Are our positive breastfeeding stories feeding the guilt?

Celebrate World Breastfeeding Week with Fusion Parenting!

 

I am fairly confident that some, if not most of you will know what I mean.

Whether it’s a news item, online news article or mainstream parenting forum post about one’s positive experience of breastfeeding, there is the barrage of insults from some women flinging mud at any breastfeeding success stories. There are cries of guilt, of indignity, of anger. How dare we rub salt into the wounds of women who couldn’t breastfeed? How dare we mention the normalcy of feeding a human infant human milk? Breastmilk as the biological norm? I would think any person could grasp the legitimacy of that. Afterall, how long has the human race survived because of the female production of breastmilk to provide essential nourishment to our young? Why else are we blessed with these beautiful and womanly vessels on our chest that contain mammary glands with milk-producing potential?

But you can’t say that in the mainstream without reprimand or disclaimer. Why is that so? What do we have to be ashamed about? Why can’t we shout from the rooftops our love of something, the amazingness of it, the feelings associated with it, the complete normalcy of it.

*long pause*…….oh….that is right. To say such things would imply that the opposite must hold true then, right? If breastmilk is the biological norm, then babies who are bottlefed must be somehow abnormal? If you mention that breastfeeding for a year lowers your likelihood of breast cancer, those women who didn’t breastfeed will get breast cancer right? And surely all those formula-fed kids must be destined to a life of obesity because in all likelihood, breastfeeding lowers the incidence of childhood obesity?? Every non-breastfed baby must be riddled with gastro-intestinal illnesses, because you guessed it, breastfed babies are less likely to have GI illnesses.

NO! NO! NO! It does not mean that at all! Every quote, every statistic, is so often taken personally- misconstrued and reconstructed as a personal affront- an insult to the integrity of the mothers who couldn’t, or didn’t. But…..you are most definitely welcome to mention the wonders of the bottle. Oh, the myriad benefits to both mother and father! Dad gets to bond with the baby! Mum gets more sleep! She is not beholden to a baby who needs her 24/7! You know what the baby is getting!  Feeding on demand?Who would let a baby dictate when they were fed?

And if you do breastfeed, you have permission to speak loudly of the difficulties. It makes you human right, to admit a bit of defeat? A rough patch? A hurdle you managed to overcome? It makes you easier to like, to relate to somehow because you did the hard yards and battled through and got to the other side. That is the stuff of back-patting- cautious back-patting mind you, because be warned- if you then go on to champion the cause, you run the risk of quickly going from acceptable sob-story to self-righteous and smug do-gooder…or even worse, to be called a bully and someone who lacks empathy for those who didn’t make it. You have crossed the invisible line of acceptability, and have now joined that so lovingly named faction-  “the breastfeeding nazi”…..you will be named and shamed, have no doubt. She who dares mention the wonders of breastmilk risks a fireball of collective outrage cast forth in her direction. You can only speak of such things in whispered tones amongst those “in the club”….you know, all the smug do-gooders that got lucky, whose breasts managed to work properly, who had the luxury of leisure time, lazing around on the couch with a baby on boob watching midday t.v………..

aaaah breastfeeding- its a very emotive act isn’t it? I guess anything to do with parenting is really. And you can never please all people all of the time! My only aim has ever been to ensure the health and happiness of my children. Most of us do what we feel is best for our kids. I don’t care how anyone else feeds their baby- but I am passionate about breastfeeding advocacy and education. So how do I reconcile those things without giving the appearance of smugness? I empathise totally with the struggles of other women when it comes to breastfeeding. I too have been there with my second son. 6 weeks of tears and uncertainty, it was a steep learning curve for both of us. But one thing I was always sure of was this- I would fight tooth and nail to breastfeed him- and there was no external influence on that decision- it was mine and mine only. Heck, I had an army of doubters trailing me all the way. “Helpful” friends who’d never breastfed a day in their life, telling me to “just put him on the bottle” “why are you doing this to yourself?” “you’ll be much happier if you stop”……umm no, I don’t think I would. I want to do this. If I didn’t want to, I would not be persisting through all this ill-conceived and unwanted advice- and there was plenty of that!

But thankfully too there was plenty of support where I needed it most- from my husband. I also sought expert advice where I knew I could find it- a lactation consultant at the local child health clinic, and the midwife who saw me throughout my pregnancy. They held my hand through those tears, showed me time and time again how to latch him on correctly. Explained the ins-and-outs of breastfeeding. How I appreciated all their help. I recall the very moment I put him to the breast, and bracing myself for the pain, all I felt was the let-down. He suckled contentedly, I leant back against my pillow and the weight of the world flowed out from my breasts…..success at last- how sweet it felt!  I couldn’t wait for the next feed- would we do this easily again? Yep- we sure did! I wanted to shout from the rooftops and run down the street shrieking like a woman gone mad “we did it!! breastfeeding is easy now!!!” yet somehow managed to restrain myself. But does any of this make me extra-special as a mother, better than the women who went through hell with the pain and could not go on? No, of course it doesn’t! I am no martyr. I just did what I chose to do, and thankfully I succeeded. 

