The Breastfeeding Evangelists

Firstly, I want to apologise to any readers out there who literally couldn’t give two hoots (ha!) about breastfeeding.  I’m sorry.  Since having Ellie I’ve tried quite hard to write about a variety of things that aren’t all baby-related, and for the most part, I’ve succeeded.

But breastfeeding?  It is a minefield.  It really is.  It’s the thorniest mothering issue of them all.  And, as such, I can’t not write about it.  I need to write down what I wish I’d known before I had a baby, and the ammunition I wish I’d had to face the Breastfeeding Evangelists.

It’s really hard to find a sensible conversation online, one that doesn’t polarise, or engender guilt, or serve to confuse.  Something that tells it how it is, and takes all of the hidden meaning and subliminal messaging out of it.  I felt like I approached breastfeeding quite  casually, thinking I’d figure it out.  I just sort of sauntered up to this unidentifiable thing, picked it up, and it turns out it was a fully loaded shotgun.

If this post helps just one person navigate the insanity (and the joy) that is feeding their baby, then readers, my job here is done.

Breastfeeding is not the Messiah

This could be a whole post in itself.  Pregnant women and new mothers will come up against the breastfeeding propaganda machine time and time again.  It makes me rage.  From before your baby is born, to weeks and months afterwards.   From the media, from nurses  and midwives, from other mothers, from sanctimonious blogs.  You will hear ”breast is best” and “give your baby the best start with breastmilk!” (accompanied by a poster of a smug, serene-looking woman breastfeeding a thriving baby) on repeat until it is tattooed behind your eyes.

Now.  I’m not one to bash the NHS.  Nurses and midwives do an incredible job, and I understand that they have a line to take.  But.  The message they promote just isn’t consistent with reality.  There are many, many women who cannot or do not breastfeed, and there are endless reasons why that is the case.  Some women have poor milk flow and there is nothing they can do about it.  Some women have had breast surgery.  Some women have been ill, or are on medication.  Some babies will not latch, however hard their mothers try. Some women feel like a cow, constantly feeding twins, triplets, or a particularly hungry baby and decide it’s not for them. Some women had a chronic lack of support when their babies were born and couldn’t start breastfeeding, or it tailed off, even though they desperately wanted to.

There are so many reasons, far more than I’ve listed here, why breastfeeding doesn’t work out. It is not a case of “just not trying hard enough” and this zealotry around breastfeeding puts babies at risk and mothers under inordinate pressure and misery to feed their babies in a way that simply isn’t working out for them.

Every mother is trying her hardest.  Sod off with your evangelism and your bloody posters.

Find the solution that works best for you and your baby.  It may not be the one you imagined, but find it.  Do not let anyone else pressure you.  Do not let anyone else judge you for how you feed your baby.  It is not, and has never been, any of their business.  They don’t know your story, your reasoning, your choices.

It is not like on Animal Planet

You know when you see animals born in the wild and, half-blind and totally confused they start nursing straightaway and the exhausted mother lies back and relaxes, safe in the knowledge that she’s nourishing her brood?  Yeah….no.  No, it’s not like that.  There’s a technique to breastfeeding, and everyone’s technique is different, because guess what, all babies are different and boobs don’t come out of a Boob Mould.  You have to master positioning, latch and milk flow at a very bare minimum.  Added to that is the stress of being the sole food source that is sustaining another human being, and the fact that you’re doing it all on minimal sleep and with a rather sore vagina/stomach [delete as appropriate].   I say this not to put you off, but just to point out that with breastfeeding, the learning curve is incredibly steep, and the stakes are incredibly high.  You can prepare all you want by reading books and going  to prenatal classes and waving around knitted boobs and looking at diagrams, but the only way you really learn is by trying, putting your baby on, getting it wrong, getting it right.

And it’s ok to find it hard.  Many, many women struggle.  It’s a skill.  You’re learning that skill, and so is your baby.  I found it unexpectedly hard at first and I had to dig into reserves of patience I did not know I possessed. Breastfeeding is an imperfect science.  You can’t measure how much milk your baby is taking, and essentially you’re trusting someone who is only a few hours old to tell you when they’ve eaten enough.  Ultimately, you’re groping around in the dark with something impossibly important.  Those first few days when you don’t know if your baby is eating enough  and whether they are thriving can be a dark, dark time and I can fully understand why some mothers choose the security of formula feeding, with bottles and numbers, ozs and mls.

