The Politics of Breastfeeding

This lovely post from Judith over at Secrets of the Sandpit really struck a chord with me. I’ve been seeing a lot of blogs lately talking about the breast vs bottle debate, so thought I’d chuck my two pence worth in.

Although I exclusively breastfed both my girls and fully intend to do the same for my son, I truly believe it is every mother’s choice. I’m in the minority among my friends, around 80% of them either didn’t feed at all or didn’t feed for longer than three months, but I genuinely do not think any less of them for it. Neither do I feel that they are bad mothers, or that I must love my kids more than they love theirs. They just made a different choice to me, as had decided that was the right thing to do for their little family. It’s not the same choice as the one I made, but hey wouldn’t life be boring if we all did exactly the same stuff as each other? If you have made the decision to formula feed your baby, then you should be happy with that decision. Don’t feel you have justify it to all and sundry, because quite frankly it’s no-one else’s business.

It would appear that poor understanding of what to expect coupled with unreasonable expectations of self are usually to blame for not being able to feed. I would imagine these same reasons end up leading to feelings of guilt, and lets face it us mothers have enough of that to contend with already. One of the soundest pieces of advice I received halfway through my first pregnancy was to research breastfeeding. Up until that point I had naively assumed that I’d give birth and my baby would find it’s way to my boob and latch on. I would urge any mum-to-be that wants to breastfeed her baby to do the same. Properly knowing what you’re up against will help you immensely. This detailed post by BabyCentre explains the whys and wherefores, common pitfalls and offers solutions and support.

This all ties in to a post I wrote a while back about the pressure we put upon our own shoulders. I strongly believe that you should do whatever works for your family, and don’t get too caught up in thinking that everyone else is judging you for it. If they are raising families of their own I can almost guarantee they aren’t. And If they have nothing better to do with their day than judge you and your decisions, then you should feel sad for them and not waste your own precious energy caring.

19 Comments

  1. October 22, 2013 / 6:16 pm

    Thanks so much Rachel. Your post is great too. It’s good to know that there are movements in place to support new mums through what can be a very stressful time xx

  2. October 17, 2013 / 1:19 pm

    I think this post is fantastic. If only everyone viewed this topic through your eyes. My own feeding story is too long to share in a comment so if you don’t mind I’ll share a link to it.

    It’s my view that in general lots of mums who’ve been unable to breastfeed often feel horribly guilty, resulting in understandable hyper-sensitivity on the topic (as was the case with me). In some other cases they’re justifiably proud of their efforts in the BF’ing department but insecure in other aspects. I think this is where the judgement comes in to play. Judging others in order to feel better about one’s own choices or to quash our own insecurities. Parenting is hard and so very important. I just wish we could all build each other up more and judge less and recognising that not everyone is able to breast feed is crucial.

    Posts like yours are exactly the way forward.

    Here’s my post…

    http://mummykindness.com/2013/08/04/i-support-you/

    (Sorry about any typos on this comment! Children jumping all over me!)

    R x

  3. October 15, 2013 / 10:48 am

    Thank you! I feel that forgiving yourself when you make mistakes or do things that perhaps weren’t ‘in the plan’ is really important. More so than ever when you’re a parent. Life is hard enough, us mums (& dads) need to give ourselves a break every now and then x

  4. October 13, 2013 / 5:09 pm

    Thank you! I’ll keep you posted when he joins us next year xx

  5. October 13, 2013 / 5:08 pm

    Thank you. When it works it’s a wonderful thing 🙂

  6. October 13, 2013 / 5:07 pm

    I really feel for you 🙁 A good friend of mine went through an almost identical experience with her third baby (after successfully bf her first two) very recently, and it was so stressful for her. Life is rarely black and white, skim the surface and there is more than likely a story to be told. I hope you’ve made your peace with the situation now x

