Boards, breastfeeding, Forum furore!

Last time I had a baby, having access to a parenting forum kept me sane. This time, I’m torn between clinging to the support they can give and wanting to throw the computer across the room in frustration!  I’m not going to go into now why I don’t share too much personal information and am suspicious of those asking what our other halves do, seek photos of our babies, our locations etc. – if I gave all that out I might as well not use a username pseudonym.
which come across as simply trying to extract data from us all. A few thoughts, posted here because to post them there would be to become one of the people that wind me up….

1) everyone’s comments are not equally valid
I’m sorry, but expertise and experience matter. In the internet age, anyone with an electronic device can offer a view but that doesn’t make them in any way qualified or sensible. You see this on TV programmes all the time, where Sue from Whitby and Ray tweeting from Croydon are afforded as much airtime as the expert panellists- the public are generally a bit suspicious of experts these days and social media and the internet afford many opportunities to seek out only those voices that validate your existing opinions and dismiss what you disagree with.
Let me show you what I mean.
I happen to know a lot about SIDS, and having seen its impact on people I love, I have sought out the best and most recent advice in order to reduce the risk as far as possible for my children.
Top tips for cutting chances are not to overheat your child’s room at night; to lie them flat on their backs; to use a crib;  do not prop them with blankets, cushions etc.; not keep them in car seats or rockers for long periods; put them feet to foot in a crib; use a baby sleeping bag and not add more clothes or blankets than the manufacturer advises; not to co sleep; to use a dummy in the first year once breastfeeding has been established and to try to breastfeed.
Almost every day there is a post on the forum on one of these issues.
And some women, who have decided to do things a certain way say my child only sleeps on his tummy or I put mine in his 22c bedroom in vest, gloves, babygro and 2.5 tog grobag, or I co sleep so the baby can regulate to my heartbeat.
The poster, usually a first time mum says, wow, thanks good to know it is OK.
If anyone questions it, these women say well it works for me, or our parents did this with us and nothing happened to us. Or it’s been done for centuries, all over the world, so it must be OK. I’m entitled to my opinion as you are entitled to yours.
Well that’s just great. It never occurs to them that they are the lucky ones, the blessed ones who survived. The point about research and advances in human knowledge is that they are just that, advances. We do, sometimes, know better than we did in the past. Infant mortality from SIDS has declined as more families have followed the advice. For me, I value the expert advice. Sometimes in a Pratchettian armpit of a bad night, I’d dearly love to keep my asleep-but-screams-if-put-down baby into bed with me, so I don’t have to get up again, but I don’t.

2) If you doubt the expert advice, you’d better have a good reason
This is not a contradiction with point 1. Weaning, drinking in pregnancy and vaccinations serve as the examples here…
To understand the weaning issues, you first need to know about breastfeeding. Back when I was at school, I joined a campaign against Nestlé because they were apparently telling women in the third world that their formula was superior nutrition to the mother’s breast milk (there may have been a small element of truth to this where the maternal diet was poot quality). The mothers therefore spent money that could have been spent on the rest of the family to buy formula milk they didn’t need and making it up with dirty water, which endangered their babies. To fight this, the World Health Organisation issued guidance on breastfeeding – mothers in developing countries should breastfeed exclusively until 6 months when babies should be healthy and weaning should start. This avoided the dirty water issue, if not the maternal diet issue.
I have mixed fed both my children having had serious issues with breastfeeding that no end of breastfeeding counselling cannot correct. People are often surprised that I use formula because frankly, I am articulate, middle class and buy organic food. (I also use disposable nappies, albeit eco disposables…) Put simply, I thank God that I live in a country where formula is easily available as without it I wouldn’t have been able to feed my babies, wet nurses being rather harder to come by than in the past.
I weaned my son at 20 weeks, within the NHS guidance at the time of 4-6 months. He was drinking over a litre of formula a day and still hungry. He loved food – I did baby rice and purees rather than baby led weaning because he was under six months and I was afraid he’d end up choking on bits.
For my daughter, I’m told the guidance has changed.
All babies everywhere should be exclusively breastfed for six months, and follow-on formula milk is unnecessary as nutrition can be gained from the food and continued breast milk (or first infant formula).
As a second time mum I say pah! This feels like the breastfeeding lobby getting at the guidance. My child needed to be weaned before 6 months. He is not an average, or a statistic, he is my child and I have to take decisions for his health. I also gave him follow-on milk. He inherited his father’s childhood extreme tonsillitis and so didn’t take in as much food as he should have, so the additional nutrients were useful to him. The same will be true for my daughter.
Weaning has been advised at different stages over many years, but while I feel six months is being recommended as a political timing, shorter timings have physiological reasons against them. Some of the mums on the forum have been advised to wean at nine weeks, twelve weeks, fifteen weeks. But early weaning appears to have a link to IBS so should they be doing so? Some of the other mums are very outspoken but mostly this is due to personal experience. Others cannot control themselves and accuse other mums of trying to damage their children.
There are some claims that weaning before six months causes childhood obesity. Who knows if that is the key factor in childhood obesity- I’d love to know how you control for the other factors.
Besides, there are some frankly amazing claims made for breastfeeding many of which relate more to the parents that generally persist in doing it than the act or the milk itself, and I can’t help but feel that this criticism of weaning before six months may actually be related to concurrent factors. More of which in a minute.
Is this any different to the well we were all right, there will be another expert along in a moment vieview re SIDS above? I’d argue yes, as weaning doesn’t put lives at stake.