Help is out there.  Ask for it.

I would not be breastfeeding today if it weren’t  for one of my midwives, Marina.  One hour after Ellie was born, Marina took the time to explain to me how it all worked – because guess what, the diagrams and the books and the knitted boobs were a poor imitation of actually holding a human being.  And in the days afterwards, at 4am feeds that weren’t going so well, I remembered that hour with Marina, and the encouraging words she said, and it gave me the belief I needed to know Ellie and I could do it.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a midwife as patient as Marina, I know.  But ask.  If you need it, ask for help until you are hoarse.  You deserve to make the most informed decision that you can about how you feed your baby.  There are people in hospital, and at the other end of the phone, and groups, and other mothers who have been there, right where you are now.  They will help.  Ask them.  You aren’t expected to do it all on your own.  If you want to try to breastfeed, then those hours and days after birth are critical to get your milk supply up and running, and if you don’t ask for help right then, you risk making it much harder for yourself.

Oh, the guilt

This, right here, is the most loaded parenting topic that I know.  Guilt and feeding seem inextricably linked.  Chances are, if you breastfeed easily, you’ll feel guilty about when and if you decide to stop.  If you combination feed, you’ll feel guilty that you aren’t “giving it your all”.  If you formula feed, you’ll feel like your baby is missing out on essential nutrients.  Food is what keeps your baby alive, and the subject taps into base instincts in a mother.  We are all wired to want to give the babies the best we possibly can and ohhh, the sickness, that feeling of despair that comes with feeling you’ve given your baby anything less.

And that, my friends, is where The Breastfeeding Evangelists come in.  They see a weakness in a vulnerable, tired new mother and they swoop in and they pounce and they do not let go.  They feed misinformation and they do not  show any flexibility and they will tell you that formula is the Devil.  I think that playing on anyone in this way is despicable, which is why I’ve no time for anyone who tries to push their feeding ideals onto anyone else.  As long as that baby is being fed, and is loved and cared for, then you can take your judgey face and your propaganda and shove it up your Dementor-like behind.

Get used to getting them out  [warning; features breasts]

Establishing breastfeeding takes time.  Get a good box set.  Sit on the sofa.  You will remain there, with your boobs out, for a good portion of the first few weeks.  You will answer the door to the delivery man with one out and a baby attached. You will choose your clothes based on how easily accessible your bits are.  You will forget what the point of dignity was.

Breastfeeding in public at first can be tricky.  These days, I’m an old pro and really don’t care where I do it.  But at the beginning I felt like I needed to ask permission (I believe it was Aisling who told me that if anyone says no, squirt breastmilk in their eye).  When I went out, I’d express milk and feed Ellie from a bottle, just so I didn’t offend Other People by baring an appendage.

And then I realised how ridiculous, and how much extra effort and faff that was.  Other People have, no doubt, seen boobs before.  Other People and their views pale into insignificance when it comes to feeding my hungry kid.

At the beginning, get used to waving your boobs around trying to get a baby to latch.  It’s going to happen.  Those around you are going to see nipple.  They will not die.  The world will keep turning.  When you nail being confident breastfeeding in public, you will feel like there is nothing that can stop you.  You feel like Earth Mother.  You will wear your “Breasts Face” which basically says “do you have a problem?  Do you?  No, I didn’t think so”.

I have fed Ellie on trains, in planes, in a church, doing lunges in an exercise class, in restaurants, in a queue of 200 people boarding a boat from Ellis Island with an Italian couple taking pictures OF ME (Gemma was there, she will verify).  No one has ever commented, or been disparaging, or looked disapproving or judgemental in the way that I’d originally feared.  (I could have done without the photo shoot, though).

And if they did say something offensive?  Well, I have a baby now.  I have an example to set.  My God, I’d give them hell.

Categories: Becoming a Mother, Written By Anna
50 interesting thoughts on this

50 Comments

  1. Rach
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Breaking my commenting silence to say how much I love this piece. Spot on, K.

