Before I had a baby, I rarely thought about breastfeeding. When a friend was upset her newborn baby was losing weight and had to switch to formula, I was confused yet supportive. What did it matter how her baby was fed, I told her. The important thing is that he is fed at all, and how dare anyone make her feel bad.

I’d hear about the ‘breastfeeding bullies’ and I’d think to myself how could anyone call themselves a feminist whilst insisting women force themselves to feed a baby in a way which shackled them, or made them feel uncomfortable. Women have a right to feed their children however they want! I would declare, standing firm in my knowledge I was a true feminist. I won’t be one of those women, I would tell my pregnant self. I hoped I would breastfeed, but I was determined I would NOT feel guilty if I wasn’t able to.

I wish for a world where women aren’t repeatedly told breast is best, or the benefits of breastfeeding aren’t pushed onto them by every health expert around. Where pregnant women aren’t anxious over whether they will be able to nurse their babies, or worried about how the public will greet them unbuttoning their tops. Where formula feeding mothers aren’t examined by strangers, exchanging ‘knowing’ looks or questioned by the professionals who should be providing them with understanding.

I wish for a world where the topic of breastfeeding v formula is boring, where there is no anger or guilt or sadness regarding how a mother fed her own baby.

This world can only exist when breastfeeding is normalised. Breastfeeding is largely tolerated but not entirely supported. I’m sure mothers who don’t breastfeed believe the opposite. They are surrounded by posters, news reports and judgement, reminding them they are the reason why their baby didn’t receive the optimum nutrition they deserved.

I urge these mums to pause. The breastfeeding propaganda isn’t aimed at making you feel bad. It doesn’t exist to trap you in an inescapable cycle of guilt. If you weren’t able to breastfeed your baby, you did not fail. Successful breastfeeding takes a village.

It takes a supportive partner to ensure mum is hydrated and well fed when she is held hostage on the sofa all day. To encourage her to keep going or start at all, in the face of adversity. It takes a supportive family to make sure mum doesn’t have to worry about earning money and can simply relax and enjoy her baby. It takes a supportive community not to pressure mum back to work before she is ready, to accept families may need to survive on one income alone.

It takes informed medical professionals to advise mum how to breastfeed properly, how to check for signs of dehydration, how to prevent difficulties before they occur. It takes every single person around that mum to make sure she feels confident and able to be the source of her baby’s nutritional requirements for a six month period and beyond. It takes an entire cultural shift away from the view that breasts are primarily sexual objects. It takes kindness from a difficult world where women suffer emotional and physical abuse, altering how they feel about their bodies forever.

I was lucky. I have had a straightforward breastfeeding relationship with my son who is now a toddler. As he grew older the questions started pouring in. When am I going to stop breastfeeding? How am I planning on weaning? Don’t I know he doesn’t need it anymore? Don’t I know I’m never going to stop feeding him to sleep? Don’t I realise I’ve made a rod for my own back? Breastfeeding comes with so many conditions and demands from the outside world.

I don’t see mums carrying around bags of bottles and formula as taking an easy way out. I see mums who are doing their very best. I think back to my earlier comment encouraging my friend to continue with formula. What would I say now?

There are many people, as I did, who believe that a woman has the right to choose not to breastfeed if she doesn’t want to. Are there really mothers out there who choose not to give their baby the best nutrition available to them because they don’t ‘want’ to? I haven’t met a single one. There are women who have no choice because they’re going back to work and pumping is a problem. There are women who don’t benefit from the experience of their families and friends to understand the common pitfalls of breastfeeding. There are women who don’t have access to informed medical professionals to make their breastfeeding journey as easy as possible. There are women who do not have the emotional support and guidance to devote themselves and their bodies for the gruelling dedication that breastfeeding and establishing a proper supply requires.

We can put as many posters up as we like but until the real psychological implications of having a baby and the physical demands of nursing are addressed there will continue to be women who believe they are making a choice not to breastfeed and suffer the consequences of that guilt, when that choice was never theirs to begin with.

Do non-breastfeeding mums realise how important they are? How vital their stories and experiences in feeding their children are?

I wish for a world where women know how to breastfeed without being told. Where they grew up watching their mothers and sisters and friends breastfeed. Where it’s understood and celebrated that she doesn’t have to return to work until she wants to. Where her body is sacred. Where we know, that the mother making up a bottle of formula for her baby is not lacking in information or support. Where women asking for help and direction in how to prepare formula aren’t patronised or dismissed by those very people she needs to listen to her.

This has been a very long, convoluted way to congratulate all mums for doing a wonderful job. We’re pretty fucking amazing.

 

Tammymum

20 thoughts on “Why Breastfeeding Isn’t a Choice

  1. Totally. I wish everyone could make an informed choice for their circumstances.
    Take my local NHS. We always said we were formula from day one (after a LOT of research). As soon as we said that we were handed a leaflet with overinflated benefits of breastfeeding and told to go away and think about it. When in hospital when Eden had jaundice I was made to feel like crap for not breastfeeding. For “not even trying”. Even though nobody there had bothered to ask me why. Nobody had respected me enough to actually have a conversation about it. I was just written off as an uneducated formula feeder who clearly did not know the benefits of breastfeeding and didn’t want to do the best for her child.

