As the mother of two kids and a thriving twenty year old, I feel I am qualified to comment on the recent activity around the much publicised concept that Breast Feeding is the most healthy option for baby.
Well of course it is, but with this sort of pressure on new Mums who are already expected to give birth naturally, perhaps in a birthing pool, without any form of pain relief (as it is purportedly bad for baby bonding), and then blissfully breast feed whilst singing early songs of learning and running a business from home. Well, completely ludicrous and virtually impossible.
I know that in many third world countries and primitive societies, women are surrounding by many other females who massage the Mum who has just given birth, nurture her, support her with breast feeding and bathing the baby, and allow her to have ample sleep to be able to cope with the anxieties of new motherhood.
So in our supposedly civilised Western World, where does the support come from? I clearly remember twenty years ago when pregnant with my first child attending a local National Childbirth Trust pre-natal class. I was completely intimidated by the woman who was running the classes, as she had given birth to five kids, had breast fed them all and was still a size 8 or less! She had the body of a child herself, which made me feel like an elephant as I had gained over four stone throughout the pregnancy.
She was also married to a very wealthy man which gave her access to nannies and home help, which was not available to me in those days with my meagre salary and that of my husband’s which just about got us by each month. We were both teachers.
I remember the discussions then about gas and air being acceptable but any other pain relief being quite taboo. A life size baby doll was passed around and instructions of how to latch the baby onto the nipple was also provided. What they don’t tell you is that it is like having a major metal vice clamped onto your breasts when the baby starts to suck, and I have never been into that sort of pain.
When I eventually gave birth I had gas and air followed by an epidural, and was fortunate enough to still give birth naturally, although it was touch and go at the end, with the ward full of doctors and nurses standing by to do a C-section if needed. Fortunately, I was young and strong and managed to push the baby out myself after the epidural had worn off.
It certainly did not affect my bonding with my daughter who I fell in love with immediately. But I do know that every case is different.
As my default position is ‘guilt’ probably stemming from my Convent upbringing, I was determined to give her the best start in life, and had decided to breast feed no matter what.
The first few days as the milk was coming in was the most difficult, because not only was I not prepared for the complete exhaustion and lack of sleep, but when the hormones kicked in I felt weepy and completely unable to cope.
My daughter was not a good sleeper by nature and still isn’t, and so I had the added disadvantage of a constantly crying baby and one that didn’t seem satisfied with the amount of milk I was providing.
After several days of struggling I finally managed to breast feed fully, but had already topped her up with a little cow’s milk which I was told by a self-righteous breast feeding friend that this had defeated the object. But I had to otherwise I don’t think I could have breast fed at all.
I also developed a very painful breast abscess after a couple of weeks, and had to be put onto anti-biotics, but was told the baby could continue to feed on the other breast. Ouch!
I was fortunate that as I continued I was blessed with oodles of milk which continued for a good year, even when she started eating solids (and no I didn’t cook all her meals from scratch or feed her just raw vegetables), and in spite of the ‘nagging’ from the holier than thou ‘Breast is Best’ brigade, feel that I did my best, even though it was not perfect.
In defence of other Mums who have found breast feeding impossible for a multitude of reasons, I have observed that they have managed to bring up fit and healthy kids, and formula fed babies often sleep a lot better than breast fed ones, giving both Mum and Baby a chance of real bonding without one or the other suffering from exhaustion.
They can also put on weight much quicker than breast fed ones, which is another stigma as you attend the humiliating weigh-ins with other Mums at the clinic. My daughter always came in a couple of pounds short of the ‘average’, which was another unnecessary pressure and completely unjustified.
So what I am trying to say is that as long as it works for you, we all know breast milk is loaded with antibodies and nutritious benefit, but if you are finding it impossible, don’t beat yourself up, because zillions of human beings who have been ‘deprived’ of this initial benefit are leading perfectly normal healthy lives and if we take the pressure off the Mums, perhaps more will find it a perfectly natural way of feeding baby without the judgement that exists in our Society today.