In Yorkshire a few months ago, a newborn baby was taken into care after his father said he preferred bottle-feeding to breastfeeding. Medical staff at a hospital in Kirklees raised concerns after overhearing the father express ‘unorthodox views about the need for sterilisation of bottles and the benefits of formula milk’. Kirklees Council went to court and, without notifying the family, procured an order to take the child into emergency care before he was discharged from hospital.
The child’s mother has a history of minor mental-health concerns and the father has reportedly been ‘aggressive to others’. But the special care baby unit had not expressed any concerns about the baby’s welfare, and the family did not have any council ‘special measures’ in place. This mother and father appear to have had their baby boy taken off them, for two months, because of their attitude to breastfeeding. It is truly shocking.
The family has now been offered £11,250 in compensation. But that cannot make up for the loss of the first two months of their child’s life. Not only did Kirklees Council hide the case from the parents; it is also accused of misleading the judge. When the family challenged the initial ruling, Justice Cobb at the High Court returned the child to his parents, stating: ‘The separation of a baby from his parents represents a very serious interference with family life.’
This is an extreme case. But it is also the logical and ugly conclusion to the idea that the state knows better than parents. The moral crusade around breastfeeding and formula milk in particular leads to a situation where families are looked upon suspiciously if they do not adhere to the apparently correct wisdom of the state.
Formula milk is now regularly demonised, as are the mothers who opt for it over breastfeeding. According to UK law, based on the principles and aims of the 1981 World Health Organisation’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, formula milk must be sold at an inflated price and must not be advertised as a substitute for breastmilk, and companies cannot use children in their adverts as a means of ‘idealis[ing] the product’. In other words, the state uses restrictions on public imagery and discussion of formula milk as part of a heavy-handed attempt to stop mothers from using it.