    I wish we all could support eachother. I wish healthcare professionals could have open, honest discussions with their patients instead of swaying one way or another. I wish women having difficulties with breastfeeding were supported fully to continue if that’s what they wanted, but also respected if they said “enough is enough”.

    It’s time to be real. Be real about the benefits of breastfeeding and about the difficulties. Be real that it’s not all unicorns and rainbows and sometimes you and your baby have to learn to breastfeed. It’s not like in the movies. Be real about providing support to mum’s who are having difficulties and be real about those who want to learn about other options.

    Just think it’s time for reality and time to LISTEN to mothers instead of ramming propaganda down their throats and refusing the discuss anything other than breastfeeding. It’s not helpful

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Supporting mums is about so much more than just handing over a bunch of leaflets! I’m shocked you weren’t offered more sympathetic care and advice.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. By the time I felt we were good at breastfeeding, it seemed other people expected us to stop for absolutely no apparent reason! Keep up the good work and thank you for your comment! 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d love to live in this society too. I breastfeed, I wanted too and I sought out the classes and advice before my son was born. I was prepared for all the pitfalls. I went to support groups after for months. It works for me and I feed confidently in public, wherever I want. No one has ever judged me or asked when I’m stopping. Its normal. I hope things will change and less stigma for both parties. As long as the babies are happy and healthy it really shouldn’t matter how they are fed!! Thanks for linking up to #familyfun

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this and I completely wish we lived in that world too. In many cultures and societies breastfeeding is entirely normal, up to toddlerhood and beyond and almost all others do it. I’ve been lucky with my breastfeeding journey too but now my son is 9 months I think everyone is expecting us to stop soon and I feel a little less comfortable feeding in public.

    I know so many mothers who, if given the right information and support, would have breastfed for longer. #FamilyFun

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so frustrating. We’re stuck in a world where everyone tells us to breastfeed but there are all these ideas and expectations as to what ‘normal’ breastfeeding is. Thanks for your comment and good luck! I tend to only spend time in places and with people who I know are supportive of extended breastfeeding. I thought I would be more militant about it but I just don’t have the energy 😐

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  4. Wow what a fantastic post with brilliant insight. Lord knows I needed a small city to help me breastfeed both my children. I needed friends family, lactation consultants, doctors, health visitors – you name it chances are I saw them, asked them questions and probably cried on them at some point – they were invaluable and essential to my journey. I wish breastfeeding vs bottle feeding wasn’t the debate it is now and like you I wish for the world you have described above. Fantastic post, thank you for sharing it at #familyfun – hope you can come back next week xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tammymum! I’m the same – without classes and lactation consultants and lots and lots of advice my journey would not have been so smooth.

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  5. Hi HappyWawa (I hope I got your name right?), thank you so much for writing this post. I was in exactly the position of your friend you mentioned at the beginning. I was devastated that I couldn’t breastfeed, I felt like I was broken because I’m “supposed to” breastfeed. I had good support. Nobody in my life shamed me for switching to formula because the most important thing was for baby to be fed. But still I felt like a failure, an unqualified mom. 😦
    Months and months later, finally it sinks in that the problem wasn’t just me. It’s a combination of factors. The downfall was probably that I wasn’t informed about the challenges of breastfeeding. Because rarely do anybody talk about the challenges of breastfeeding! Or the challenges of pumping, and how these things come naturally to some, but not to everyone!

    You said, we women believe we’re making a choice not to breastfeed and suffer the consequences of that guilt, “when that choice was never theirs to begin with.” THANK YOU. I think sometimes our loved ones are supportive but they don’t necessarily understand completely. What you wrote made me feel understood.

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    1. I’m so glad you found my post helpful. I think lactivism is often unintentionally perceived as devaluating those who can really make a difference when it comes to breastfeeding – the mothers who didn’t receive enough help to begin with. If breastfeeding is a public health issue, then the public at large is responsible for ensuring that mums can breastfeed their babies.

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  6. Great post! ❤ I'm nursing my 15 mo still. I was lucky to have support from my mother because my lactation consultants and nurses in the hospital I was at SUCKED. Doula and Midwife next time..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For some reason the app on my phone only showed your first two words! How wonderful your mother was there for support. I had great help in hospital but my mum and sister were instrumental in making sure I kept going.

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  7. I love this post. I’m breastfeeding my 4 month old reading this.
    The support provided to breastfeed wasn’t great and I had to seek out my own help. The midwives and health visitors all say the right things, but when it came to practical help it was a different story. I was lucky in that I knew where to look and had a straightforward birth so was in the right state to actually go out and look for help. If I’d had a traumatic birth I would probably have given up. It would be lovely if help was easier to come by for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

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