Breastfeeding – It’s time we told the truth…
I don’t very often blog about breastfeeding.
Of all the parenting topics, this is the one that creates the strongest and widest of opinions. I hate the constant battle and debate, and wish that women could be left to make their own educated choices without fear of retribution.
As an established breast feeder, still feeding my 11 month old daughter, I also worry that by writing about my experiences of breastfeeding, I will wrongly be deemed to be part of the Anti Bottle Brigade – something which couldn’t be further from the truth.
I don’t talk about how I used to judge women who fed beyond 1 year, or how I had to eat my own words and admit I was wrong when I accidentally became an extended breastfeeder, finally weaning her at the age of 2 and a half.
I don’t talk about it, because whilst I am proud to have breastfed, for me it’s a very private thing.
So why am I talking about it today?
I read an article today in the Guardian about breastfeeding that struck a chord with me.
For once, this wasn’t just an article solely focusing on how ‘breast is best’ or selling the benefits of breastfeeding to try and increase rates in the UK (a pretty dire 1% breastfeeding past the age of 6 months). It was talking about Keeping It Real.
Across the UK, experts are calling for the ‘multiple barriers to breastfeeding to be broken down’ – talking about introducing breastfeeding education into schools and colleges, so that breastfeeding becomes a normal part of everyday life.
The Guardian however took an interesting view, believing that part of the reason breast feeding rates are so low in the UK is that it is painted to be some kind of calm, idyllic, wondrous experience between you and your baby, and that sharing a more warts and all view may prevent women from feeling like a failure when this is far from the reality.
If women could chose to breastfeed knowing that their journey won’t automatically be easy, and that there will be multiple hurdles along the way, they may be less inclined to stop when they hit the first one.
I have to say I agree.
Whilst there are many genuine reasons why women are unable to breastfeed, have supply issues, tongue tie or babies in ncu, there are also many who don’t get the support they need or simply find it hard. They think that the way it feels in those early days, those relentless early days, are the way it will feel forever, which it won’t.
Whilst breastfeeding has bought me some of the ultimate highs in my parenting journey so far, it would be wrong of me to paint it as a picture of perfection. It has also contributed to many of my parenting lows, and some of most challenging experience of my life.
So keeping it real.
It’s breastfeeding awareness week and I would love for more women to breast feed. But to do so, and to keep it up, they need to go into it with their eyes open.
Breastfeeding is hard work.
It is relentless and it is exhausting.
It is not the picture perfect image of a woman dressed in white, cradling her baby’s head whilst she tenderly wraps her fingers around her mothers. Sure, it can be. It can be some of the most magical bonding moments you will ever have. But the next feed can be completely different. The next feed can be baby flicking your bra strap with one hand, whilst trying to rip your nose off with the other. The next feed could be biting and clawing, fussing and pulling. But then they nod off in your arms, and the joy comes flooding back.
It is at times the best feeling in the world and at others, insights what I can only describe as touching rage, where you want nothing more than to let someone else to take over.
There is constant pressure. Pressure to give enough, pressure to not feed too much, pressure to be the sole source of nutrition for your child. In our case, as we failed to establish a bottle, my partner sits on the sidelines, unable to help with feeds, whilst my daughter fed relentlessly throughout the night. I have been exhausted, I have been snappy, and I have been desperate for a break.
I have lost count of the number of times I have dumped my daughter on to my partner, only to be called in moments later with calls of ‘she needs you’, followed by guilt and love when she finally settles in my arms.
In the 27 months I breastfed Erin I experienced biting, mastitis, blocked ducts and breast refusal. Leaky boobs, spraying boobs and cracked nipple boobs.
Yet when I had Neve, I didn’t question doing it all over again.
When Neve was born, I contracted Sepsis. I couldn’t walk and was offered stronger pain killers if I stopped feeding and I refused. In those early weeks as a Mum of two I was pretty much helpless as a parent – except for breastfeeding. Feeding my baby was the only thing I could do completely unaided and I was darned if they were going to take that away from me.
I knew it would be hard. I knew at times I would wish for a day off. I knew at times I would sit in a room in the middle of the night for the 5th time since bedtime wondering what life would be like if I’d done things a little differently.
But would I still chose to breastfeed? Knowing what I know, would I put myself through it again?
Without a shadow of a doubt.