When advice and help isn’t all that it seems
Boots, it seems, want to help you to breastfeed. They now produce a leaflet which you can pick up in store, and have a section on their website devoted to it. I see photos of this leaflet shared on breastfeeding groups, usually with the caption “Found this in Boots, isn’t it brilliant they have this?”
As someone who volunteers in infant feeding, this sort of thing sets off my cynicism alarm. Retailers are in business to sell you things, altruism usually isn’t high on their list of priorities.
Confession time: I’m going to be picking on Boots a bit here. They are one example in truth, they certainly aren’t the only brand to do this sort of thing. Other companies also like to give out information about breastfeeding. Infant formula or bottle companies, for example, often do this too.
Let’s dissect the website information on Boots.com a little and see what we find.
The first sections: “Why is Breastfeeding Good For Me?”
Boots have chosen not to linger on the well-documented child health reasons to breastfeed, with a ‘blink and you’d miss it’ section, but they do have time to mention our appearance.
“There are lots of really good reasons to breastfeed, including benefits to mum. These include: “It helps you to regain your old figure“.
Here we are, in 2018, with Boots suggesting weight loss is a top three reason to breastfeed. Talking about our body image before they mention the reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancers. I’ll leave you to think about that.
“How Do I Start Breastfeeding?”
Then we come to the next section “How do I start Breastfeeding”, where Boots have some advice from Clare Byam-Cook, a controversial figure* in breastfeeding support due to her lack of any breastfeeding specific qualification.
“Hold the baby close, facing the breast, with its shoulders and body in a straight line and it’s neck supported but the head free to extend (use a feeding pillow if more comfortable), offer your breast to the baby…”
I am wincing reading that description. “Facing the breast” implies a “mouth to nipple” position to me, something most breastfeeding professionals will tell you is a recipe for a painful latch. This is a good demonstration as to why that is (thanks to the Empowered Birth Company for the video). It also says “head free to extend”, a clearer phrase I feel would be: “head free to tilt back”. Thirdly, “Offer your breast to baby” conjures images of a mother holding her breast and smooshing it into baby’s face, this would likely encourage an uncomfortable feed for the mother in an unsustainable position. Finally, we see them suggest “use a feeding pillow if more comfortable”, with a link taking you a range of pillows. I have nothing against pillows as long as they work for the mother, but this should be your first clue this isn’t a selfless exercise on behalf of a retailer.
“Common breastfeeding niggles solved”
The second passage is “Common breastfeeding niggles solved”. If you used the first section to give you information on how to attach your baby, you may need the information here.
My first problem with this section is it is so negative, it almost seems to scream “Breastfeeding will cause you excruciating pain!”
I am not going to sit here and tell you breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. That would dismiss the lived experience of many mothers. Breastfeeding has a learning curve, and getting to grips with attaching a baby to the breast when hardly any of us see it on a regular basis can be hard. Sometimes, while establishing breastfeeding, mothers experience pain. What I would say is, if this is you, don’t feel like you have to wait for things to “toughen up”, or that the answer is expensive nipple creams. The research just doesn’t support that. A bit of support with attachment or a tweak may make it feel better.
I do question why, in a limited space, a large portion of this leaflet is devoted to pain? Surely some diagrams of attaching a baby instead, might help their mothers prevent some of these issues in the first place?
Well, reading further it becomes clear. They can sell you stuff to help with pain. We see links to nipple cream and a range of nipple shields. I have no doubt nipple shields are useful for some mothers, I know for some mothers, they kept them breastfeeding. However, they can be an absolute faff to use all the time, especially in public. Babies can get overly reliant on them. They also don’t solve underlying issues the mother or baby may have.
Moving on to “engorged breasts”. Here, we see suggestions that using breast-pumps and bottle feeding until the engorgement subsides is a good course of action. This is the section I find most shocking.