  2. Posted June 23, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Love you Anna. You know I hate all this breastfeeding mafia stuff too – we are so unbelievably vile to each other over bf vs ff topic sometimes and it makes me swing between apoplectic rage and utter sadness.

    We get it so wrong in terms of support – as you say, the ridiculous posters everywhere, but the actual support needs to be sought out, with varying degrees of ease. Next week, my mum to mum breastfeeding support group that I’ve set up launches – I couldn’t access any groups in the early days due to their inaccessibility so I’m hoping my location choice will make it easy for mum’s to attend. I also run a local breastfeeding support group on Facebook – the online support given there has saved dozens of breastfeeding relationships which is wonderful for a random idea I had at 3am in the morning!

    I had a hideous start to breastfeeding and so was very proud to get to 18 months (and yes, I felt ridiculously guilty when I stopped) but never, ever do I judge women for their choices. Because I know how it feels to be judged, and it’s a horrid feeling. We are all clinging on to this motherhood train with our fingertips – we don’t need other women trying to pull us off with unkind words, accusations and superior attitudes.

    I could go on all day, but I won’t (I know, not like me) but thank you Anna for this x

  3. Katielase
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    There is nothing to say to this but yes. Yes to all of it.

    I haven’t tried breastfeeding yet, mainly because my baby is still inside, but I was extremely lucky to attend a breastfeeding workshop run by a midwife who was genuinely even minded about the whole thing. She refused to put ‘bonding with baby’ as a key benefit of breastfeeding, even when someone in the class said it, and instead gave a mini lecture about how ALL of us would bond with our beautiful babies, even if we formula fed them. She told us the actual benefits of breastfeeding, but she also said repeatedly that even a tiny bit of breast milk is good, and if we chose to stop, we should still be happy we managed anything at all. I want to bottle her and send her to all pregnant women, because she was so kind, and being told that I wasn’t a bad person if I couldn’t breastfeed made me feel a million times better about giving it a go. She pretty much said “you will all do your best for your babies, and that will be more than enough, and we are here to help”

    Snorting at “Dementor-like behind” and the boob-milk eye squirting. I’m not sure my aim will be that good….

    KL xx

    • Posted June 23, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      The pain of breastfeeding I think actually hindered my bonding with my baby, and certainly didn’t help my PND.
      I was meant to love this being I had created, and I was meant to love sustaining it with my body. So why did I often feel like I wanted to throw him across the room while he was feeding? Because it was so damned uncomfortable.
      It took well over 2 months before it became anywhere near comfortable. 2 months of my nipples nearly falling off. Bleeding, and spill stained with my blood. Windyness.
      Thank goodness for the midwives overnight at the hospital. They taught me a way to supplementary feed that we implemented for long enough to get my supply established, AND offered me the opportunity to simply bottle feed him, when it was 2am and he hadn’t stopped screaming since my husband had left at 8:30.
      And after 2 months of mixed feeding, suddenly it clicked. And now he is 15 months and I am working on weaning, so I can get my body back, as I so desperately desire. And I feel guilty for wanting to stop, even though I’m down to one feed a day (and have been for over a month), because I could keep going. I enjoy that feed a day. Its a great emergency backup.
      But, but…
      You get the picture :)

  4. Katielase
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Oh man I am All The Comments today but I just wanted to add that I think some women come across judgemental because they’re feeling so insecure and defensive about their own decisions and they project that outwards, and force their opinion on the world to try and validate it and shore up their own sense of what they are doing.

    I’m not saying that they’re right to do so, but the more we all understand where everyone comes from, the more supportive we can be. Most people aren’t genuinely horrid smug people, but perhaps they come across that way because it’s the only way to cope with their own fear. It’s not right, but understanding that might stop the awful cycle. Maybe. Or I’m an eternal optimist.

    KL x

    • Posted June 23, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      You’re completely right Katie. A lot of it is projection, and women regardless of their feeding choice are guilty of this. Sometimes they aren’t even aware they are doing it – either way you have to remember that often they aren’t being entirely judgemental of you, but of themselves too

    • Katie
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      This doesn’t just apply breastfeeding, but seemingly all the baby-related decisions families/women have to make. I’m currently pregnant and I have a colleague who I can’t discuss anything childrearing-related with because she tends to get very defensive if I suggest that I’m thinking of trying anything other than what she did with her daughters.
      Women try so hard to make the right decisions that they can sometimes over-defend their own position without considering if it’s right for someone else.

