The Trouble With Breastfeeding

Let me start by saying something very important, just incase some people decide not to read the whole post.

I support Mothers and their feeding choices whatever they may be.  I believe the UK has low breastfeeding numbers because women aren’t always given the support and information that they need to breastfeed – therefore for these women, formula feeding isn’t their choice but their only option.

In addition there is a tendency on UK television to try and spark debate where it needn’t be, regardless of the impact it has.  Therefore we often see reports that suggest breastfeeding is looked down upon.  I’m sure this also influences some people’s choices and I wish this wasn’t the case.

In any case fed is best as the saying goes – but I’d hope that was a given!  Like loved is best, warm is best?

for some women, formula feeding isn’t their choice but their only option.

After Beth was born I was taken to a bed on an empty bay on the Maternity Ward at Ipswich Hospital.  In the early hours I was joined by another teenage Mum and I wondered if she was sh**ting herself as much as me!  I was 18 and it was my first night alone with a teeny, tiny baby.  I barely slept – preferring to stare at Beth with a mixture of absolute adoration and sheer panic.  Occasionally when she stirred, I’d have a quiet, solitary go at breastfeeding.   I/we couldn’t seem to get the hang of it.

I had actually planned to bottle feed using expressed breast milk.  I’m not 100% sure why?  I knew I wanted Beth to have breast milk (you can’t exactly escape the breast is best message can you!) but I just wasn’t sure that I wanted to feed her from my breast.  Looking back, I think I was frightened of being judged – something that had happened alot during my teen pregnancy.  I suppose I wanted to avoid the negative attention that I believed breast feeding would attract.  I hadn’t fully come to terms with being pregnant before all of a sudden, I was a Mum and it was time to get on with it!

Anyway….I tried ALL NIGHT!

The next morning a rather frosty midwife (there were of course, some lovely ones too!) marched over to me and said that if I didn’t feed her now, she would bring a bottle and feed Beth herself.  She said something along the lines of “this isn’t a game you know!”  I just sat there in shock.  I’d been trying so hard and I was so desperate to do a good job.  I didn’t know what to say.  She grabbed my breast and the back of Beth’s head and manhandled us into a latched on position.  I f**king hated that midwife!

Perhaps if women were given a more honest idea of what to expect, they wouldn’t see what are perfectly normal obstacles as signs of failure or reasons to stop?  

After breakfast when the visitors started to arrive, Beth needed to be fed again. From across the bay, the other new Mum’s boyfriend looked at me as I tentatively helped my baby to latch on.

He sniggered “Are you going to try breastfeeding Nic?”

“No” she said “I’m not dirty”

It was my worst fear realised, but something had changed in me.  I did not care.  I did not care at all for the opinions of people who saw breastfeeding as ‘dirty’.   To me it was beautiful and I was so taken with it that I didn’t care for the opinions of anyone else, full stop.   Over the next year I would feed my baby whenever and wherever she needed to be fed.

And let me tell you something really important – in the 13 months that I breastfed my eldest daughter, that ignorant comment in the Maternity Ward was the only one I received.  For the most part, people didn’t even acknowledge that I was feeding and when they did it was only to offer support.

I would feed my baby whenever and wherever she needed to be fed.

After such a great experience, I’m sure it goes without saying that I had my heart set on feeding Dorothy.  I’m very lucky that once again, I was able to breastfeed my second child with relatively little trouble.

But (and it’s a big but), things aren’t quite as I remember. It turns out that I may have blocked out…I mean ‘forgotten’ some of the tough parts and now that I’m a married, 30 something with a much more complex life, things just aren’t as simple.

When it works breastfeeding is a beautiful and natural thing but it has it’s problems and I wonder whether if we were a little more open about them, Mothers would be better prepared.    Perhaps if women were given a more honest idea of what to expect, they wouldn’t see what are perfectly normal obstacles as signs of failure or reasons to stop?  Just a thought.

So here’s what isn’t so great about breastfeeding, from a massive breastfeeding fan!

There’s alot of doubt: Formula feeding mums are able to tell their midwife/health visitor exactly how much their baby is feeding and when.  They can measure this against their child’s weight gain, nappies etc.  Breastfeeding Mums tend to worry quite alot about their supply.  The only way to know if your baby is getting enough milk is whether or not they’re thriving.

