As a new mother the options for feeding my baby were presented to me very clearly. Breast or bottle – you decide. My midwife asked the question of what I intended to do, and I advised that I wanted to try breastfeeding if I could. I was instantly admonished for including the “if I could” element to my answer. I had included it in my answer as I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself to breastfeed, in case there were factors beyond my control that would have stopped me from breastfeeding. Of course we are all told that Breast is Best, and since becoming a mother I have noticed that this sentiment is even included in the small print at the bottom of the screen on the Aptamil Follow On Milk advert. However we cannot foresee the future and problems that could arise. I didn’t want to end my journey before it had begun, but I also didn’t want to put myself under pressure as if I had not been able to breastfeed then I would have felt that I had failed my baby.
Nearly seven weeks in, my breastfeeding journey is going very well and my baby is thriving. Perhaps he is doing more than thriving as his weight gain is well above average and he is following the 91st percentile at the moment!
Whilst I appreciated my midwife’s belief in my ability to nourish and sustain my baby, I do feel that my answer should have been accepted. There are a range of reasons why breastfeeding may not work for some people which are extremely valid. For new mothers I feel that there is already an abundance of pressure, both internally and externally to be able to adapt to the new role that is thrust upon you once that baby is born. Added pressure and anxiety about breastfeeding is not necessary in these circumstances.
I personally feel very passionately that I want to breastfeed my child as long as we are both happy doing so. After all, I certainly don’t want to be getting up in the middle of the night to sterilise, prepare and cool bottles of formula! Even though I feel so passionately about breastfeeding I couldn’t help but notice that throughout my pregnancy breastfeeding was the only option discussed. I attended NHS antenatal classes where every single couple who attended confirmed that they would indeed be breastfeeding. No information was given on bottle feeding at all. In addition to this, I was told that if breastfeeding hurts then you are doing it wrong. Only one midwife acknowledged the truth that breastfeeding was going to be uncomfortable and painful initially as it was new. I had never had a tiny human suckling with all their might for the smallest drops of colostrum hanging off my boobs before – of course it was going to hurt at first!
It is essential that we have the right support in place to help mothers on their breastfeeding journeys, and equally healthcare professionals must acknowledge that whilst breastfeeding may be best there is an alternative option that women may choose for a whole host of reasons. I strongly believe that with the right support where women are given the honest truth about breastfeeding, and there is a culture where there is less pressure to get it right first time or give up more women will choose to continue breastfeeding. As natural as breastfeeding is, it can be difficult and non-judgmental support to continue through the difficult times is what is needed.
Where I live I am lucky to be able to access breastfeeding support groups should I ever feel the need for additional support. I am proud to say that today I attended the first week of a ten week course to become a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter at these groups. I hope that I can be a source of help and provide guidance to other mothers on their breastfeeding journeys to help them continue for as long as they are comfortable breastfeeding.