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This week is World Breastfeeding Week. But really – is breast best?
Is Breast Best?
Most medical sources would tell you that it is really important to breastfeed. Current W.H.O. guidelines are to breastfeed until at least 2 years of age.
The NHS website recommends to breastfeed until at least 6 months, and beyond to still breast feed as you wean onto solid foods.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Lots of research has shown that breast milk can provide lots of benefits to your baby such as
Protecting against infections
Preventing obesity in later life
Reducing the risks of heart disease in later life
and even goes so far as saying that breastfeeding can reduce the risks of S.I.D.S.
There is further research out there saying that breastfeeding reduces the risks to the mother of having certain types of cancer in the future.
So breast is best right?
But What Happens if it Doesn’t Work for You?
The NHS website has a section on “myth busting” where in response to the “myth” that some women don’t produce enough milk they state that “almost all women are physically able to breastfeed”.
This statement irritates me slightly, as I do feel that it has an element of shaming those who cannot breastfeed. I know that I couldn’t.
I really tried to breastfeed my little girl. 15 years before she was born I’d had a breast uplift operation, and I wasn’t sure if that would affect breastfeeding. I was delighted when I started leaking milk just before she was born.
However, her birth was not entirely straightforward or easy. I was induced at 38 weeks, had a 36 hour fruitless labour where I just did not dilate and ended up having an emergency caesarean.
We were both given intravenous antibiotics due to an infection, and kept in hospital for 5 days after her birth.
In hospital I really tried to breast feed. The hospital midwives there were really pushing me to breast feed but no colostrum or milk seemed to come. My little girl also didn’t seem to latch properly, although the midwives said she was doing fine. I felt anxious that I was not feeding my little girl and that she was constantly hungry.
At the end of day 2 my little girl was very jaundiced, but the midwives insisted I carry on trying to breastfeed. They provided a big industrial breast pump, but I still didn’t really produce much milk.
By the end of day 3 I still didn’t feel as though I was feeding her properly, and she was really losing weight. Then, and only then, the hospital midwives accepted that I could use formula. Finally my little one put on some weight. But I still did not feel the breast feeding was working for me.
Out of Hospital
I carried on trying to breastfeed for 3 weeks. It seemed as though I was spending 24 hours a day feeding. We bought an expensive Medala breast pump machine, I practically spent the day with it attached to me. I saw the midwife for a session on latching. Nothing worked, I really wasn’t producing enough milk. After 3 weeks I admitted defeat as my milk production dropped lower and lower.
I felt so dreadful, like I had failed as a mother. Even though I had said to myself before having my baby that I wouldn’t put too much pressure on myself, I think that the experience in hospital had really made me feel ashamed that I was not producing enough milk. Thank goodness that the health visitor and practice midwife were so supportive. I have heard many stories where the mums weren’t so supported, where they beat themselves up for much longer over how breastfeeding wasn’t working for them.
What Did I take From All This?
This may seem like a very NHS bashing piece. I would hate if you went away thinking that, as overall my care and treatment was excellent, but I do fear that breast feeding is pushed too heavily into new mothers. I worry that there is a bit of a culture to shame new mums who cannot breast feed, or just choose to formula feed.
After all, it is a choice at the end of the day.
Even as an intelligent older mum with a medical background I felt very pressured in the hospital. Like it wasn’t a choice to use formula. And even though I had told myself I wouldn’t be upset if I couldn’t breast feed, I still beat myself up so much when it just didn’t and couldn’t happen for me.
So – Is Breast Best?
Yes, it is certainly beneficial to breast feed if you can, and I would never say otherwise. But it is also much better to be able to spot when your newborn isn’t feeding normally. And to be able to know where to reach out to a good support system that will be able to guide you to the best option for you and your baby objectively. Breast is not best if it isn’t working for you. And there is no shame in that.
I’d love to find out your opinions on this piece. I’ve got good friends who found breast feeding very easy, some that found it hard but they managed through it, and others that could not do it at all like myself. Do leave your thoughts in the box below, or contact me on social media.