*So long as you find a nice baby clinic or breastfeeding peer support group – you’ll be fine.  They’ll weigh your baby regularly and give you a great big reassuring hug when you need it*

It’s not easy: Once you’ve got the hang of it, breastfeeding is easy.  I know people that have done it while walking around Sainsbury’s and nobody has even known!   But in the early days it’s a bit of a palaver.  You need approximately 465248 pillows just to be comfortable and impromptu milk facials are frequent as baby latches on and off and your boobs project a spray of milk all over everything.

*Once you’re past this point – which can take three weeks or more – you do start to reap the benefits.  You don’t need to sterilise bottles or get up in the night to measure out milk.  You can feed your baby without even getting out of bed and pop out for the day taking only a couple of nappies and your purse – everything else baby needs is in your bra!*

It hurts:  Your nipples take a little while to toughen up but once they do, they shouldn’t hurt if baby is latched on well.  We all get told this.  But nobody tells you that your actual boobs sometimes hurt!  Everyone has sore breasts around the 3rd day when their milk comes in, regardless of feeding method.  My breasts were so swollen that I actually Googled whether the middle bit could pop out, leaving me with one big giganta-boob!    Google said no.  Breastfeeding mums will feel a similar pain in their breasts (though nowhere near as bad….seriously….nothing hurts as bad as 3 day old baby boobs!!) when a feed is overdue.

*This gets better in time too and you’ll even end up using the feeling to gauge how well baby is feeding, supply and demand issues etc.  Your first night out without baby is interesting – wear something stretchy for when your bust goes up several cup-sizes throughout the night!*

Nursing bras: They are ugly, so bloomin’ ugly!  Like a child’s crop top, combined with a girdle and all in the style of an old lady’s bra.  They usually come in a two pack.  One black or white and one the colour of hangover skin.

*You won’t need to wear these forever.  When you start to introduce solids and baby is feeding less, you can pretty much go back to normal bras*

It’s tiring: You don’t get much time off as a breastfeeding Mum.  When I was feeding Beth, my partner and most of my friends were away at University and so until I went back to work, I didn’t have many occasions to need/want to leave her.  We lived alone and so once clean and tidy, my home stayed that way and I suppose I didn’t really have any hobbies other than homemaking.  I only had Beth and didn’t really have anything else that I needed to do other than play with and feed her.  Those days are gone.

Now I’m a mother of two, I have lots of friends and hobbies, a Husband that I’d really like to spend some time with, a teenage daughter who deserves as much attention as her sibling, a career that I care about and a house that seems to have a life of it’s own and a desire to drive me to an early grave.  My formula feeding friends are able to accept help with childcare so that they can enjoy date nights, quality time with other children, get the house tidy or even…..sleep!!

*I honestly think this is the most inconvenient aspect of breastfeeding and from what I’ve heard, it’s the reason why many people end their breastfeeding journey.  Some parents manage to combi-feed and that’s fantastic but for example Dottie only just accepted a bottle from Phill when she was 5 months old!  That’s a long time.  For me it was worth it and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, but perhaps that’s because I know how much I’ll miss it when it’s all over.  I suppose you just have to get your head round it and know that you won’t be the milk machine forever.  In the grand scheme of things 5 months isn’t really that long*

It’s lonely: Right here’s where it gets serious – it is quite lonely to be the only one who can feed your baby.  It’s 3am and it’s you; it’s tea time and it’s you; they’re tired and it’s you.   On good days, this is wonderful – you feel special and so blessed.  But on bad days, it can be a little distancing.  You’re ill and it’s you; Daddy wants to bond with baby and it’s you – it’s tough and it can be lonely for your partner too.

*The best solution for this is talking.  Talking to your partner and certainly in the early days, having them wake up and spend some time with you during night feeds can be a real tonic.  In the early days, Phill would happily get up in the wee small hours and make me a drink and a snack if I need it.  It worked wonders to dispel any feelings of being on my own.  We’d try to find other special activities that only Daddy could do with Dottie, so that they’d create a special bond too and Phill tells me he’s proud of me and grateful for what I’ve done for our baby.  Believe me – that kind of support makes all the difference*

Boobs:  You have to get your boobs out.  If you’re in the UK and were born before the Millenium, the first pair of breasts you saw probably looked a bit like this…

and you probably did this on your calculator…

…and the thought of getting your girls out in public probably makes you feel a bit…

Chances are, there are people amongst your family and friends and in your local town who feel the same way and you know it!  You know that if you feed your baby in a room full of people, it’s likely that at least one person is thinking OMG boobs – don’t look at her boobs – has she really got her boobs out …. boobs …. boobs … BOOOBS!!!!

