Bottle or Breast – We Are All Just Doing Our Best

“We always did feel the same we just saw it from a different point of view.”

This is a quote from Bob Dylan’s gorgeous “Tangled Up In Blue” from the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. I was listening to it in the car the other day – toddler complaining loudly in the back-seat (nothing compares to Let It Go in her eyes) when it struck me how perfectly this lyric sums up our ongoing battle; breast vs bottle. This sounds a little off the wall but bear with me.

We all love our children. We all want to do what is best for them. We all want to be happy and healthy mothers. Yet we all make different choices about what it means to be the best mom we can be. Sometimes these choices don’t always feel like choices or they may feel as if they are forced upon us by chance or circumstance but ultimately our main aim is to do our best.

Recently Dr. Amy Brown of Swansea University released a book (Breastfeeding Uncovered) which, at first, seemed destined to take guilt out of the equation when it comes to feeding our babies. She believes society as a whole needs to become more breastfeeding friendly. Dr. Brown says it’s time we remove blame and pressure from individual women and look at society’s attitude to breastfeeding. She is right. We as a society do need to be more culturally accepting of breastfeeding and more open to allowing women the opportunities to do it.

However, while I applaud Dr. Brown’s attempt to revolutionise how we perceive breastfeeding I can’t completely step on board with her. In order to remove the guilt surrounding infant feeding we need to acknowledge that how you feed your baby is your choice. It is individual circumstances, feelings and beliefs that determine how we will feed our babies and even with the most open society in the world not every woman will choose to breastfeed.

According to Dr. Brown only two per cent of women cannot physically breastfeed. This means women are choosing not to breastfeed for other reasons. Though I haven’t actually read the book itself I do wonder does this figure include a baby’s inability to latch properly or babies with allergies to milk? Also taking physical abilities out of the equation altogether what about mothers who don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding? Or mothers who feel it just isn’t right for them? Or mothers, who, for whatever reason, just don’t wish to breastfeed. Perhaps only two per cent can’t physically breastfeed but this grossly underplays other non-societal factors that might influence a mother’s choice.

Choice. Something we seem all too quick to forget when to comes to a woman’s body.

Dr. Brown believes that we should be warning about the “risks” of formula. It is this type of emotive language which has driven so many mothers to feelings of intense guilt and regret if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for them. So while I agree with Dr. Brown that more needs to be done to make our society more breastfeeding friendly, I don’t think that demonising formula feeding is the best way to go about that. I think a more relaxed culture which allows a mother the right to choose and then support to make that choice possible is what we need to be working towards. Support is the important word here – not pressure, not judgement just support. This means we respect a mother’s right to choose be that bottle, breast or a combination of both.

I agree with Dr. Brown that women are not getting the support they need; all mothers are not getting the support they need. Mothers who want to breastfeed need proper advice along with the ability to feed wherever they like without feeling judged. Mothers who want to bottle-feed need advice too and the ability to feed wherever they like without feeling judged.

We are all just mothers trying to do our best.

Bob was right – we do all feel the same – we all want what is best for our children. In reality, however, this might not look the same from family to family. But that’s okay. We might come at it from a differing point of view but we all love our babies and are doing our best.

Eat Your Greens – Oh Wait You’re A Toddler

img_2387The current trend for eating dinner in my house involves either plain rice, mashed potato (if we’re lucky) or pasta with sauce. The tiny lady will also concede to eating fish fingers or chicken goujons. Anything even remotely resembling a vegetable is considered completely unacceptable. I have been trying all the tricks:

Make interesting shapes out of veg:

I nearly leaped with joy when I discovered a box of spiral-shaped carrots in our local supermarket. I made a big thing of putting them in the trolley. Toddler agreed they looked very interesting and actually talked about eating them. Then they arrived on her plate. ‘I no like that.’ It didn’t stop her playing with them but God forbid they go near her mouth!
We also tried broccoli trees — these made it into her mouth but were spat out again within seconds.

Hide veg underneath sauces, mash etc.

Firstly tiny lady won’t eat any sauce expect plain tomato sauce — or mayonnaise — so this is out. Secondly we did hide various veg in her mashed potato. It was promptly located and spat back out. In fact it may have put her off mashed potato!

Cover veg in grated cheese:

This should have worked brilliantly as toddler loves cheese (even more than I do which is really saying something) but she just picked all the cheese she could off said veg then asked for more. There were then tears and histrionics when no more cheese was forthcoming. Needless to say no veg was consumed either.