      • Posted June 23, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        Yes this. We could all do with taking the time to think about where people are coming from before we label them.

        Px

  5. ChirstyMac
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    You will wear your “Breasts Face” which basically says “do you have a problem? Do you? No, I didn’t think so”.

    – I totally LOVE this line! Because I know EXACTLY the face you mean. I have a couple of stellar friends that have it down pat. They should add this to the syllabus in Feeding 101. I should imagine there is an equally powerful ‘Bottle Face’ which says the same thing.

    Cracking writing as always Anna. X

    • Meredith Phillips
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      There is totally a bottle-feeding face! The ‘you-don’t-know-what-got-us-here-just-try-and-judge-me’ face.

  6. Posted June 23, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I’m glad you’ve written this, Anna. I want to add something meaningful from someone who found it the hardest thing I’ve ever done without sounding all ‘woe is me’, but I can’t so I’m not going to say anything else.

  7. Fee
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I have far too much to say on this so I will try to keep it relatively brief.

    Max has been exclusively formula fed since he was six weeks old. Before that, he had a mixture of expressed breast milk and formula. He first had formula when he was 4 hours old. I was actually wonderfully supported by midwives in my struggles but my efforts couldn’t fill Max up and he ended up rather ill with low blood sugar, in the neonatal unit. I continued expressing for six weeks but it just wasn’t working out despite ludicrous amounts of trying so we stopped.

    I am constantly given a kind of ‘right on’ attitude of ‘It was your choice to use formula so yeah, good for you’ but it wasn’t my choice. My hand was forced. This is usually followed by ‘But I would be so cut up if I had to give my baby formula’ so it’s kind if a ‘I totally support choice in feeding… because I haven’t been forced to make it.’

    And quite frankly, the whole ‘everyone is capable of breastfeeding’ thing is like saying ‘Everyone is capable of delivering vaginally’ to people who have c-sections. We all are in theory but the theory isn’t always a reality or a safe option.

    So much for my short comment (!) but finally – how other mothers have made me feel about formula feeding has been the hardest bit of having a baby for me. ‘You have the luxury of being able to just hand the baby to Tom’, ‘You can get a full nights sleep’, ‘That’s why he sleeps through the night’…. it is endless, as if the only parenting I do is to formula feed. There’s a lot of self congratulation around breastfeeding but not much around constantly putting up with that cr*p.

    Genuinely, I can’t wait until Max and his peers are all older and I don’t have to hear the words breast-feeding again (well, you know what I mean), I am so far past over it. I am also tired so excuse this rambling, slightly angry comment!

    • Posted June 23, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      I hate the inference that formula feeding mum’s have it easier, like you say, as if parenting revolves solely around that. It’s not easy full stop, no matter how you feed. While I’m sure there is good intent behind some of it, I know it doesn’t make one jot of difference x

      • Fee
        Posted June 23, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        I think I get so upset about it because in conversations about how the babies are doing I feel like my experiences/opinions/advice get shut down with ‘Well, Max is formula fed’. Firstly, it’s hard to have something that I tried so hard at but still couldn’t do thrown in my face constantly and secondly I think I have some good advice on certain things as I’ve never been able to feed for comfort etc so have had to come up with other strategies.

        Luckily I have some wonderful friends/fellow Mamas who don’t do this but otherwise I could see how I could become isolated, not wanting to contribute.

        Jeez, it’s hard enough. Lets all just be kind!

        • Meredith Phillips
          Posted June 23, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

          Agree with you completely. I was desperate to breastfeed but it didn’t work out after my baby needed surgery on day 3 (I even found myself jealous of moms I’d see breastfeeding!) My daughter’s feeding schedule up to six weeks sounds a lot like yours with your baby. It’s a struggle for sure – and certainly when others infer that your life as a mom must be ‘easier’ if you use formula… Not easy to deal with when you can’t do what you so want to do…

    • Katielase
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Agree that some women have no choice, and what we ought to be doing is acknowledging that and saying ‘you did the right thing for you and your baby. You did what you needed to do to keep him/her healthy and well. And that’s the whole point.’

