mothers before we had even begun.

While the causes of our mental health problems were individual and complex, it cannot be overlooked that public health policy told us unequivocally and at every turn that breastfeeding was best for our babies. We received this message when we were at our most vulnerable and seeking reassurance for the feeding path we had taken by choice or necessity. Some of us experienced a lack of compassion in infant feeding care while in hospital, some had babies readmitted to hospital with feeding complications and others received criticism of our feeding decisions from healthcare professionals in the community.

The experiences of these members, which you will hear about in greater detail in the coming months, give us concerns that current breastfeeding promotion policy is having unintended negative effects on the mental health of mothers. We believe that this is not in the interests of women, babies or families and that infant feeding policy should be urgently reviewed.

The members of Infant Feeding Alliance who felt so ashamed as new parents that they could not appear in photographs with their babies speak about feeling ‘robbed’ of certain experiences or that they have ‘lost out’ on early memories. Infant Feeding Alliance’s graphic designer left one square blank in the collage to make these missing images visible. We dedicate this square to those parents.

Sue Haddon

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