If you follow anything to do with parenting, or indeed just keep an eye on the media, you may have seen that MP Alison Thewliss is proposing that the law on the marketing surrounding formula milk be tightened in order to allow parents to be better informed about their choices. I must admit, when this first hit social media yesterday, my initial thought was “oh no, here we go again!” But for once, this doesn’t seem to be the age old formula vs. breastfeeding debate.
Having read a little into it and watching interviews in the media, it actually seems to be about giving families a more informed choice on the formula front. Angela Thewliss is proposing changes which may include the likes of plain packaging for tubs of formula, not allowing formula companies to make claims that they have ingredients such as added iron or prebiotics, and potentially moving away from follow on and toddler milk.
Whilst for me personally, having the formula tubs packaged in a plain manner wouldn’t have actually stopped my choice to switch from breastfeeding to bottle feeding (which was down to a combination of my mental health suffering and being told that Baby Lighty was potentially dehydrating, as well as not gaining enough weight), it wasn’t until I got to Baby Lighty’s 12 month check that I was even aware, to a certain extent, that there was a difference between the formulas.
If you’ve ever formula fed, or spoken to parents that have formula fed, you’ll probably have heard many of the ‘stories’ that are bandied around: that certain different formulas are owned by the same company but one is marketed as ‘better’ and therefore more expensive than the other, that certain formulas are better for hungry / constipated / colicky babies, that ‘all the midwives recommend this formula over that’. I don’t know if any of these claims are true, but it would seem that the new legislation will help us sort the fiction from the truth.
Of course, it’s got to be done with an element of sensitivity about it. We don’t want this being another way that formula feeding mothers are ostracised. Mothers shouldn’t be made to feel that because the formula now comes in plain packaging, it’s something that should be hidden away like a dirty secret. Breastfeeding is nutritionally best, but for many isn’t the route we go down for whatever reason.
From my experience, a very nervous Mrs Lighty spent a desperate month breastfeeding before switching to formula, only to feel even more like a failure when Baby Lighty’s reflux then worsened. We were then advised to use reflux formula, which came with it the worry of preparing it correctly. For anyone that doesn’t know, reflux formula needs slightly cooler water than normal formula (having cooled in the kettle for 45 minutes as opposed to the normal 30 minutes), the made up bottle needs to be rolled between the palms of your hands for 30 seconds before standing for 7 minutes to thicken and then served. No I’m not winding you up, and it’s been 14 months since we last used it, so that’s how stuck in my mind its preparation is! Because of how precisely it has to be made up, on the advice of my health visitor and after having a discussion with the local NCT weaning teacher, I decided to change Baby Lighty onto follow on milk, as I was concerned that once Baby Lighty started with the childminder on my return to work, his milk preparation would be overlooked in the midst of a busy day. Looking back, I’m sure it would have been fine, but on discussing the issue with my health visitor and her advice that follow on milk contains more iron, we made the decision to switch.
Imagine how terrible I felt then, when at Baby Lighty’s 12 month check, a different health visitor told me that the worst thing I could have done was switch to follow on milk as it contains so much sugar! In her words, I was giving Baby Lighty “the equivalent of a milkshake’s worth of sugar” every night in his bedtime bottle! Operation switch to cows’ milk commenced immediately therefore at that point, as I felt awful, but I simply didn’t know; and if this is the case with regards to the sugar content, then the health visitor that advised me to make the switch to follow on milk because of the increased iron didn’t know either.
I think, therefore, that if handled with sensitivity, this proposed change to the law could avoid these miscommunications. We could set the record straight once and for all. I distinctly remember having a conversation with some Mum friends when our babies were still drinking formula about a certain formula brand putting their prices up, rebranding their packaging and making the tubs smaller, and how if you were a new mum, you would be so swayed by the pretty packaging that you’d automatically opt for this brand, because this brand must be the best based on its claims.
I’m no scientist, and I don’t know all of the ins and outs of what goes into formula, what research they’ve made into breastmilk, and I definitely don’t have a great deal of experience of actually breastfeeding much to my dismay, but I do know that as a Mum that reads a lot and likes to take the advice of others, some clear cut guidance – without judgement – would have been very welcome when we made the switch to formula. I’m interested to see how this newly proposed legislation develops, and I hope that it’ll give more Mums more choice. After all, we all want what’s best for our little ones.
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