I am not going to start a debate on the fact that breastfeeding is the healthiest method of feeding for both mother and child because honestly, it is. That isn’t the point of this post.
For the record, I breastfed my eldest daughter until she was over 10 months old and I am currently nursing my 6-month-old so I am very much pro-breastfeeding. I just feel that the expectation to breastfeed is way too strong and many mothers feel judged or are all too willing to judge others about something as simple as how a baby is fed. Shouldn’t we focus on the main things, such as: that the child is well fed, is well-loved and is well taken care of? Everything else should be neither here nor there. We should be supporting each other and building each other up, there is enough to worry about without the harsh, busybodying from other ‘well-meaning’ woman.
A big issue that I’ve noticed is the anxiety that formula woman seem to feel. I have started up many a conversation with bottle feeding mums and whenever they hear or see that I breastfeed they instantly get defensive, almost as if they have been given a lecture on their quote, unquote ‘failings’ before and want to avoid a similar situation from occurring again.
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A typical conversation might go like this:
Me: “I’ll tell you what; breast pumps are a Godsend especially on a freezing day like today. Brrrr!”
Them: (Instant coldness) “I didn’t breastfeed my son and he is, in fact, a bright, happy, healthy six-year-old.”
Me: (Confused at the change in conversation tone) “I’m certain he is, you’re obviously a wonderful mother. Why would I think otherwise?”
Them: (Relaxes) “Because you breastfeed…..”
I have had many versions of this exact conversation, time and time again and find it very wearing.
I know that ladies that nurse their babies get judged too. For different reasons admittedly; such as daring to show three seconds of boob to feed a hungry infant. (Sorry scowling middle-aged lady but my baby’s needs come way, way, way in front of your discomfort especially when you can just turn your head ninety degrees and look away.) But at least breastfeeder’s are generally viewed as doing the best they can for their baby rather than being viewed as lazy and unwilling to do what nature intended.
You can’t win, either way, you’re always going to annoy/ embarrass/ outrage someone so why even care what people think. Smile when they comment and simply nod or say “Gosh, really? Thanks for taking the time to comment on something that literally has no impact on your life what so ever…”
You are doing great and as long as you know that, why let random people’s opinions get you down?
Here are just some of the reasons why we shouldn’t judge our fellow mummies for doing what they feel is best for them and their children:
1) There are already way too many pressures to be a ‘perfect mother’. Sure, in theory, we could all aspire to be that super mum we see on TV. Snapped back into shape two weeks after having a non medicated, ‘natural’ birth, perfectly tidy home and constantly smiling and overjoyed at the very thought of existing before four cups of coffee. Honestly though; who the Hell can seriously manage all of that?!
It’s just not realistic. Nearly two years in I still have a bit of a jelly belly, my house is only just starting to look tidy again and I still occasionally feel down and unable to fully function. Also, let’s not get started on how many times I’ve realised I’m covered in puke or pooh AFTER leaving the house on an important errand. Isn’t motherhood a glamorous day job?
2) We should be judging mother’s based on how happy, well looked after and loved their children are. If they are treasured then does it matter if they have been fed formula? Of cause it doesn’t!
3) The mother in question might not even be able to breastfeed for reasons such as:
Her milk didn’t come in at all or quickly enough.
She has had/ has a serious illness that could be passed onto the baby.
She is too ill to nurse.
She takes medication that isn’t compatible with breastfeeding.
The baby has a cleft palate, is tongue-tied or is/was too premature to suckle effectively.
Imagine if she had desperately wanted to nurse her baby and then someone criticises her for not doing it. She would be completely crushed and would feel like a failure for not managing something that is viewed as incredibly important. If you don’t know someone’s story then don’t comment. Hell even if you do know her story, it’s still not anyone’s place to comment. Full stop!
4) Previous experiences of rape and sexual abuse. This one is a biggie! It is estimated that one in five women will have received some form of abuse and obviously it is both humiliating for the lady in question and sadly also a very taboo topic in our society and is almost never discussed openly. Unless you know the lady very well it is highly unlikely that you would know what is in her past.
