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Does Breastfeeding Really Make a Difference?

Posted on 07.08.2019

Everyone seems to have an opinion on breastfeeding. Doing it in public or posting it on Instagram has become a political statementSocial media influencers like Chrissy Teigen tackle this stigma by promoting visibility online. But what about women who find it hard to breastfeed? Or same-sex couples who have adopted? Or who those who have surrogates that can’t provide milk? When it comes down to it, is breastfeeding really the be all and end all of early development?    


The official party line from the NHS on the subject is that “breastfeeding has long-term benefits for your baby, lasting right into adulthood.” It is said to reduce: 

  • infections, with fewer visits to hospital as a result 

  • diarrhoea and vomiting, with fewer visits to hospital as a result 

  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) 

  • childhood leukaemia 

  • obesity 

  • cardiovascular disease in adulthood 

The website also emphasises the many benefits to both mother and baby, including building “a strong emotional bond between you and your baby.”  


On a page from the article that highlights the many positives that come from breastfeeding, there is only one mention of women who may struggle with this revered bonding and feeding process - and it’s in the myth-busting section. The so-called ‘myth’ is that “some women do not produce enough breast milk”, in answer to which the NHS provides the ‘fact’ that “almost all women are physically able to breastfeed. Early, frequent feeding and responding to your baby's cues give you the best start to establishing your supply.”  


This kind of attitude, especially when found on the NHS’s own website, perpetuates the notion that mothers who choose the bottle over the breast are committing a sin that in many cases is equated to child endangerment. Questions of selfishness and negligence creep into the rhetoric. This Telegraph article gives those pointing the finger the moniker the ‘Breastapo’ and only partly in jest. It also details the stories of several mothers who were unable to produce enough milk for their babies, who started to lose weight and become listless. Their appeals for help were met with the medical equivalent of “try harder.” 


Recently, the endlessly touted health benefits of breast milk have been called into doubt by one American study, as much of the evidence fails to take into account the fact that “mothers who breastfeed tend to be richer and better-educated than mothers who formula-feed. The authors further argue that a mother’s socio-economic advantage, measured through her intention to breastfeed, is associated with the same health benefits for her baby as actually breastfeeding.” As with every study of this kind, there is opposition and (perfectly fair) criticism. There is medical evidence on the side of breastfeeding, both for mother and baby that most researchers agree on - what the study is asking is, is there a chance these pros have been inflated? 


It seems the definitive question should actually be, is it worth new mothers putting themselves through the enormous stress of trying to support their babies on breast milk alone for the first six months of their life when they aren’t producing it no matter how hard they try? Surely the baby will benefit more from a mother who is happy, calm and relaxed, not to mention the risk of malnutrition if they aren’t getting what they need in terms of food from breastfeeding? Often successful lactation is a matter of education and technique that mothers are not taught properly, especially with most being discharged from the hospital the next day.  


There are strong voices on the other side of the debate, from those who believe that formula lobbyists are seeking to debunk “decades of research” on the natural benefits of breast milk in particular. All of this, however, seems to be a culmination of both the politicising of motherhood and the ever-soaring pressures on mothers to meet every exacting social standard foisted on them, often by their own community. Breastfeeding is almost certainly an incredibly beneficial process for both baby and mother, but if someone is struggling to the point of anxiety or even postpartum depression, formula exists as a good supplement or even alternative that will, in most cases, give a baby the nutrition it needs.    


If you’d like to have a chat about our current medical roles, then get in touch with one of our experienced recruitment consultants. Call 020 8505 6600 or email      

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