Be a good role model:

I have spent all week stuffing my face with various greens watched, slightly pityingly, by my toddler. Despite being a big fan of sharing mummy’s food she has absolutely no interest in being fooled into trying peppers or sweetcorn or cauliflower!

The only thing that keeps me going is that this seems to be a very common phase amongst the toddler set. Perhaps they have secret meetings when they turn two about how to drive their parents nuts — rule 1 there is no toddler club, rule 2 — you must never, ever eat vegetables — this will lead to immediate excommunication.

I think it is to do with their burgeoning sense of independence. They can’t control much in their little world and quite often have to do various things they would rather not — get dressed, go into car-seats, go to the shop etc. (the list is endless). So they decide to instigate a food strike of sorts. Of course this strike only seems to apply to healthy foods — you won’t often catch a toddler refusing chips or a bar of chocolate (see evidence above). No they are far too clever for that.

I have decided to just keep offering veg every day in the hope that one day I will finally wear her down. She may take pity on me and try. Or decide she suddenly loves veg. Either way I’m assuming the strike will end once she hits the teenage years and embarks on the traditional ‘I’m becoming a vegetarian’ phase. Until then more broccoli for me!

The human face behind the debate

I had a little epiphany while we were at the zoo the other day (and not just about how important mama instincts are). As we were taking a quiet moment in a shady part of the zoo, watching some birds hanging out in the sun, another family joined us and sat a little way away. After a few minutes we decided to keep on trekking. As we passed this little family of four I noticed the mother was breastfeeding. She looked completely relaxed and at peace with the world. It was a lovely sight. I gave her a smile as I went by and she smiled back; two mothers just acknowledging each other. But it made me stop and think. A great way to encourage other mothers, especially those who may feel uncomfortable about public breastfeeding, is to just offer a simple smile. That may be all it takes to relax somebody and put at them at ease in a sometimes challenging world. The mother breastfeeding for the first time. The mother whose children are killing each other in the breakfast aisle. The mother with the loud toddler. The mother whose baby won’t stop crying. A smile can really help. I realised that the best way we can show our support to other mothers is just showing we get it. We either have been there or we can understand what they are feeling.

I read an interesting article in Empire magazine this morning about a new film coming out called ‘Loving’. It deals with interracial marriage in 1950s America. The director, Jeff Nichols, made an intriguing point. He said “I don’t like things that preach. I don’t think that’s how you further the conversation. You further the issue through showing people the humanity at the base of the issues – which we so often forget.” This statement really had an impact on me. Perhaps this is what has happened with infant feeding. It has become a highly charged debate with everyone from politicians to celebrities weighing in on both sides and we can sometimes forget that behind every decision is an actual human being making a choice out of love; whatever that choice may be. So what can we do? Well as mothers we can take a step back, stop and think. Why do we fuel the Mummy Wars? We all keep adding energy to these heated debates; infant feeding, early potty training, ideal age to start school. I’ve judged (and been judged I’m sure) but I am now trying my best to see the bigger picture and not just leap to assumptions (they make an ass out of you and me, don’t ya know). We can start by showing other mothers some solidarity. So the next time you see a woman struggling with a toddler who is having the mother (pardon the pun) of all tantrums, catch her eye and share a little sympathy. It might just make her day a lot easier…and it will definitely make you feel great.

In support of mothers 

This week is World Breastfeeding Week. As regular readers will know I didn’t breastfeed my daughter. My reasons were varied and probably only make sense to me. It is something, however, I have often wondered about…after the fact. I wonder if it would have been something I could have come to love and cherish. I don’t regret my decision as I made it after a lot of thought and anguish. I have a lovely bond with my tiny lady. But there is still that sense of curiousity.

Personally I think breastfeeding mamas are awesome. It sounds like a tough gig as you are the sole repository of your child’s nutrional needs. There is also the fact that you feel judged for simply feeding your baby in a restaurant or shop or sitting in the park. Just for feeding your child. This is so crazy in a world where modesty has become less and less of an issue…unless of course you are breastfeeding. Than of course you must cover up! This makes no sense to me. A baby feeding is a much lovelier sight than some of the topless men I’ve been treated to during our last mini heatwave.

The point of having initiatives like World Breastfeeding Week is to attempt to normalise breastfeeding. But I think until we really allow women a choice when it comes to feeding their baby there will always be a battleground when it comes to infant feeding.Women who breastfeed feel judged and women who bottlefeed feel judged and so the battle goes on. We are simply defending our choice and our right to make that choice but it all ends up in a muddle of harsh words and mud slinging.

