Breast is best, but mothers should be free to choose

I am a nursing mother of a seven-month-old boy, who is my second child ("Increase breastfeeding rates to fight diabetes" by Dr Mythili Pandi; April 16).

I tried, and did not manage, to breastfeed my first child, a bright, active and inquisitive pre-schooler now aged four.

For both deliveries, I chose a private hospital with a maternity ward, simply because my obstetrician delivers there. Dr Pandi is right - more assistance could be rendered in private hospitals to mothers wishing to breastfeed.

I believe strongly in the health benefits of breast milk and agree that the private hospital I delivered in should have helped me more in both instances to set a firm foundation for breastfeeding.

However, the singular focus on blaming Singapore's relaxed rules on formula-milk advertising is overly simplistic.

True, breast milk cannot be substituted completely with formula milk.

But mothers like me who tried and failed to breastfeed for varying reasons should not be made to feel like complete failures and be made to feel guilty for accessing alternative milk sources, such as formula milk.

In fact, I felt greater pressure to breastfeed by advocates than from the supposed marketing efforts by formula milk companies.

This pressure from breastfeeding advocates, while noble in motive, could be mistaken for borderline bullying.

I know of a woman who delivered around the same time as I did, who subsequently fell into clinical depression because she was chastised by well-meaning breast milk advocates for thinking of giving formula milk to her baby.

Surely, we, mothers, who carried a baby for 40 weeks and birthed a human being, are capable of making choices which centre on our children's well-being.

Don't mistake me for being in the formula camp - I belong to the camp firmly in favour of making sure a baby thrives - whichever way possible.

I am grateful to all breastfeeding mothers and everyone who helps mothers achieve this awesome milestone - there is no better start in life than for a child to be given this gift of liquid gold.

And while I failed so miserably the first time, I persevered the second time around, even with little help.

I do not take this for granted nor discriminate against mothers who do not nurse.

There are mothers who cannot do so and others who make a choice otherwise. We should not make them feel worse than they do and demonise them and, along with them, formula milk companies.

Even if breast milk could reverse the rising Type 2 diabetes incidence rate, our processed food diets and sedentary lifestyles, too, need transformation.

It is not one or the other, but everything in moderation. That includes advocacy for breastfeeding.

In conclusion, let's be fair about choices.

Sure, formula milk companies have deeper marketing budgets they can deploy to reach out to more mothers.

But I have not known a mother who intentionally set out to give formula milk without even considering breastfeeding.

Think about how working mothers juggle pumping at work and maintaining their supply while trying to minimise disruptions to their co-workers, meeting schedules and work performance expectations.

Think about where these mothers pump at work - toilet cubicles?

These practicalities are what makes a mother stop earlier than her originally intended timeframe to continue breastfeeding, not advertising.

Gwendolene Yeo Teck Geok (Ms)