A FEW days ago I posted on Facebook how I was bored of the whole breastfeeding thing – and as a result people went a little bit nuts, either agreeing wholeheartedly, slagging me off personally, or getting into pretty heated arguments with each other. Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing?
Many seemed to miss my point entirely, many seemed to just jump on the bandwagon of ‘debating’ the whole breast v bottle issue, without actually realising this wasn’t what the post was about in any way shape or form. Maybe I should have written that I was bored of the whole ‘feeding’ thing. It seems to me people can’t just let mums feed their babies how they want (or have to) and keep quiet about it. That’s what I’m bored of.
Some mums left funny jokes to lighten up the mood (definitely needed), some posted selfies of them breastfeeding (not really sure why, but thanks anyway), and others helpfully shared my post on a local private breastfeeding support group for the ‘debate’ to rumble on – although I can’t help thinking this must have been rather one sided seeing as, well, everyone was a BF mum. But it gave people another chance to slag me off, especially when they knew I couldn’t respond, so it achieved one thing, I suppose. Being called a ‘knob’ has literally been the highlight of my blogging career so far!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bothered about people attacking me personally. I’m a blogger and was fully aware a post referring to BF was likely to provoke a reaction, and was totally expecting a response. (The post reached over 2,450 readers, people were always going to have something to say) I’m also a journalist and with 15 years experience, I’m used to reaction and am pretty hard-nosed. But, now here’s the shocker, I’m also a person and a mum of three young children trying to do my best.
So after being accused of judging people, not supporting other mums, and being a ‘breastfeeding hater’, I thought I’d ride the wave, and reiterate that my whole point was not about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding and whether people should or shouldn’t do it (an age-old, really quite dull debate) but about how some people feel the need to go on and on about it like it’s the be all and end all of parenting. Clearly it’s not.
This has to be one of the most contentious issues connected to motherhood, and I’m by no means professing to be an expert – as you’ll see if you read on, I’m probably the least expert person ever, and maybe that’s the problem. But blogging is all about opinions and I just happen to have a platform in which I can share things.
Obviously I’m not generalising about every single breastfeeding mum out there, before everyone gets the knives out again, and I’ve heard and agree with the whole analogy of BF being like running a marathon and it’s an achievement if you do it successfully, but there is a very small minority who (in my opinion which I’m completely entitled to) seem to want to boast about it a bit too much. What is that all about??
As a few people pointed out on Facebook, we’re all mums trying to do our best for our children. Why do some people feel the need to act like their way of doing it is better than other people’s? This of course goes for all aspects of parenting whether it’s feeding, sleeping, or even screen time. (I’m thinking of my three year old rather than my babies with the latter, before someone starts judging again).
One Facebook commenter said that anytime there is a mention of breastfeeding there is always a backlash by the formula feeding mothers becoming defensive and unsupportive. But I would say this definitely works both ways. A large majority of the comments on the thread were from breastfeeding mothers being seemingly defensive and frankly quite aggressive, many telling everyone how long they breastfed their children and their own story. No bottle-feeding parents did that. But why should there be a backlash in either direction?
Now don’t get me wrong (although some will anyway), I have lots of breastfeeding friends, and just as many bottle feeding friends. One of my bestest friends is feeding her three year old and one year old at the same time, and I love her to bits. My friends and I all bring our children up differently, but it doesn’t define us, nobody is judging each other – we don’t even talk about it which suits us all just fine. Because we’re all just getting on with it.
So I thought I’d share my own personal experience, and that of a few other mums who joined the Facebook thread – both breastfeeding and formula feeding. Clearly this could be the most stupid thing I’ve ever done and open myself up to even more attack, but the whole point is that nobody is right. Nobody is wrong. And those that preach about a certain way of doing things are plain idiots if you ask me.
I massively struggled with breastfeeding when Toddler was born. He wouldn’t latch, I had a different midwife and support worker at my house for 10 consecutive days trying to help me, and as much as I was very grateful for their efforts, the conflicting advice coupled with hormones and sleep deprivation became too much. I just couldn’t get my head round being told so much contradictory information. I was a new mum with no clue, and all I wanted was someone to help me.
I was desperate to breastfeed because that’s what I’d told myself I ‘should’ do. That’s what a ‘good’ mum would do. Everyone I knew was breastfeeding, and this was clearly the best thing I could possibly do for my newborn baby.