But fast-forward to my experience with feeding my 3rd child, my daughter, and I am silenced by some fairly harsh critics. We had no trouble from the start. It was always easy. No painful letdown, no pain at all. No trouble with latch, no supply dramas, no confusion….just milky bliss from the first breastfeed, to today- where at 22 months, we are still going strong, and will continue for as long as it works for both of us. What is so wrong with saying that, publicly, with some pride attached?

I confess to finding it a bit puzzling as to why people find their personal choices or circumstances when it comes to parenting- or anything else in life really-so hard to bear when it comes to other peoples success….sure, everyone loves the underdog- I get that. But what about those who got where they are because they sought out information, armed themselves with education, and surrounded themselves with loads of support? Should they not be recognised, applauded and embraced for their proactive approach?

The same thing happens with birth…but hey, thats a whole other blog!

There have been quite a few articles recently, reporting on the “myths of breastfeeding”…and the cries of “yay, finally we are validated!” ring loudly in my ears. Take that breastfeeding brigade- strike one! Well, I have to say we have had numerous strikes against us well before this- breastfeeding rates are appallingly low in Australia at 4 months….there is still discrimination against breastfeeding women feeding in public, and try feeding a toddler or older child- you must be some weird hippie or part of some cult, or even worse, a deviant mother. And we are a minority group, without financial backing or corporate support. All we have is the health system backing us (and often inadequately), and the wonderful advocacy provided by volunteer organisations like the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

So what is the point of all this you might ask? In an ideal world I wish for mothers to support each other through the minefield of parenthood…we all have one common denominator- a love of our children, and their best interests at heart. Why do we need this great divide over one small aspect of our mothering- how we feed our babies? If you didn’t want to breastfeed, bottle feed with pride! If you tried and couldn’t and feel sad about it, I hope you get loads of  hugs and support to deal with those feelings so you can bottlefeed your baby without guilt or sadness. 

But please, please, please do not deny me the ability to profess the absolute joy I have at breastfeeding my daughter. It is mine and hers, a time of total connectedness and quiet appreciation of each other. And I will shout it from the rooftops if I so desire. All I ask for is mutual respect.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by MummyTiff on August 4, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    I was nodding my head all the way through your post Lou……..spot on in so many ways and can I just offer you a huge pat on the back and an invitation to stand on my rooftop and yell about your wonderful breastfeeding relationship anyday! 🙂

    I have not struggled to breastfeed. Both of my experiences have been similar to your 3rd experience (save for some reflux/colic/oversupply/forceful letdown – sounds like I have had issues but that stuff is just part and parcel IMO) and I am a huge breastfeeding advocate. Sadly my advocacy seems to scare family members away when they are having breastfeeding issues. I have never preached and I have never spoken negatively about feeding formula however I have been told “we can’t talk to you because you will make us feel guilty”. That is not me. I am not that sort of person so those comments upset me a great deal. What I want to say (but have learnt to zip it) is that I am not MAKING you feel anything – if you are experiencing feelings of guilt then those are issues you have within yourself that you need to resolve – don’t blame it on me because I can/am breastfeeding.

    I have a cousin who has just started to formula feed today because her baby only put on some small amount of weight in a month. I don’t even pay attention anymore – it makes me so sad. I was the receiver of phonecalls day and night for 13 weeks but at the first mention of weight “issues” she called my sister and they “lamented” their “supply issues” and spoke of brands of formula and bottles together. She then rang me and said she feels better now a good CHN has told her this has to be done and she knows I don’t “believe” in early weaning (I believe it is breast refusal due to issues that can normally be rectified) but that IS what has happened for her and it’s best for her starving daughter if they move to formula.

    Fine. Do it. No need to justify it to me. Why are you doing that? Because I am viewed as some sort of breastfeeding high and mighty person that all should fear? Seems that we have that sort of image though doesn’t it 😦

    Reply

  2. Posted by Kintara on August 5, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    thank you thank you thank you…

    i struggled to bf my son with bad advice and lack of support.. i was sad, i grieved and i formula fed him happily…

    i worked bloody hard to bf my daughter… i read, i asked, i questioned and after her birth i faught… my sister, my mother the doubters… and here we are almost 6 months later going strong…

    you post just resonated with me 100%… i am from a family of formula feeding lactophobes… my bf offends and bothers them.. but with the support of my ABA family.. i continue.. plus i kind of like annoying them all so much…

    Reply

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