It felt like throughout my pregnancy, whenever I walked through any room in a hospital or at the GP Surgery the only thing I noticed was the constant bombardment of “Breast is Best” posters plastered over every wall. It didn’t stop there, it was mentioned in every e-mail, every newsletter, anything I had signed up to in regards to my pregnancy seemed to be screaming at me that my baby should be breastfed, and I really better had just accept it.
I wanted to breastfeed. In fact, I started out with the very best intentions to do so. I had even purchased a breast pump, because in my previous pregnancy my daughter refused to latch on, and so I spent months expressing my breast milk so that she could have the “best possible start”. If my son was to be as difficult as she had been, I wanted to be prepared for the eventuality that I would have to express in order to feed my baby yet again. What I couldn’t prepare for was the fact that my milk just didn’t come in, and I had to make the extremely difficult decision to give up and give my baby formula.
All that literature that was thrown at me throughout my pregnancy has now come back to haunt me. My boy is less than two weeks old, and already I am being made to feel like I have failed him. Perhaps I could have persevered; perhaps I could have continued attempting to encourage my breasts to produce something rather than just the pain that had me in tears. Maybe instead of a day spent alternating between using warm and cold compresses in order to make my breasts less engorged for a few minutes so that I could attempt to express because my baby would no longer go near my nipples having learned that his efforts would bear no fruit, I should have spent several days persevering so that I didn’t feel like I let down the person who sits in a room by themselves writing up all the things that are so horrible about formula feeding and turning them into propaganda posters.
I know that breastmilk is better for my baby. I know that it gets them everything they need, I realise it’s the natural choice, I know that it’s important for bonding, hell, unlike formula, it’s even free, assuming you do not count cracked nipples, engorged breasts and constant cramps as payment tendered. I realise all that, and I so wish that I could have manage to breastfeed my little boy so that I wouldn’t be sat here, a week after giving up, feeling guilty about making the decision that I know was not only the right one to make for my son, but for myself.
I made the decision to feed my baby when he was hungry. I wanted to breastfeed, my body didn’t want me to, but he still needed food, and so after hours of talking it over with my husband I finally sent him to the shop to purchase some formula. I do not deserve to feel chastised for deciding to make the decision to feed my child, who at the point of getting his first bottle of formula looked more content than he had since birth. I did not deserve to have to defend my decision to one of the midwives that were doing the home visits because she didn’t think I had waited long enough for my milk to come in. I know my body better than someone who has never met me before. I am not a statistic that you can make assumptions about because you are given numbers on how quickly breastmilk comes in on average. I am a woman, who was in a lot of pain and who knew that I had to give up because my son needed nutrition and the only thing that would come from continuing down the route of attempting to force my body to do something it wasn’t able to do naturally would be more agony and quite likely a case of double mastitis. See, even now I feel like I need to defend and justify my decision, and I really shouldn’t have to.
I understand why the National Health Service and its employees feel the need to put the hard sell on breastfeeding, I myself am all for breastfeeding. I think it’s a shame that so many people aren’t able to breastfeed, and it’s an absolute disgrace how breastfeeding mothers are treated in public in this country, as if feeding your baby is somehow unnatural. It is also an absolute disgrace how some women are made to feel like there is something wrong with them because they choose not to breastfeed, or are not able to. I never stopped and questioned whether I would be able to breastfeed; in despite of all the issues I had in the past, I still assumed that I would be able to. It would however have been nice if amongst all of that literature I received or was exposed to there would have been just one tiny footnote telling me that it would be ok if I couldn’t do it. I would have liked just one little comment from one of the midwives that my baby would be fine even if I couldn’t feed him the best option. Hell, I would have settled for some random stranger telling me that my baby wouldn’t love me any less just because he wasn’t hanging off my breast for half an hour every 2-3 hours. Making that decision to send my husband to the shop is one of the hardest I have had to make as a parent, and it shouldn’t have been. Feeding my child should not have been something that I was being made to feel bad for doing. It is not something I should still feel bad about now, a week later, yet I do.
My son doesn’t feel bad though. My son lost less than 5 percent of his birth weight in his first five days and at his 10 day weighing his weight was above his birth weight. He is happy, he is healthy, his skin is amazing and more importantly than anything else, he can have food whenever he is hungry, and actually get full. He doesn’t feel bad about that, and neither should I. Not breastfeeding doesn’t make you a bad mum, and if for some reason you cannot breastfeed and you feel guilty about it, please know that you are not alone. And don’t let anyone make you believe that your ability to produce milk is what decides your worth as a parent.