When people say “we need more support for breastfeeding mothers”, what does that actually mean? What does that look like?
More midwives? Great – but that’s not realistic.
Access to an IBCLC for every mother? Sure – but sometimes that’s not possible.
Public acceptance of feeding? Thankfully, I think the times are changing and myself and literally every mother I personally know has not yet been publicly shamed for it.
So what can be done? And why do we need a “week” to raise awareness for something that actually provokes so many “mum wars” and for some, brings up the horrible shame and guilt, for not being able to do so.
This year, World Breastfeeding Week’s slogan is “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding” so I thought I’d share my breastfeeding journey with you, to highlight what it means to be empowered (by information and support) which leads to being enabled to do it successfully.
Finnick was born with a severe tongue tie (as well as lip and both cheeks) which meant that until we got it revised, he didn’t latch and couldn’t feed properly.
He didn’t sleep for longer than 20 minutes at a time (day and night), fussed at the breast, went undernourished and screamed and screamed and screamed around the clock. He was starving and exhausted.
My nipples were on fire, but it was my heart that took the biggest beating. During those first few days, I sobbed. I felt responsible, I felt inadequate and I felt the urgency and pressure to make a decision – do we buy formula or get the tongue tie snipped? Something needed to be done because my baby needed to be fed one way or another and I couldn’t bare to live another day seeing him hungry. It was my job to provide for him, his most basic need and I was letting him down. I felt like a failure.
With the fast acting, professional & highly skilled advice of a well renowned IBCLC, we had his tongue tie revised at 9 days old. As hard as that was to do and even though lots of babies go on to breastfeed successfully without any revision, for us, it was the best decision and we don’t regret it one bit.
Immediately after, Finn had a full feed for the first time since he was born. He didn’t fall asleep at the breast because he was exhausted, he fell asleep because he was full.
It is my belief, that had I not have been informed about the prolonged health benefits of breastfeeding and had James of not been informed (if not more so than I) and thus fully supportive and encouraging of our success, or had I not of received the diligent care of the midwives who picked up the tie or the educated assistance of the IBCLC; that in a desperate need to care for my baby, I would’ve switched to formula and our breastfeeding journey would have ended on day 10 and Finn and I not only would’ve become a statistic, but I would’ve felt like a failure. And I would’ve somehow, someday had to face and release the guilt I’d of felt for having a formula fed baby and I know that weeks such as this, that are meant to promote the social responsibility we all have to support breastfeeding mothers, regardless of our own choices or circumstances, would of become a very raw and triggering week for me to live through.
So when people say “we need more support for breastfeeding mothers”, this is the kind of support I’m talking about and THIS is what this week is all about.
It’s not about naming and shaming mothers who formula feed, it’s about supporting and encouraging women who like me, thought that breastfeeding would come naturally, yet face barriers beyond their control and feel as though they have no choice but to “give up”. Reaching these mothers at their time of need and giving them real and accessible solutionsand ongoing support and encouragement is what this week is all about.
It’s about educating pregnant women about the REALITY and for some the DIFFICULTY of breastfeeding. Such as but not limited to: How to express colostrum and why (this would have been MOST helpful to Finn and literally would have saved us in those early days. Had I of known about this, he wouldn’t have gone hungry and I may of never needed to get his tongue tie revised!!!!! How life changing – just by being more informed!), how to use a nipple shield, how to breastfeed in different positions, that your nipples may crack or bleed, that you may get mastitis and the natural ways to manage it, or that you’ll feel touched out – this list of things that may challenge you are endless and for those (like me) that thought it would be this beautiful and natural thing, it can be a rude shock when you’re standing in the shower balling your eyes out and gritting your teeth at the mere thought of your baby latching onto a raw and ripped up nipple.
It’s about educating partners and fathers of the importance of breastfeeding and voicing your need for their support.
It’s about educating the workplace on the importance of breastfeeding so that they accomodate your need for a clean & private pumping environment should you have to return to work.
It’s about educating well intentioned family and friends about the vital importance of establishing your breastfeeding journey well before over excited visitors pass around your baby in the hours or days after birth. It has to take priority ABOVE ALL ELSE.
I hand on heart believe that if dad’s and partners, workplaces and family were as informed as we were about the magic and importance and life long impact that breastfeeding has on an infants physical and emotional wellbeing, NOT TO MENTION THE MOTHER, that our success rate would be MUCH higher.
However, for those who’s breastfeeding journey was cut short for whatever reason, I will say this.
World Breastfeeding week is NOT about competition. It’s NOT about breast vs formula. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s not about putting Breastfeeding mothers on a pedestal while you feel inferior or guilty for your decision or circumstance. Because chances are, it was made out of necessity and you were doing what was best for your baby OR your mental health (which I believe is just as if not MORE important).
It’s a well known fact that mothers milk is the best form of nutrition for our babies, but that’s obvious and I know that vast majority of you (mothers who formula feed) know that too! And if that’s why you feel guilty and if anyone has intentionally made you feel the weight of that guilt and if this week triggers your guilt, that’s horrible and I’m so sorry! Because ultimately I think we waste so much time on this debate and it only distracts us from what is needed most for ALL mothers which is SUPPORT! SO, MUCH, SUPPORT! Because I know for a fact, that had I of switched to formula when Finn was 10 days old, I would’ve needed MORE support than I ever have needed while breastfeeding. I would’ve needed MORE reassurance that I’m a good mother, MORE encouragement that I was doing my best and MUCH MORE support to grieve the loss of a journey I so desperately wanted to take with my baby. Not to mention the support I would need because of the public shame of formula feeding because the pendulum has swung so bloody far now that it’s become taboo! And like, how would I even begin to know which formula to choose when I’ve had no sleep and I just want to feed my screaming baby and make him happy?
So if you take anything from this week, if you breastfed for 3 days or 3 years; take the guilt off your shoulders if you’ve got it, put your hand up for help if you need it, ask your community for support if you want it, be encouraged to learn more if you feel inspired to and share your breastfeeding or formula feeding journey if you think it could help you to heal or others to thrive.
It’s our shared experience, knowledge, understanding and support that will enable breastfeeding rates to improve and that’s what we need to focus on; no matter how we feed our babies, for the future generation of mothers and babies.
To me, that’s what support looks like and ultimately that’s what WBW is all about.