Unfortunately public breastfeeding is much less common than public formula feeding, so much so that you may well be the first breastfeeding mother that a person has seen.  But attention isn’t always negative, oftentimes it’s curious but usually it’s either awkward, nonexistent or directed at your cute baby and not your nipples!

People look at babies – it’s just the way it is.  The first few times you feed in public, you’re likely to feel a bit uncomfortable and to be honest, your support people probably will too.  It takes a bit of time to get used to it.

We went out for dinner when Dottie was a couple of weeks old and I was still in the awkward stage (see ‘It’s not easy’).  The time came when I just had to feed her and I tried so hard to do it discreetly.  I managed to get her latched on without anyone seeing anything.  Then for no fathomable reason, Beth started singing.  Singing!  Quite loudly aswell.  It was like she just had a moment where the panic and awkwardness was just too much and she had to break the tension.  She chose ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ as her weapon of choice.  Of course the whole restaurant looked over, just as Dottie unlatched and I sprayed milk all over my top.

*The fact is, this gets better.  Now Beth is my unofficial feeding supporter when we’re out.  She knows which seats are best for nursing and passes me drinks and goodies so I don’t have to reach.  She also scans the room for disapproval! She’s never found it yet.  Nobody has ever said a negative thing to me and my goodness would they be in trouble from her if they did!*

Smug Breast Feeding Image:  There are some breastfeeding mums who do bash formula feeding mums.  Unfortunately these Mums are remembered and along with the pressure that women feel from some health professionals, they create an image of a breastfeeding mum that is smug and judgemental.  I can assure you that the vast majority of breastfeeders really don’t care about how anyone else feeds their baby – I certainly don’t.  Despite this, it seems that if you are openly proud of your breastfeeding journey, you are easily labelled ‘the breastfeeding brigade’, ‘breastapo’, ‘nipple nazis’.   Some of my formula feeding friends say they feel guilty when they see a breastfeeding Mum – well I feel guilty for making anyone feel guilty.  It’s really crappy knowing that something you’re proud of, makes someone else feel bad.

Things can get better.  If we start supporting Mothers and their choices, by giving them all the information rather than just a blanket statement of ‘breast is best’.  It is, if you’re happy with it – but happy mums are best and nobody should feel forced or judged.

There are positives ?

You don’t have to do the following:

sterilise bottles
make up bottles before leaving the house
get out of bed to feed a baby
carry milk around
buy milk
worry about bottle temperature
worry about food intolerances
much winding or clean up much sick

I knew that my baby had designer milk, made just for her.  If she was hungry, thirsty, poorly- my milk actually changed to suit her.
I have a lesser chance of developing breast cancer
Dottie and I got a regular hit of oxytocin which helps me to combat post natal depression and strengthens our bond
I could comfort pretty much any issue by breastfeeding.  Seriously.  You’re frightened -boob.  You’re poorly – boob.  Injections – boob.  Can’t sleep – boob.  You don’t know what you want – boob.

I couldn’t overfeed my baby, so I never had to worry if she was hungry or whether she was due a bottle.

Breastfeeding my two girls has been one of the best decisions of my life.  I would love to see it considered less of a big deal and I would love to see more people doing it.  However I know very well that not everyone has as smooth a  breastfeeding journey as I have.

Should you decide to stop or even decide not to start breastfeeding – don’t feel guilty about it – not for one moment.   It really is nobody else’s business.   Motherhood has enough guilt attached without you laying any more on yourself!  Happiness is best and only you can make the decision as to how you want to feed your baby….buuuut…..if you are able then my advice would be to give it a go.  Like me you could discover that it works really well and turns out to be a wonderful experience for you and your baby.

I hope this helps at least one person and that I can remember all of these positives when I’m up in the wee small hours feeding baby number three next year!

Love Rachel ❤️

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