What I think about when I think about breastfeeding

The second instalment in what is no doubt a sporadic and fitful reflective diary.

My opinion is this. Breast is not “best.” Breast is *normal*. Breast milk is made by a mother’s body for the benefit of a baby. It is why we are called mammals. The vast majority of UK women are physiologically and psychologically capable of breastfeeding, equally the vast majority of UK babies are able to do so. Artificial milks are fine, but they are not equivalents. They are an imperfect industrial product, which, when prepared correctly, babies usually do fine on. They are also aggressively marketed and promoted in various ways, both subtle and overt. But in the majority of cases, they are not *necessary* for the health and welfare of either mother or baby, any more than a baby wipe warmer might be.

What I have stated above is true. However you ended up feeding your baby is irrelevant to the facts.

If you chose to use artificial milk, I pass no judgment. Perhaps you made a conscious choice. Perhaps you are physically or psychologically incapable of doing so.

Perhaps you were influenced by celebrities or advertising, or perhaps you were not.

If you wanted to breastfeed and ended up using artificial milk, I conclude that you were failed: either by your body, your baby, your family, your midwife, doctor, health visitor or a combination of the above. I don’t want to make you feel bad about it.

The fact is, I chose to train as a breastfeeding supporter to try and help women like you, in whatever small way I can.

Many women who use artificial milk get upset and het up about terms like “artificial milk” and what they perceive as a hectoring tone. I must admit that I’ve never come across a breastfeeding enthusiast who was rude or cruel to a bottle feeding mother.

Perhaps the judgment and harshness exists in their heads – certainly there are some women I have come across who would accept no criticism of their feeding method at all, and would immediately use terms like “nazi” and “propaganda.” Or perhaps nasty breastfeeders do exist, but I keep on missing them.

The term “propaganda” is interesting. It suggests dishonest promotion, and with its overtones of totalitarianism, implies that pregnant women encounter glassy eyed midwives chanting slogans and handing out pamphlets with the message that formula milk is poison.

Fact is that there’s no propaganda, merely frequent mention that, if you could, if you possibly might want to, it might be nice to, you know, breastfeed? A bit? It’s not as bad as everyone says. And then that’s it. After the birth of a baby you are cast adrift in a patchy sea of vague advice, shrugs and the inevitable suggestion of a “top up”.

Top ups should not be the first remedy for breastfeeding problems, but they usually are, and lead to the slow, sad death of breastfeeding. We have so little faith in our own ability to feed our babies that we tend to reach for a commercial, industrial product for reassurance.

So, yes, I successfully breastfed my first and so far only child, for over a year. I am one of an almost negligible minority of UK women to do so: around 2%, depending on your criteria and whom you ask. I did not have an easy ride of it by any means. I had thrush, mastitis and nipples that looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to them, all within the first 2 months. I had weight gain scares and my daughter’s poo was the subject of much speculation for quite some time.

I was thinking about why I succeeded when so many women I know did not. I was the only one in my NCT class of 9 who managed it – sadly as a result I never really felt part of the group when they talked about bottles and teats and I was worried they thought I was judging them – we had nothing in common.

There are various reasons, I will try to list them.

* I have a family history of dairy allergies and was damaged myself by being given artificial milk at birth. I still suffer from various things including asthma and eczema.
* My mother breastfed my two younger brothers and I remember seeing her do this.
* This motivated me to find out why so many women set out to breastfeed but don’t manage it. Two things informed me the most: the Mumsnet breast and bottle feeding forum, and The Politics of Breastfeeding by Gabrielle Palmer.
* I observed that making up bottles of formula seems to be expensive, and a tremendous faff.
* I asked successful breastfeeders IRL for advice.
* Knowing what to expect helped me prepare for 6 weeks or so of doing nothing but feeding. I began to look forward to it.
* I had a doula when I had my baby, who breastfed her own children.
* I threw my weight around immediately after my c-section. I demanded to be given my baby to feed as soon as possible. I insisted that my drip be removed at the first opportunity. Rather than panic when she spent her first 2 nights in hospital wakeful and feeding, I took her for nocturnal adventures around the maternity wing. I know now that had I asked for help, I would have been offered formula. I know this because I found the formula storeroom one one of these expeditions.
* I reported the midwife who suggested topping up. And ignored her.
* I made contacts whilst pregnant and spoke to named individuals when I encountered problems.
* I co-slept.

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