Stop telling us ‘Breast is Best’; we’re not stupid!

I wrote this post months ago. My little boy, who I bottle-fed from 2 weeks old is now 6 months old and thriving. Recently I read some criticisms of the phrase ‘Fed is Best’. How can anybody criticise this idea? We mothers are not stupid – we know breast milk is the best a baby can get. But when it doesn’t work out for some of us, the phrase ‘Fed is Best’ really bloody helps us comes to terms with things. So to see recently on social media someone claim there was a counter-argument to this and share a post entitled: ‘Fed is not Best – Breast is Best’ really angered me. Women should be supporting women and should think a little before they speak.

This is my very emotional breastfeeding journey. I haven’t changed anything since I wrote it almost 5 months ago:

I am feeling inspired to write about my very short-lived breastfeeding journey after seeing a feature on The One Show. I watched the feature whilst crying, holding my 7 week old baby because the story was so familiar to me. The One Show claimed, ‘Only one in 200 babies are breastfed at 6 months in the U.K.’ I hear time and time again that the two reasons for giving up are low milk supply or because babies genuinely can’t latch. These are the only reasons? Bollocks I say! There’s a whole host of reasons but has anyone bothered to ask us, the 199 out of 200 women why we gave up? Let’s say each of the 199 of us had a different problem, I’d bet the vast majority of problems could be solved with prompt quality support.

Exhausting, heart breaking, emotional, painful, without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Do you find it strange that I’m talking so negatively about it?

As a hypnobirthing teacher, we constantly talk about birth in a positive light and try to counteract the damage done by programmes like One Born Every Minute and the stories passed down from generations about how horrendous birth is.

When it comes to breastfeeding though, we have a different problem – it’s neither talked about positively or negatively like birth is. It just isn’t really talked about at all in the media or by society in general, it isn’t normalised. How often do you see women breastfeeding in cafes and restaurants? How often do you see women breastfeeding on the television? It’s rare. So crazy that we can’t normalise something so natural for fear of showing a bit of boob yet there’s more flesh exposed on Strictly on a Saturday night. So this non-exposure means means that the task is a little alien to us, especially so to first time mums.

Oh hang on, yes breastfeeding is talked about. Silly me! We have it rammed down out throats how bloody marvellous it is. And it is, don’t get me wrong. So in those moments, those painful emotional moments where we’re really really struggling and hormonal and fragile, and wincing in pain, we remember all the goodness we’re giving our babies and the wonderful health benefits for both of us, protecting us both for life. Shit a brick! Who can argue with that kind of magic? So we keep on going.

But seriously, all this does for us, the 199 of us who give up, is make us feel even more crap and useless and like failures because we can’t get away from how bloody good breastfeeding is. And it is! It’s frickin’ wonderful and oh how I wish it would have worked out for us.

We lasted two weeks in total.

It felt like a lifetime but yet I know it’s nothing.

Both my experiences are pretty much identical – I learnt my lesson the first time and sought advice and support this time but it was still too late for me.

I asked for support at 1 hour old, 1 day old, two days old, three days old…each time I got pretty crap support – at best a bit of a talk and too frequently a hand shoving my baby’s head onto my breast, tears rolling down my cheeks as he cried and I winced in excruciating pain. No joke! This happened at least 5 times from different people. A hand shoving my baby’s head on my boob isn’t going to teach me or him how to latch properly. In some cases this could have been a time factor – NHS midwives are so stretched that they haven’t time to sit for hours with new mums checking all is going well. In other cases where people clearly had longer, I’m not sure of the reason why shoving my baby’s head onto my boob was thought of as a good technique. And with my sore boobs and crippling after-pains, puffy eyes from sleep deprivation, unkempt hair and a 15 month old toddler clinging to me, I was hardly going to haul ass to a Breastfeeding support group in the town centre where I could meet other mums two days after I’d given birth. Seriously, who does this? So I continued asking for support at every frequent contact I had with professionals.

At 7 days old I contacted a lactation consultant – she was bloody brilliant and the penny dropped. With a few tweaks here and there (excuse the pun) I relaxed, I’d cracked it! I was also told my baby may have a posterior tongue tie. Light at the end of the tunnel – I could cope if it could be fixed soon. I felt happy. I was actually feeding my baby and no matter how painful I could cope because all was going to be sorted soon.

A friend brought round a goody bag of sweets, strong coffee, energy drinks and kind words and it kept me going – honestly, that mutual understanding of what I was going through kept me going a few days longer. Just a few days because on day 10 another professional popped in. And that’s where it all went wrong. With all due respect, she was passionate about breastfeeding and knowledgable and gave me more time than any of the other professionals (except my fabulous private lactation consultant) but through no fault of her own, her advice came too late (the system’s fault).

Picture the scene: one nipple was completely damaged – cracked, bleeding, sore. Boob swollen and hot from mastitis. I was shaking, sick and had a high temperature just for good measure. I cried if I even looked at my boob the wrong way never mind if I accidentally brushed it with my arm. Baby wasn’t feeding on that boob anymore but I still had to pump milk from it frequently. The other breast was pretty sore too. I still cried in pain when he latched on but it was doing well considering how often he was feeding. After each feed, I’d pump milk from the other breast and by the time I’d finished I’d have enough time to sterilise the pump and psych myself up to endure the pain before starting all over again, days and nights merging into one long feeding cycle. Please note, the latch had been corrected and confirmed was perfect now; the pain was due to the damage already done or the tongue tie.

Add to the mix the usual crazy surge in hormones after birth and general tiredness from feeding around the clock.

So to be told my baby had dropped below his birth weight again after initially gaining was expected. Fine. But to be told he was hungry and scrawny was a massive downer. Language is so so powerful. And in those raw, emotional, fragile days, language has the ability to make or break.

Heartbroken doesn’t cover it!

I gave up – that night. And the relief and guilt simultaneously coursed through me yet again. Relief won – it felt wonderful. Guilt will rein supreme though I’m sure.

I’m writing this, partly for cathartic reasons, partly to help others. Breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be practised and learnt and unfortunately some of the support isn’t up to scratch; all of the support I received wasn’t up to scratch or was too late apart from the private consultant. The best £40 I spent.

So my advice to any pregnant ladies hoping to breastfeed, is find good support before you need it. Get the numbers, make contact before your baby arrives just in case you need 1-1 in-home support on day 1. You might not need any. Or you might be offered excellent support in hospital. But just in case. I know there are plenty of women who have endured far more on their Breastfeeding journeys and continued to breastfeed through the massive lows. I salute you. You are bloody amazing! To anybody going through similar things – it’s about what is right for you mentally and emotionally. Bottle feeding was right for Thomas and I in the end. I’m at peace with this. I don’t cry now because of guilt, but it is still a pretty emotional subject for me.

If the millions of pounds went into quality prompt support rather than lecturing us why breastfeeding is so good for babies, UK breastfeeding rates WOULD BE so much higher and PND might be considerably lower too.

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