Tuesday 21 February 2012

Breastfeeding, the choice....

Thanks be to you, a few mammas dear, for clarity in my head that is so so welcome. I wish for all mothers to be able to smile honestly at every other mother, not judge, enough with the judging….

My dear friend told me, after watching me with my baby that if she were ever to have another baby she would do so many things differently to what she had done with her first two. Music to my ears; I too, after meeting and observing so many natural mums along the way, was parenting my third baby so differently than my first. I was relishing in the delights of baby wearing, co sleeping and breastfeeding. To have my dear friend validate how good these things must be for mum and baby felt like a baby step towards the opening of the eyes of all mums to the goodness and wonder that is attachment parenting (for lack of a better term). Then a bombshell as she continued… “But… I still wouldn’t breastfeed”.

photo from: http://newsanchormom.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/breastfeeding-controversy.html

What followed for me wasn’t shock horror, disappointment or despair for this unborn hypothetical baby. It was understanding. A light bulb moment that finally allowed me to get my head around something that had only caused me mental torment until this moment.

The insight that came was that not all women want to breastfeed. That like all things from preconception till our babies are well grown, we have choices. But do women really know that to breastfeed your baby is to make a choice?

Breastfeeding is thrust upon women in prenatal classes and as early in hospital as booking in. Women are almost scared to say they so if they don’t want to breastfeed. Hence unenthusiastically they initiate breastfeeding but at the first opportunity they see as an out they take it. Cracked nipples, milk slow to come in, anything. If women only had the courage to really investigate how they feel about the feeding options available to them; and we as health professionals made it more clear that there are options; that it simply isn’t breast or bottle. There are a variety of feeding options that include breastfeed, pump exclusively, donated breastmilk, mixed feeding (breastmilk and formula), formula. When expectant couples are aware of the options it begins to become clearer that a real decision has to be made, it is not just as simple as turning to formula by default.

It is when these options have had little consideration and breastfeeding begins to hurt or baby is feeding a lot AND all night that the mother who doesn’t particularly care for breastfeeding, lets it go. Not realising she had just made a choice, its very easy for her to say, oh breastfeeding just didn’t work for me, breastfeeding is too painful, I didn’t have enough milk to keep my baby happy. This kind of language can be very detrimental to breastfeeding. This language puts breastfeeding up on an unachievable pedestal. But worse, it undermines the very mothers who choose not to breastfeed, it is an entry way for guilt. Mum feels guilty because breastfeeding didn’t work for her, for what ever reason mother inserts here. Why can’t it be ok for these mothers to say I choose not to breastfeed because it is not what is best for me and my baby at this time. Its not only ok, it’s very important.

In our society where the biological normal feeding method isn’t the culturally normal feeding method a woman has to want to breastfeed for it to work, if deep down, even subconsciously she doesn’t want to breast feed it will eventually fall apart. Probably sooner rather than later. My evidence for this is in my practice and circle of friends even, women who have done everything and anything to hang on to their fragile breastfeeding relationship. I’m talking pumping, complementary feeding, herbs, medications, home visit after home visit, supply lines, donated milk, the works. Until one day the time comes when they can hold their head high and say, you know what, I really wanted this, I tried my absolute best and I’m damn proud of what we’ve been through and achieved. My point is if you really want it you can make it happen to the best of your ability.

Using a lactation aid - photo from


Standing up and making the choice not to breastfeed doesn’t make that mother anti breastfeeding, conversely it is acknowledging the value of breastfeeding and breastmilk and the importance of protecting and promoting it in spite of her own decision not to choose it for her and her baby.

The aim of this is to remove the guilt and pressure associated with feeding choices. The formula feeding mum so often refers to her feelings of guilt over the decision to not breastfeed and the breastfeeding mother so often struggles with trying not to make the formula feeding mother feel bad. We are all responsible for our own feelings so if it is guilt that the mother who chooses to formula feed is feeling; when another mother breastfeeds by her at the shops for example; it comes from no body but her self. If this mother can own her decision to feed her baby the way she has chosen, she has every right to hold her head as high, just as high as the breastfeeding mother does. The only person you have to answer to is your self. If you can’t hold your head high, if guilt is weighing you down then it’s going to take time to assess why. Does it come down to not making a truly informed decision about your feeding options? Did you explore all your options and choose what was best for you? If the guilt is truly crippling, is relactation an option? or do deal with it, come to terms and educate your self better for next time?

We need to stop judging and comparing, I often hear from breastfeeding supporters that they feel sorry for tiny babies when they see them being fed a bottle of what is assumed to be formula. That type of thinking is as harmful to mums and babies as asking the breastfeeding mother to cover up is. We don’t know what their story is, or what’s in the bottle even, maybe its donated breastmilk and the baby is adopted. We only know our own story. The only thing ever that we should think when we see another mum and baby is “oh what a beautiful baby. I’m sure that mum has her baby’s best interests at heart. I know she is only doing her best that she can do today and every day”

Till next time