take the pressure down

It’s World Breastfeeding Week. Very appropriate then that I am typing this while watching Buddy on the monitor, typing with one hand and a breast pump in the other.

Going into motherhood I never thought breast feeding would be the source of such angst. Maybe naively, I thought I’d give it a crack and on the off chance it didn’t come easily I’d have no problems switching to formula. Oh how wrong I was.

I had too much milk which gave Buddy a belly ache (otherwise known as lactate overload) so it was as though my milk was causing him pain. I tried everything to make it better. I did elimination diets. I saw Lactation Consultants and Midwives, who all tried to help with different sitting positions, latching techniques, and timing routines. But in hindsight I realise their advice was futile – I just had to wait it out and let him grow into my boobs. Easy to say now but it was very tense at the time.

The tension took away in part from my enjoyment of being a new mum. That and a Midwife (picture a female version of Basil Fawlty not in stature but in attitude) that told me I wasn’t feeding Buddy enough in volume or frequency on day two after delivery – even though he was within the 10 per cent weight loss range. So, as per her advice, I dutifully set my alarm to go off every 2 hours (24/7) and force fed the poor little mite, by pushing his head onto the breast (also advice from my other midwife). Just as an aside, Buddy is now a massive little Michelin man, {throat clear and bow} thank you very much!

I have thought a lot about why I was so determined, and why I didn’t just switch to formula as I had planned. Why I placed so much pressure on myself to persist through the tearful pain experienced by my baby and by me (think ‘shards of glass passing through the nipple’ and half days of constant screaming). Maybe it was my leaning towards being a bit of a naturalist when it comes to what goes in my body and, therefore, my baby’s body. Largely though it was because I had the message BREAST IS BEST FOR YOUR BABY delivered to me robotically and relentlessly by conscientious nursing staff for the last nine or ten months.

Without realising it, poof, I was on the S.S. guilt trip the moment Buddy was born. I was going to get this freaking breast feeding gig and give my child the best at any cost, even if the cost was my health, well-being and relationships. By the time I’d realised formula is just as good, and bottles will have no impact on the mother baby relationship, Buddy had latched on and was not looking back baby! His approach to bottles was/still is “prrrft”.

I remember in several of my birth classes and in hospital, no staff would even answer questions about formula even if they were asked out of mere curiosity. It was always ‘the directions are on the pack, try breast first, breast is best . . . “. If I hear one more time “BREAST IS THE ONLY THING YOU NEED TO GIVE YOUR BABY” “BREAST MILK PROVIDES THE BEST START IN LIFE FOR YOUR BABY” {said in a matronly/principal that’s just given you detention like tone}. This is way too much pressure for any mum, let alone any first time mum, perhaps with feeding challenges, who perhaps has never really been around babies.

Sure, the message is based on WHO directives. But the Australian health system needs to rethink the way they convey this message to new mums. I would be interested to know if there are links between post-natal depression and the extent to which new mums felt pressured to breast feed. I have news for new mums out there feeling pressure to breast feed no matter what – breast milk is good for your child, formula is also a good option. You have options! Probably half the population is formula fed. I was formula fed and I turned out ok. Do whatever you need to and whatever feels right.

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