Breastfeeding is something that so many people have an opinion about and as a person with boobs and a newborn baby I’ve never been more conscious of the different opinions that are out there.
And there are a lot of different opinions!
These do not all conform nicely so whatever you do you are bound to be doing the wrong thing as far as some people are concerned. You can only hope that these people who think you are doing the wrong thing aren’t people in your immediate vicinity that feel able to express their judgment of your breast etiquette ineptitude.
I always wanted to breastfeed, I accept the arguments put forward that breast milk is good for the baby and I’m also pretty lazy and a bit of a skinflint at times. I assumed it would be easier and cheaper to breastfeed a hungry tot with hooters on demand, ready to go at any moment, than having to faff about with formula. So my plan was to breastfeed but I was also aware that this isn’t an option for everyone and I was open to the possibility that for whatever reason formula might be the way forward.
Wanting to breastfeed was my choice, I do not judge women (or men, apparently with the right hormones birthmothers aren’t the only ones who can breastfeed) who do not, for whatever reason. Perhaps they can’t, perhaps they prefer a combination of breast and formula, perhaps they just don’t want to. I don’t need to know their reasons, these women do not owe me or anyone else any explanations. To breastfeed or not to breastfeed, that is the question but the answer is highly personal and down to individual choice. Or at least it should be.
However, there is a lot of pressure to breastfeed with an underlying undercurrent (or sometimes very overt current) of judgement of your failings as a mother if you don’t breastfeed. People demand explanations, even if the question of how you plan to feed your baby seems quite innocently put.
What I hadn’t realised, despite the midwife at our antenatal classes strongly making the point, was just how hard breastfeeding can be, particularly in the first few days. You know that boobs providing babes with milk is their natural function so it is easy to assume the process comes, well, naturally. Even as the midwife was explaining that breastfeeding is a skill which takes practice for you and baby and the potential challenges involved, I was sort of registering this but mostly just thinking, well my mum breastfed me and my two brothers so I assume I have a natural ability and this doesn’t apply to me.
I was wrong. My first attempt at breastfeeding seemed successful, the little one seemed to get hold of the nipple and seemed happily sucking away. Sure it was a little uncomfortable but I figured my knockers would toughen up after a day or two, I was just chuffed the bambino seemed to be doing alright. I resigned myself to the fact that this was my life now, continually putting myself out for the baby’s welfare. Day one was also comparatively easy because newborn’s are pretty exhausted by the birth process (mum’s are too but that seems to be of lesser importance – see previous sentence) and they are still pretty full from all that placentay goodness they’d been living off up until recently.
Day two a whole different story. Baby was awake a lot more and awake baby seemed to think best option for being awake was to demand boob, which I of course supplied, every 30 minutes or so. The slight discomfort I’d experienced at first turned into an almost agonising pain by the third day and before I knew it I was ordering silver shields off Amazon desperate for some sort of solution that would get me through at least a week of breastfeeding let alone the six months or so I’d initially banked on.
I was fortunate during those first few days to be comfortably ensconced in my Swiss hospital with a selection of midwives on hand at any hour to help and advise. They provided some sticky plaster things for the nipples which seemed to help and were generally reassuring.
Best bit of advice from one of the midwives was that sometimes my baby just wanted something to suck on and this didn’t need to be my breast, a finger would suffice. I can’t stress enough that this time is so confusing for every new mum (and dad) and trying to placate a crying child becomes a top priority so helpful little tips makes a great deal of difference as our plan of giving a feed every time the bambino cried seemed logical but actually made things a bit more difficult as continually just topping up was tiring for us both and was sometimes giving the mini-me a tummy ache to boot.
Things got easier when my milk came in after three or four days, the potato and I got the hang of connecting to the breasts a bit better and the whole process became painless. I recognise that I’m one of the lucky ones. I cannot even begin to imagine how frustrating it must be for those women who desperately want to but struggle to breastfeed their babies, waiting for a delayed milk supply to kick in, little ones unable to latch and screaming in frustration. Mum’s whose babies drop more than ten percent of their initial weight and struggle to gain the weight back despite round the clock feed-a-thons!