Engorgement is most common in the first days after birth. So why encourage parents to pump and bottle feed instead of using simple techniques to soothe and resolve engorgement, such as hand expressing, nipple stimulation and cool packs? Pumping is known to overstimulate supply in the early days (parents are usually advised not to pump unless necessary in the first few weeks). Using a bottle instead means possibly going longer between breastfeeds with engorged breasts! This is not a good thing for breast health or milk supply. Not everyone can effectively remove milk from their breasts with a pump, at least, not as well as their baby. No mention of how early introduction of bottles may be detrimental to breastfeeding in some cases and that the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative advises against bottles and teats in early breastfeeding.
Then we come on to the last “common breastfeeding niggle”, mastitis. Hardly a ‘niggle’, is it? Mum is instructed to go straight to the GP, sensible. A bizarre choice though, I feel, to spend so much time encouraging pumping and bottle feeding through engorgement, but offering no well-known self-care methods for clearing a blocked duct.
“Do I have to breastfeed all through the night?” & Other Anxieties
Not content with suggesting you use a pump once, Boots move on to trying to sell you them again (with handy links to their range of pumps). This time it is to get dad involved in night feeds while mum sleeps. Now, I know this is a strategy some parents will try, and if it worked for your family, great. However, they have omitted the facts that:
- In the early months of breastfeeding, a mother will usually need to pump around the same time in the night, in order to avoid engorged breasts, blocked ducts, and mastitis.
- Quite often a baby will drain the bottle, but still want boob, because breastfeeding is not all about the milk.
- Night feedings can be important in supporting milk supply.
Then there is a section talking about new mothers breastfeeding in public. It’s OK though. Boots have a cover for that they can sell you. Oh and don’t forget about all the leaking. Boots can sell you stuff for that too.
This all seems to me, rather than helpful information, to be a fabulous example of how brands who sell you formula, pumps, bottles, and teats may complicate, or even sabotage breastfeeding, knowingly or unknowingly, in their quest to sell you ‘stuff’.
“What Can I Eat and Drink While Breastfeeding?”
So we come to the final section. The way this is written reads as if a mother needs to be hyper-aware of her diet: “good nutrition is more important than ever”. I find this paragraph pretty undermining. A good diet is important for everyone, it is not a necessity for breastfeeding. If it was I would be worried about my own child, since my early breastfeeding diet was 70% cake, 30% toast. Breast-milk is robust, and will in nearly all cases, still be the healthiest option for your child, (even on a 70/30 cake/toast diet). A mother would need to be malnourished for her breast-milk to be impacted.
“The occasional sweet treat is fine too- goodness knows you deserve a slice of cake”: Wow. Breastfeeding mothers of the world, quite frankly, if you want the whole bloody cake, eat it. Nobody needs permission from a shop to eat cake!
Finally, the article ends with some links showing us more bottles, talking about pumps and baby food (we haven’t even managed to breastfeed yet and Boots are talking to you about baby food? Seriously?) Sadly, no links to any organisation which may help you establish breastfeeding (you can find these at the end of this blog).
Companies like Boots may want you to start breastfeeding. Shops want you to buy stuff for breastfeeding from them. Let’s face it, this is how they make money. I imagine they want to sell you some expensive pumps, nipple creams, covers, bottles, and shields. Unfortunately for some, following this sort of information may mean their breastfeeding journey is over sooner than they hoped.
Luckily, if you do have to stop breastfeeding, Boots have a large selection of infant formula they can sell you, often on code-breaking special displays.
I do wonder what is in it for companies, to suggest things like mothers need to follow a healthy diet to breastfeed? Or to give out information which might make breastfeeding painful for a mother? Or lower milk supply? Why devote so much time to suggesting that breastfeeding usually comes with pain and problems?
I can’t answer these questions for Boots or any other retailer. I don’t explicitly know their intentions. I do think we need to be careful where we choose to get our help from, and that the first question we should ask ourselves when a retailer tries to give advice is- “What’s in it for them?”
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This is an opinion piece, and all opinions expressed here are my own.
*For an example of said controversy Byam-Cook’s last appearance on ITV sparked a petition for them to use qualified breastfeeding experts in future. The petition was signed by nearly 5000 people.