I’m sure you read that title and thought – of course it is. Everybody knows this. So why don’t we all do it then? Is it because we’re selfish, uncaring mothers ignorant to the scientific evidence providing endless benefits to breastfed babies? Or is it because we can’t, tried and failed?
I’m going to tell you a little bit about my breastfeeding experience. Ciara was born at 37 weeks. After feeling severely depressed during my pregnancy, as well as being physically, completely immobile I found myself in a wheelchair from 25 weeks. When she finally made her entrance I was keen to, well, keen to go to sleep to be honest. Instead, I asked Shaun to syringe colostrum from my breasts. I had always planned to express milk and dual feed, my depression made me feel isolated I knew I needed help from my family and exclusively breastfeeding would of (in my opinion) made that harder. Anyway, Shaun tried to syringe this liquid, described as liquid gold, he managed approx 3ml and handed the syringe to my mum. She dropped it. She fucking dropped it. By this time I’m getting really panicky and Ciara is really screamy and it was decided then and there that her first feed would be a bottle, of which she devoured hungrily. I went to sleep. When I woke up Ciara was screaming again, we decided we’d try and express some milk, she continued to scream for what felt like hours but was soon ripped from my arms by a midwife for what actually was hours, days in fact. She was taken to NICU suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS as it’s also known. Ciara was in withdrawal. She was in withdrawal from the very medication I was told was perfectly safe to take in pregnancy and would in fact be beneficial for both me and baby in its management of my mental health. She was born withdrawing from antidepressants.
After a few days in NICU with her being tube fed, I was asked if I wanted to try and express again, because breast is best. But I was still taking the medication that had harmed my baby. The very medication that had quite possibly saved my life but harmed hers, at this point we were unsure as to what degree the damage was.
I decided that whilst she was still in NICU I didn’t want to breastfeed. Before passing any judgement think about how difficult a decision this was for me. By the time we were discharged some 10 days later my milk had not came in. It didn’t ever come in. And I’m glad. Yes that’s right. I’m glad. Because my daughter screamed for 15 hours a day every day for 10 months, and if my husband wasn’t able to help with both hers and my recovery by giving me a break sometimes, I might of ended up feeling a lot worse. I’m glad I had relieved myself of the immense pressure to come off of the tablets that were keeping me stable, in order to keep my daughter fed. Lord only knows I felt guilty enough!
Do I think breast is best? I think there’s evidence to suggest it’s hugely beneficial. But you know what evidence also suggests? It suggests that 10% of pregnant women and 13% of new mothers will suffer from a mental disorder. It also suggest the responsibility, hormonal changes and feelings of hopelessness are all factors. It also suggests in part, the reason new mothers suffer in silence is for fear of being judged.
I think breastfeeding should be normalised. I think it should be accepted and nobody should feel ashamed to do it in public or anywhere they choose, or for as long as they choose. I think breastfeeding mums are amazing, and I think it’s a lovely and intimate way to bond with your baby.
I also think that all mums should be able to choose to feed their babies how they see fit providing they are full bellied and healthy. I also think that mothers should stop making other mothers feel bad for the decisions they make with regards to their children, and by what method it is that those children are fed.
National Breastfeeding Week is a great way to kick the stigma around breastfeeding but it can also be triggering for those of us that chose not to or weren’t able to breastfeed our babies. I think every loving mother makes the decisions that suit her and her family, best. I think those decisions are always the right ones and if they aren’t, she is then able to adjust accordingly.
Keep breastfeeding your babies, for as long, as often and wherever you like, but keep in mind that for some people it just isn’t an option. I find this ongoing competition between breast an bottle a little like natural birth vs C-section. Fucking stupid. Celebrate National Breastfeeding Week for what it means to you! Please don’t use it as a stick to beat those of us who didn’t or don’t want/can’t do the same. We are all different, our experiences are all different, as are our babies.