Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why I didn't breast feed. Part 1.

I must've been a 'let down' to my Mum.  She breastfed all three of her children.  Not something I remember, but she certainly talked about it, so I knew it was the thing to do if you had children.

But I hadn't given much thought to the business of babies before I fell pregnant with my first child.  I was broody, sure, but there was no real planning involved.  And in those pre-internet days I just got on with the pregnancy, swallowed the folic acid and gave up eating soft cheese.  Ante-natal classes were mostly about labour and birth.  How you fed your baby was not given much attention.  I knew that breast-feeding was the ideal but the truth is that it didn't sound very appealing.

And even now breast-feeding rates in Ireland are low by international standards - only 56% per cent even try it (ESRI figures 2012), so perhaps the things that put me off breast-feeding in the 1990s are still relevant today.

These were my impressions of breastfeeding - please do not take them personally!  I guess they need to be challenged but please be respectful...

1. Breast-feeding proponents in the early 1990s reminded me of my school headmistress.  They lectured you and expected obedience.  You were told that "good" mothers breastfed their babies, that it might be hard, but you mustn't give up, just grit your teeth and carry on.  It was portrayed as another chore, like changing pooey nappies.

2. I had this idea that to establish breast-feeding you had to stay in bed for the first few weeks, supported of course by your extended family and friends, who would look after the house, any other children and provide hot meals and anything else that was needed.  With no family in Dublin and just a handful of friends, who were also up to their necks in nappies at the time, I just knew that there was no way that I would get that kind of support.

3. Then there was the whole image of the breast-feeding Mum.  They seemed to see motherhood as a vocation, and they were mostly mothers in the home, who seemed to rarely venture out - a Mum in a cafe with a baby would always be bottle-feeding.  Breastfeeding sounded very restrictive, while bottle feeding looked easy and normal.  Especially if you were heading back into the workplace.


4. The horror stories around breast-feeding rivalled those of birth: bleeding cracked nipples, biting babies, mastitis, sleeplessness, exhaustion, but over months and months, not just the 24 hours or so of labour.  The thought of volunteering to put yourself through more pain post-birth was just too much to bear.

5. It also sounded like hard work: perhaps I'm  a control freak, but the thought of feeding every couple of hours - or even more often - terrified me.  How would you ever plan anything ever again? Well until you weaned the baby obviously.  And what about sleep?  Your partner can help if you bottle-feed.  And with a maternity leave of only 12 weeks back then, I needed my baby to be feeding and sleeping to some kind of schedule by the time I went back to work - I only just achieved that as it was!

6. No-one ever tried to persuade me to try breastfeeding, not while I was pregnant, or on the postnatal ward.  I may have been asked how I was planning to feed my baby and the SMA was handed over as soon as I mentioned bottle-feeding.  Every other mother on the 14-bed ward did the same thing - I don't recall seeing any babies being breast fed at all.  And so it went on.

When Smiley was born at 26 weeks, I was encouraged to express milk for her, and I did.  But it dried up after about 6 weeks, and no-one suggested anything to help the milk keep flowing.  By the time my son was born, my life was so busy that there was no possibility of putting in the time and effort to breastfeed, so the bottles were taken out of the attic yet again...

Times have changed and breastfeeding seems much more normal now.  But I didn't really take an interest.  That changed after I joined the Irish Parenting Bloggers group, and promised to share some of their posts from a recent breastfeeding blog march.  I read some of them too, and they presented breastfeeding in a completely different way.  They were written with great affection about the joys of breastfeeding, and I started to wonder if I'd missed out on something after all...

Like this one by At the Clothesline

But there was one other reason why I didn't try breastfeeding.  And you'll have to wait for Part 2 for that!

Details of the Blog March for National Breastfeeding Week by the Irish Parenting Bloggers Group can be found at Mama.ie.


19 comments:

  1. Breastfeeding is as long as I remember something 'normal' here where I live.

    I breast feed my daughter for full 7 months and then she started to play with my nipples and I said - well they might be 'a playground, but not for you' and I stopped.

    It was completely different only 1,5 yrs later when my son was born. I wanted to breastfeed but, as the health problems started almost at the beginning of his life, all the worries and allergies and everything dried my milk and he didn't gain enough weight in second months of his life... I had no other alternative than to put him 'on a bottle'.

    I do not praise those who breastfeed nor despise those who didn't. Every mother has her own story and no one has the right to judge...

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting Petra. I suppose I was trying to get away from the idea of judgement as I think that sitting in judgement on those women who don't breastfeed - about half of Irish women - is going to encourage more of them to choose it!

      So I wrote this post to explain some of the things that put me off, and might be putting off other women. And I think that they need to be addressed if breast feeding rates are to be improved.

      Mostly what is comes down to is more information, more encouragement, more support, and definitely less judgement!

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    2. "is NOT going to encourage them" oops

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  2. Thanks for sharing the other side! I think too often in the real & hypothetical "mommy wars" (ARGH!) everyone is pitched against each other, and that puts people on the defensive. It's nice to hear a straight down the line 'this is the reason why...'

    I did breastfeed, and when I think back I didn't put a whole lot of thought into it during pregnancy, I just presumed I would because both my older sisters had done it, and my friends weren't having babies yet. So my sisters were my "normal", simple as. I often wonder if they hadn't, would I have?

