Formula for Ending Infant Feeding Judgement or for Generating More?

Last week, the CEO of Mumsnet wrote an article in the Metro claming to discuss ways in which women are judged for their infant feeding decisions. In the article, Justine Roberts backed the newspaper’s ‘Formula for Change’ campaign.

Roberts wrote of infant feeding being a ‘fraught topic’ on Mumsnet forums. She said mums feel ‘judged’ about their decisions. But somehow she didn’t see it as judgmental to describe UK breastfeeding rates as ‘shockingly low’ and to bemoan this state of affairs throughout her article. We wondered what she finds so shocking about families’ private feeding decisions.

We are sure that some Mumsnetters will have had experiences like our members. NHS data shows that these experiences are common and increasing. Our members had babies readmitted to hospital for complications of insufficient feeding, such as excessive weight loss, jaundice, dehydration and hypoglycaemia.

Our members’ mental health suffered under inhumane feeding regimes recommended by healthcare workers. Others were encouraged to persist with breastfeeding despite mastitis or breast abscess, leading to sepsis and hospital admission. All of this was the result of exclusive breastfeeding promotion.

In her article, Roberts presented as an example of infant feeding judgement, a mother responding to a Mumsnet survey, who thinks midwives gave her formula and advice in secret, out of fear of ‘reprisals’. Reprisals for feeding babies?! This isn’t an example of infant feeding judgement. It’s evidence of a deeply flawed policy that should be nowhere near our maternity wards! But for all the talk of women’s experiences, Roberts fails to consider the impact of exclusive breastfeeding promotion by our healthcare authorities. Where she sees judgement of women‘s choices, we see harmful healthcare policies causing untold suffering to women, babies and their families.

Roberts seems to believe passionately that the UK is ‘woefully failing’ to help mothers breastfeed. But how should this be done? There’s no good evidence to resolve the most common problems, such as problems with latching, low milk supply and painful breastfeeding. All hospitals already have so-called ‘Baby Friendly’ breastfeeding support as standard. She wants all women who want to breastfeed to be supported ‘to do so’, but since 10–15% of women don’t produce enough milk to sustain their baby (just one common breastfeeding problem) how is this possible? Sadly, nature doesn’t respect ‘choice’. Women should be given accurate information on which to base infant feeding decisions, not fantasies.

We did agree on a few points in Roberts’ article. The value of Healthy Start vouchers should be increased to cover increases in formula costs. And the regulations around formula marketing must go. They’re cruel, stigmatising and serve no good purpose whatsoever, however we doubt this will do much to help parents financially. But hold on a minute. What does Roberts mean when she says that regulations are punishing parents ‘rather than the big manufacturers’? Why should we want to punish formula manufacturers? They make an excellent product that most UK families want!

Roberts, it seems to us, has already decided what the Competitions and Markets Authority are going to say about the pricing of formula. They recently launched an investigation into formula costs, but it has only just got under way, let alone concluded. Nevertheless, Roberts has already made a judgement and sees fit to paint formula companies as the villain…in the same old judgmental way.

We think Roberts and other supporters of the ‘Formula for Change’ campaign should drop the judgement! Stop judging breastfeeding rates as good or bad. Stop judging formula companies as guilty before investigation. This feeds the idea that formula is inherently immoral. And please stop trying to save us from imaginary villains!

Our members didn’t experience suffering because of ‘judgement’. We experienced a health policy doing significant harm to us and our families. What we need to put on trial and judge harshly is the failed infant feeding policy that has caused so much suffering over decades.

Roberts concludes her Metro article by saying that ‘in a perfect world, only a minority would rely on formula‘. What an example of declaring yourself not judgmental and proceeding to announce your judgement! We think that in an ideal world, babies would be fully fed in a way that is comfortable and sustainable for their families and everybody else would mind their own business!

This blog was adapted from a Twitter thread. Follow us to join the discussion.