I am breastfeeding my baby, some of my friends are breastfeeding, some are partially breastfeeding and some are completely formula feeding their babies. I have been shocked by how contentious the topic is, how strong opinions and feelings are and how much I want to talk about it.
Obviously, it is a huge part of my life – in fact at the moment my life revolves around feeding Joni. It is always on my mind, I am the sole source of food for a little baby. If i’m out I have to be dressed so that I can feed her with a few clicks of a bra and rearrangement of clothes. I also have the added, personal concern, that I don’t want anyone to see my post pregnancy tummy. So I have lots of layers of clothes with clips, buttons and flaps which help me be ready to feed her quickly and without the loss of too much dignity. I also have to make sure that I am well hydrated and eating healthily and often, I have to be sure not to eat or drink or take anything that could harm her (i’m talking no cold and flu medication rather than no class A’s, for the record). I have to be ready, day and night, to provide everything that my baby needs. On my own. By myself.
Breastfeeding is lonely. In our ante-natal classes we were told about how important it is for Chris (my husband) to support me with feeding, and yes, at the beginning and especially after a caesarean it was really important that he brought me lots of cold drinks, food and changed nappies in the night when I couldn’t get out of bed. But I am so aware that some people do not have someone to do that, and actually it didn’t make the loneliness any better. I was overwhelmed by feeling completely responsible and completely alone, especially in the night – Joni’s food was only coming from me and I had to step up and provide it. I still feel quite lonely sometimes when feeding her.
Breastfeeding takes determination and perseverance. After giving birth every part of my body hurt. Then, within hours of starting feeding, my nipples were in pieces – literally. I was so glad to have reassurance from my Mum and and my Aunty who both said that feeding was painful and would be for a couple of weeks. I thought – if it was painful for my Mum and she managed to do it then so can I. Chris went out and bought some ridiculously expensive cream – which I couldn’t have done without, it really really helped. After three weeks when the pain was still bad on one side I went to the Doctor who gave me some medication and at last, at four weeks, there was no pain at all. When my ‘milk came in’ it was incredibly painful, even wrapping a towel around my body after a shower was eye-watering-ly painful.
Breastfeeding has brought me joy. Looking into Joni’s eyes as she is feeding is just wonderful. She loves feeding, she stops feeding to smile at me and then hungrily latches herself back on again. I am proud of myself for persevering and I think it is brilliant that I can do it. Joni loves breastfeeding so much that I am having huge issues trying to get her to take my expressed milk from a bottle. She is not interested and I don’t know how to get her interested. I will try again soon, if I can go through the annoyance of expressing milk then having to eventually throw it away.
Reactions to my breastfeeding have been mixed. Most people are tolerant and accepting. Some are helpful and kind. Others are rude and prejudice. I have been told that ‘formula is just as good as breast milk, so why are you bothering?’; ‘breastfeeding will run you down and make you ill’; ‘expressing milk is disgusting’ and i’ve been asked if I would like to feed in other rooms, probably to make those people feel more comfortable.
I just don’t see how it is anyone else’s business how I feed my child? I don’t tell them to go on a diet because they are too fat, or to change their clothes because I don’t like them.
Every baby is different and every Mum is different. I have a friend whose baby had such a traumatic birth with forceps that it damaged her skull – she couldn’t breastfeed, no matter how hard they both tried or how much they persevered. It was better for her and the baby to move to formula feeding. Every mother I have spoken to has their own story and reasons as to why they chose how they are feeding their baby.
Research overwhelmingly says that ‘breast is best’, but there is also research that says that we shouldn’t drink too much alcohol, shouldn’t eat too much fat and should exercise more. Life isn’t as simple as that.
How you feed your baby is not something that should be making women feel guilty, isolated or embarrassed, surely?