Breastfeeding can be a big trigger for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Speaking from experience this can make feeding quite traumatic due to repeated nightmares and flashbacks to the abuse. It took me months and several sessions of counselling to be able to do it without feeling sick to my stomach.
Even now I still find it difficult at times. I felt terrible because I thought that something so natural couldn’t possibly be so difficult and that I was somehow failing as a mother because of the challenges it bought me. Turns out it’s a common problem in cases of sexual abuse and I should have been forewarned about it. If I would have been told what the impacts might have been I might have elected against breastfeeding to protect my mental health against the terrible Post-Natal Depression the PTSD triggered.
5) Not getting enough support from medical professionals and loved ones. Many ladies struggle with getting the baby to latch, Mastitis, baby not gaining weight quickly enough and their family being uncomfortable with them breastfeeding either in front of them or at all. Obviously, in the latter case, it can become very isolating and inconvenient. Who wants to be told that if they want to feed their child they must do it on their own and miss out on socializing and feeling included. Very few people can cope well with being excluded and would rather bend to other people’s will than be pushed out.
6) Here’s a challenge: go into a classroom of six or seven-year-olds and point out which ones were breastfed and which were given formula. Can’t do it?
That’s fine, neither can I.
7) Some mothers need to go back to work earlier due to financial pressures. I can almost hear the ‘breastapo’ shouting at the mother to pump. Here is the problem with that: in an ideal world yes all women could pump but breasts are designed to respond to a cute, adorable infant suckling, nuzzling, and cooing. Breasts aren’t designed to respond well to a cold, unloving machine.
This means that some ladies won’t be able to express any milk and those that can may potentially express less than what their baby usually eats. Babies are a lot more efficient at suckling than a pump is so they can get a lot more milk out and stimulate the breasts to produce the correct amount that they need.
8) Sometimes a lady might need to supplement with formula due to hormonal changes. When she is on her period her supply might drop temporarily. Obviously, if she isn’t producing enough milk then giving the baby a bit of formula is better than the baby being hungry. I should mention that in most cases it is just better to nurse more often because breastfeeding works on a ‘supply and demand’ basis. This basically means that the more you nurse and pump, the more you produce. However, it’s not always practical to do that, especially for working mothers or those with older children to take care of. Pumping is very time-consuming.
Pregnancy has a similar effect to periods but it lasts much longer (usually from the second trimester onwards) and making sure baby has enough milk is more important than bowing down to someone else’s disapproval.
This leads me to the bad advice given to ladies by well-meaning people and ill-informed friends such as: not feeding on demand and topping up with formula unnecessarily. Both of these make the milk supply drop considerably and this makes breastfeeding much more difficult in the long run. It’s quite difficult to increase a milk supply before it’s fully established, usually at around the six weeks mark.
9) In some cases, a baby might refuse the breast due to having had a bottle first or just being unable to latch. This is known as ‘nipple confusion’ and thought to be caused by the baby preferring the relative ease of getting the milk from a teat, rather than a nipple.
10) Not being told about what those first few weeks of breastfeeding are like in reality. News flash… They hurt. Even if you have a perfect latch and you’ve done it all before it takes time for your nipples to toughen up and if you are unlucky enough to get a blocked duct… Owch doesn’t cover it.
Thankfully after about a month, it gets easier but all the doctors informed me that if done right it shouldn’t hurt at all. However, almost all the breastfeeding mothers I have spoken too had also experienced pain, to begin with. This comes as a shock and many mothers give up as a result of being unprepared for how challenging it can really be.
11) The final reason is simple; because she doesn’t want to. It is her decision at the end of the day and as long as her child is well taken care of I don’t think it is for anyone to comment on or judge her for her method of feeding.
I think that all mothers who spend their days delighting, despairing of and loving their little ones deserve a medal. It’s not an easy job being a mother and regardless of if you breastfeed or not, I think you are doing a truly fantastic job and should be very proud of yourselves.
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