This week, Jamelia, the woman who sang a few pop songs 14 years ago, told the nation, or at least, anyone watching Loose Women, that people who choose not to breastfeed were selfish, and that it should be made compulsory. Putting aside, like she obviously did, feeding problems, the Mother’s health and social and family pressures; Jamelia’s comments are of course just silly words, by a silly ego, that thankfully have no chance of being implemented. But, they are out there now. They are in the news, on the radio station, being written about (like now for example!) and it’s another judgment, another slap in the face to people – for whatever reason, who aren’t breastfeeding. Another lecture, another nudge, to let you know, in case you didn’t already, that, according to them, you’re not getting it quite right.
This is not an anti-breastfeeding post. Breastfeeding is great, for so many Mothers, and so many babies; my son and I amongst them. I appreciate the health benefits, the convenience, and the sleepy, special moments we shared through it. Not to mention being able to eat several cakes per day and lose weight. I am also aware that in the UK, breastfeeding rates are startlingly low, and I am grateful that there are people and establishments trying to improve this through encouragement, support and education. I am not knocking that in the slightest. When someone doesn’t breastfeed because they aren’t receiving adequate support, have been taught it isn’t normal, or because their sister, Mother or friends didn’t, help and information should absolutely be offered, so that an informed choice can be made. Community support, outreach appointments, weird knitted boobs to demonstrate technique are all good ideas. Forcing and making people feel bad about their choice or circumstance, is not.
The most disturbing thing is the idea of telling anyone what they must do with their own body, and additionally, casting judgment on whether someone is choosing to do something or not. It is dangerous, it is patronising, it is Mummy bashing at its very worst. If someone physically can breastfeed but is facing a multitude of feeding difficulties, pain, engorgement, latch issues, tongue tie, let down problems, thrush; to name a few of the more common problems, are they to be condemned for choosing to stop? If another person, when considering their feeding options before birth, decides to exclusively formula feed and not try breastfeeding, should they be judged? They could wish to share feeds equally with their partner, be returning to work quickly, want their body back after 9 months of loaning it out, feel uncomfortable at the thought… Does it really matter? It is certainly not for me to judge, and most importantly, as with many other parenting decisions that people make day to day, it is absolutely none of my business.
When I was pregnant, I wanted to breastfeed my little bun, upon its arrival, but potential feeding issues were my one big fear. In hindsight, there was a lot more I should have been scared about, such as how on earth to bring up a baby, but my focus was the feeding. I was so aware, thanks to the information and support out there, how breast was best – support being in some ways a double-edged beast for me; information overload and a pressure to accomplish this beautiful and apparently natural phenomenon. I read, I researched, I learnt: ‘Nose to nipple, nose to nipple, nose to nipple’. Unfortunately, when my son was born he appeared to have missed the breastfeeding workshop and we couldn’t latch. I was desperate to feed him, and gladly let any Midwife, or anyone looking vaguely like a Midwife, grab, squeeze and manipulate my breasts and try to encourage my baby to suckle. No dice.
He then became ill, and other events naturally took over, with his first feed being formula, through a tube, and the next too, this time in a cup. He was starting to get better and thrived on it. So formula isn’t poison, after all? Well blow me down with a feather! By this point, he was three days old and I was learning to express, starting with a mere teaspoon and gradually progressing to a small cup. We continued to work on the latch – when I say we, he and I were pretty clueless, but the midwives fortunately were not and eventually, luckily, thankfully, after a week, we cracked it.
I will never forget though, sitting on my hospital bed and crying to my husband about what I saw as my inability to feed my son. He had only come out of Neo Natal that day, and I said the words, “I’m failing him.” How sad that makes me now, and even angrier at the comments expressed this week. Who is anyone to describe a Mother doing the right thing for her and her family as selfish? Be it because of feeding issues, or because of a weighed up decision that breastfeeding is not for them. There is so much more to being a Mother than the way we feed our babies. Isn’t it time we stopped beating people over the head with our own self-righteousness? Motherhood is hard enough, and the things we are doing as parents, if they have our and our child’s interests at heart, are the RIGHT things, the BEST things, for both the Mother, and the baby.
Breastfeeding should definitely be talked about, promoted positively, understood. I just wish it was done without any smug, ‘I did it the right way’ bunkum. Breastfeeding may be a natural thing, but it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, be it physically or socially and often has to be learnt by both parties. If feeding happened for you easily and without problems, then that is great for you, enjoy it. But please remember that you are lucky, not better than your neighbouring Mama who should never be bashed for taking a different path to you.
Our feeding problems were miniscule in comparison to what some others go through. Further, the feelings of sadness, guilt and upset are a fraction of what others experience with a very difficult and often painful feeding journey. If the choice is made to formula feed, for whatever reason, is that really such a bad thing, in the grand scheme of raising a child? Isn’t breast only best if it is right for everyone? I have never received one negative comment about breastfeeding, although I appreciate some people have. I have however, heard so many about formula feeding. One friend was told, by a fellow Mum, ‘You could have at least tried to breastfeed.’ I have witnessed many others too, often of a more passive aggressive nature, ‘Oh, did you have feeding problems? We did too but persevered, it was so worth it.’ There are no medals, there are no awards and there is really no need to be so self-congratulatory about the milk we provide. Women who give breast milk are feeding their children themselves, women who give formula are feeding their children themselves. No newborn, as a result of not being at the breast, is out foraging in the garden for their supper.
Isn’t it time for us to lay down our weapons, be it breast pad or bottle, and play a bit nicer with our fellow Mumkind?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and hope very much that anyone having difficulties in their feeding journey knows that there are lots of people out there who don’t judge, and can support. Keep doing a great job you Mamas.
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