Breast is best debate reignited

The debate about whether mothers should breastfeed or give their newborns formula has again been ignited. Photo: Getty Images
The debate about whether mothers should breastfeed or give their newborns formula has again been ignited. Photo: Getty Images

Here we go again. That old breast is best message is being trotted out, this time by the nation's food watchdog.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) deputy chief executive officer Melanie Fisher said some public health experts had suggested altering labels amid concerns over poor breastfeeding rates. A recent consultation paper suggests the “breast is best” warning should be changed to better reflect the health risks to infants who do not receive breast milk. It suggested a reference to increasing evidence that breastfeeding was associated with lower rates of infection and chronic disease as well as improved cognitive development. FSANZ is calling for submissions ahead of a review of infant formula regulations next year.

My opinion? Enough is enough. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to breastfeed my son until he was about 12-months-old, with few problems. But I always held firm that I would "try to breastfeed" but if I had encountered the difficulties that some mums do, I was going to switch to formula immediately.

One young mum, Tash, is sick of mothers who have trouble breastfeeding being made to feel like failures. "I was made to stay in hospital for two weeks cos my boy wouldn't latch on and felt a failure because the word 'bottle' wasn't allowed to be mentioned. Being stressed to the point of crying (and I'm not a cryer!) at every feed - is that best for baby? No. At six weeks I weaned my son over to formula. I am constantly greeted with surprise by strangers at the fact he is not even four yet, as he is much more developed than most five-year-olds: in conversation, interaction and intelligence," she said.

"I'm all for breast if it suits you. But please don't judge those who don't and make up stuff to try and win an argument that doesn't need to be had. It's called freedom of choice."

A father said his wife was forced to put her son onto formula when he was six-months-old because she was not producing enough milk. He said his son adapted well to the change and slept better on formula. "I'm not saying don't breastfeed, because I still feel that if you can do it, then do it because it's best for the baby, but if you can't, formula is a great substitute."

Another young mother, Jeyani, breastfed her daughter but said she was fed only formula as an infant because she was adopted. "That was 28 years ago and formula has made leaps and bounds since then. I was a very healthy baby with no health issues growing up and I don't think I am physically or mentally affected by being raised on formula," she said.

Infant Nutrition Council chief executive officer Jan Carey said while breastfeeding was the "ultimate form of nutrition" and a "magical substance", scientifically-based infant formulas were not dangerous. "I certainly agree that mothers should be able to make an informed choice. It is also important that mothers are not made to feel anxious," Ms Carey said. "It's unfair if mothers are made to feel second rate."

Another young mother, Kelly, had this sensible piece of advice: "Either way ... at the end of the day a happy mum = happy baby." Isn't that all that really matters? As Jeyani said, formula has come a long way in recent years and if you are struggling to breastfeed it can be extremely stressful. Persevering can be tiring and, for some, painful. It's an added stress that new mums don't need. Breast may be best, but what about the saying: mother knows best? Let's give new mums a break. 

By Monique Patterson of Connect Pink, with some comments from a story that first appeared in