I am now a toddler mama so the whole debate is beginning to be lost in a haze of new concerns – what age to potty-train etc. But today I just want to applaud those mamas still in the early days. No matter how you choose to feed you rock. And for all you breastfeeding mamas out there don’t let the negativity stop you. If you are out and your baby needs a feed don’t let the small minded opinions of a very small group of people stop you or embarrass you. 

This week I celebrate all you newborn mummies. You are doing great!

The Sweet Art of Imitation

This week a mother shared a sweet photo of her daughter pretending to breastfeed her doll. Her mother breastfed her and as well all know toddlers love to copy their parents. I often catch sight of my tiny lady carefully watching me out of the corner of her eye while I have my dinner then she takes a bite in the exact same way. It is adorable. I’m sure the mother who shared this photo thought it was just as adorable. And it was. However, what I’m sure she didn’t expect was the ‘shock and horror’ brigade who descended to label this child’s pretend play as “weird” and that her mother should be “punched in the face”. Seriously who writes these vile comments? How can anyone call a child imitating her mother “some of the nastiest sh*t of my life”? I was quite taken aback.

Regular readers will know that I am big on encouraging and supporting bottle-feeding mothers. But this is due to the fact that I think it’s an area we fall down in and a lot of mothers feel guilty for making that choice. However, I believe every mama has the right to feed her baby as she so wishes and that mothers who breastfeed deserve our support and respect too. This nasty outburst at a photo of a child who is just copying a very normal and natural act is reprehensible. As a number of commenters pointed out there would have been no uproar if the child had been using a bottle.

What strikes me as kind of amusing here (amusing in a bad way though) is that women are nearly afraid to put up photographs of themselves bottle-feeding their babies. They fear the onslaught of questions and judgement. Yet a photo of a child using a toy bottle is fine. On the other side of it we have a woman who posted an image of a child pretending to breastfeed and there is a rush of negativity while a woman pictured breastfeeding her own child at a wedding was met with (mainly) applause. WTF? What is with the hypocrisy? Either you support breastfeeding or you don’t and if you do then what is so shocking about a child pretending to do it? It’s like a child pretending to give her/his dolls a bath or put them to bed. It’s preparing them to be good parents.

So what’s the deal people? If we are to help normalise breastfeeding in our society (which would go a long way towards helping mothers feel comfortable doing it) then a child imitating what she sees on a daily basis should be praised. As a former early years teacher I saw this happen quite frequently with children whose mothers were breastfeeding. We never made a big deal out of it; why would we? I know that some of the parents were a little embarrassed but only because they feared they (and their child) would be judged as this child was. I was always quick to assure them that it was perfectly normal for children to imitate what they see at home and there was absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. Let’s move on and recognise this picture for what it is; a sweet moment of child imitating life.

Let’s celebrate all those precious moments

I read a lovely post the other day by a fellow blogger, Mother of all Curves, about her bottle-feeding journey. This piece was intended as a support to other mothers who bottle-fed for whatever reason. It was never meant as any criticism of breastfeeding or to take away from any mother’s breastfeeding journey. It was simply meant to celebrate bottle-feeding mothers who can sometimes feel very much judged for their choice. I was very disappointed that this touching and brave post was then met with a large amount of negativity. Some people just completely missed the point and read it as an anti-breastfeeding post which it in no way was.

I fully support every mother’s right to feed her baby however she feels best. I think we need to be more open to breastfeeding in public places and making women feel comfortable doing it. I don’t understand how sunbathing topless is okay but feeding your baby draws so much hostility. This doesn’t make sense to me. Babies drink from breasts; this is perfectly natural and anyone who has a problem with it needs to get right over it.

Equally, however, anyone who has a problem with a mother feeding her baby with a bottle needs to move right along; it is not your business and not your place to comment. You don’t know that woman’s story, you don’t know what she has been through and at the end of the day it is her choice.

Writing about bottle-feeding in a positive light is quite often misconstrued as being critical of breastfeeding. But nine times out of ten this is not the case. Like the Mother of all Curves I support breastfeeding and want women to feel at ease doing it. From what I hear it’s very tough and women need all the encouragement they can get. But why can we not encourage women who breastfeed while also celebrating women who bottle-feed? Why is not okay to hear about a woman’s bottle-feeding journey? I know I had some lovely, snuggly tender moments bottle-feeding my tiny lady and those moments are very precious to me. IMG_1419

I couldn’t find any photos of me actually feeding my little girl – typical! I have photos of everyone feeding her except me – and I did most of the feeds! This was taken after a feed when she fell asleep tucked up on me. It’s a really lovely memory. *Please ignore the bags under my eyes I was functioning on very little sleep.

