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.

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.