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

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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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environment
The UK Wants to Ban Wet Wipes, And Parents Aren't Happy About It
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The United Kingdom has grown determined in recent years to reduce consumption of single-use products that pollute the environment. In April, fast food restaurant fans were dismayed to hear that plastic drinking straws are being phased out; plastic cotton swabs are also on the chopping block. Now, users of wet wipes that remove makeup and clean infant bottoms are looking at a future where reaching for one of the disposable cloths may not be so easy.

The BBC reports that wet wipes containing non-biodegradable plastic are being targeted for elimination in the coming years. The wipes contribute to “fatbergs,” giant impactions of waste that can slow or block movement in sewage systems. By some estimates, 93 percent of blockages are caused by consumers flushing the wet wipes into toilets despite package instructions to throw them in the garbage.

Not everyone is backing the move, however. Jeremy Freedman, who manufactures the wipes under the name Guardpack, says that the wipes are useful to health care workers and food preparation employees. He argues their use also conserves water normally reserved for handwashing.

The most vocal critics might be parents, who use the wipes to clean their baby’s bottom following a diaper change. Sentiments like “ban the fools that flush them!” are circulating on Twitter. The UK is looking to phase out the wipes and other problematic plastic products over the next 25 years.

[h/t BBC]

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Finance
Here's How Much It Costs to Have a Baby in America
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From the time they're conceived to the day they graduate college, children come with a pricey bill—a mix of health care costs, living expenses, education, and other expenses. Not surprisingly, that financial drain begins as soon as you get your first hospital bill following their birth.

According to the The Economist, which cites the International Federation of Health Plans, the average cost of a non-Caesarean delivery in the United States in 2015 was $10,808. When including health care needed both during and after pregnancy, the total is roughly $30,000.

Obviously, those with health insurance aren't burdened with the full amount of that bill. But co-pays, deductibles, and other costs passed to parents mean the average hospital fee is roughly $3000 out of pocket. That cost typically covers the obstetrician's fee, hospital facility fees, and anesthesiology.

This figure can fluctuate depending on which state parents live in. In Alabama, for example, it could cost as little as $5017 to bring your child into the world, while New Yorkers are more likely to field bills in the amount of $8936. Compared to other nations, America usually comes in first on the list of the most expensive places to procreate. If you have a baby in Spain, for example, fees associated with the birth might come to an average $1950.

[h/t The Economist]

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