      KL x

      • Posted June 23, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        Yes. That is all we ever need to say to each other. None of us can ever completely understand somebody else’s journey and so we have absolutely no right to judge / preach / make somebody feel bad for doing something different to us.

  8. Laura
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    As I sit here holding my two week old baby, currently in the throes of 3 hourly feeds, I just want to say YES.

    Breast feeding has been extremely painful this time around, but the GUILT – at the thought of stopping, of not providing my baby enough food, of formula feeding. Man, it’s extreme. Even friends who say, just keep on, you’ll be glad! It’s ingrained that breast is best at any cost, when actually I think the mental and physical well being of everyone involved should be the priority.

  9. Laura
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    This is perfect, Im going to share it with all my expecting friends! I spent the first few weeks with my daughter in agony attempting to breastfeed. I had amazing support from multiple midwives and health visitors showing different positions and ways of latching but unfortunatly the damage was already done, everything we tried was agony, I dreaded feeding and when I was feeding I was in tears due to the pain. With the support of my midwives I made the decision to express and had been doing so for 6 months now! I still have pangs of guilt that maybe I didnt try hard enough but I believe it really was the right decision for both of us. I would encourage all new mothers to seek support from midwives or support groups but remember that there are other options and you have to do what makes you and your baby happy!

  10. Pippa
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Agree so much with this post and the comments. I could write an essay in response but will try to keep it brief!

    I found breastfeeding incredibly hard, and I didn’t have any “proper” reason to do so – my daughter (also Ellie!) latched on well from the start and gained weight, I had no pain or cracked nipples or bleeding or anything. It was still tough. For the first four weeks she fed every 1-2 hours around the clock, with each feed lasting up to an hour. It was so relentless and I really resented it (how awful is that…). I had no support from midwives or health visitors, who all said it was a “growth spurt” and would last a couple of days. Nope. It lasted until, in despair, I got a dummy, which showed that a lot of the time Ellie just wanted to suck on something but wasn’t hungry. The only reason I’m still breastfeeding at 2 months is I feel I should because I had no real problems, plus I’m now too lazy to prepare bottles!

    I get so angry with people who push the whole “breast is best” agenda. So long as the baby is healthy and the mother is happy then that is “best”, regardless of feeding. If breast feeding were as superior as the evangelists claim, there would be a noticeable difference in children/adults who were breast v formula fed. I am the only one of my NCT group who is still breastfeeding, not that you would know that there is any difference looking at the babies – they are all healthy, happy and thriving.

  11. Pippa
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    And don’t get me started on anyone who passes comment about breastfeeding in public. Having a new baby is isolating enough without having to lock yourself away every time the baby needs feeding (which could be pretty much non-stop).

  12. Posted June 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I read something on fb the other day in a comment “when do you ever see a mum formula feeding talking, singing, smiling and looking at their baby” and I wanted to punch her in the boobs. Does she not have eyes? I see plenty of parents bonding with their baby over a bottle.

    It also really annoys me that if you decide to formula feed they dont tell you the pros to doing so. We have found lots of advantages, especially since we started making a days worth up at a time, sleep and sanity being the main ones as they are so linked in my world, a routine which babies love and ours thrives on, but also we never have problems feeding in public, nobody knows if its expressed milk/ donor milk or formula, you know exactly how much they have had so no concerns about supply, anyone can give the bottle although it has worked out to be just my husband, mum and I, we can go out wearing whatever we want, including nice underwear.

    I think if mums who don’t breastfeed knew all these things there would be a lot less grief. Yes in mummy circles feeding is a hot topic but in the real world, not so much. Ask yourself who out of your school friends was breastfed? Nope, I don’t know either.

    I still have the leaflets they gave me at my booking in appointment. One ‘the best start for your baby’ the other ‘formula feeding’. The funniest part was that neither was particularly useful.

