Emergency ones are not! In other words, choosing not to breastfeed is ok. Being forced to stop is not!
It’s National Breast-Feeding week!! Let’s talk food….or should I say food provision…..or should I say shame ridden, guilt provoking, nurturing, painful, stressful, bonding, life sustaining breastfeeding!
It can be all of these things and more, it is truly a personal experience and can be so different for each individual, provoking so many conflicting and often overwhelming emotions. It’s one of the ways we can feed our babies and its benefits are promoted and preached far and wide. At a life changing, stale milk perfumed time, faced with an overwhelming amount of information, advice, advertisements, exhausted by all the physiological changes, sleep deprived and possibly still recovering from and reliving birth trauma, welcoming a new baby can seem like a crazy rollercoaster!
So what’s the problem? Why does the subject of breastfeeding evoke so much tension, frustration, anger, disappointment, passion, loneliness, abandonment, insecurity and guilt? Why are so many women quick to defend themselves and not simply unapologetically declare their choice?! Who are they fighting against? Why are so many made to feel selfish and inadequate, why do we still not understand the true mechanics behind breast feeding? And why are we so obsessed with ‘normal’ we ignore the possibility that we each have a new normal and babies don’t just automatically fit predefined routines.
I watched a documentary on Dispatches about Breastfeeding presented by Kate Quilton. It was very informative about the benefits of breastfeeding, giving a balanced and non emotive view of the nutrients provided by both breastfeeding and formula feeding and essentially highlighting some of the reasons for the UKs decline in breastfeeding. It is now among one of the 10 countries in the world with the lowest breastfeeding rates, according to UNICEF.
There are libraries of information out there preaching about the various benefits and many women proudly breastfeed their babies for as long as they can. And yet so many feel let down by a system that promotes breastfeeding but doesn’t provide sufficient support to enable women to be successful at it. Aside from medical reasons that prevent a woman from being able to breastfeed and those that choose formula as a preference, a woman who chooses to breastfeed needs support. Support from professionals, support from loved ones and support from the community. Professionals who declare that breast is best should make it their duty to equip women with the tools, support and education women need.
Loved ones need to provide moral support, love, patience and non judgmental encouragement. The community as a whole needs to change its perception on breastfeeding and stop insisting mothers should breastfeed in toilets and other unsavoury corners! Would you eat your sushi in the toilet?! When I had my son, I had read a little about breastfeeding in one of the hundreds of prenatal leaflets given to me during pregnancy. I had seen women breastfeed but hadn’t given the reality a second thought. I attended an NCT class which bought me the best mummy friends I could ask for and during which I gained about 95% of my life’s baby knowledge crammed into a few days of eye watering, informative details. We were even introduced to a lactation specialist and given a breastfeeding hotline to call if we had any questions! Brilliant! I swiftly removed Nandos from my speed dial list and replaced it with my new breast friend! Aptly I called her the Milk Nurse.
My son was a natural, no latching issues thankfully, no tongue tie to contend with and literally shuffled around until he found my breast as soon as he came out of the womb! Hurray, that was quick! And scarily easy….no no no…..how wrong I was….. I spent days and nights in pain as he fed. Reciting the words of my Milk Nurse in my head — ‘if it hurts you’re doing something wrong’ I changed position, changed breast, got him to re-latch and no joy. It still hurt like someone was piercing my nipple with a hot iron. I persevered and finally got an appointment to see a midwife who showed me that he was incorrectly latched on to my breast. Oh….ok….silly me(!) Not enough areola in his gob! But by now my nipples were already raw with pain, and newborns have a relentless feeding pattern, giving your body no time to heal! So I slapped on the nipple cream like my life depended on it and just hoped it would be ok. It got easier, and my high pain threshold combined with blind determination got me through….just. But memories of those isolating moments bring tears to my eyes and I can completely empathise with any woman who says ‘enough is enough’.
In those small hours of the morning when you’re trying to feed a hungry baby, exhausted and in pain with no one to help, advise or encourage you a decision has to be made. And choosing your sanity isn’t selfish or weak, or pathetic, or whimsical, it’s essential to being a healthy, good mother. There isn’t enough support to ensure that women are not faced with the pressure of choosing to ‘give up’. I suspect more women would feel less bitter about the whole breastfeeding conversation if their decision was truly a choice, rather than feeling defeated.
And for those who breastfeed with ease, or who were able to establish a pattern and push through the initial discomfort, the hurdles don’t stop there. Many women are faced with a society that all too often frowns upon breastfeeding in public, judging them for publicly displaying their assets, as if their primary goal is to become the latest flasher on Clapham Common or compete with Kim Kardashian. Many of those who continue on the breast feeding path, are put off by public judgment, passive aggressive demands to ‘cover up’, disapproving eyes, insensitive requests to nurse in the toilet or sit where you can’t be seen, and quit before they are ready to. All because Mr Jones’ suppressed sexual frustrations and prudish background are confusing him with the nurture of a mother. Nothing wrong with abit of pent up frustration Mr Jones and no one scorns a private prude, but keep that archaic nonsense to yourself, and let a mama feed her baby in peace.
Ultimately there is no question that fed is best! I don’t think anyone could really argue with that. The issue in my mind is that we as women want to give our children the best start in life and if health professionals say that this happens to be breast milk, most do everything within their power to make this happen. The problem is, it’s seldom that straightforward. Health concerns, low milk supply, early return to work and a barrage of other obstacles including lack of support and low confidence often mean breastfeeding just doesn’t happen for a lot of women. It’s this I wanted to really discuss, why are we so emotionally affected by someone telling us that breast is best and if for whatever reason we are unable or choose not to follow this route, we feel guilty, hostile towards those that even suggest that we are inadequate parents and vulnerable about our ability to provide for our child? Why do we care that breast is best? It’s a fact, but formula still provides a baby with nutrients that it needs for healthy development, so let’s change the narrative, stop shaming women who can’t or won’t and start supporting all mothers to grow healthy, happy babies.
Women give themselves such a hard time about everything, and dissect every aspect of parenthood comparing notes with other parents, following advice from forums, friends and foes. Any increase in breast feeding has to be community inspired, community driven and community led. It needs to remove the negative badge it’s adorned for too long and remodel itself in the current environment it’s supposed to serve.
We all need to support each other more, lean into the sisterhood, however you feed your beautiful being we’re all on the same side of knackered. Shed the guilt. Empower yourself with the facts about breastfeeding. Scream for help until you’re heard without delay. Be confident in whatever feeding choice you make. And do what gives you peace and keeps you and your baby well and nourished. Fed is truly best, and all women need support no matter how they choose to feed their baby. What do you think?