On day three when my baby was losing too much weight and heading back into hospital unless something changed urgently, I was put on that hideous routine many will have experienced of feeding/expressing/topping up around the clock, and spent the next week crying over why I couldn’t make it work. I was failing and I didn’t like it. Breastfeeding was supposed to be a natural thing, so why couldn’t I do it? One midwife suggested the roof of my baby’s mouth was particularly high and that nipple shields might work to provoke the latch action. This was a lightbulb moment in that horrible first fortnight, and eventually he was feeding – albeit painfully slowly because of all the extra effort needed to get milk through the shields. However it was more than he was getting before, and I thought it was a solution.
But then other midwives, health visitors and peer support workers told me I shouldn’t be using them. What was I to believe? Another thing to beat myself up about until a midwife friend joked that I was hardly going to be arrested for using nipple shields longer than recommended!
So for the next month or so they were my new best friends – despite them being a MASSIVE pain in the arse, especially in public. The number of times I dropped the f*cking things on Saltram cafe’s floor and have to start all over again was ridiculous. But I persevered because you know, that’s what ‘good’ mums would do. There are also no pictures of me using them (in fact there are only 3 BF pictures in total anyway) as I was ashamed I wasn’t doing it all perfectly.
Never mind the fact he would take an hour to have just one small feed as he was having to suck twice as hard through them, then would tire himself out and fall asleep, so I’d have to go through the whole hour again 30 minutes later. I’d often try without and he wouldn’t get a drop, so the shields stayed.
And never mind that it was making me miserable, and my husband miserable because I was so upset and stressed at not being able to do what is supposed to come ‘naturally’. Friends and family suggested I stopped, but I was having none of it. Breast is best and all that shit, was what I believed, despite the fact I wasn’t enjoying new motherhood one little bit because of it.
I continued in defiance until our six week GP check when reality hit. He wasn’t putting on weight, and I was told in no uncertain terms I needed to do something about it. The doctor told me I had to seriously think about stopping BF as he wasn’t thriving.
I was GUTTED. Not because I was about to stop BF, but because I’d been an absolute dick for continuing with something that clearly wasn’t working. I’d put my baby in danger because I was determined to breastfeed. Breast is best when it works, but in my case it wasn’t best, it wasn’t working – it was clearly damaging. All my ideals of what a new mother did led back to how they were fed. And it took a stern word from a doctor, to make me wake up and smell the coffee.
She told me there was no shame in stopping, and that I had to do what was right for him. It was actually a relief to be told by a medical professional that it was okay to stop, that it didn’t mean I wasn’t a ‘good’ mum, and that I wasn’t failing my baby. So at two months I stopped. I wished desperately that it had worked, that all those tips and tricks I’d been given to help by countless advisors had been successful. Looking back I was pretty low about the whole thing – not that I let anyone see that, of course. I totally get how breastfeeding and the problems people encounter with it can lead to postnatal depression.
Two years later, I was pregnant with twins. I vowed my entire pregnancy I wouldn’t put myself or my babies through that again. I would try, and if it worked, great, if it didn’t, I’d move them onto formula instantly and not beat myself up. Not really sure how I thought I was going to successfully breastfeed twins at the same time as look after a toddler with a husband who works away a lot, but I was open minded, at the same time as being realistic.
Hormones clearly do silly things to you though, as despite everything I’d told myself not to do, there I was in hospital, dead legs still from the epidural, with two lovely healthcare assistants trying to get the Twins to feed. There I was again crying in bed, beating myself up at why it wasn’t working. Less than 24 hours after giving birth I had a peer support volunteer next to me, telling me to make my nipple look like a beef burger (I’ll never forget that one!) and trying to advise me whilst tears welled up in my eyes as I felt a failure all over again. Yes it was early days, but it brought back my previous disaster and all the crap feelings that went with it.
I was doing exactly what I’d vowed not to do, and it was only after a serious chat with the Other Half that I decided my own well-being and that of my family as a whole was more important than breastfeeding. (I secretly think he just couldn’t stand the thought of that noisy breast pump at 3am again!)
Breastfeeding is HARD. Breastfeeding twins is even HARDER. So hats off to everyone who does it successfully, especially those who initially struggled. But despite my warped ideals two years ago, it doesn’t make you a better mum. It just makes your bank balance better off not having to fork out for formula!
So clearly I’m not a ‘breastfeeding hater’ as I’ve been accused of. Or I wouldn’t have even bothered trying. What I am a hater of is how some people (me included, although I’m totally over it now) are made to feel inferior, or a failure because they didn’t or couldn’t breastfeed. Everyone is different, everyone has their own experience, and not everyone wants “oh I breastfed my children until they were nine” flaunted in front of them. Well done you.