#Don’tjudgejustfeed

#supportallchoices

Let’s give each other a break and celebrate all mothers and all those precious little moments.

 

 

 

 

 

Why?

This morning I read an article that told the stories of six breastfeeding women. Each woman was pcitured with their baby (or children) and their story was told below the photo. This was all very lovely until I read that one woman who has autism and Borderline Personality Disorder, panic and anxiety disorders(as well as a history of panic attacks and anxiety disorders) had felt suicidal about pumping. Her baby was tube fed and on IV nutrition so she had to pump her breastmilk. For eight hours a day. She had D-MER- dysphoric milk ejection reflex. I had never heard of this before and so looked it up. It is a condition that means you get an influx of negative emotions just before milk is released and for a few minutes after. There are techniques you can use to distract yourself but most often what is needed is time to allow your hormones to even out. However, at 6 weeks this particular woman was diagnosed with severe post-partum depression. Her partner even noted that she had been suicidal when faced with the pump. Yet she pumped for 6 weeks despite all of this. Despite it clearly being a risk not only to her mental health but to her life as well. It was decided due to the PPD (not to mention the risk of post-partum psychosis) that she should stop pumping. Her wife, who was still nursing their older child, intended to take over. For various reasons this didn’t work and they relied on donor milk. All well and good. But my question is why?

Why pump for six weeks when you know (and your partner is fully aware) that you are putting yourself at risk? Why did they choose to do this? Why? Have we become so obsessed with Breast is Best that women are now risking their own mental health to avoid going down the formula route? This is not healthy people! Motherhood is so much more than breastfeeding, it’s so much more than feeding full-stop. Being a mother is a huge, complex, multi-layered job and we have reduced it to breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding in some frankly weird attempt to make bottlefeeding mothers feel like failures. Women will now go out of their way to ensure they do ‘what’s right’ and breastfeed despite obstacles like having to come off anxiety medication to do it, risking a return of depression due to lack of sleep etc. I cannot believe that this is the best thing for new babies.

I think what babies need more than anything is a healthy and happy mother whether that woman is breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, pumping, using donor milk whatever. The important thing is that you are healthy, both physically and mentally. People are forgetting this in a rush to sign up to Breast is Best and we need to consider how this slogan may be contributing to many women putting themselves under enormous pressure to feed their babies. Please let’s support not pressure women during the vulnerable newborn period. Allow them to make the choice that suits them best and remember best fed is fed.

Hunger Strike in Toddlerdom

Is there anything more soul destroying than a toddler hunger strike? Our tiny lady is currently on a dinner strike. She will not touch anything resembling dinner with the one exception being pasta in tomato sauce with cheese on top. Clearly she can’t eat this everyday though for the sake of two very tired and worried parents she probably gets it more often than she should!

We are worn out with trying different tactics. Distraction. Bribery. Coercion. Encouragement. Stern faces. Happy faces. Mama eating it. Teddy eating it. Nothing works. Nothing. No amount of cajoling or threatening or pleading is getting that child to eat. I confess I’m slightly impressed by her willpower! I wish I could apply the same to my love of junk food.

I’m thinking that this is life’s way of playing a little joke on me. Hey remember how fussy an eater you used to be? Remember all the times your poor mother tried to get you to eat even a banana and you wouldn’t? Well ha ha this is exactly how she felt. Kharma at its very best. I remember, as a three or four year old, hiding behind our sofa because my mother was trying to get me to taste jam! Ugh, I thought, it’s so sticky and weird looking, no way am I eating that. My mum offered to allow both my sister and I an ice-cream if I just took a little taste. I think she was hoping the guilt of depriving my sibling as well as myself might work. She didn’t count on sister solidarity. My sister joined me behind the couch and assured me it was okay; she could live without the ice-cream!

It may seem odd that my mum was getting so worked up about jam which isn’t even the healthiest of lunch options but this poor woman was at her wit’s end. I was an absolutely terrible eater and she was running out of things to feed me. She probably thought jam would be something nice I could have in a sandwich. She didn’t count on me being so stubborn. I still don’t like jam today despite having actually tried it. And guess what? My daughter doesn’t care for it much either!

I am guessing I will just have to accept that my girl takes after me in more than just looks. She can be stubborn to the point of pigheadedness when it comes to making a stand about something. Sometimes it is like arguing with myself.

