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Formula feeding: stigma & the impact on maternal mental health

by BabyYumYum
Baby Yum Yum - Formula feeding stigma & the impact on maternal mental health
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We’re constantly being told that ‘Breast Is Best’, and it’s a practice that has become synonymous with ‘good parenting’. Of course, we’re not denying the benefits of breastfeeding – for both infant health and maternal bonding – but what about moms who can’t, or choose not to, breastfeed?

Stigma around formula feeding

A recent study carried out in the USA focused on 250 women who weren’t breastfeeding their babies and analysed both internalised stigma and the perception of stigma from others that these mothers experienced, as well as how that affected their maternal feelings of warmth for their infants.

The results of the study showed that mothers who chose not to breastfeed reported little personal or public stigma. In comparison, mothers who were unable to breastfeed experienced more internalised stigma and perceived that other people saw them as failures.

The result? These mothers were more likely to hide the fact that they were using infant formula from others, and reported having lower feelings of warmth for their babies.

And what does this all really mean? The study concluded that the public responses experienced by the mothers made them feel guilty for using formula, and that was likely to result in negative feelings of self-worth.

These moms were reluctant to reveal their use of formula fearing that they might be judged. About one quarter of these women reported open criticism of their use of infant formula instead of mother’s milk.

How many babies in South Africa are breastfed?

South Africa’s average exclusive breastfeeding rate for infants below six months is around 32% – relatively low compared to a worldwide average of 40% – and these local figures reflect an increase over the past 10 years.

The reasons a mother might choose not to breastfeed, or is unable to breastfeed, are numerous. Some reasons are medical, socio-economic or emotional; some obstacles are short-term but others are insurmountable.

  • Low milk supply
  • Physical difficulties like inverted nipples, a child that’s unable to latch, cracked or painful nipples etc.
  • Health concerns such as being on medication or having an illness that can be transmitted through breast milk.
  • Workplace obstacles including having nowhere to express (although employers are obliged to make arrangements for this)
  • Geographical challenges when a woman does not live near her child.
  • Preference – and this is a really important one – some women may simply choose not to breastfeed and she should not be made to feel shamed for this decision.

Motherhood is difficult, and we should support other women, regardless of their choices around breastfeeding – people should respect that the mother is in the best position to determine the optimal feeding option for her infant.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. BabyYumYum reserves the right to its opinions and fully supports the notion of promotion that breast is best in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) infant feeding guidelines. Breast milk is the best food for infants. Good maternal nutrition is essential to prepare and maintain breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is not applied, an infant formula may be used according to the advice of health professionals. Preparation and storage of any infant formula should be performed as directed on the tin in order not to pose any health hazards.

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