Of course my bad experience of BF has shaped how I feel about the whole subject. That’s called life. I’m definitely envious of others who do it so successfully. And thousands of women have had a much worse experience than I did. I wonder how they feel.
I totally stand by my original post about ‘being bored of BF’. I’m bored of hearing about it. As I’m sure many of you are if you’ve read this far! The irony of now writing even more about bloody BF is not lost on me, believe me 🙂
Why do some people (I’d like to hope it’s a small minority) make such a big thing about it? And I’m sorry, but who the hell has come up with the phrase breastfeeding “Army”? What an absolute crock of shit that is. To my mind it has aggressive connotations, is intimidating and militant – surely the total opposite of what people need when looking for support during such a vulnerable time.
At the end of the day – and exactly what my Facebook post said if people read it properly – it’s about choice. Albeit I totally get that some people don’t have a choice to start/stop feeding if there are problems, me included.
So there you have it. Seriously people, get over it. We all know a fed baby is a happy baby, however much of a cliche that is. Even the Royal College of Midwives’ now say women should be supported if they choose to bottle feed.
Just let everyone get on with their own thing. And THAT is why I’m bored of it. Not because I’m judging anyone, not because I’m not supporting other mothers, not because I’m a breastfeeding hater, (although I am massively jealous you don’t have to wash and sterilise what feels like millions of bottles every week) but because I DON’T CARE how you feed your baby – just bloody well feed them!
WHAT OTHERS SAY:
After so many responses on Facebook, I thought I’d find a little more out about the experiences of a few commenters:
* Brutally honest Scottish blogger Sarah, from www.tryingtodoitall.com tried to breastfeed her son for 6 weeks before the baby’s severe acid reflux called time on her efforts. She joined in the Facebook ‘discussion’ this week, so I asked her what she thought.
She said: “I’ve had my own shitty journey with feeding my boy so I get people being a bit tetchy on the subject but a lot of the responses to your post, to me anyway, missed the whole f*cking point. Which was; do what you want, be comfy with it and just get on with it.
“Now I know that breastfeeding remains a contentious and emotive subject with mums from all walks of life; I’m not dismissing that. It’s hard f*cking work and the challenges that surround it often make it impossible for many (me included) – but so long as you’ve made an informed choice it’s really no one else’s business… Unless you make it so.
“Get your norks out and feed if you want to and you’re lucky enough for it to be an option… Or don’t. The only rule that counts is to do whatever you think is in the best interest of the sprog, yourself and your important others. You’re it’s care giver, it’s your call.
“If you’re getting grief from a wrinkly flapped old biddy because your spaniels ears are on show; deal with her in a way that feels comfy for you. I tend to find telling someone they have a big snotter hanging from their nose gets rid of 99% of people.
“Feeding your kid by whatever means you can is a very normal action – why the fuck we’re sensationalising it is beyond me. Normalisation – that’s the key. You’ll not change old wrinkly flaps opinion by shoving yours down her throat and to be fair, she’s got every right to disagree with you. Get your tits or a bottle out and stand your ground – let her see that her opinion is completely irrelevant to your life, because it is. True power is giving none of the fucks, and all of the care and love to your baby in whatever way suits.”
* Plymouth’s Emma Smith, has breastfed five babies and feels strongly that more support is needed for those new mums trying to breastfeed. She said: “I was a 20 year old lone mum when I had my first baby. After delivery my son was an absolute natural and I don’t remember any great difficulty getting feeding established. What saddens me is that after trying to make a go of things with his dad and moving in with the ‘in laws’ I was regularly told I hugged my baby too much and that if I was tired I should just give him a bottle. At just over 12 weeks I caved in and moved to bottles which I regret to this day. It gave me more sleep but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.
“On my second baby in a new relationship I had a son with allergies and awful eczema. Close contact gave him no comfort because in hindsight the warmth probably aggravated his skin and he was sick all the time. I couldn’t take the sleeplessness so thought I’d go for the magic sleep bottles but they didn’t help in the slightest because his problems were too ingrained. I expect if I had been given support and encouraged to cut the foods from my diet that he had problems with we would have had a significantly smoother journey.
“My third son’s breastfeeding journey was more of a battle than a journey because although he fed well their dad walked out on us when our youngest was just 12 weeks old. I had to be mum and dad to 3 young children with all the demands that breastfeeding entails. But, like so many things I did in spite of being a lone parent, I continued to feed him until he was nearly a year because I would be damned if he was going to be put on a bottle because his dad wasn’t around to support us. It was tiring because he didn’t generally go longer than 3 hours between feeds day or night but to me it was worth it for the health benefits.