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I wasn't even thinking about the 'mommy wars' when I wrote this - I can't imagine how there could be a war about breastfeeding. I know that a lot of the on-line community think that all women should breastfeed, but clearly many don't, and looking at the reasons why is important if that is to change, I think :)

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  3. Interesting piece! I tried to nurse my oldest-but I had problems with milk production. I was strongly "encouraged" to try anything and everything to fix the problem...I was exhausted, my son was always hungry..So, I stopped trying. Unfortunately-there were many who took my decision to stop as some sort of failure on my part-and tried to shame me about it. I was so inexperienced, scared..I wanted to do the "right" things for my first baby...it really did a number on my self esteem. So-when I became pregnant with my next child-and the ones after-I refused to disclose whether or not I was going to breastfeed. I really don't like how awful other moms can be towards each other. I think its best if we respect whatever decision a mother makes in regards to nursing...unless you know the mother personally-you have no idea why she does or does not nurse. Even if we do know-it is not anyone's business...

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    1. Oh I definitely agree that each mother's decision about how they feed their baby is theirs and theirs alone. But again just to say that I'm now reading lots of posts about breast feeding, from women who totally convinced that everyone should be doing it - but perhaps they don't always know about the hurdles that some of face, or think we do :)

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  4. I am so glad you wrote this.

    It is wonderful to write joyfully and encouragingly about breast-feeding. But it's not for everybody and no mum should be judged either way.

    I intended to breast feed but to be honest after 3 days of no sleep and a very prolonged 22 hour birth of my one and only, I was simply too exhausted. I sleepily permitted the Vitamin k injection before promptly succumbing to sleep!

    I look forward to part 2 ....and really looking forward to reading your 'One Word' post!!

    Been trying to get blog reading for days now. And I'm rushing off out again soon!

    xx Jazzy

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    1. Oh I'm delighted to read your comment!

      I'm still not sure whether I'm going to publish Part 2 or not...it's a semi-taboo topic. But then some people would argue that a post like this is too!

      We'll see, glad you're interested though :) xx

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  5. It is a choice to breastfeed and mothers should never be made to feel guilty for not doing it. I am absolutely sick to the back teeth of reading posts about "why I breastfed" and "why I didn't..." It's simply no one else's business and shouldn't be a subject up for discussion. I did throw the towel in a couple of years ago to write my own rather heated post after seeing a string of Breast is Best campaigning which was just a way of making those who didn't, feel bad. Breastfeed if you want, or give your baby a bottle, like I did from birth - I never attempted to breastfeed because I DIDNT WANT TO! I was called selfish by the breastapo and I've even been told breastfeeding would have helped my daughter and maybe prevented her autism. How dare anyone challenge me on one of the most personal choices a woman can ever make. How dare they. This subject needs to be kept between couples and mothers should stop being made to feel they have to explain their reasons not to breastfeed. They don't. It's a choice. And if anyone wants to tell me breast milk is best for baby then I suggest they keep it to themselves. I know what's best for my child. She's 13 now, almost 6 ft, fit, healthy and is very rarely ill. She's always been the same. She is living proof that breast is not always best.

    Sorry to rant, flower. I do respect your views and all those from others. I just wish people would respect mine.

    CJ x

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    1. Rant away CJ, your comments are always welcome :)

      And I agree, how dare anyone suggest that your daughter's autism could have been caused by lack of breast-feeding, that is just appalling.

      However personally I do think that is would be good if more babies were breast-fed, but to achieve that I think it's important to look at the reasons why women don't - and if the reason was that you didn't want to, then that's fine :) I didn't mean to sound judgemental on this post, and I hope it didn't read like that to you x

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  6. Great post-if only breastfeeding was a bit easier. I found it very tough that I was the one who had to do all the feeding while my other half slept through the night. It was great though when we did switch to bottle feeding at 6 weeks and he got to bond with Mini at her feeding times. He really enjoyed that and it wasn't something I had even thought of-that men are excluded from this chance for bonding if a baby is exclusively breastfed.

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    1. Well I think some argue that the father can bond with baby by cuddling, changing nappies etc, but personally I don't think that feels the same as when you feed them x

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  7. It really is a personal choice, therefore I say... each to their own! :)

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  8. I always thought that bottle feeding looked like a lot harder work and a great palaver so it never occurred to me to do it! I found this interesting and eagerly await part two!

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    1. If more women could be persuaded to think like you did, then breastfeeding rates would definitely go up!

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  9. Great post - times have indeed changed, but I agree - each to their own. Breastfeeding really seems to ignite passion and debate and I can see why, but again, each to their own. I wasn't breastfed - it wasn't encouraged when my mother had me either. I tried to breastfeed my daughter when she was big enough, expressing until she was. It lasted a while, then she spurned me *sob*

    I feel incredibly sorry for those mothers who try and can't (just as I felt a bit sorry for myself when we got home and it stopped), and I feel incredibly disappointed in those who judge others for either "not trying hard enough" or making the choice not to breastfeed from the start.

    Those who make it their mission in life to just go on about it ALL THE BLINKIN' TIME - they need to just stop, frankly. ;) xx

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  10. Once the children stop breastfeeding their Mums eventually stop going on about it too :) xx

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