I recently attended my local ante-natal class on breastfeeding, held at the community maternity unit of my local hospital. I’ve never felt particularly strongly either way about breastfeeding, so my goal in attending was to find out as much information as possible to make the best informed decision for my circumstances.
Breast is Best
We are all told breast is best for a million different reasons, and you can’t really argue with nature’s way. I mean, a couple of hundred years ago, breast would have been the only way, never mind the best way. So I get it, I really do. But unfortunately, most of us don’t live the same lives as folks did 200 years ago.
Even more unfotunately, the NHS don’t seem to care about that. From the class, I noticed that the midwives were so intent on pushing breastfeeding for as long as possible, that it begged the question of just what world they think we live in?
Need a rest? Dad will do everything else…
This was seen as a viable solution to having a baby wanting the comfort of your breast on an almost permanent basis. The scenario we were painted was one of a mum being led by her baby (nothing wrong with that), but that baby wanted to nurse for 45 mins and sleep for about the same amount of time. Our expectancy was to sit there and deliver when baby demanded, leaving dad to do the winding, changing, soothing to sleep, oh and of course all the housework, ensuring mum has food to eat and everything else in between, all whilst mum got to enjoy something resembling a nap during this time.
I can’t even begin to factor that into my reality, and my SO is pretty good with cooking and housework. At what point do I wash? Have a comfort break? Exercise and fuel my body for this constant endurance test? And that’s just the basics. Heaven forbid I want to bond with my baby in another way, leave the house, or even just give my breast a few hours respite tucked into a bra caked with nipple cream.
The most shocking part of this scenario however, was that this same charade could last for 12 weeks or longer. Now, I don’t know about you, but since statutory paternity leave is only 2 weeks, I doubt I’ll be able to rely on daddy to “do everything else” whilst he’s working 12 hour shifts in a workplace over half an hours drive away. Another girl at the class was also concerned as her husband is in the Navy, so often called to sea for months at a time. And then there’s single mothers, mothers with other young children in the house and about a million other different family and lifestyle makeups that simply don’t coincide with this notion of mother as dairy cow whilst everyone else swans in to take care of things.
Another major point I took issue with was the insistance on perseverance. Persevere past the above scenario, persevere when baby can’t latch on, persevere whilst your nipples are cracked and bleeding, persevere if your milk won’t come. Whilst that’s ok to a point, at what point do we start to take a mother’s mental and physical health and wellbeing into consideration here?
When it comes to other health and wellbeing issues such as domestic abuse or either pre- or post-natal depression, midwives could not be more forthcoming and helpful with information, questions and options. It’s ok to not be happy every day of pregnancy, the baby blues an their descendence into something potentially worse are explained in detail, with a range of opions, solutions and reassurances for potentially struggling mothers. So why should struggling women be expected to persevere through this charade without any support (apart from the regular post natal visits) or information about alternative feeding options, other than what they can find out from relatives, friends or a quick Google search themselves?
I recently read in a Guardian article that one woman felt like “any woman who doesn’t want to stay at home and nurse for at least six months is thrown under the bus of shame.” And I have to say I empathised with her a lot. I really want to try breastfeeding and hope it works for me but the system is not set up for those that breastfeeding doesn’t work for, despite trying, which is equaly off-putting and intimidating.
A friend recently told me of the struggle of feeding her little one for the first few months – no guidance on formula feeding despite her child suffering from colic and other feeding issues. She was left to her own devices to figure it out, with nobody to tell her such simple things like the fact it would be necessary to buy bigger bottle teats when using a milk thickener. I can only imagine the frustration, helplessness and panic I would feel if I were in that situation with no family or friends able to offer their experience or tips, and no support from trained professionals.
It’s not the end of the world as said friend has a very happy, healthy child. However a lot of panic and misery could have been avoided if the NHS just took more of an open approach when it comes to feeding in both ante-natal classes and routine appointments and checks. I’m not saying it’s radically wrong or that the NHS midwives don’t do a great job (they bloody well do), but it would just be nice of them to be more open and honest about other feeding options if you feel you’re not managing with breastfeeding.
I do want to give it a try and I know everyone is different, that it could end up being a breeze for me. That being said, I don’t want to be putting baby in danger if I’m a sleep deprived, sore angry mess! I guess I’m just such a worrier and like to know all the options – only 6 more weeks to wait and find out how I manage!