This evening I saw the most beautiful image of a baby breastfeeding. It was in pastels I think – the kind of picture that jumps out from your Facebook feed. Just stunning.
It was posted with the words… “If it’s important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an EXCUSE”.
I am so incensed by the tainting of that image that I’m struggling to express the many levels on which it is wrong:
If breastfeeding isn’t important to you, then why would you bother making excuses? It’s not a priority for you. No need to justify.
If breastfeeding is important to you and it doesn’t work out, then whatever it was that you couldn’t handle, be it mental or physical is a reason, not an excuse. No need to justify.
The percentage of women in the UK who give up breastfeeding before they wanted to is high. So chances are they’ve tried bloody hard to make it work – probably harder than some women who manage to breastfeed for longer. Nothing they tried worked. No need to justify.
Some women actually can’t breastfeed. Yes, we know that it’s a tiny number. But it doesn’t matter how important it is to them, they won’t “find a way” to feed their baby themselves. No need to justify.
Some women could have breastfed, but needed support. Sometimes the right support isn’t forthcoming even when you know to ask for it. In that scenario, you may as well be physically unable to breastfeed. No need to justify.
The bottom line is, there is never any need to justify. We all know that breastfeeding has benefits for your baby and breastfeeding supporters will do everything they can to help you succeed. But if you don’t feel it’s right for you, or you hoped it would be and it doesn’t work out then so be it. It is your decision and your right to make that decision without guilt or fear of judgement.
Gel pads – Little breast shaped sachets of gel which you can cool in the fridge to soothe sore breasts.
Glider chair(see nursing chair) – A chair with smooth forward and back gliding motion, designed to soothe baby while you breastfeed. Having never owned one, I don’t know how well they soothe, but they are very comfortable to breastfeed in.
Groups – Support groups can be a lifesaver when you’re struggling with breastfeeding or parenthood in general. Get to know your local groups before baby is born if you can and try not to prejudge the mums there – new babies can be a real leveller, and if nothing else it’s a relief to know that even the mums who look perfect aren’t coping as well as they seem!
Growth spurts – Babies don’t follow the gentle curves that most books show. They grow in fits and starts in order to keep us constantly concerned about their weight gain and food intake. If your baby suddenly turns into a bottomless pit and you feel glued to the sofa as baby feeds every hour, don’t panic and assume there’s an issue with your supply. Growth spurts traditionally occur almost constantly during the first 6 weeks, at 3-4 months, 6 months and 9 months. They can feel endless when you’re in the middle of one, but hang on in there, this too will pass.
Guidelines – The WHO infant feeding guidelines state that for optimum health, babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. From then onwards they should be given solid food while breastfeeding continues for up to two years and beyond.
Guilt – Something parents seem to be good at. I’m not going to go into the whole “breastfeeding guilt” thing here. There is no reason to feel guilty when you’re trying do your best for your child and your family.
I am SO fed up with seeing health reports watered down through fear of upsetting people.
We’re used to seeing the benefits of breastfeeding qualified so as not to be seen to â€œbullyâ€ or â€œguilt tripâ€ mothers who didn’t manage to breastfeed. People who dare to suggest, based on endless scientific studies, that formula is not equal to human breastmilk as a source of nutrition for human infants are villified for making vulnerable new mothers feel pressured.
But research does not bully or blame. People do that.
As a result of this endless tiptoeing around the facts, many mums are unaware that the World Health Organisation guidelines not only recommend exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months, as the NHS guidelines, but also to continue breastfeeding alongside solid food up until 2 years. The WHO makes no comment on practicality or achievability of this target. It’s just cold hard facts â€“ this is what the evidence shows is best for babies.
It’s not just breastfeeding advice that gets diluted so not to offend. Did you know that research suggests we should actually be eating at least 8 portions of fruit and veg per day, not just the 5 that are recommended in the UK? The nutritional guidelines don’t mirror the research because 8 portions is considered unachievable for the average person here and they don’t want to set targets too high in case we don’t try at all.
Because that’s the obvious reaction isn’t it?
Eight portions? I’ll never manage that…. If I can’t meet the target I just won’t bother eating veg at all. Lets have chips instead!
Is it really necessary to baby us like this? Can’t they just give us the facts and let us work with them?
At the moment even breastfeeding up to 4 months is unachievable for a lot of women in the UK. Some of those choose to stop. Some struggle and eventually give up. Some don’t get enough support. Some feel empowered, some feel guilty… Being aware of the WHO guidelines might make you feel angrier about lack of support, but I don’t think is going to make you feel any worse.
Realistically, I don’t think that having the full facts would change the statistics much. The majority of women know the benefits of breastfeeding. Those who give up early on are not doing so easily or willingly. There’s no doubt that more support and less blame is the way forward in improving breastfeeding rates.