  7. October 13, 2013 / 9:40 am

    Another Judith here! I do find the whole debate about breastfeeding/ formula feeding to be full of potholes – its not only unfair to judge either camp, but also misleading. A lot of people simply don’t have a choice. I breastfed my son for a year but when it came to my daughter, she failed to thrive and cried 24/7 on breast milk. Even combination feeding when I’d cut out every known allergen from my diet left her miserable and underweight to the point where we were threatened with admission to hospital and feeding tubes. Only special prescription formula worked for her. If I’d been stubborn and stuck to breastfeeding, as I wanted to, she might not be here today. It broke my heart to give up, but it wasn’t a choice. It had nothing to do with parenting ideals or aspirations – it was a matter of survival. Great post though, always good to hear others thoughts. #MBPW

  8. October 12, 2013 / 8:33 pm

    I totally agree with you – whether people breastfeed or not is their decision and nobody else’s business. I breastfed my daughter for 15 months because she wouldn’t drink any other milk: it turns out she’s dairy intolerant. I’m glad I breastfed her, but that’s what suited us and I’d never judge anyone who didn’t breastfeed.

  9. October 11, 2013 / 8:01 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I think i should probably think about this subject a lot less, particularly as its not actually relevant to my life any more. And also, as Denise says, there are so many more important things we should be thinking about and concentrating on. When I hear stories like yours about people overcoming many difficulties to continue with breastfeeding because they felt so strongly about it it makes me feel really proud for you and impressed with your tenacity. But I don’t really like to think that the I avoided the ‘sofa prison’ just because it would have driven me up the wall. Isolation and depression goes a lot deeper than that – its not a flip choice.
    I’m absolutely certain that you will manage to bf your son – I know it doesn’t get any less painful and there may be more obstacles to overcome but I think your overall confidence as a person shines through and that stands you in great stead to succeed. X

  10. October 11, 2013 / 6:47 am

    I agree Denise, such immense sadness in the world yet mums feel they have to divide into camps and take sides on things that shouldn’t even be concerning them. Kindness and empathy go a long way when you’re raising small children, but they are all too often forgotten 🙁

  11. October 11, 2013 / 6:43 am

    Thank you for your comment, which must have taken a lot of thought to write. I read your own post, and can see that this subject is very close to your heart. Thinking of my response actually kept me awake way past my usual bedtime last night, and I hope you’re happy with it.

    I originally didn’t want my post to be my personal bf story, but perhaps I should have put more detail into it. Because it wasn’t easy, certainly with my first, but it was the right decision for us. I have a very long standing dairy intolerance dating back to when I was a baby, so formula wasn’t an option for me purely due to my negative experiences with dairy products. My first born was fussy, had reflux and didn’t start sleeping through the night until she was nine months old. She was very difficult to wean onto solids and we’ve since discovered that she has multiple food intolerances which is probably why. I stopped bf her at 11 months when she pushed me away indicating she was ready to give up the boob.

    My second daughter was a textbook angel-baby from the moment she entered the world. She was also exclusively bf but she slept through the night for the first time at just ten weeks and by three months was sleeping twelve solid hours, apart from the odd occasion when she’s been ill and needs comfort. I bf her for longer than my first and stopped at 15 months when we were down to one feed that lasted ten minutes. It doesn’t look like she suffers with intolerances like her sister (I’m crossing fingers on this one). As a rule she is very placid and laid back, whereas her big sister is highly strung and demanding. I guess my point is that every baby/child is completely different, even if they had exactly the same start in life.

    I strongly believe, as I wrote in my post, that being armed with as much information as possible beforehand was the main reason I managed to successfully bf my girls. It was not easy, and some days I had to resign myself to what a friend describes as the ‘sofa prison’ and succumb to not leaving the house or getting much done. I didn’t mind although I can understand that it would drive some people up the wall. Breastfeeding worked for me, and I’m hoping to achieve the hat trick when my son joins us, but never say never. None of us has the magic of a crystal ball.

    I’m sorry if you misconstrued anything I wrote, I can put my hand on my heart and say there are no hidden meanings behind my words. I honestly feel that us mums need to support one another, and, hopefully, help mums-to-be who haven’t already gone through these experiences.

  12. October 11, 2013 / 6:09 am

    Seems to be an age old debate, that just causes unnecessary heartache 🙁

  13. October 11, 2013 / 6:08 am

    Thanks Judith, it’s really kind of you to say that.

