Last week was all about the selfies for me. I’m sure everyone is aware of the #nomakeupselfie, which has now raised over £2m for cancer charities, even though no one seems to know how it started! And I did take part in that after I was tagged by a friend on FB. However, that wasn’t the one that was the big deal for me.
Last weekend, I posted a couple of pics on FB of me breastfeeding A, in support of mass feeding events going on up and down the country. These events had been organised by a woman called Emily Slough, who was unknowingly photographed by a complete stranger breastfeeding her baby in Rugeley; this person then posted the photo on a local FB group, labelling the poor woman a tramp. Her plan to hit back at this narrow minded idiot was taken up firstly on social media, and then by the mainstream media. Those who couldn’t go to an event were encouraged to post breastfeeding pics online. I thought long and hard about whether to take part or not. While I knew lots of my friends, particularly the female ones, would be fully supportive, I was also aware that I have male colleagues as FB friends…. Appropriate or not?? Well, in the end, I decided the point I was making justified the pics.
Let me say now that, in the nicest possible way, I don’t give two hoots how anyone else chooses to feed their baby. It’s not for anyone else to judge or comment on. Yes we know that breast is best – it’s rammed down our throats from the minute a woman discovers she is pregnant! However, I truly believe it is only ‘best’ if both baby and mummy are happy. If baby is not gaining enough weight on breastmilk alone, there is no question you will be advised to top up with formula. But what if breastfeeding is making mum miserable, stressed, exhausted? Is breast really best then? Personally I have my doubts.
I did not enjoy feeding B. In fact I would go so far as to say I hated it. Looking back, there were various things that probably made our experience a bit more difficult. First of all, I was recovering from an emergency C-section (more about that some other day!), so physically I wasn’t on top form. Secondly, B was born with both hips dislocated (more about that later too!!), and from a week old was in a harness to correct that, meaning we had to be very careful how we held her and moved her legs, so positioning for feeding was tricky. She was also very refluxy – you could never tell when she was going to throw up a whole feed in one go or whether it would just be coming up mouthful by mouthful for three hours! I found the whole process frustrating, exhausting and never ending. People had warned me that in the beginning it would feel like I was constantly feeding, but I hadn’t anticipated how constantly!! By six weeks B wasn’t gaining weight and wasn’t sleeping for more than a couple of hours at a time, and I was exhausted, so the health visitor suggested trying her with a bottle of formula at bedtime. That night she slept through. And the night after and the night after that. She was happier, and I was happier. She had her last breastfeed at 6 and a half months, but by that time it was only the first feed in the morning – the rest were all formula feeds. Also, in all that time, I never fed her in public. Not once in six and a half months. I just never felt comfortable with it – I was worried someone would stare, or laugh, or that B would throw up all over me. So outings were planned around feeds, or I would take a bottle with me. Even in my own house, if we had visitors I would still sometimes go and feed her in the nursery – that’s how self conscious I felt.
Why did I continue for so long if I disliked it so much? Honestly? A large part of it was not wanting to be the first of my antenatal pals to give up. Ridiculous, and I know they wouldn’t have cared either way, but there you go.
I think there is a real lack of information available on mixed feeding – certainly as a first time mum to be, it seemed to be very black or white. Either you breastfed or you formula fed. There was only talk of introducing formula if the breastfeeding wasn’t working and baby wasn’t gaining enough weight compared to the blooming chart. How to make a new mum feel like a failure!! I know that until your milk supply is established you need to feed feed feed, but nobody really tells you that after that you can in fact do breast and formula in tandem if that’s what you want to do.
When I was pregnant with A, I genuinely considered not breastfeeding at all. Hubby was dead against that – he said it was unfair to not even try when I had breastfed B. He thought I should at least give it 12 weeks (not sure where he plucked that number from!); I said I would try but I wasn’t putting a timescale on it, and if I wasn’t happy then I would not be putting any pressure on myself to continue. I also felt much more informed about mixed feeding and felt that was probably the road we would go down.
Ironically, A is now over 4 months old and is exclusively breastfed. I don’t know if it’s because I knew what I was doing, or knew what to expect, or if he has taken to it more naturally than B did, but for whatever reason things just clicked into place with us. He doesn’t sleep as well as B, but he is the same weight at 4 months as she was at 6 months, so he is thriving on it! I have also got over my fear of feeding in public – I had to, otherwise it would have had a huge impact on B’s life. He’s been fed at soft play, B’s ballet class, the John Lewis café, a 4 year old’s birthday party…. The first time I fed him while we were out and about, when he was 5 days old, I felt so proud of myself. Now it’s second nature – if he needs fed, he needs fed. The only time I’ve ever felt slightly awkward was at a kids’ theatre show we took B to at Xmas. I was sat next to the dad of one of her nursery pals, the room went quiet and all you could hear was A gulping milk….!!
And that was why I decided to share my breastfeeding pics on FB. In a world where all you have to do is open a newspaper at page 3 to see a pair of boobs, how can someone possibly have an issue with someone feeding their baby in public? There’s more flesh on display in town on a Saturday night than there is when I’m feeding A. It’s not about saying “Look at us, aren’t we so great breastfeeding our babies”, or trying to make out that breastfeeding mums are somehow superior to those who don’t or can’t. It’s about saying “IF you choose to breastfeed, know that for every idiot who gives you a look or sniggers, there are ten more people looking at you in admiration and support”. It’s about every mother having the right to feed her baby whenever and wherever she needs to, however she chooses to do it.
And if that raised a few eyebrows among some of my FB ‘friends’ then so be it.
As a footnote, you may be wondering why the photos were selfies. That’s because when I mentioned it to hubby the night before, he said “I hope you’re not going to post photos are you??”. Yep, the same man that was insisting I breastfed A for the magic 12 weeks. Go figure!!! 😉