National Breastfeeding Week took place at the end of June. Over 8 days the UNICEF backed event sought to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding through community events and Mums sharing their experiences.
This year the focus was on "everyone in local communities supporting mothers to breastfeed whenever and wherever they are." As the mother of a brand new baby the idea of celebrating boob feeding is both brilliant and saddening. I am six weeks into my breastfeeding journey and it hasn't been an easy ride. Actually, it has been like trying to revise for an exam 24/7 with no sleep, while physically repairing from pushing out a whole human.
When you think of breastfeeding, see a woman doing it, or go to a breastfeeding antenatal session, the theory seems simple. Get one baby (minimum), two breasts (one at a time) and introduce them. But reality kicks in very quickly after birth. Your new baby has its own brain and will power and often they haven't got the memo on what's supposed to happen. It's as though they weren't paying attention to the YouTube videos you watched! This isn't to mention any complications from birth that may need attending to in those crucial feeding learning hours.
Experts (albeit with the best intentions) convince us breastfeeding will be easy and it's our choice to ust opt in. Bridget Halnan, an infant feeding lead in Cambridgeshire is one of many professionals attempting to reassure that "almost all women are physically able to breastfeed". So you're going to have milk and a baby. This breast food thing is in the bag right?
Not so much and as easy as it is to trivialise the first breast feeding moments now, in fact I am still in shock. The reality for mothers, especially the three quarters who struggle to breastfeed is a massive wave of guilt. The kind of guilt that makes no sense. Even if you are ecstatically happy with your baby, they are healthy, you are recovering well. There is still a rising tide of self-accusation that you decided to breastfeed and can't.
The statistics show the real story. Out of 1,176 women who were surveyed about breastfeeding 81% said they found it challenging and 72% had to seek extra help from a midwife or specialist.
Fortunately there are many resources to help new breastfeeding mums. But with the best will and help of counsellors, a helpline and drop in cafes, for some it just still doesn't click. Sometimes the price of breastfeeding, the stress, anguish and feeling that you are missing your babies first moments is not worth it.
This is why the idea of a national week to celebrate boobie food has it negatives. It is representative of the unrealistic expectation that if you decide to breast feed you just can. My baby was taken to Baby Special Care an hour after birth. In the end she was absolutely fine, but we had missed days of important boob learning. She first of all had an automatic supply of food through a tube then a bottle, so when it came to having to work for it she didn't know how. We were fortunate and got through it, but those days of breaking down in tears are something I never want to repeat and
Yes, breastfeeding has been proven to be the best nutritionally for babies. But us, often fragile, new mothers just need to know that in the end everything will be ok. No judgement, no implication of "if you don't do this you've failed". Let's also enjoy how lucky we are to be able to feed our children in whatever way.
The take home message of any breastfeeding promo shouldn't seek to make mothers feel there is only one route. Simply put by Geraldine Miskin, author of Breastfeeding Made Easy, you have to bare in mind "it isn't always easy but all mums can do is their best, so they shouldn't be hard on themselves".