What mum’s need in those circumstances is someone to listen to them and offer support that responds to what she is saying. New mums should feel more empowered to ask for advice and help. They don’t need random family members, friends, etc offering advice or platitudes that fail to address the frustrations currently experienced. If parents decide to add in some formula or give their child a pacifier or whatever they don’t need judgement.
Even as someone fortunate enough to be blessed with a bountiful milk supply I can comment that breastfeeding is hard. Even after six weeks I have failed to master one handed breastfeeding. I still need one hand to support our daughter and one to support the milk-dispenser so that the two can connect easily.
Whilst I’m fully down with the argument that breastfeeding is perfectly natural and that no-one should feel ashamed to whip out their baps in public to feed their kid as and when required, I cannot hide from the fact that I’m still incredibly self-conscious about feeding in public. Prior to attempt public feeding, I’d sort of figured that whilst I probably should be loudly and proudly breastfeeding in all its brilliance I’d probably prefer to do so more discreetly.
As a self-proclaimed feminist I feel a bit guilty about my unwillingness to breastfeed more blatantly. I feel that in joining the multitudes of women that seek out breastfeeding safe spaces or cover their baby and breast, in doing so this sort of supports the notion that breastfeeding is something to be hidden away. Tucking babe under a blanket accepts that using one’s boobs for their primary food-dispensing purpose is something that offends people and that as a milk-full titty bearer I have a responsibility to shield those sensitive souls from my offensive breast. In hiding my baby-fuelling-bazungas away am I fuelling the notion that women ought to do this?
Perhaps. But in the end I asked myself the question, how would I feel if someone gave me grief for openly feeding my child in public? Whilst I know that I have every right to do so and I have more arguments in support of breastfeeding in public than you could shake an entire forest at (let alone a piffling stick), I suspect that I would feel vulnerable and there’s a good chance I’d just cry and feel shitty, even though my hypothetical agitator ought to be the one feeling ashamed.
You hear so many tales of women being shamed for breastfeeding and whilst I operate on the assumption that the majority of people don’t have a problem with breastfeeding in public and of the minority that do it’s going to be a slim margin that feel confident enough to openly criticise a breastfeeding mother. Chances are very unlikely that people are going to make any kind of comment that will make you feel bad, this may never happen, but it would only take one or two unpleasant incidences to taint what ought to be a lovely process of bonding with your youngster (technical difficulties aside).
Perhaps I do have a responsibility to breastfeed with pride on behalf of those that are less capable of doing so, but perhaps I’m just not strong enough to really put myself and my ‘girls’ in the firing line at the potential cost entailed. Consequently I concluded that I’d be more comfortable covering up.
However, hypothetical lactation ruminations are one thing, the practicalities of trying to surreptitiously feed are quite another as I soon discovered that I just can’t publicly feed as discreetly as I’d wanted to. I am envious of those that can subtly slip their kids under their top and leave them to get on with the milking process without fear of baby drowning in milk and everything mum’s wearing plus those within a ten feet radius getting covered in the white stuff.
I need both hands to ensure tiddler and tit are in perfect alignment and I need clear line of sight to check the tiny one’s progress. I am currently enjoying some very enthusiastic breasts, eager to feed at any opportunity and whilst I’m grateful for this juggling my jugs to prevent the quite literal showering of my infant in milky goodness, let alone the soaking of several outfits a day, requires a lot of concentration. Frankly I haven’t the time to be faffing about with modestly-placed scarves, etc.
If the beard is with me I can ask him to drape something over both of us, although this usually falls off within mere seconds. It’s usually easier to just ask him to use his physical presence as a shield. If he’s not there then breastfeeding-deniers be damned, but I’m going to bring out the boobs.
I do still try to sit in a quiet corner of the café or to angle my hooters away from any onlookers but it turns out that my lioness-like instinct to protect my child, including providing its breakfast/lunch/dinner on demand seems more pressing than potentially having to deal with any breastfeeding-averse plonkers.
Hopefully, I’m overthinking the whole thing and will never encounter any negativity when out and about and offering the nipple to my niblet, and that anyone not happy about the process will simply look away and keep their discontent to themselves.