Mums are being broken by breastfeeding.
This was one of the conclusions from last night’s Channel 4 Dispatches about breastfeeding.
It was an interesting documentary and gave some great insights into this issue, particularly why our breastfeeding rates here in the UK are so low.
One of the main themes to come out of the debate was that mums are facing an uphill battle to successfully breastfeed their child. They do not get the right support to show them how to do it, formula is pushed on them by health workers desperate to give them an easy fix and they face judgement when feeding in public.
I’ve written many a post about breastfeeding, mainly because like so many other new mamas it took me by surprise just how difficult it was and how much it impacted on me emotionally.
As a result I’ve been a huge champion of the “fed is best” attitude, because the “breast is best” marketing campaign just makes mamas who don’t breastfeed feel inadequate.
But over the last few weeks, as I’ve read comments from fellow mamas on my Facebook page and re-examined my own experiences of breastfeeding, I’ve come to a slightly different conclusion.
I still believe that formula is a perfectly good option for feeding your baby. Some women genuinely cannot breastfeed, whether it be because they don’t want to, they couldn’t produce the milk or the pain was too much for them.
However I also think the boob-shaped pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. That’s because we are now almost too eager to say: “Oh, you’re struggling to breastfeed. Well that’s cool, just take this bottle instead.”
We are so worried about offending mamas, about making them feel guilty amidst the debate about breastfeeding, that we aren’t supporting them enough to actually give it a real go. In our eagerness to make it clear to mums who formula feed that they’re doing the right thing, we have alienated breastfeeding mums and made breastfeeding like a dirty little secret.
This problem is not only with the health service, but it’s also society in general, right down to our individual support networks.
We are so keen to support mums and get them “back to normal” after giving birth that we aren’t giving them a chance to adjust to the craziness of welcoming a newborn baby.
Another key issue is that breastfeeding is marketed as being natural, an easy option.
If someone had told me how much breastfeeding would hurt and how much my baby would fuss at the breast at times, then maybe I wouldn’t have worried so much that she wasn’t getting enough milk or that I wasn’t doing it right.
I now know that getting the hang breastfeeding does not happen overnight. With my second child I went into it way more confidently, knowing she would cluster feed, fuss about latching on and that it would feel like a razor blade was being run over my nipple every time.
Because I knew this is what it would be like, I had far more confidence in myself to persevere.
With my first child I was handed a bottle of formula on day two of her life in the hospital, because I wasn’t managing to feed her frequently enough.
It’s this attitude of rushing to get mums independent, and encouraging mums to give formula after just a couple of weeks struggling to breastfeed, that is leading to funding cuts to support services by local authorities.
The last thing I want this post to do is make mums feel like they HAVE to breastfeed. You really, really don’t. My opinion on breastfeeding will always be do it if you can and you want to, if not then formula feeding is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
But I worry that amidst the calls to be more understanding towards women who haven’t been able to breastfeed, we have forgotten those who desperately want to make it work but can’t get the help they need.
Let’s give new mums the moral and practical support that they need.