So I’ve just had to live with the idea that this is the way things are for now. She clearly isn’t starving. She hasn’t lost a dramatic amount of weight.  She eats quite well at other meal times. She has just decided to wield some power when it comes to her dinner time. Toddlers don’t have a lot of power in their little worlds so I’m willing to allow that she might want to have some say in her day to day routine and this is where she has decided to stick her oar in. I don’t think it will last forever (despite it feeling like forever now) and I’m sure it will pass. By then we will have moved onto some other toddler power play. I look forward to it…really I do!*    *wipes sweat from face!

Why can’t well just get along?

Breastfeeding and Bottle feeding: the eternal war with no winners only hurt feelings on both sides. As a society we have become obsessed with the way mothers feed their babies when all that should really concern us is that those babies are actually fed. We all know most mothers are doing their best; the best for their babies, the best for themselves and the best thing for their families. If you ignore any part of that equation baby won’t be happy either.

But I’m not here today to rehash all the old arguments or judge anybody except those who place unnecessary burdens on new mothers by sticking to a dogma that doesn’t always work for everybody. Yes breast is best. No-one, I imagine, would argue with that. However, and here’s the kicker, it’s only right when it works for all involved. Mother and baby must feel happy and comfortable in this relationship. This is not always the case. Some babies can’t breastfeed but thrive on bottles. Some mothers just don’t feel comfortable doing it. These are the mothers I am speaking to today.

Before I got pregnant I wouldn’t even wear a bikini when going to the local swimming pool, I abhorred shared changing rooms and don’t even get me started on cleavage revealing outfits… oh no I would have been much too embarrassed. I think this mortification started during my teenage years; I wasn’t too happy with my budding chest and would have done anything to hide it! This feeling still lingers so when baby was due I felt so stressed at the thought of breastfeeding. Having my boob on show around the clock? Oh dear God no! But I told myself it’s the best thing for your baby so suck it up. I tortured myself for a full four months (stress, anxiety, fake smiles hiding a growing discontent) before confiding in my own mother. She shrugged and said just bottle feed then. A weight was lifted. Hurrah I could look forward to my baby coming again! The only judgement I met with was a rotund nurse in my consultant’s office who tried to bully me into attending a breastfeeding class. She was met with a stern no. She later tried to convince me to just give the colostrum (liquid gold in her words) but this was met with a frosty silence. No my downstairs area might be about to become public property but my chest was staying under wraps thank you very much!!

So my tiny lady was born and thrived on her bottles. But still I felt guilty. I knew I’d put my own mental block about breastfeeding before (potentially) her health. I was wracked with guilt. Still to this day I regret not feeding her myself but I also don’t regret it all if you see my meaning. I know it was something I just couldn’t do. I am proud that I knew myself well enough to realise that and didn’t put my family though days or weeks of misery to confirm what I knew all along. My daughter is still healthy with only the odd cough or cold and as smart as she is healthy. I can take my head off the metaphorical chopping board. Now all that worries me is her ‘passionate’ (read stubborn, headstrong etc.) nature. But I still feel saddened by all the negative rhethoric that surrounds mothers who choose to bottle feed for whatever reason. I have no problem with people who do breastfeed – in fact I’m slightly envious of their confidence and determination – I applaud their ability to do this. I just wish myself and the Bottle Brigade could be left to quietly get on with our own way of feeding.

Of course not all women who breast-feed are out to judge. This is very far from true. They are more worried about a society that can be strangely out-dated when it comes to breastfeeding. More needs to be done to make it a normal part of our day-to-day lives. However, I don’t think that bullying women to do something they are not comfortable with is the way to do this. It will just make both mother and baby miserable. I’ve read numerous posts on the Fearless Formula Feeder’s website and the things those women put themselves through would shock you. They were told ‘breast is best’ so they went through agonies to feed their child that way. This is not acceptable. Women should never feel pressure like this. Encouragement yes, support yes, bullying no. Allow women, who have all the facts and figures, to make their own choice.

So I refer to my original question; why can’t we all just get along? Perhaps the way we can change is just by accepting each other. I think it’s lovely when I see a mother and baby sharing that special bonding moment during those early newborn feeds whether the feed is given by bottle or breast. It’s all beautiful. If we can just accept that it’s a mother’s right to feed her child as she sees fit than perhaps the world will be a better place for our children to grow up in.

For anyone struggling with guilt surrounding bottle feeding don’t feel you are alone. The Fearless Formula Feeder’s website is a resource I would highly recommend. Let the guilt go. You are a wonderful mother.