Almost a month ago, I took part in a live discussion, that was broadcast on certain TV channels and online. I was asked to join the panel, to talk about my experience of breastfeeding, the difficulties I had, and what I would do again or what I would suggest to help other women. You can watch it here. There as a lovely lady who is a breastfeeding supporter, working in a hospital in London, and also another mum, who had also struggled to breastfeed. It was a very interesting, and informative session.
I am passionate about breastfeeding, in that I think it is part of a women’s body design, and in theory all women should be able to breastfeed their babies. In the interview, the other panellist points out that actually a very small percentage of women are physically unable to breastfeed. I was astonished by that figure, because I have met quite a few women who have struggled to the point where breastfeeding was not working out, or was horribly stressful, painful and difficult, or their babies were not thriving, and they opted to formula feed. I will never criticise a mother for the choices she makes to feed her baby. If a woman feels that breastfeeding is not working, for her and her baby, and chooses to formula feed, then that is her business, alone. I said I am passionate about breastfeeding, but I am more passionate about mother’s being well, happy, feeding their babies the way they think is best, and that the baby is being fed. Sometimes breast is NOT best. It is not up to me to judge or belittle other women, for their choices. We all need to be supporting each other, not tearing each other down.
In the video, you can hear that I had tremendous difficulties with breastfeeding first time round. Many people have told me they are surprised that I stuck to it, and that I must have been incredibly strong, to be able to. No, I was actually simply bloody minded. I felt that I had failed at Big Girl’s birth, I was in the throws of serious post natal anxiety and depression, and generally felt like I was a failure as a mother, and I was damned if I was going to let my body fail at doing what it was biologically designed to do, which was feed her, from my breasts. It was very damaging to my marriage, it took a huge toll on my already fragile mental health, and it cost a great deal emotionally, to get to a place where breastfeeding was normal and easy. It took a long time, a lot of help from a private breastfeeding consultant (I could rant for a long time about how rubbish the NHS is at actually helping breastfeeding mothers and the fact that you get a different opinion from each person who is supposed to be helping you, and the misinformation mothers are given by health care professionals, but that’s another post for another day!) and a lot of blood (literally) sweat, tears and heartache. Big Girl had reflux, I had a milk over supply issue, and I also went back to work, so had to deal with expressing at work and making bottles for her. It was not an easy ride at all. I stuck at it, at great cost.
I was fortunate that the second time round, with Little Man, I vaguely knew what I was doing, and he was a textbook baby in terms of breastfeeding. He actually crawled to my breast to nurse after he was born, and he seemed to know exactly what to do, and we had very few issues. He gained weight, we breathed a sigh of relief, and got on with life. I actually enjoyed breastfeeding. If I tell you truthfully, that I hated it, the first time round, despite sticking it out, for nearly 18 months, you probably won’t believe me, but I did. I also donated over 1000 oz of breast milk to our local NICU, because all the way through, I made too much breast milk, and needed to pump, to stop becoming engorged and falling pray to mastitis. (please don’t tell me there are ways to prevent that or fix it. My body has a hormone imbalance, part of that causes me to produce a lot of milk, all the tricks and suggestions don’t work. I was still able to express milk for months after my children weaned, I eventually had to take a course of strong antihistamines to “dry me up”)
What I can also tell you, is that I was quite prepared to formula feed Little Man, if it had been needed. I was not prepared to have to fight again. As much as I knew that breastfeeding was “best” it wasn’t actually best for me, and if we had had any issues, I would have tried, but I had already set firm boundaries with both LSH and the very supportive specialist Health Visitor assigned to me, to help me if I needed with any PPD/PPA issues that I might have had, and we decided that if it wasn’t working we would bottle and formula feed. I knew, that I could not let my bloody mindedness take over second time round. I would not pump and bottle feed. Been there, done that, that is a hard journey, and not one I am sure I want to take again.
I have no problem saying that. I am not ashamed. It took me a long time to get to that point. I would not hesitate again, to make that choice, if I need to, if we are fortunate enough to have a third baby. Whilst I hope I can breastfeed, if I can’t, if for my own mental health and well being, formula is better, that will be fine.
I am pleased I did the panel, it was a great experience, and I do believe that a lot of problems can be overcome when breastfeeding. But in no way, do I hold myself up as the shining example of “how to succeed at all cost”. I do think there should be more support for women, I do think pre natal advice and education is important. I also think that all health care professionals who come in contact with new mothers should be trained accurately in breastfeeding and how it works, and all be saying the same things, sharing the same correct information, and supporting new mothers in the right ways. I think a little less of the “breast is best” posters dotted around the NHS walls in maternity units and a bit more “lets get all health professional supporting new mums with accurate and helpful information” would be better. I also think that a fed baby is a happy, thriving baby, and that however a mother chooses to do that, is best for her, and her baby. I made many mistakes, I learned from them, being bloody minded might have meant breastfeeding was successful for us, but it probably wasn’t best.