Yes, yes it can. Baby formula however, can not.
I have to admit I am slightly outraged at the notion that in the developed world there is even any discussion about these warnings on formula products.
Cigarettes cause cancer and kill. Baby formula does not.
The case for using formula in the developed and developing world is completely different where I totally agree breastfeeding should be promoted. I'm talking about the UK and other developed countries for the sake of this argument.
I don't believe there's a mother of any social class in this country that hasn't had 'breast is best' made abundantly clear from their very first midwife appointment. It even says it on formula products already.
We know breast milk is better for babies. But I think we need to be very clear about this. Many things are better for babies. It's been proven that one on one care from a loving mother figure for the first three years of a child's life is better for their emotional development. Yet it is not possible for many reasons for this to be the case in many households. There are babies of 7 months in full time nursery all over the country for instance. But as long as these children get the loving care they need from their parents when at home and as long as the childcare chosen is good then we accept it. Imagine these signs at nursery gates:
WARNING: Leaving your child here may seriously damage their emotional health. Staying at home with them is better.
Can you imagine the uproar if this happened? Now I know you might be thinking that physical development is so important. What we put in our babies bodies sets them up for life. Which of course it does. And is exactly why it's essential to give a wide range of healthy foods once weaning has started.
But are we really suggesting that emotional health isn't just and in some cases, maybe even more important?
That is a debate for another blog post. But it just goes to show how the spirit of the times can massively affect how we view our parenting decisions and it's important to recognise this. Breast milk is the 'thing' of the past couple of decades, I wonder what the next will be.
I breastfed exclusively for 3 months and combi fed and then at around 4-5 months switched to formula. At first I actually had dreams about poison. I equated formula with poison in my mind. Now I think this is insane.
I was suffering a lot with anxiety. I had plenty of milk but I couldn't breastfeed any longer because to be honest I was falling apart and it was one more thing I just couldn't handle. I already felt excrutiatingly guilty, here I was failing my child at the first hurdle. I can only imagine how I would have felt had I seen massive warning signs on packets of formula. They might as well put 'YOU ARE A BAD MOTHER IF YOU DON'T BREASTFEED' on them and be done with it.
From the minute your child is born all manner of things affect their emotional, mental and physical health. Where you live, your social class, your support, your own emotional capabilities, your parenting style, whether you work... the list is endless. Cumulatively they create the conditions for your child to develop. Then of course there's all the things out of your control that will obviously affect them.
Most parents want to do the best by their children. And I imagine most mothers will try to breastfeed. But I think we really need to get past this obsession with penalising those who don't. There are many many factors that help create a healthy happy child and breastfeeding is but one of them.
If I have another baby I will try to breastfeed because it is the healthier choice for her. We know this. Just as I hope I will have enough money to buy what she needs. Enough support to help raise her with love. Enough patience and calmness to give her all the emotional encouragement she needs to become a kind and compassionate person capable of taking care of herself and the wider world.
But for now enough with the judgement. Enough with the guilt trips. If this goes ahead in this country (which I doubt it will) I won't let it make me feel bad for using formula if I choose to. We spend our lives making decisions about how best to care for our children. Let's not criminalise women for this one.
And just putting this out there - if you're a mother who chose to formula feed despite have no physical or emotional reason not to I don't judge you either. It is one choice of many hundreds over the years that will affect your child, not the decider.
What do you think about all this?