I was more than a little miffy yesterday to read the material in The Times which suggested that my 10 month self-imposed martyrdom under the ‘breast is best’ banner may have been for little ultimate benefit. I would, it seems, have done no worse to have swapped him onto the bottle as soon as I went back to work at 3 months. The article systematically traced back and unravelled the often repeated mantra that ‘evidence shows that’ breastfeeding protects against illness, obesity, infection, cancer [add chosen miracle effect here] etc etc… What is most upsetting is that the NHS propaganda (for that is what at heart it is) seems to have absolutely no evidential foundation (Don’t blind them with science poor cows, they’ll just freeze to the spot).
I like to think I have a healthy degree of skepticism about medical ‘evidence’ which is routinely ‘summarised’ in NHS leaflets and wheeled out by generalist medical bods to keep us in line. I applied my analytical mind and a good deal of time to researching what I was being told about home birth (ooooh, that’s a bit risky, oooh well YOU can’t have a home birth), but I confess to having accepted the received wisdom about breastfeeding without really a second thought. After all, it makes sense. Much to my embarrassment, it seems that the reason for the apparent false positives in the research is largely down to the fact that women like me are precisely the type of docile, bovine creatures to accept medical and health advice and strive to follow it for the benefit of our precious offspring. Damned by our own compliance. What looks like the effect of breastfeeding is more probably the effect of us being such good girls. Which makes me cross, because if that’s right it means that actually we are pretty good mothers without having to torture ourselves with a breastpump for months on end.
So I don’t think that it’s enough any more to just fall back on middle class ideas of what it is to be a good mummy, or upon maternal instinct or whatever. When it comes to putting yourself through the tiresome chore of messing with an electric breastpump in some grotty toilet somewhere every lunchtime, a hunch and a whiff of romance are not enough. Last time I was bolstered by the belief that I was virtuously and selflessly giving my all for he who I had abandoned to earn a few bucks – expressing may have relieved the pressure of maternal guilt as much as anything else.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pro-breastfeeding, and particularly in the early days. But I’m not sure that rushing back from work with a loaded cool bag and decanting my mother’s goodness into a bottle before feeding it to the little mite is of itself going to be any more beneficial than shaking up a bottle of formula and having a lovely cuddle. So perhaps I won’t endure for so long next time, and I will be a little less tired, a little less frazzled and a bit more happy to be around. I don’t need a scientist to tell me that smiles and hugs are worth something. Or that mummy needs a sandwich at lunchtime and a bit less guilt.