Can philosophy end the mommy wars ?

How do you feed your baby? It might sound like a simple question, but emotions run high around infant- feeding decisions: formula feeders are told that they are ‘selfish’ while breastfeeding mothers are labelled ‘exhibitionists’ for breastfeeding in public. A lot of the guilt, shame and blame surrounding how we choose to feed our babies, springs from philosophical mistakes in the way we think and talk about women’s bodies and behaviour —particularly when they become mothers.

Fixing these mistakes can help us to promote and support breastfeeding, while combating guilt and shame surrounding infant feeding.

The blame game

Many new mothers feel guilt and shame about how they feed their babies. Formula feeding is associated with guilt and blame, while women breastfeeding in public feel discomfort, humiliation and fear. Sociologist Elizabeth Murphy describes infant feeding decisions as ‘an accountable matter’; mothers feel they have to justify their decisions to avoid being seen as bad mothers. And because new mothers are so vulnerable, this can have devastating effects.

At the same time, how babies are fed is a major public health issue. A report by UNICEF UK estimates that improving breastfeeding rates could save the National Health Service (NHS) £31 million for each annual group of first-time mothers, by protecting mothers and babies from serious illnesses.

This means, we face a huge challenge: we need to promote and support breastfeeding without shaming formula feeders. I think philosophy can help by identifying mistakes in the way we think and talk about a mother’s body and behaviour.

Night feed

At first, your baby can’t tell day from night, so whether it’s two o’clock in the afternoon or two o’clock in the oh-so-early hours of the morning, he just knows that he’s hungry, and you know that you need to feed him. Sitting up in the dead of night with your little one as he feeds makes for some magical bonding moments, but it can also be very demanding. So how do you make the most of those lovely parts? We’ve got some tricks up our sleeve to make night-time nursing go smoothly, whether it’s by breast, bottle or a combination of the two.

Put him to bed awake

How you put your baby to bed at bedtime will have a significant effect on how easily he falls back to sleep after a night feed. The important thing is not to feed him to sleep and then pop him into his cot asleep, but to give him his evening feed before, or as part of, his bedtime routine, so you lay him down when he’s drowsy but still awake.

That way, he learns to fall asleep without any assistance from you. And when it’s time to go back to bed after a feed at three o’clock in the morning, that’s a skill that really helps! “It’s never too soon to start a bedtime routine,” says sleep- and-feeding expert Lyndsey Hookway. “You may not see immediate results, but if you provide the same cues in the same order before each and every sleep, over time your baby will be able to predict what will happen next.” And while you might worry that separating milk from sleep means that you’ll be feeding your baby 10 minutes earlier, so he might feel hungry 10 minutes earlier too, you’ll probably find that he drinks a little more because he’s more awake.

Get comfy

Prepare your space for a comfortable night’s feeding before you go to bed. As a breastfeeding mum, you may prefer to lie in bed: “It’s fine to breastfeed lying down, in a safe position,” says Lyndsey. “But if you’re bottle-feeding, you’ll need to sit up.” Prop yourself up with plenty of pillows, or position a supportive chair close by. And keep cushions and a warm blanket or dressing gown to hand. “Keep a little caddy of night-feeding essentials close by,” says Lyndsey, “so you’ve got a muslin, bottle of water and lip salve for yourself and a spare babygro in case of accidents.” And think what else would help you create an area that makes you feel nurtured and looked after.