I hesitated a lot before writing this post. It’s not like me. I don’t hesitate in telling you what my boys and I ate for breakfast, packed lunch, dinner or tea, usually posting photos and recipes of it on twitter and facebook. (I probably should hesitate more about that, but that’s a whole other blogpost.)
But I’ve never really talked about breastfeeding before in a public forum. I don’t even like using the word “breastfeeding” but here I am. And I’m slightly terrified.
I recently joined the Irish Parenting Bloggers Group and decided, since I’m currently breastfeeding to take part in my first ever blogmarch to mark World Breastfeeding Week. To read the other contributions check out mama.ie.
Talking about breastfeeding, it’s not the done thing really is it? It’s like the whole TIME magazine cover, “Are you Mom enough?”. I think that if I share my views I’m going to unleash endless wrath from all sides. I imagine that people will either think that I’m a slacker for giving my baby a bottle/soother/formula/weaning at 6 months or they’ll think that I’m a hippy treehugger who just wants to show the world her boobs/is too mean to buy formula/ and that I should go sit in a toilet cubicle rather than feed the baby at a café or in the sitting room and offend them by letting baby feed in their presence.
I’m neither. I’m here, in the middle ground, and there are lots of us. We’re the forgotten breastfeeders, the ones the stereotypers forget, the silent majority. We look and sound just like normal people (who are covered in baby puke), we just happen to feed our babies ourselves.
Ireland has a very low breastfeeding rate in international terms and according to
Breastfeeding.ie only 47% of infants are breastfed leaving hospital and this drops to a tiny 10% at 6 months.
I fed both my boys to six months (weaning to formula gradually from 5 months) and hope to do the same with my baby girl, in the interests of equality for all, and the overpowering Mammyguilt.
Like most babies born in the 1970’s I wasn’t breastfed myself and only vaguely remember being aware of one aunt and one family friend breastfeeding during my childhood, but I decided to “give it a go” with my first baby. I convinced myself that my attitude was one of “if it works it works” and despite a difficult delivery and a three day stay in the SBCU at Wexford General my eldest latched for the first time at three days old and took to it like a duck to water. His younger brother and sister clicked from the first attempt. It worked, so I did it. Who knows what would have happened if it hadn’t just worked?
Now, we’ve had hiccups, thrush on baby 1, agonising bleeding nipples on the other two, not to mention countless stinging letdowns and plugged ducts but nothing serious. (I have had three colicky babies though, in case I sound smug, so cut me some slack)
I know that I’ve been lucky, and have friends who would love to have fed and it just didn’t work out for them. I’ve amazing friends who pumped for months on end when their babies wouldn’t latch. They, in my eyes, are the superhero Mammies, pumping is tough going. (take a bow ladies if you are reading this, you know who you are)
What I found helpful
What I found helpful on my breastfeeding journey was the support of other women. I remember sending two friends with babies a tearful email when my first baby was 3 weeks old asking if things ever got better and receiving two emails and followup phonecalls in return, one from Limerick, the other from Norway reassuring me that I was normal and giving me survival tips. I feel they have passed the baton to me and I find myself encouraging pregnant friends or new mums I meet at the clinic to ring me or email me at any time day or night if they need a chat or to bounce something off someone who has had more sleep, and they do, mostly during the day thankfully.
The midwives in Wexford Maternity Unit were very supportive in helping me to pump colostrum and get established feeding, and having read some of the other posts on this blogmarch I realise how lucky I was to have my babies in Wexford where the staff really did look after me.
I confess that I was afraid to go to any of the many breastfeeding support groups (Office Mum has a list of resources here) as I felt that I wasn’t hardcore enough, that they would scoff at my baby’s soother, declare him deficient of gut flora thanks to the formula that kept him alive in the incubator and expel us from their pure milky midst. I did attend my local public health centre breastfeeding clinic, and through chatting with other Mums there I learned so much and made some great friends.
I felt isolated and tired on long nightfeeds which I used to do in a dark empty room upstairs, alone (this was pre smartphone, nowadays you’re never alone) so I started doing my nightfeeds downstairs, on the couch with the TV playing series that I had recorded earlier, it made the nightfeed experience much easier. These days I read articles I’ve bookmarked on my phone and catch up on twitter and facebook messages.
Also, chocolate digestives and my Mammy’s scones with Kerrygold butter on top contributed greatly to my breastfeeding success. On my second baby a friend recommended the “Total Baby” iphone app which I wouldn’t be without, so much so that as soon as I need to feed the baby I look for my phone and my boys now think that it’s a remote control for my boobs.
What I found unhelpful
What I found unhelpful was the raised eyebrows or looks of disgust when I fed my baby in public, people asking how long I intended to feed, people constantly suggesting that my eating X Y or Z may have been the reason that my baby had colic (enough with the mammyguilt), judgey people when I gave my baby a bottle, judgey people when I breastfed and bizarrely the literature that is supposed to encourage you to breastfeed but instead makes you think that you have been duped.
I remember my husband and I, exhausted from minding our colicky newborn Iaughing looking at the breastfeeding leaflets that mention only the positive. A complete absence of tender sore breasts, nippleshields, nightsweats, of smelling of sour milk all the time, of waking up on sheets drenched in milk, of bleeding nipples or engorged breasts or thrush or mastitis. This is simply unhelpful, new mums are unprepared when they meet these challenges and in “survival mode” with a newborn so struggling to keep it all together. Keeping it honest and real would be more helpful, although the authorities are unlikely to adopt the approach of the Scarymommy blog- 10 mildly shallow reasons to breastfeed which I think would be more successful.
The bottom line from the middle ground
Along with my attitude of “If it works it works” I’d add “Do what’s best for everyone”.
I believe that a baby needs a well and happy mother more than he or she needs breastmilk. A bottle of formula to supplement or to cover when you have some baby-free time will not do any harm in my experience (I have no medical evidence but my kids are doing fine) and if continuing to breastfeed makes life harder for everyone it is OK to stop. Do what’s best for everyone and easy on the Mammyguilt.