    Would I breastfeed future babies? I’d try. But I would also go in with my eyes truly opened, have support there waiting, know who to call. It isnt always the earth mother experience we are led to believe. It can, combined with exhaustion and the trauma of labour, lead to you feeling very low and unstable. Especially if you want it so much. But every baby and birth is different so there is always hope.

    • Becca
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      And me! And me! I fed him too!

      Strangely enough, perhaps because like ML Baby Django is still inside, I’ve not really given much thought to breastfeeding beyond (a) is it spelt with two separate words or just one word and (b) if it happens, it happens, if not, it doesn’t.

      To say I’m so “Meh” about it when usually, I’m so “what will people think” and “Oh God, am I doing this as well as I possibly could” comes largely in part from articles like this which don’t heap blame or pressure (and also from Esme’s post on a similar topic), from not knowing if I am able to medically breastfeed due to left over antibodies, from perhaps not from having started NCT with its BIB evangelicism and from not being breastfed myself (adoption doesn’t really give parents much of an option). I’m hoping this is an attititude I can keep going until after Baby Django is born.

      When I have had well meaning comments from my husband, friends or family about how obviously, I’ll be intending to breastfeed, I’ve just responded that its not always easy and we’ll see how it goes. I think I may be doing a “shove it up your dementor like behind Breasts face” at the same time.

      And don’t get me started on the bonding breastfeeding baby thing. Or on how it stimulates the mind and means your baby is more likely to get to Cambridge. I’m more bonded with my parents than anyone else I know and I didn’t even live with them for the first 6 to 8 weeks of my life. So no skin to skin time and no breastfeeding. And its done me ZERO harm whatsoever.

      • Posted June 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        I had no idea you were adopted.

        And yes, you did feed Rory. I am informed it was an excellent feed.

        • Becca
          Posted June 23, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          Yeah – I felt like Rory and I really bonded.

          I don’t make a big deal of the adoption thing (unless someone pisses me off about (i) bonding by either breastfeeding or skin to skin or (ii) having their “own baby” rather than an adopted baby because its not a big deal. Parents aren’t your parents because they gave birth to you….they are your parents because they JUST ARE.

    • Posted June 23, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      That facebook comment has given me such bad rage. What the f*ck?! So because my child was bottle fed I don’t interact with her or give a damn? If anything while feeding in public you’re more likely to see that because we aren’t made to feel like we need to hide our bodies or the fact that we are feeding our babies. Jesus Christ what is so wrong with our society that people feel the need to make other people feel so crap about feeding their child?

    • Laura
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      My daughter and i certainly bonded more when I was feeding her with a bottle and could smile at her and she looked me in the eye rather than when she was on my boob and I was squirming in agony and and fighting back the tears!

  13. Katie
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m adding my two pennies:

    - I love breastfeeding, and exclusively breastfed, and am still breastfeeding (16 months on). However, I don’t care how others choose to feed their children. My nephews have been bottle fed, and thrived. Whatever suits you and your child. I’m lazy, and sterilising and making up bottles, was too much like hard work.

    - My mum’s friend, who has worked for VSO in Uganda (I think), made the comment that all the mother’s breastfed, with barely any problems. There was no other option, but breastfeeding, and the mums had to work through the problems, and keep trying. I guess there was also no expressing. With no other option, but to breastfeed, I think at least 95% of mums would find a way to do it. Ofcourse there is the occasional mum who can’t, but I think we’re all animals and if it was the only way to keep our babies alive, most would manage it. I think it’s fine to not breastfeed,but I think if breastfeeding was the only option, women would be able to persevere with the pain, for longer. Fortunately, we have formula. Hoorah for formula.

    • Posted June 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I think this is a common thought amongst the breastfeeding mums who have had an easyish ride. It is a huge generalisation.

      What your mum’s friend hasn’t mentioned is the consequences on the mental health of the mothers for whom each feed exceeds their pain threshold. Then again maybe in Africa women don’t have mental health issues as they have no choice?

      I had my baby without any pain relief, after an induction. He was 9lb11. Believe me, I know what pain is. But I draw the line at that amount of pain every couple of hours for an hour at a time for an undetermined number of weeks (6? 8? 12? More?) I would actually rather be dead.

