Victoria Keenan, 32, is mum to Ofelia Isis (7) and Aria Dulcie (4). She is director of www.birthzone.ae and a perinatal activist
How often in the media do we see inflammatory statements about the ‘breastfeeeding vs bottle-feeding’ debate? I think using the phrase ‘breast versus bottle’ is divisive and oversimplified. There are many different variations on the feeding spectrum, so bottle doesn’t necessarily mean formula and formula doesn’t necessarily mean bottle.
The World Health Organization informs us that the first alternative to a mother’s own milk should actually be milk from another mother. This is rarely known or talked about, but can be a viable alternative if a woman needs or wants to supplement for a time (get in touch with Human Milk 4 Human Babies to find a donor near you). I think it’s a truly beautiful opportunity for women who have been through the challenges and rewards of breastfeeding to support another woman on her journey. You would be surprised how many women will happily pump or even wet-nurse a baby in need, because they’ve been there and know the value in that support.
How a family chooses to administer either formula or donated milk is also not so simple; they have more choices than just bottles. They may choose to use a cup or an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System) instead.
An SNS can be used when nursing, so the baby is still at the breast, stimulating the mother’s milk supply. Daddy and family members can also get involved with the SNS, by finger feeding with a feeding tube. You can find videos on YouTube of how this works, but it’s so simple, it’s genius! You can buy your SNS from the midwives at Health Bay Polyclinic, or you can even make your own very simply, if you’re feeling creative.
There is so much pressure on each of us as parents to ‘get it right’, yet the forces are often coming from opposing sides. “Breast is best, but don’t do it in public”, “Express, but we can’t provide facilities at work”, “You can’t do that here, use the toilet” – society may not support the realities of breastfeeding, yet judges people if they use formula. You just cannot win! So let’s talk openly and share the positive lessons we’ve learnt through the (sometimes difficult) experiences. No blame, no shame, no guilt. Just acceptance that we’re all doing the best we can, with the circumstances and information we have at the time. Let’s broaden the discussion and encourage women to nurture and support each other within their wider communities, not set them against each other to judge their differences.
Poonam Rai Nagi, 34, is a lawyer and mum to five-week-old baby boy, Senna
Having a baby brings so much joy and happiness to all those involved. It also brings with it endless decisions to be made, expectations and a journey that doesn’t end when the nine months are over. Actually in many respects, this marks the start of the new phase. Having to decide exactly how to raise your child is a huge responsibility that every mother is very much aware of – and also terrified by!
Feeding your child is a basic need to meet, but how this is done is a culmination of choice as well as circumstance. The decision to choose breast or bottle-feeding is not a simple one and there will be many factors that will determine the end result. This can vary from the parent’s situation or the mother’s condition to the baby’s ability or preference. But ultimately this is a choice and every mother should have the right to make this call, without any input from outsiders. Especially from those who are not affected by the choice and have no legitimate reason to impose their opinion.
Breastfeeding is largely viewed as the preferred option and many will cite many notable articles, essays, ‘experts’ and even celebrities as supporters, thereby implying that in essence there is no real decision to be made. But what this simplistic view lacks is empathy for the mother, who as it is has a tough time with judging herself and second-guessing each and every decision, hoping that the one she picks is ‘best’ for the baby.
As a new mother, I am experiencing first-hand the constant worry that whatever I decide is not the right choice – be it how my baby sleeps, when his nappy is changed and even what clothes to wear!
The answer, therefore, to the age-old question of which is better, breast or bottle, can only really be given by the mother of the baby. Each baby is different, as is every mother and the situation in which they find themselves. A one-size-fits-all approach will only add to a mother’s existing dilemma of being fraught with anxiety and being judged for her choice for her baby.
Luckily we live in an era where we have options – let’s exercise this and, importantly, allow freedom of choice.
Breastfeeding in the UAE
A clause added to the Child Rights Law in 2014 made breastfeeding mandatory in the UAE, until the child reaches the age of two. Find more information on what that means for expat mums here.