New Mothers Feel Judged and Guilty No Matter How They Feed Their Babies


New moms just cannot win. Two new studies published in the journal Maternal & Child Nutrition find that women are criticized when they don’t breastfeed—and even when they do.

Everybody—friends, family, strangers, advertisers, public health officials—wants to tell new mothers what to do. Some of those people are qualified to make recommendations. But those recommendations, while created with the best intentions, don’t always take real-world experience into consideration.

Current recommendations from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are firm: women should exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of their lives. There’s plenty of science to back this idea up; breast milk is a super-duper superfood, providing an infant with nutrients, helpful bacteria, and immune-boosting antibodies and proteins. Scores of studies have linked formula feeding with poor health, obesity, and disease risk. In an expert’s ideal world, every baby would be exclusively breastfed.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where breastfeeding is undesirable or downright impossible for many women. It’s a physically demanding and time-consuming endeavor that’s become more common among upper-class women who have the resources to spare. There’s a strong link between formula feeding and poverty, and it’s not because poorer women don’t also want the best for their babies.

Myriad studies have investigated the breastfeeding/formula divide, asking who’s doing it and why. But few have asked how women feel about the way they feed their babies or how it affects the way people treat them. So researchers at the UK's University of Liverpool conducted two surveys: one of 679 women who at least partially breastfed their babies, and another of 601 women who used infant formula. They asked the women about their current feeding practices and if those differed from the ideas about feeding they’d had while pregnant. They asked how they felt about the way they fed their babies and how they felt other people treated them because of it.

As expected, formula feeding came with some real emotional baggage. The authors note “a worryingly high percentage of mothers experienced negative emotions as a result of their decision to use formula.” Sixty-seven percent of respondent said they felt guilty; 68 percent felt stigmatized, and 76 percent felt the need to defend their choice to others.

But even women who breastfed were stressed by, and judged for, their choice. Fifteen percent of nursing mothers said they felt guilty; 38 percent of nursing mothers felt stigmatized, and 55 percent found themselves defending their decision. Some of their guilt came from introducing formula after breastfeeding. Others felt bad about returning to work while their baby was still nursing. They felt bad that they were neglecting other family members and stigmatized when breastfeeding in public. Women in both studies felt judged by doctors, family members, the media, and other parents. They simply could not catch a break.

Co-author Victoria Fallon notes that less than 1 percent of British women actually breastfeed their infants for a full six months. “We need social reform to fully support and protect those mothers who do breastfeed,” she said in a statement, “and a different approach to promotion to minimise negative emotions among the majority who don't."

She notes that well-intentioned public health recommendations can still contribute to stigma, shame, and guilt. "The 'breast is best' message has, in many cases, done more harm than good,” she said, “and we need to be very careful of the use of words in future breastfeeding promotion campaigns. It is crucial that future recommendations recognize the challenges that exclusive breast feeding to six months brings and provide a more balanced and realistic target for mothers."

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The Doctor Who Modernized Royal Births—in the 1970s
Gary Stone/Getty Images
Gary Stone/Getty Images

When Prince William eventually ascends to the English throne, he’ll be the first British monarch ever born in a hospital. And he has a man named George Pinker to thank for that.

Royal births have always been fraught affairs due to the thorny issues of birthright and succession. Throughout history, English royal women were expected to give birth in rooms filled with spectators and witnesses—in part to avoid a pretender to the throne being switched with the royal baby at birth.

That made childbirth a grueling ceremony for queens, many of whom had to give birth to stillborn or dying children in the company of scores of strangers. In 1688, after 11 tragic attempts to produce an heir to James II’s throne, Mary of Modena gave birth in front of an audience of 67 people. (It was even worse for Marie Antoinette, who gave birth in 1778 in front of so many people the onlookers nearly crushed her.) And even after births became more private affairs, archbishops and officials attended them as late as 1936.

Of course, doctors have long been part of that crowd. The royal household—the group of support staff that helps royals at their various residences—has included physicians for hundreds of years, who have often been called upon to perform various gynecological duties for royal women. They have frequently been dispatched to serve other family members, too, especially those giving birth to important heirs.

Even when hospitals became popular places for childbirth at the turn of the last century, English royals continued having kids at home in their palaces, castles, and houses. Elizabeth II was delivered via Caesarean section in 1926 at her grandmother’s house in London. When she became queen, her royal surgeon gynecologists recommended she deliver her children at home, bringing in equipment to turn the space into a maternity ward.

Yet it was one of her gynecologists, John Peel, who ended up changing his tune on delivering children in hospitals, and in the 1970s he published an influential report that recommended all women do so. When he stepped down in 1973, the queen’s new royal gynecologist, George Pinker, insisted the royals get in line, too.

Pinker was different from his predecessors. For one, he skipped out on a potential career in opera to practice medicine. He had been offered a contract with an opera company, but when asked to choose between music and medicine, the choice was clear. Instead, he stayed involved with music—becoming assistant concert director at the Reading Symphony Orchestra and vice president of the London Choral Society—while maintaining his medical career.

He was also the youngest doctor ever to practice as royal surgeon gynecologist—just 48 when he was appointed. He supported controversial medical advances like in vitro fertilization. And he insisted that his patients’ welfare—not tradition—dictate royal births.

“It is very important for mothers to accept modern medical assistance and not to feel guilty if they need epidural or a Caesarean,” he told an interviewer. Pinker recommended that pregnant women lead as normal a life as possible—no easy task for royals whose every move was spied on and picked apart by the public. In fact, the doctor being anywhere near the queen or her family, even when he was not there to treat a pregnant woman, was seen as a sign that a royal was pregnant.

When Princess Diana delivered her first son, it was at a royal room in a hospital. “Most people marveled at the decision to have the royal baby in such surroundings rather than Buckingham Palace,” wrote The Guardian’s Penny Chorlton. Turns out the surroundings were pretty plush anyway: Diana delivered in her very own wing of the hospital.

Pinker served as the queen’s royal gynecologist for 17 years, delivering nine royal babies in all, including Prince William and Prince Harry. All were born at hospitals. So were William’s two children—under supervision of the royal gynecologist, of course.

What the First Year of Life Looks Like Through the Eyes of a Baby

A baby's vision undergoes a series of significant developments during its first year of life, and these developments have been visually replicated, month by month, in a recent video from Tech Insider.

The unfortunate news for any parent who has ever felt like their newborn was gazing into their eyes: Until the third month, babies can't actually identify facial features, which include eyes and mouths. Also, they can't focus their eyes on any subject more than 10 inches from their face for the first three months.

At the 6-month mark, babies are finally able to construct a 3D view of the world—something that later comes in handy at 9 months, when their eye-hand coordination is finally developed enough to grab hold of objects.

Though humans' eyes aren't fully developed until age 2, babies do have a leg up on adults in one area: A 2016 study found that babies between the ages of 3 and 4 months old can see slight differences in images caused by changes in illumination, while adults cannot.

Watch the video from Tech Insider below:

[h/t: Tech Insider]


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