Breastfeeding has become less about the feeding. It’s lost sight of what it actually is: a way to feed your child. It is a physiological event that occurs in the mother. For the child.
Obviously it’s the natural way to feed your child. But that doesn’t mean there is an innate inbuilt switch in all of us that suddenly starts to work the moment you have a baby.
Antenatally, your midwife will tell you about breastfeeding; hands you a bunch of leaflets about how good it is.
They don’t tell you HOW you do it, though.
I remember being in the antenatal “breastfeeding” class. Being given a doll to put at my breast. Thats it.
No talk of how latch is important; how skin to skin is VITAL as soon as the baby has been born; how if you have pethidine or have to have forceps or a venteuse, this can mean it is more difficult to start feeding.
They didn’t mention hand expressing, or how to collect precious colostrum in a tiny syringe when you’ve been awake for 48 hours already.
They forgot to mention how it can really, really hurt. That your boobs are sore and your nipples red raw. No amount of Lanishoh is going to help.
They don’t explain that once you’ve had the baby, no matter what time or how tired you are, you are expected to know what you’re doing. You’re given more leaflets and an A4 feeding chart to complete that you can barely read as you’ve been awake so long that you’re delirious.
You see other women pressing the call bell, asking for help so you do the same. A health care assistant opens your curtain, and looks unimpressed as you ask for help. What do I do. The answer is for the health care assistant to yank the baby’s head and grab your breast and roughly attempt a latch.
When this fails more syringes; health care assistant now hand expressing your breast; milking you like a cow. And you let them because you’re starting to lose the plot. Is this a dream.
No one tells you, antenatally, that your baby will be weighed every few days; and if your baby loses too much weight, then you stay in hospital. Or go back in.
That even though you may be trying to get the perfect latch, constantly attaching baby to breast, thinking you’re doing well, that when they tell you your baby has lost an ounce, how crushing that can be. How worthless you feel. How you feel you’re letting down your child.
How very shit you feel every time you press that call bell. How people’s looks and tone of voice can make you feel so small.
When people ask if your milk has come in, you don’t know. Because antenatally, they told you your boobs would swell; how they would leak milk and you would ‘feel’ it. But you don’t feel any of this. Milk is there, but it’s not pouring out of your breasts as they told you.
They ask if you can feel the “let down” when feeding. You feel nothing. Your boobs don’t ache. You wake up with wet patches on your tops but there just isn’t enough milk. Maybe it will happen in time they say.
Is it day 4 baby blues, or are you actually depressed? You don’t know. You’re in a nightmare you can’t get out of.
No one tells you, how at 3am after a baby has been screaming for hours, how a well meaning midwife will causally mention that not everyone can breastfeed; why don’t you let us give your baby a cup of formula; maybe you can express on the machine. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t. How if you gave a little formula, baby would gain weight and you could go home.
And how your resolve starts to crush; you’re tired and low, so low. And this person is being nice to you. And you so desperately want to go home.
How the relief in the midwifes eyes as you tell them to cup feed formula. How your heart breaks at how thirstily your baby gulps this foreign liquid down.
How once you’ve done this, how they can’t get you out of hospital quick enough.
They don’t tell you how, postnatally, as you’re leaving, you ask for breastfeeding group information; breastfeeding counsellors; people who can help you. As you haven’t given up.
And they don’t tell you that these people, these people who haven’t helped you at all, they don’t know. Ask your health visitor, they will tell you.
They look at you as if to say, “but why bother???”
Why didn’t I know this all before? You will ask. No-one tells you this antenatally.
You will go home and read about Breastfeeding and realise where you went wrong. Where they went wrong. Right at the very beginning. At 2.10am on your child’s birth day.
That even when you are home, the nightmare continues. Every day is a struggle but you do it. But this is anything but a nice experience. How your first weeks with your newborn child will forever feel like the worst weeks of your life.
And this, Jamie Oliver, is the issue. Not women making choices. Not being brainwashed by formula companies. It is women not having the right preperation, the right support. To do what they have chosen to do.
Because for some women out there, it is not that easy.