Nothing evokes more emotion; whether that be joy, love, anger, guilt or disappointment than the subject of breastfeeding and because at the time of writing this post for https://meetothermums.com/blog/view/wbfweek it was World Breast Feeding Week I wanted to write a post on a subject that resonates so much with me and my path into motherhood.
For me the process of breastfeeding brought about all the above emotions, but mostly it generated an enormous amount of guilt and disappointment.
‘Breast is Best’
Breast milk is the best form of nutrition for infants, and exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months (26 weeks) of an infant’s life. Thereafter, breastfeeding should continue for as long as the mother and baby wish, while gradually introducing the baby to a more varied diet.
In recent years, research has shown that infants who are not breastfed are more likely to have infections in the short-term such as gastroenteritis, respiratory and ear infections, and particularly infections requiring hospitalisation. In the longer term, evidence suggests that infants who are not breastfed are more likely to become obese in later childhood, which means they are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and tend to have slightly higher levels of blood pressure and blood cholesterol in adulthood. For mothers, breastfeeding is associated with a reduction in the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. A recent study also suggests a positive association between breastfeeding and parenting capability, particularly among single and low-income mothers.
Results from the UK Infant Feeding Survey 2010 showed that 83% of women in England breastfed their babies after birth, 78% after two days and 57% at six weeks.
I remember when I was pregnant with my first child hearing a friend remark about another friend who didn’t breastfeed. I was shocked, why wouldn’t she breastfeed? I couldn’t fathom why any mother wouldn’t choose to breastfeed her baby or wouldn’t want to breastfeed for that matter.
Fast forward to a year later; when my daughter was born at 34 weeks and spent the first three days of her life in an incubator being fed through a tube. What followed was the worst three weeks of my life as my husband and I watched our brand-new baby girl spend a further three weeks in a high dependency ward. She had yet to gain the suckling reflex which does not begin until about the 32nd week of pregnancy and is not fully developed until about 36 weeks, often leaving premature babies with a weak suckling ability.
Of course, that didn’t stop the midwives in hospital grabbing my boobs and sticking them in my daughter’s tiny mouth and I’ll also point out that my daughters head was so small I thought at one point my giant boobs might suffocate her. However, we tried and tried to no avail.
When I wasn’t sat next to my daughter’s cot I’d head off to a small room; giant bottle of water in hand, breast pump and magazines at the ready and sit there balling my eyes out as my pathetic milk supply trickled into the sterilised bottles. This, for me was one of my lowest points following the birth of our daughter.
The pressure I was put under was unbelievable and the stress I endured took me to breaking point on a number of occasions. We would leave the hospital every evening and I’d set my alarm through the night to express my milk, whilst my baby girl was on her own in hospital ten miles away. This stress didn’t exactly get my milk supply flowing but as determined as I was I pumped away and pumped away racked with the guilt that my idyllic perception of what life would be like with a new-born baby was now just a crappy distant memory.
Scrolling through my Twitter feed last night two tweets I came across that really struck a chord with me were:
‘Breast feeding is not a choice, it’s a responsibility’
‘Nursing your child is the most amazing feeling’
All great advice I may add but nonetheless just another reminder that the ideal is not always the reality.
Before children I just assumed that breastfeeding was a simple process and that it would feel so natural and magical. So, I’m going to admit something that I haven’t really admitted to anyone before (exclusive revelation coming right up)
I didn’t enjoy it; nor did I find it magical, natural or easy.
My son was born at 35 weeks and I came very close to getting it right; my attitude second time around was if I can I will but if I can’t I’m not going to beat myself up over it. He struggled again with the suckling (maybe I just don’t have the right nipples, sorry TMI ha ha) and we tried every position; the football hold, the lying down position, the sitting position, and the laid-back position.
I moved on to expressing when my son wasn’t gaining any weight and was unfortunately losing weight. Many tears and guilt and anger followed when the local midwife came to our house daily to weigh my son and as she would leave I’d be racked with guilt that I was somehow failing again as a mother.
My daughter is now five and my son is one and both were fed on expressed milk topped up with formula for six weeks until I couldn’t do it anymore and moved on to exclusively feeding them formula milk.
I’ve often asked myself If I had felt the great joy and love that so many mums mention when they talk about their breastfeeding experiences; would I have done more, could I have found the strength and perseverance to push through?’
I’ll never be able to answer that question but I draw strength from the fact that both my children were fed; they never went hungry; they never lacked love; nurturing; care and warmth and they’re both happy, healthy incredible kids.
Will it affect their health in later years? Who knows but I know I have gone to hell and back racked with guilt over not being able to breastfeed and I refuse to feel that guilt anymore.
Us mums are all doing our best to get by. Breastfeeding, expressing, formula feeding and learning as we go, making mistakes, rectifying those mistakes and doing all we can to raise our children to the best of our abilities.
Nothing is ever black and white.