When I had my son, over 6 years ago now, I had the whole birth thing figured out. Really, I did.
I went to Active Birth classes, learned all about the process of labour and birth, went to acupuncture sessions, had Chinese herb foot baths and did headstands in a local swimming pool (much to the amusement of the onlookers) to turn my breech baby around (really, I did) because I was determined to have a natural and, preferably, drug-free birth (which, again, I did).
I’m telling you all this not to brag, but to say this: with parenthood, there’s this universal balance at play. If one thing comes easy to you, another one, inevitably, will be hard as hell. I consider the birth part as having been fairly easy for me (the 4-day labour notwithstanding), but what I didn’t expect was that breastfeeding – the thing I didn’t even consider to be “a thing that could be problematic” – would turn out to be so damn hard.
I had it in my head that of course, I will breastfeed, in my mind there was simply no other option, so when it didn’t come easily or naturally I was devastated.
For the first couple of months, I fed my newborn son surrounded my heaps of various pillows (normal ones and breastfeeding ones of various designs which all claimed to make this thing much easier, but never did), alternated between attempting to feed, not succeeding, giving the baby expressed milk (in a cup – because that’s what you do to avoid nipple confusion) and then spent the next hour expressing more milk, and visiting a cranial osteopath once a week because I had to do something. I got no break.
To cut a long story short, after the initial struggle that lasted a couple of months (and lots and lots of cabbage leaves and Lansinoh cream to soothe my sore nipples) a switch flipped and it got a lot easier. So much easier, in fact, that I proceeded to feed this baby until he was well over 3 years old. He could not be convinced to give it up, and to be honest, after everything I went through in those first months, neither did I.
All this made me so much more acutely aware of the struggles mothers go through when their start breastfeeding. Don’t get me wrong, I think breastfeeding is the best thing since before sliced bread, and I’m a big advocate for it, but there is so much pressure to breastfeed that if for some reason it’s not coming easily to you – or doesn’t come at all – you can feel inadequate and a failure as a mother, too. I wish we could simply encourage new mothers to breastfeed without making it into an “all or nothing” approach. KWIM?
After speaking to many mothers, I’m starting to realise that something’s gotta change. Somewhere in our support system, everyone got so obsessed with “breast is best” – for the baby – that the mother’s needs and difficulties are often dismissed and they are left with mother’s guilt for not being able to nourish their baby “the right way” eating them alive.
I would love to show the world that whichever way you choose to feed your baby, it’s beautiful, and it’s the right way.
Who’s with me? Share your story in the comments below.