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Guilt-free bottle-feeding, information and support

22 September 2014

Guilt-Free Bottle-Feeding is journalist Madeleine Morris’s first book and was co-authored with paediatrician Dr Sasha Howard. Sometimes, breastfeeding just isn’t the best option.

Guilt-free bottle-feeding

What motivated you to write Guilt-free bottle-feeding? It can’t have been easy with a new (newish) baby to find the time or the inclination. Does it say something about the pressure and judgment forced on you over your choice to bottle-feed your baby?

“I was actually very informed about the marginal differences in outcomes between breastfed babies and well-cared for bottle-fed babies, and because I had never really expected to be able to breastfeed at all (as I explain in the book, I had had a breast reduction) I think I hadn’t formed all those idealistic images in my head about lying there nursing my baby. In the end I was able to breastfeed a little, which I enjoyed and was pleased about, but I always had to supplement with formula - I just don’t have the right plumbing.  

“What made me angry was seeing all my mum friends who weren’t as informed as I was, and couldn’t get past the idea that ‘good mums breastfeed, bad mums bottle feed’.  

“One friend from my mother’s group literally didn’t sleep for the first five days after she had a very traumatic birth because of the ridiculous round the clock feeding schedule the hospital put her on. There was zero concern for her well-being - the midwives were all solely focussed on her establishing breastfeeding. Unsurprisingly she swiftly developed post-natal depression. There are so many stories like that were a mother’s physical and mental health is sacrificed for this one thing. It infuriated me as a feminist and a mother.”  

Is there any foundation to the argument that bottle-feeding is one of the root causes for obesity in children?

“Bottle-fed children are statistically more likely to be overweight or obese than breastfed children. They also, statistically speaking, tend to come from poorer homes, with less educated mothers. The original studies often didn’t take these factors into account, which meant a misguided belief arose that bottle-feeding causes obesity, rather than realising that both are associated with mothers being poorer and less educated.

“Now we have a slew of well-conducted, large-scale studies which show that once the demographic differences are accounted for, there is only a slight increase in the risk of being overweight or obese (and some studies show no association at all). Part of the reason for this could be down to poor feeding practices, such as mothers encouraging babies to always finish the bottle, and not responding properly to their baby’s hunger cues. Overfeeding in infancy possibly sets a child’s feeding patterns for life, and it is much easier to over-feed a bottle-fed baby than a breastfed one. That’s why the lack of education about feeding sensitively and responsively, as you would if you were breastfeeding, is a scandal. And that’s why we’ve included this information in the book. If parents were better educated about best-practice bottle-feeding a number of health problems found in bottle-fed children, such as tummy troubles and obesity, would likely decrease.”  

What about the hygiene and convenience and if you’re breastfeeding the risks of drinking alcohol or taking drugs?

“Breastmilk is sterile, formula is not. That’s why parents need to be well educated in how to correctly and safely prepare formula, rather than this ‘just do what it says on the tin’ attitude. As for convenience, I think that depends on personal circumstance. Once breastfeeding is established, it is certainly more convenient that bottle-feeding. Bottle-feeding is a pain. (I once did two 24-hour flights with an exclusively bottle-fed three month old. Logistical nightmare!) But if you have troubles, or if you have to go back to work when your baby is three months old and you need to pump three times a day, I think the convenience is a moot point.  

“I think breastfeeding mums are generally very responsible when it comes to drinking or taking prescription drugs. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about what anti-depressants mums can take while breastfeeding. Most anti-depressants are fine, but sometimes doctors advise that mums must choose between breastfeeding and taking anti-depressants, which is in many cases not true.  

“Interestingly, while breastmilk is sterile, it is certainly not ‘pure’ - it reflects the society we live in, and the many substances we put into and onto our body. Did you know, for example, that many American women’s breastmilk contains traces of flame retardant, which is sprayed onto couches? It’s certainly not at a dangerous level, and would never be a reason not to breastfeed, but it’s a reminder that even the most natural of substances is not ‘pure’.”  

Does breastfeeding increase dependence on the mother in particular and is there something to be said for the fact that it can cramp the mother’s style.

“Yes, it obviously increases the dependence on the mother. That said, babies are supposed to be dependent on their primary carer, and I would always advocate any feeding - be it breast or bottle - as a wonderful and important way to bond with your baby. In fact, in the case of bottle-feeding, it is important that the primary carer (be that mum or dad or both) really tries to do all the feeding in the baby’s first six months. This helps to establish trust and a close bond, which is an important foundation for your child’s future well-being.  

“In the first few months babies feed round the clock, whether you are breast or bottle-feeding – there’s no way to get around it. Some women can feel trapped by this dependence, and this is a case when a bottle of expressed milk or formula given by dad or grandma can be a lifesaver. In the old days it used to be called a ‘relief bottle’ and the name is apt. Just having an hour to yourself to go to the gym or have a sleep can be the difference between a happy mum and a stressed out one.  

“The most important thing is to remember that you matter in the feeding relationship too, and you know yourself and your baby better than anyone, so trust your instincts. What a baby needs much more than breast milk or formula is a present, loving, content mother so keep looking after yourself while you’re looking after your little one, and you’re giving not only yourself a head start to happy motherhood, but your baby a head start too.”

Madeleine Morris is a reporter for the ABC’s flagship current affairs program, 7.30. She was formerly a reporter and presenter for the BBC in London, and has written for the Guardian, the Times and the Sydney Morning Herald and AgeGuilt-Free Bottle-Feeding is her first book and was co-authored with paediatrician Dr Sasha Howard. She is mother to one daughter (so far) and lives in Melbourne with her family.

Guilt-Free Bottle-Feeding is published by Finch, click here to purchase



  • Peggy Doyle

    Peggy Doyle 5 years ago

    I think breastfeeding is very important for the babies at the right age so that babies can get the real milk from their mothers as they get vitamins and proteins from the mother's milk. Sometimes, some of the mothers stopped breastfeeding which can have harmful effects on the growth of the child, this has to be changed. I have been searching for the comfortable breastfeeding tops in ,which makes easy while nursing.