The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is Australia’s peak body for medical practitioners and medical students. According to the AMA Code of Ethics, one of their guiding principles is:
Breastfeeding is at the forefront of public health issues affecting the health of mothers and babies in Australia, where 96% of mums initiate breastfeeding but only 15% reach the WHO and NHMRC recommendations of exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months of age. Many mothers who wean their baby report that they would have preferred to continue breastfeeding. Yet the stories of women who have sought help from a doctor, only to be given advice and misinformation which undermined or even harmed their breastfeeding relationship with their baby, are endless. Just last week, I took my own 10 month old to a GP to check for an ear infection and was told that breastfed babies can become dehydrated easily when they’re sick, and that I should express milk overnight and give her a bottle so I could measure how much milk she was taking.* Yeah, thanks but no thanks, doc.
And so it is particularly special that the AMA chose World Breastfeeding Week to announce their Infant Feeding and Parental Health 2017 Position Statement with a media release titled “Support Needed for Non-Breastfeeding Parents.” Now, the actual position statement is not completely terrible. It recognises that certain populations need targeted breastfeeding support, calls for improved access to fresh food in rural and remote communities and perinatal mental health services, and ongoing independent research. It also raises the fact that tongue tie can interfere with breastfeeding (!), recommends introduction of solids at 6 months, and addresses the issue of low maternal confidence in breastfeeding due to perceived lack of milk supply as a reason for premature weaning. Perhaps most importantly, it states that “Doctors, medical students, and other health professionals who provide advice, should be appropriately trained and educated on the benefits of breastfeeding, including education and appropriate support for those mothers who experience difficulties with breastfeeding.” Ain’t nobody disagreeing with that!
Unfortunately, all of these positives have been completely lost due to the AMA’s bizarre decision to promote their position statement with a series of media and social media pieces focusing on the claim that breastfeeding promotion is unbalanced and needs to move over and make room for mothers who can’t or don’t breastfeed. Because why focus on things like education among health professionals, unregulated formula marketing, paid parental leave, or inadequate investment in material support for breastfeeding and maternal health, when the real problem here is that women be unrealistic bitches?
Well thank heavens ladies! The AMA has arrived to save us from ourselves! Here we were caught up in these silly mummy wars, scrapping in the playground about breast being best, we just couldn’t see that we should be appreciating our differences as we give thanks that we didn’t die in childbirth.
Dr Gannon and the AMA see that Australian mums want to breastfeed but aren’t meeting our own goals. They see that women are being discharged from hospital before they are physically and emotionally ready to take their baby home. They see that mums are suffering epidemic rates of perinatal anxiety and depression and that we are struggling under a burden of guilt and exhaustion which is usually exacerbated when we reach for a bottle. And then they add all these things up and you can practically see the little light bulb go off as they cry “Eureka!
We must endeavour to work out the root causes of a mum’s breastfeeding issues and provide as much assistance as possible to fix them We must reassure women about the efficacy and safety of formula feeding!”.
The AMA is pushing a false dichotomy. They are not stuck behind a public health control panel with two big red buttons marked “promote breastfeeding” and “support all mothers”, umm-ing and aah-ing about which one to press. It is completely possible to promote breastfeeding while providing information, support, and compassionate care when families don’t or can’t breastfeed. It just takes a lot more time, effort and money than patting a woman on the head and telling her that she didn’t ‘fail’.
*Breastfed babies who are sick should be offered the breast frequently. Dehydration is quickly apparent if a baby’s urine output decreases or becomes dark and strong smelling.