But I don’t understand why that means ignoring or diluting the facts. If research proved that eating homemade bread daily had massive health benefits for you and your child, wouldn’t you want to know, even if it sounded like an unachievable target?
If you had never made bread before and no-one would give you the recipe, would you feel guilty when you gave up after a few days of trying? If kneading the dough gave you repetitive strain injury and infections, and no-one was there to help, would you feel guilty about stopping? What if you had to go back to work and didn’t have the time or energy to bake bread for your baby to eat at childcare?
Even if it didn’t work out, wouldn’t you still want to know that the bread you did manage to bake was worth it? That those days when you cried with tiredness and frustration meant something?
And what if you discovered you were good at baking bread? What if you enjoyed it? Would you be marginalised and made to feel guilty because you continued to bake when others couldn’t? Would you be looked down on for letting your child eat your homebaked bread in public when there was sliced bread available?
Making bread is an art. Some people find it easier than others and others need lessons and practical help. If you decided that homebaking wasn’t for you, or after a while of trying your best, you made a decision to use sliced bread (an effective and much-needed substitute, but without the same long-term health benefits) would you feel guilty? Maybe you would. But would you take issue with the research itself, just because the target was unachievable for you? Would you feel bullied by the facts? I don’t think so.
It sounds ridiculous. So why is it so different if you are talking about breastfeeding instead of breadmaking?
There are a lot of obstacles to breastfeeding up to 2 years in our society, not least combining breastfeeding with working. In a lot of cases it is, effectively, unachievable. But some of us do get there, either through intention or accident. And we’re made to feel abnormal, or told we’re â€œsmugâ€ for succeeding at something that others haven’t. Watering down the evidence doesn’t make more mums try breastfeeding, it doesn’t help more mums continue, and I doubt it reduces the guilt when breastfeeding doesn’t work out.
In the real world, parenting means compromise and there should be no blame or guilt attached to the way you feed your child. Modern lifestyles are not always optimised for health.
But if everyone was aware that breastfeeding was recommended up to the age of 2 or more, maybe the minority who already breastfeed longterm wouldn’t be be marginalised and made to feel guilty either. Maybe those who currently feel pressured to give up at 6 months because â€œthose are the guidelinesâ€ would feel empowered to continue until they are ready to wean.
Health research is about evidence, not judgements. It provides us with the information we need to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. It is not always possible to do it all, even when you are aware of the benefits. But if we don’t even have all the facts to start with, how can we feel confidence in our choices?
The bare bones of the research were nothing new – your diet affects the way your milk tastes. Just as we are aware that what we eat during pregnancy is important for our developing child, we know that our diet affects the quality (and quantity) of our milk.
I posted the link on Facebook, filed it for future reference, and moved on. So why is it still bothering me?
The focus of the article was on ensuring that mothers ate enough fruit and vegetables while breastfeeding, especially between the critical ages of 2 and 5 months.
Dr Gary Beauchamp, director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, who led the research, believes that
By exposing infants at this very sensitive period is appears to be possible to make them like something that they would otherwise deem to be horrible. If we could enhance consumption of vegetables amongst pregnant and nursing women, it ought to impact on their children’s later food choices and result in healthier eating.
I enjoy my vegetables and manage my 5-a-day with ease. In fact, thanks to the wonderful “Mr MilkChic” who is a great cook, I generally feel quite smug about my healthy, well-balanced and varied diet.
But… until my daughter was at least 6 months old my focus was purely on calories. I’m not talking about calorie control, or crazy celeb post-baby diets here. I’m talking about managing to get enough calories into my body, one-handed, while looking after a baby.
For those 6 months or so, as well as my healthy balanced diet, I ate huge amounts of cake, chocolate and biscuits. I needed them just to remain awake and functioning!
I don’t think it’s really harmed me – my weight has plateaued at about 1/2 a stone above my pre-baby weight, which as I am unable to exercise and am 6 cup sizes bigger than I was, seems fair. I figure that when the small one is weaned and my back has recovered, I will be much the same as before, physically if not mentally.
But now I am worrying about the harm to my daughter’s fledgling tastebuds. Has my colossal appetite for chocolate buttons cancelled out the benefit of my otherwise balanced meals and given her a sweet tooth that will haunt her in later life? I really hope not. Short of employing a full time chef, I don’t think breastfeeding would have been sustainable on healthy food alone.
To be fair, it isn’t the Telegraph’s fault that I’m feeing guilty. The article was balanced and well-written. And there is little I can do to change things now, except be mindful that my daughter may have a propensity for chocolate milk abuse.
So, as I don’t want to pass on a guilt complex as well as a sweet tooth, I am listening to the ever practical KellyMom, who says that “Making women think that they must maintain â€˜perfectâ€™ diets in order to have thriving breastfed babies is an unnecessary obstacle to breastfeeding”.
Besides, one day I dream of another baby, and what would maternity leave be without cake?