By the way, while trying my best to breastfeed I do worry about the pressure women are put under. I was told by a breastfeeding expert the first time that feeding my child formula was like giving him a MacDonald’s. I was made to feel like a bad mother because I couldn’t feed my child without help. A health visitor this time round pointed out that even the most dedicated organic vegan would surely give their child a MacDonald’s if the alternative was see them starve to death…

Many women could not follow the guidance to only drink moderately in pregnancy, and children were being born with foetal alcohol syndrome. So the guidance was made easier – don’t drink at all. But the majority of lightly drinking women had no problems so current NHS guidance is pragmatic and adds that if you do drink 1-2 units a week is the maximum appropriate level. Again, there are women that insist that even a drop of alcohol, any time in pregnancy, could be the drop that causes foetal alcohol syndrome. I can’t help feeling that this is on a par with nothing but breast milk must touch your babies lips in the first six months, that there is more nuance and individual circumstance that ought to be taken into account.

As for vaccination, most people know now that the apparent link between MMR and autism was not real. But as the measles epidemic in Swansea shows, flawed data in research coupled with a public suspicion of experts as above meant that no matter how much assurance of safety followed, enough people decided against vaccination to constitute a public health risk. Getting your child vaccinated is not just about your child’s health, it is also a public good. There will be others that cannot have the vaccination and if the rate of immunisation in the general population is high enough then they will be protected too. Vaccination, along with scientific research into SIDS etc. has dramatically reduced infant mortality. And that’s a fact, even if you personally don’t like it.

Refusing vaccination has bigger societal consequences than when to wean in the long run. Deciding when to listen to experts is vital.

3) sometimes you have to look at things in the best light and realise you are not being “got at”
In a hospital in Australia, the Special Care Baby Unit offers formula milk for formula-fed babies and meals to breastfeeding mothers. A pro-formula feeding group on Facebook claims that this is discriminatory against mothers using formula because they would have to leave their sick children to go and spend money in the hospital canteen.
I suspect that, from the hospital viewpoint, this is simple: their responsibility is to feed the patient either by providing the milk directly, or indirectly via the mother. The welfare of the parents is a very secondary consideration. However, if you are in an open plan ward and mums are asked whether they breast or bottle feed and are given food or not accordingly, then it probably feels like penalising them for their feeding choices.
So there are two very different ways of looking at the same situation. As will all things maternity, and particularly when children are not well, hormones and emotions run high and it would be easy to feel judged for not breastfeeding even if that was not at all the basis on which the decision re feeding parents may have been taken. As a mixed feeder, I assume I’d get a meal… May be I’d not get a dessert!

The forum boards are full of this kind of thing, and also people taking things very personally. They write things to each other on a forum that they would never say face to face(unless on the Jeremy Kyle Show).
There is a school of thought that posting on a forum makes you fair game for anyone that wants to comment.
Some people post to provoke debate, or worse to provoke arguments. Some people even post a message to say they are leaving a forum as they have been offended, which of course is provocative of itself. While internet forums might be the ultimate democracy, the undermining of the expert view is dangerous, especially when the alternative is a free for all of disinformation. Oh, and try not to say anything you would not want said to you…