First off, I want to throw it out there that yes, I know breast is best, I know that breastfeeding has so many benefits and that nothing can compare to it. I do intend to breastfeed, and have great support from family so I can’t see myself not breastfeeding. That being said, over the past few months I’ve noticed a kind of competition between breastfeeding mothers and non-breastfeeding mothers. Not even a competition, but a certain tension maybe.
I’ve joined a few groups for advice and tips just so I have a better understanding of what it is like to breastfeed and what I may come up against. I’m pretty determined, and honestly don’t see myself formula feeding so I figured Id get some information on the subject so I’m properly prepared. There are a few things I’ve noticed in these groups, and outside of them too actually, that have made me, time and again, sigh and want to cry. One of the most important (to me anyway) is the rift, the unsupportive nature of both sides of the breastfeeding argument. And lets be honest, that’s exactly what it is. An argument against women, by women. And that’s just not fair. Women should not be fighting other women, on such issues as birth and nursing. We should support each other and supporting the decisions we each make as individuals, even if we don’t quite agree with them.
Secondly, I want to make a point about why women choose not to breastfeed. Why they might not find its right for them, and why nobody can judge them for the choice they have made. Because again, this about choice, and the right every woman has to make her own without fear of criticism.
One of the biggest reasons I think women choose not to breastfeed, is the pressure from the public and more often than not family and friends too, and then of course, from actual healthcare professionals. Time and time again I have seen women being shamed for publicly feeding their child. Numerous times I have witnessed pictures posted on Facebook or other forums, of women feeding their child in public, which is actually within their right, but some arrogant people (men and women both) seem to think there is something wrong and disgusting about it, because don’t forget, breasts are purely sexual, for the male gaze only, so if they are doing something inherently non sexual, society will step in and shame that woman! Women have been told to feed in bathrooms, or that they should have more respect, cover up, or just bottle feed to keep their dignity, and yet, if they were stripping off for magazine covers, perfume ads, tv or film, page three of newspapers, this is all very acceptable, because its adhering to the rules that boobs are for men, not babies! This is a lot to come up against when all you are trying to do is feed your baby. And that’s just with the public. What about when family and friends look at you like you’ve two heads? Or just pulled your boob out for the sake of it? I have yet to breastfeed, but have already had conversations with people on why I ‘wouldn’t just formula feed?’ Didn’t I know how difficult breastfeeding is? and also, how formula is just as good as breastfeeding? If family and friends are questioning women’s choices when it comes to breastfeeding, but not formula feeding, then it shows a complete lack of support for the decisions that mother has made, which she made with the best if intentions for the health of her baby. But wait, there’s more. What if you deal with all of this, and then find yourself in the nurses office for your babies check up and the nurse is telling you your milk isn’t enough, your baby isn’t putting on enough weight, that you should top-up with formula, or your baby is too old and doesn’t need your milk anymore, or you aren’t making enough milk and your baby is suffering? What then? You have society, family and healthcare professionals telling you to formula feed. And this is the problem with breastfeeding, especially in Ireland. There is literally no support for the woman who chooses to nurse which only increases the difficulty level. I’m not surprised women don’t want to be hassled everywhere they go for the way they feed their babies. I’ve even seen breastfeeding mothers have to ask if there are certain area’s where they can breastfeed in shopping centers, which only proves to me that, even though they have a right to breastfeed ANYWHERE, sometimes its easier to just do it privately.
And these are just peoples perceptions of breastfeeding, which can be overcome if you have a strong enough head on your shoulders, if you are determined not to let society control your body, and believe me, I cant wait to whip out a boob in public and have some jackass tell me to use bathroom, because that person will rue the day they chose to tell me what to do with my body! I will come down on them like the hammer of Thor, giving them all sorts of shit about trying to shame women’s bodies, and forcing their bigoted opinions on me just because they are too sexist to see breasts as anything other than sexual body parts. However, there are more issues surrounding breastfeeding that may be a bit more difficult to overcome.
There are so many problems associated with breastfeeding, that to be honest I had no idea of until I joined the breastfeeding groups, which lead m to be a little more understanding of women who choose formula over breast. Blocked ducts, thrush, cracked nipples, and Mastitis appear to be very common and painful as hell. I’ve lost count of the amount of posts I’ve read about women being in agony with their breasts due to feeding. The doctors visits, the antibiotics, the pain, the still having to feed your baby through all this…yeah it seems a lot to handle in my opinion. After birthing your baby you would hope that that was the end of your discomfort, but apparently, no, that’s not the case. You’re in it for the long haul I’m afraid.
This next one I have noticed mostly from family, but I have read a few posts from other women who have gone through the same, and that is a very strict diet. I mean, ridiculously strict. Throughout pregnancy women are inundated with advice on ‘what not to eat’ because it could kill your baby…OK that may be an exaggeration, but that’s kind of the impression you get when you read these lists. They cut out so much stuff for so many different reasons, that when you have finally had your baby you think your free, you can stuff your face with whatever the hell you please and not feel guilty. Except that’s not quite true is it? You notice that wheat or dairy gives your baby gas and its up all night long crying and trying for the life of it to fart. (I’ve seen it, it’s not good!) Poor baba is wriggling, uncomfortable, your up trying to wind it, half asleep, and suddenly you realize, your body still isn’t your own, your food is still responsible for the babies comfort, so say goodbye to anything that gives wee baby gas. I’ve heard from people with babies who were formula fed that they were sleeping through the night by week 10, and yet breastfeeding mothers are still up five times a night with theirs. The reason being that formula takes so much effort for baby to digest that it makes them sleepy, and mama’s milk on the other hand does not have the same effect. It’s easily digested, which can mean baby gets hungry more often, and wakes much more frequently.
OK so I may seem to be suggesting that formula is the better choice, I honestly don’t believe that, I know that breastfeeding offers incomparable benefits and that breastfed babies usually have better immune systems. Breastfeeding has been proven to reduce the risk of SIDS, Breast milk is specifically tailored to your babies needs, it can produce the goodness that your baby is lacking like some sort of magic. There is literally nothing like it, not even formula, which isn’t actually a substitute at all. I’m not saying that all women will have these problems either, there are many women who have not had any of these breastfeeding related issues, but these are women who had support, who had the correct information, and were not willing to let peoples perceptions influence their decisions.
What I am trying to do is have everyone understand that breastfeeding can be really difficult, and not everyone has the ability to stick wit it, especially if they don’t have the right support, which is wholly lacking in society. I love that women are trying to normalize breastfeeding, and doing their best to change the way society views breasts, what I don’t love is the women who criticize other women for choosing not to breastfeed, I find it slightly patronizing, and unsupportive of women in general. These women might not even be criticizing the choice, but may feel the need to tell the formula feeding mother of all the benefits of breast milk, or question why they chose formula, and questions like these resonate with me, because I come up against the same thing when people hear of my decision to have home birth. I hear all sorts of women tell me of the risks associated with what I’m doing, and questioning whether or not i’l be able to handle it, as if I haven’t the slightest idea of birth, as if I haven’t done the research and made a decision based on what I believe is best for me and my baby. I have been outright criticized, which I don’t find helpful, its nobody else’s business but mine. And that’s really the crux of the point I’m trying to make, its nobody else’s business what a woman chooses to do with her body. If she decides to formula feed, then that’s what she thought was best for her family.