“After nearly a 10 year gap I had my first daughter with my now husband. His support was like night and day to that I’d received before. He baked me lactation cookies weekly for the whole year I breastfed, made sure I was comfortable and well fed and had plenty to drink. I was given as much time and as little pressure as possible to succeed. I only stopped feeding at a year because I developed quite an aversion linked to awful morning sickness with our second daughter. But, again, the day our second daughter was born he fired up the lactation cookie making production line and took on many of the roles I would have had with our older daughter to free my time up for all the hours needed to feed our second daughter.
“They’ve all made my toes curl with pain and my nipples bleed and make me so tired I can’t remember what day of the week it is or care whether I’ve got sick on my clothes at baby group, but i wouldn’t change any of it for the world. It’s hard work and you have to put your wants and desires right to the bottom of the pile but seeing how quickly they gain independence I can take that for such a short period of my life.
“Watching the breastfeeding programme on Channel 4 the other day highlighted the awful drop in support that I’ve seen first hand in my nearly 19 years of raising babies which I am confident is one of the biggest reasons so many mums stop feeding earlier than they wanted to. Not only is formal post natal support thin on the ground because of clear under funding and over demand for services, even here in Plymouth which is deemed good, but also society expects every new mum to walk out of hospital a size 8, do the shopping and put dinner on the table the same as normal.
“Breastfeeding requires battening down the hatches and staying in for weeks and weeks to get it up and running successfully. We are all so used to fitting 101 things into our days I imagine to most mums it seems really quite boring to go through that stage before you can venture out into the world, only to be judged by old bats like they interviewed in the documentary who say breastfeeding should be kept behind closed doors. That’s where I believe the breastfeeding “army” term originates. You can’t simply breastfeed your baby. You have to fight for your right to do it if you also want to have some normality in your life which isn’t kept behind closed doors, and which incidentally also helps prevent you from becoming a statistic as a new mother suffering from depression who struggles to get the support they need.”
* Another Plymouth mum of two, who didn’t want to be named, breastfed both her children with varying success, and agrees the NHS needs to provide better training for staff to help breastfeeding rates improve, and help those who choose to breastfeed struggle less.
She said: “I have to say, whilst I’m sick of people lecturing you on how you should feed your baby I agree the NHS needs to provide better training for staff to help those who choose to breastfeed. I’ve witnessed some truly shocking advice from healthcare professionals in my time, ranging from midwives, health visitors, paediatricians, nurses and supposed lactation specialists. I’ve only found that consistent advice that actually worked came from volunteers who give up their free time to help and who have to pay to train. I’ve seen doctors and nurses contradict themselves with so many different types of advice, everyone seems to have a different diagnosis and a lot of advice I’ve seen given out by health care professionals is often wrong and results in the end of a woman’s feeding journey.
“I think it’s just down to poor funding, lack of resources and bad training when something needs to be done about supporting mums who choose to breastfeed so they don’t wind up feeling like failures when seven different doctors, nurses and midwives tell them 27 different types of advice and subsequently end their journey when they could just do basic things like check for tongue tie which is the biggest problem out there. It stops so many mums breastfeeding but no one seems to know how to look for one and women have to pay for a private specialist. Never mind the sheer agony of breastfeeding a tongue tied baby, I’ve quite literally had my nipples shredded by both children because of this and I can 100% see why so many mums stop feeding if they’re not getting this resolved and they’re enduring so much pain. The only reason I didn’t quit feeding both kids then and there when I was bleeding was because I was determined to breastfeed and I sought out research from the Internet that got us the right diagnosis in the end and stopped the pain.
“I also think there is a select group of mums who only want to boast and won’t hear otherwise about formula and its benefits. They also want to talk quite heavily about how formula is bad and the ‘risks’ of using it. But it is seriously detrimental for a new mother to hear that when she’s just looking for support.
“I’m far too afraid to share something about breastfeeding on social media because of the backlash. It’s such an emotive time and I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum after switching from breast to bottle with my son and then succeeding with my daughter – although ironically I got postnatal depression with the child I succeeded with. I don’t feel confident enough to say on social media that I’m proud we made it to a year etc like others have done. On the one hand, yes it’s great we got through so much pain and initial struggle to last a year but on another, why do I need to pat myself on the back for a bodily function? But I do see the point that breastfeeding isn’t easy, it’s bloody hard work and sometimes women who want to applaud themselves for overcoming those obstacles get accused of bragging when really they just want to say ‘Hey, I had a shit year but got through it and I’m glad I did”. But I think that minority are swallowed up with the idiots who hashtag the word ‘brelfie’ and just generally want to gloat.”