And now for something completely different…

IMG_1029Apparently it’s National Breastfeeding Week, which, as the government has scrapped any money going into this, you probably didn’t know. I’m slightly hesitant to write about breastfeeding here on the blog, it’s not really the space to get into the debates that rage around parenting and what the best thing to do is but I can’t help but find myself drawn to this one. Numbers of breastfeeding mothers have gone down under this government, there aren’t the resources put into helping new mothers start out with breastfeeding and, as the first few days are pretty crucial, the number of mums giving up is going up. You can read about it here. There’s a whole lot about this that is worrying.

What’s more worrying though is an attitude to breastfeeding that I’ve found crops up in the most surprising places. We’ve discovered all sorts of strange reactions to breastfeeding, the fact I’m doing it beyond 6 months, the uncomfortableness some have with it and some people finding it just plain weird. I’m worried that our world in general has got so used to boobs being all about sex that we’ve forgotten their other most brilliant function. My body has produced milk for our son for the last 8 months. He’s grown due to sucking milk from me. I think we find that weird because it’s a bit primal. In a world of technology it’s a bit, well, basic. My son sucks from my breast and gets food. And there we have the problem. Nipple, breast, boob, all words that we’ve somehow decided to hide in the bedroom. It’s all too easy to be embarrassed about the breast because it has become so sexualised.

Early on in this baby journey me and the husbandface overheard two women in a pub talking about how weird and odd they found breastfeeding, how they could never see themselves doing something so disgusting. We wished our son was with us (despite it being our first night out without him) so I could get out the boob and feed him in front of them, maybe they’d see it wasn’t so strange after all, or maybe not.  I find this attitude pretty heartbreaking.

I get that it’s odd seeing your mates boob for the first time with a small child hanging off it. I get that you might not know where to look (think of it like an eclipse – just don’t look directly at it) I get that it seems strange but it’s really the most natural thing in the whole world. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or that people who don’t do it are alien weirdos but it’s really not that big a deal. Our boobs are designed for this function. My body is designed to feed my children like this. It’s a glorious mystery of wonder. There is a weird connection as my boy feeds, there is a joy in providing for him in this way. I love that the Bible includes the strength of feelings of a mother feeding and declares that God’s love for his people is even stronger:

Isaiah 49:13-15 “Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

Obviously this isn’t saying that a mothers bond is less if she doesn’t breast feed, that’s the problem as well with this debate, the promotion of breastfeeding inevitably brings up issues for those who have chosen not to or can’t for medical reasons, it’s easy to create another division in the world of parenting and leave those who can’t or have tried and found it too hard to feel guilty and sad about it all. I’m just not sure that is reason enough to not talk about the benefits or to not provide lots of help to mums in the first few weeks where everything is new and strange.

Breastfeeding is hard work, and, although very convenient and cost effective, it’s not always about wonderful hormones and blissful feeding times as some in the parenting world would like you to believe. (however much those moments are there) It’s crazy in the first few weeks and months as supply is established and growth spurts hit. I spent many a tearful night as 4 or 5 hours of cluster feeding left me feeling empty and wishing for the less draining ease of a bottle (conveniently forgetting the cost and effort of bottle feeding – it turns out sometimes there is no easy way to feed a baby…). I worried about his latch, I spent awkward times in breast feeding support groups just feeling odd and not supported as people stared at my boobs and I felt crazily self conscious.

I’ve found it strange feeding in public, although I’ve mostly got used to getting the boob out in all manner of places. Oddly the place I found hardest was Word Alive when I was convinced some awkward conservative boy I’d known in a previous life was going to come over just as I was convincing my son to latch on and not know where to look. (Word Alive people, you really should provide some space in the cafe for nursing mothers to protect us from the awkward ones).

I guess all I’m saying is that breasts aren’t just for sex, they are designed for feeding as well and if you can breast feed then go for it, embrace it, delight in it and persevere when it’s hard work (because it will be). It’s what our bodies were made for (and I know that sometimes they go wrong and it doesn’t work out and it’s awesome that we now have a back up solution which means our babies won’t die). There is no need for guilt if you can’t (and yes I know how hard it is to bat away the guilt when it comes to all things child related) but let’s not stop saying loudly that breastfeeding is a good, healthy and normal thing in life. Let’s petition our increasingly depressing government to not stop promoting it. 

Your correspondent… unsure as to how many readers she’s now lost due to getting a bit political and talking about breasts. Ah well, you win some, you lose some…

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3 Responses to And now for something completely different…

  1. Ruth Norbury says:

    Hi Kath – just wanted to say that I agree with all you’ve said and think this is an important topic too. I’ve had experience of finding breastfeeding really hard & emotionally draining and needing to give up after 10 weeks first time round (mastitis, low weight gain etc…) but was then able to feed second baby past a year – a much more enjoyable experience! NCT and hospital breastfeeding advisors as well as breastfeeding friends were SO helpful with practical and emotional support and I couldn’t have managed to breastfeed either boys without them. I definitely think there needs to be more public support for those that choose to breastfeed, and more of an awareness that it is completely natural.
    I’d just want to say for anyone reading that feels guilty for stopping breastfeeding because it was really hard that it doesn’t define your parenting ability (although it can feel like it sometimes!) and it’s ok to stop if it’s just too hard – Breast is Best, but formula isn’t poison! Oh – and that breastfeeding ‘aprons’ are very useful things in potentially awkward situations with a wriggly/distracted baby!! Thanks for discussing the issue xx

  2. Tanya Marlow says:

    Preach it! It should be a choice for every mum, and it isn’t always best for the individuals, and that’s all fine – but you’re so right – it’s weird that our society thinks it’s weird. We have Internet p*rn but we’re squeamish about breast feeding – what kind of crazy society is that??
    I fed for seventeen months (and proud). A peculiar thing happens at the twelve-month mark – the doctors and health visitors who have been hailing you as a great champion and the saviour of all babies wverywhere, and acting like you have been dropping a magical elixir from your body suddenly put on their concerned face and declaim you as psychologically disturbed: “you’re not going to be breast feeding him at school are you? You do have to let go at some point? At this stage it’s more for you than the baby…”

    The WHO recommends it for TWO YEARS, people! Rant over 🙂

  3. Fiona says:

    I breastfed Joshua until he was two (at his request!), and although no one ever criticised me directly, I know feeding a child for that long is considered odd. It’s entirely your decision, and I think the only thing to do is remind ourselves as often as we have to that everyone has a different view and that there’s no wrong way to do it, even if it often feels that way when professionals or competent types disagree with what we’ve chosen to do. Well done on keeping going – do it for as long as you feel inclined; the wee man will stop when he’s ready! xxx

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