      • Fee
        Posted June 23, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        Yes Lucy – and you’ve been much more polite than I would be.

    • Caroline
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry Katie. I respectfully disagree with your second point. Does this take into consideration the babies that potentially get very poorly / die from malnutrition because their mother doesn’t produce enough milk?
      That seems to me to be a sweeping generalisation that women in our society only give up breast feeding because it’s a bit painful.

      • Katie
        Posted June 23, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        I’m saying our society is lucky, as we have the choice, whether to breastfeed or not.

        • Katie
          Posted June 23, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          If that choice of formula was taken away, then ofcourse the number of women breastfeeding would be substantially higher, and women would have no choice to persevere for much longer. I’m just saying that my mum’s friend, found many of the breastfeeding problems didn’t exist in said third world country. Malnutrition etc. existed. Perhaps with their mums, grandmas, sisters all having breastfed they had better support?

    • Posted June 23, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      What about the people like me who were desperate to breastfeed and rather than it being my choice not to it was my baby’s? She couldn’t latch for love nor money even after 4 days in hospital with round the clock help so if we were in Uganda she would have died. As far as I’m concerned that is a yay for formula.

      • Katie
        Posted June 23, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        I agree with you Hollie. Formula is wonderful. It was just a comment, mums friend made, many years ago, about there not being the problems, in said country (I can’t even remember whether it was Uganda, or another country). I doubt this friend had done any proper research. The comment stuck with me.

  14. Mira
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post.

    I’ve noticed that there’s a theme running through these types of childcare ‘debates’ (e.g. breastfeeding vs bottle-feeding; working vs staying home…) – many people completely disregard the well-being of the parent(s) and focus solely on the child’s assumed well-being (as in, they’ll assume your kid’s going to suffer if he’s bottle-fed and in daycare a couple days a week… ugh). This is something that I’ve come to realise now that I’ve got a little one due soon.

    These people need to be reminded that it’s easier for parents to raise a happy, healthy child if they’re happy and healthy as well…

    • Meredith Phillips
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      Amen.

  15. Posted June 23, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    For God’s sake. It doesn’t matter. Do what you can, do what you want. I have no idea why this topic engenders such histrionics. If we stopped minding, we would stop feeling defensive, stop judging, be at peace with our circumstances and let how we feed our children become what it is – just another wobbly old bit of muddling through parenthood as best we all can. There are babies and children out there being genuinely maltreated and abused every day. Children who will grow up without proper care and love. Do you think these children care where their milk comes from? Do you think that’s the bit that’s really not cutting it for them?

    I am sick of this conversation. Offer support if it’s asked for, help your friends if you can. Beyond that, do your best for your children and mind your own business.

    • Gemma N
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      YES Penny, exactly this.

    • Becca
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      I’m going to memorise this and repeat it at my NCT class:
      “There are babies and children out there being genuinely maltreated and abused every day. Children who will grow up without proper care and love. Do you think these children care where their milk comes from? Do you think that’s the bit that’s really not cutting it for them?”

    • Fee
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      The reason it’s an emotive topic for me is because at the moment, I can’t escape it. With a 4 month old baby, my options for company Mon-Fri are all other Mums. And not a day goes past without someone referencing how I feed my son. Example: this very morning, at the baby clinic, a Mum made a pretty nasty comment to me purely to justify why her breastfed baby had lost weight. To be clear, I don’t care what other people do, I don’t feel guilty or bad for what I do but I do get upset when other people purposely put me down.

      And they shouldn’t and I shouldn’t care but if I don’t keep company with other Mums, I will spend all my time alone. Maybe I should think about why they are saying it or what their insecurities are but to be honest, I don’t care because I try to not be unkind and that is enough.

      I am rambling but I think that this topic, like going back to work or sleep training or childbirth etc etc will always be a red rag if you are currently in the thick of it.

      I am sick to the back teeth of the conversation too and I never, ever start it but until everyone does mind their own business, it will probably continue to upset me. Not because I am defensive but because receiving barbed comments on any of my life ‘choices’ is hard.

      • Becca
        Posted June 23, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        Baby Django and I cannot wait to hang around with you and Baby Max. I promise we will only get judgy if there is no cake (if you warn us, we can pick some up enroute).

