UPDATE: On August 27, 2014, the Vancouver Sun reported that Fraser Health has pulled their breastfeeding pamphlet after public outcry over the document. Read the full story here.
"Do you want to try breastfeeding your son?" the recovery room nurse asked me. Nauseated and wobbly-armed after my epidural and unplanned C-section, breastfeeding was both the first and last thing on my mind. I'd obsessed over breastfeeding during my entire pregnancy, feeling pressure from the prenatal instructor who regaled us with tales of tandem nursing her twins. I figured I knew all there was to know about breastfeeding—everything except that it can be really hard.
While in hospital with Isaac, I worked hard at breastfeeding—but my sleepy-head son would fall asleep each time I'd get him latched. The hospital's lactation consultants were helpful and persistent, but those early days of breastfeeding were painful and messy. Shortly after we were able to go home, my husband bought me a manual breast pump because, in those early days of parenthood, we were less about romance and more about survival.
There's no doubt in my mind that I would have turned to the emergency stash of formula in my kitchen pantry. The stash I kept hidden from the public health nurse who visited us after we came home from the hospital. The stash I denied having when the lactation consultants asked me if I had formula at home.
"Good," the lactation consultant said. "You won't be tempted to use it."
The pressure on moms to breastfeed is real. British Columbia's Fraser Health hospitals is asking new moms to sign an Infant Feeding Declaration. The document outlines the pros and cons of formula feeding and breastfeeding—listing the increased risks of SIDS, certain childhood cancers, obesity and diabetes with formula use. As if responsibility for a tiny, new human isn't terrifying enough, I can only imagine how new moms struggling with breastfeeding must feel when signing the Infant Feeding Declaration.
At iVillage, Raina Delisle shared the stories of three BC moms who were asked to sign the declaration. Megan McMillan* was one mom who refused to sign it: Her preemie son was losing weight and her paediatrician told her she needed to feed her son formula.
“I found the form to be insulting and upsetting” McMillan told iVillage. “It gave the impression I was putting my son at risk if I followed the doctor’s direction. I refused to sign something saying I may not give my son a good start in life.”
As Delisle points out in her story, breastfeeding advocates are competing against well-funded formula companies, and raising awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding can be a challenge. But I, for one, think the Infant Feeding Declaration goes a little too far. Scare tactics about the supposed health risks of formula feeding do more harm than good.
*Name has been changed