  14. judithkingston
    October 10, 2013 / 9:05 pm

    Thanks for linking to my post! 🙂 The Internet needs more people like you who encourage us all to live and let live.

  15. judithkingston
    October 10, 2013 / 9:04 pm

    It is such a tricky topic, and hard to write anything on the matter without alienating people or making them feel bad, so I am very sorry that you came away from reading my post feeling like that. It is odd how both women who breastfeed and women who formula feed feel so defensive, hounded, ostracised, maligned and judged. It’s almost like we are all at a stand off, unwilling to be the first to lay down arms and say: okay. I won’t judge you and I will trust you not to judge me.

    I think you made exactly the right decisions with feeding. The very most important thing is that you are happy and coping, because that is ultimately what is best for your child. I was a hair’s breadth away from giving up with my daughter at 5 weeks. It was really only the knowledge that with my son it did get better in the end that kept me going. If, like you, all I had to look forward to was more anguish and pain for another 5 months I would have stopped.

    xx

  16. October 10, 2013 / 8:12 pm

    I breasted for ages but it was much easier for me as I was at home all the day and both babies were ridiculously greedy for milk, and would never drink out of a bottle. I’m pretty corner cutting and the idea of organising the sterilising of bottles etc would have horrified me.

    But I don’t get why people have to judge each other over how they feed their babies. All across the country and across the world, there’s child abuse, and neglect, and child soldiers, and horrific human rights abuses in North Korea and all some people can think of in this country is criticising other people’s baby feeding choices?? 🙁

  17. October 10, 2013 / 6:57 pm

    I breastfed my first son for 20 weeks and then the stress/depression and sleep deprivation overcame me and I went to formula. With my second I made a concious decision to give up breastfeeding after 5 days as I knew that despite what everyone says about the first six weeks being the hardest, etc, I was clearly still not coping with it after 5 months the first time round and I didn’t want to put me and my second baby through the psychological torture of the whole experience when I knew I could be getting on with life proper and bonding with my baby from the off.
    I don’t feel guilty about it but I do feel defensive. Mostly this is because of things I’ve read, not things I’ve heard or experienced in my own life. I think your attitude is one of supportiveness but it could be taken as dismissive of any formula feeder’s right to express their own experience like I did in my post http://andthenthefunbegan.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/yet-another-breastfeeding-v-formula-feeding-post/ . There are certain things which you say (I’m sure completely subconsciously) such as “80% of them either didn’t feed or didn’t feed for longer than three months” which imply that formula feeding is not actually good enough to be considered “feeding” at all. This is obv completely petty and I’m sure you didn’t mean that at all as your whole post is supportive and pro-choice on the matter. But you see where this is tricky terrain and blimey, yes it can become a political issue!
    I read the post from Secrets of the Sandpit too and the overwhelming feeling I take away from that is, if I’m being completely honest, one of a little bit of jealousy because I wish I could have been the kind of person who could breastfeed successfully – I would have had to be a completely different person though, probably both physically and mentally and my baby (certainly baby No.1) would have had to be a different kind of baby too (he was colicky and never stopped crying). I have to admit that I can’t help but think of extended breastfeeding with a little bit of mixed feelings (which I would certainly never express out loud to anyone!) but at the same time put it down to both social indoctrination and a little bit of jealousy.
    I can’t imagine the society where people were looked down on and criticised for breastfeeding as I entered the arena (both geographically [Surrey] and chronologically) at a time when breastfeeding is preached at mums to be with biblical proportions! Its weird how the pendulum swings so far from one extreme to the other!

  18. Christine
    October 10, 2013 / 4:38 pm

    Strangely, 43 years ago I was the only breast-feeding mother on the maternity ward ( in those far off days, you’d stayed in hospital for 10 days!), now as a grandmother of two, I am extremely proud that my daughter has followed suit and has successfully breastfed her two daughters also. Things haven’t always been supportive of this natural way of raising your child, not only now, but in the past, when I was regularly questioned why my child was not being bottle fed.

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