    • Posted June 23, 2014 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. And when you look at a group of three year olds you won’t have a bloody clue if they were breastfed or bottle fed, let alone 15 year olds, 30 year olds or 50 year olds. Your child will not care if you for breastfed them or not, only that you love them and care for them.

      The major part that I can never get my head around is that the people involved in all these feeding battles are for the most part, parents. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but some of the things as a parent you want to teach your child is to be accepting of differences, non judgemental, supportive, level headed and fair. Pretty much everything that this debate isn’t. Painfully ironic.

  16. Vanessa
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    In a national survey of uk only 6% don’t breast feed because of medical reasons. The rest choose not to.

  17. Rowan
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m two weeks in to this parenting business and 100% muddling through. I wanted to bf in large part as I’m lazy and think I’d be far too slapdash about sterilising to bottle feed. I can totally see how important support is in the early weeks to learn how to feed as you learn to read your baby and get to know what they need; I have had quite a bit of support around feeding (special thanks to a nurse who handed me a nipple shield which made getting a small, somewhat sick baby to latch on about a million times easier) but without that could quite easily have not managed to get off the starting blocks. If I’d given some formula in the first days I may well have avoided some of the recovery complications I’ve had.

    I don’t think there’s a right answer. I think parenthood in general is going to make me a LOT less judgey…

  18. KateQ
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I think some of the reason the advice given (and which then gets propagated by media/facebook etc) is inflammatory is that it isn’t intended for people who already know the pros and cons and are able to make an informed decision. And I think the money making aspect of formula can’t be overlooked so in a way it’s trying to stop vulnerable people being exploited by evening things out. But how this has now turned into such a debate is beyond me, my mum breastfed me and my brother but says it was completely mixed among her peer group with no strong opinions either way. That seems to go for a lot of parenting now though – a pressure to do things the “right” way.

    • Posted June 23, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      Yes Kate. The bit about exploitation by the powerful formula business is spot on and what I wanted to say, but couldn’t find the words.

  19. Posted June 23, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Only other thing I wanted to add is Anna please stop apologising when you write about anything baby related! Yes, you write about a variety of stuff, including baby stuff. We love it all.

  20. kandra
    Posted July 2, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Coming to this a bit late, I dont get much pc time these days! it is interesting that I have had almost the completely opposite experience to most of you. Sadly I hated almost every second of being pregnant, it was a really rough ride for me, and when people would ask if I was going to breast feed I was very non committal. I wanted to give it ago, but didnt want to put any pressure on myself, so we also bought some formula and bottles etc, ‘just in case’. But I was lucky as much as I hated being pregnant I have loved breastfeeding, although I have at times found the demands it places on me difficult to cope with. Our midwives were excellent, in explaining all the pros and cons of both and making it clear there was no right or wrong, and everyone situation was different.
    However a few of my friends have been very anti breast feeding, telling me I would never stick at it, how it would ruin my breasts, or even that it was disgusting! The rest of my family and friends have been supportive and of course my husband has been grand. I havent been to parenting groups because I dont have a car during the day so am pretty isolated, so perhaps not mixing with other parents has spared me some of the judgy-ness.

    I really believe that everyones decision is their own and everyones experience is different so I cant judge. I think the bonding thing is nonsense, If I express and bottle feed I find that she looks at me the whole time, where as when I am breast feeding she either has her eyes closed or is looking at my arm! So the bottle is probably a far more bonding experience!

    I think it is sad that as a species we seem to think oftentimes we have the right to judge others, its so common place I dont think that people do it consciously much of the time. But I do agree that often times it comes from insecurity about the decisions we have made ourselves or our own situations.

  21. Sarah
    Posted July 20, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Yet another post from you Anna that I absolutely LOVE. Thank you. I’m ashamed to say it but in the early days with James I would feed him in the toilets when we were out because I was too embarrassed to feed in public. It makes me sad to think about that now. I’m pleased to say I got over it & fed him in public but haven’t done that in over a year now. James just feeds at bedtime now & as he’s 2 next month I’m facing the “let-him-self -wean vs work-out-how-to-wean-him-gently” dilemma. I hope you & E are well.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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