Breastfeeding is something I have always imagined I would do when I had kids. No questions asked. I would be a breastfeeding mummy sitting in a café with my wabs out to the sounds of a sucking babe. You never assume that for whatever reason, you might have trouble breastfeeding or even how much it bloody hurts to begin with and you will never know until you try. There is a lot of stigma attached to breastfeeding at the moment. If you’re not doing it, you’re failing as a mother AND as a woman. I mean what else is there to do with your boobs other than feed your children right? If you are doing it and you are someone who does it in public well, then you’re a brazen hippy hussy who does nothing but get her boobs out in public all day long. I mean, why do we even bother wearing clothes ladies? If however, like me, you do not exclusively feed either way you can be shunned by those on either sides of the fence. To be honest, you’re kinda damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Yes, breast is best, but FED IS BETTER!
So, I really do struggle to understand why some (notice how I didn’t say all – you over there, get off that high horse!) breast feeding mums can be quite so snooty about it all. Instead of belittling each other for our chosen feeding regime, should we not be empowering one another? You are NOT a failure if you cannot or chose not to breast feed. It’s none of our business which way you feed your baby, as long as they are being fed, and are happy and healthy. This is why I support this event.
Shockingly, the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Now, maybe you’re too scared to get Phil and Grant out in public. People can be quite rude when you’re feeding your baby, especially if they are eating. They think that you need to hear their opinion as you are feeding when in fact, all you really want to do is feed your baby in peace, enjoy a cuppa and maybe catch up on social media because let’s face it, since having a baby you’ve become quite the hermit and social pariah amongst some (!) of your non-mummy friends.
Despite being a combination feeder, I am pro-breastfeeding but that doesn’t mean to say that I am anti-bottle feeding. It just means that if I could exclusively breastfeed, I would. I spent a lot of time reading up on the fantastic benefits to mum and baby whilst I was pregnant. Not only does it have an endless list of nutritional benefits but it is about the bond that is strengthened by being that close to your baby. They are calmed by the closeness to you, they recognise the sounds of your heartbeat or digestive churns from when they were inside the womb. They can fall asleep easier on breast. Then of course there are all the benefits for their tiny immune systems. Babies that are breast fed are less likely to suffer from reflux and wind. The list goes on. There are some down sides to some of these. Both of you can get too hot and sweaty in the hot weather. They can get too used to falling asleep on you and can then find it difficult to fall asleep in their cot on their own. You can’t get much done when baby is attached to you and dad can be left feeling a bit ‘useless’ as he can’t help with the feeding but these are all manageable issues. For me, the pro’s far outweigh the cons.
But not all stories have happy endings or even a straight journey between a to b. My own story started in hospital. Now if you are a mother reading this then you know and understand that no matter what people or doctors tell you, you will find some way to blame yourself. Firstly my daughter and I had an infection from a traumatic birth. We were both in hospital for five days to manage that. We were both on antibiotics drips. When, on the sixth day we finally went home we thought everything was fine and dandy and we were set for our future together as a little family.
Life felt so good. Sore, but good! When you leave the hospital or have your fist midwife visit, they explain to you that it’s natural for baby to lose some of their birth weight as you wait for your milk to come through. They get a great deal from your early milk (colostrum) so there is no need to worry. Our first night as a family went smoothly. Zosia is a well behaved baby. All of the midwives commented on that. She is quiet, not a scream the house down kind of baby and she really only cries when she’s hungry. Sure she gets whingey at other times and I am sure this will all change as soon as those teeth start coming through, but for now she is very good. After our first night alone as Mummy and Daddy, we had noticed that she had slept most of the day and hadn’t spent very long feeding. The midwife came, weighed her and sent us straight to A&E. She had lost 15% of her body weight. The most they allow is 10%.
Immediately I began blaming myself. Was I feeding her enough? Why hadn’t my milk come through yet? What did I do wrong? Every question went through my head as you can imagine. I was in bits. It turned out the she was very dehydrated she had an infection. Whether it was the same one as before or a new one we will never know.
Now, my point here isn’t about blaming the NHS for not picking this up before we left hospital, but it is about the blame I placed at my own feet. I was convinced that I had starved her, that it was all my fault but it wasn’t. It wasn’t anyone’s fault really. The problem was with the stigma around breast feeding exclusively. The unrealistic expectations that we force on ourselves, social media and celebrities that make it look so easy and the excessive promotion of exclusivity are what’s really at the route of the problem. It has this hazy, romanticism to it when they do it. You don’t see the sore, chapped, bleeding nipples, the screaming baby that just won’t latch or the greasy haired, exhausted mummy feeding on demand every two to four hours including through the night. What you do see is airbrushed, pre-selected ‘natural’ images. This puts a lot of pressure on us little people. If we struggle to feed our babies in the most natural way, we are deemed as failures. But, it’s ourselves that we disappoint most. We are our own worst enemies for falling for this false image of motherhood.
When my milk finally came through, I was so happy! Yes my daughter was in NICU but I was feeding her and she was getting better. What bothered me was the need to ‘top up’ with formula because she had lost so much weight. My milk supply still wasn’t enough for her and it never has been. The formula top up has now become the main course to the breast milk starter. Feeding her boob calms her whilst she waits for formula to heat up. I will continue to feed her until the boobs have dried up but we go through phases where I am adamant that we are close to running out yet it will then, out of nowhere pick up again, leaking for no reason. I honestly think this is damaging my mental health. To regularly go through stages of self-doubt and self-loathing is beginning to get to me. My journey has become about the stigma that I had unknowingly attached to bottle fed babies. I didn’t realise it but I was becoming the breast feeding snob. My milk should have been enough for her but it wasn’t. How could formula milk be enough when I wasn’t? Why are there women out there choosing to feed with bottle when they had a good supply? Didn’t they understand that breast milk was better? Over and over it went through my head.
BREAST IS BEST! BREAST IS BEST! BREAST IS BEST!!!
I was really struggling to come to terms with my own inadequacies. Deeming myself as a failure as a mum, as a woman, unable to do what evolution had given to all mammals on this planet. I will still find it difficult as my journey continues but I am looking for the positives in any way I can. If I make it to the next month then I am doing alright. My baby is chunky and bonny. Her development is on track. With formula at least Daddy can feed you if I need the loo or want to cook dinner. If I have appointments Daddy can look after her without worrying about feeding her and I guess at least I don’t have to use those awfully noisy breast pumps any more! Now, as I prepare to retire the boobs, I remind myself fed is better.
FED IS BETTER! FED IS BETTER! FED IS BETTER!!
So, what can we do? We must change the culture around exclusively breast feeding. No mother is failing her child if she cannot breast feed or if she has to ‘top up’ with formula. The way to make a change to the culture is to change the conversation. We need to listen to each other and guide each other, not judge and belittle. You have a choice to make that nobody else can make for you. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel like you have failed if you choose to exclusively bottle feed. We as mums have enough to deal with, with our own insecurities so don’t let anyone else bring you down. What works for the, doesn’t have to work for us. You are doing the best you can and it IS good enough.
I hope that by sharing my story, I can help make a change. It’s not all singing and dancing but it’s what we do.
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