Sunday, 27 March 2011

Bandwagon post - is breast best?

The Mummy Bloggers have gone mad with passion just recently discussing that contentious, emotive subject; is breast best? Everyone is blogging their own story, justifying their reasons for choosing what they did, steadfastly insisting that they KNOW they made the RIGHT choice FOR THEM and that they won't apologise to anyone for their choice...only I don't believe them. The culture right now is so strongly pro breastfeeding - and for all the right reasons - that those who choose otherwise are going to be judged, no matter how polite people are about it, and as such they're judging themselves and there's a tiny voice inside them telling them that they've failed their child. Newsflash Mummies - we all have, somewhere, in some way. That's one of the downsides of being the Mummy.

I'm training as a breastfeeding peer supporter and have been volunteering in the role for a couple of years now really, helping at our local support group (I'm the one who offers the sarcastic comments to everyone when they worry over the little things - you know, takes the pi$$ but makes a decent brew?) and to be honest I think I'm pretty unusual as far as peer supporters go. Most of them - NCT ones in particular (sorry ladies!) are SO pro breastfeeding that they can get a bit, you know, nazi about it (sorry for slinging in that overused analagy all, it's wearing thin but you get what I mean!) and whilst appearing supportive are actually quite patronising and offensive. Basically you MUST BREASTFEED no matter what else is going on in your life. I find that for most of them breastfeeding has been pretty easy aside from the first few toe-curling days of cracked nipples and lanisoh.

They speak (down) to the young, nervous Mums or those who are a bit grossed out and throw around the usual buzzwords - "natural", "best for baby", "immunities" yada yada - and often don't listen to what the Mummy in front of them is saying because they're a bit busy with their self righteousness. I particularly see this on online 'support groups' where that little bit of anonymity and distance makes it easy to be a bitch to strangers in a way you couldn't to their face.

So here's my story and my feelings on breastfeeding. On why I hate it, but do it anyway. (gasp)

Formula isn't poison. It's not as good as breastmilk, it's been adapted and formulated to be 'good' for a baby but it's harder to digest and isn't AS good as breastmilk. That's a fact, and one that can't be disputed. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use it, it doesn't mean I think you're failing your kids if you DO use it - but I do get a bit wound up when people say it's just as good because the facts are the facts, and it's just not. Sorry.

Breastfeeding is hard. The first few days particularly because of the aforementioned toe curling pain and cracked nipples. That's because your baby has never been a person before and needs to learn what they're doing and nobody's ever given your nipples that much of a chomp before (unless you've had a REALLY exciting sex life, in which case, don't tell me!) but that doesn't last long. THEN what makes it hard - for me - is the fact that you leak milk on yourself every single day. Your bra gives you one big sweaty boob sausage than permenantly smells of slightly turned milk no matter how many times you change, put in fresh breast pads and scrub yourself with a brillo pad stuffed with anti bacterial soap.

You never get to go to bed with no bra on; outside of my breastfeeding times I love that bit of the day - I've got pretty big boobs and getting to the end of the day, heaving off the bra and feeling the pressure from your shoulders ease as your boobs sink to your navel (yep, not even 30 and there they are) is SUCH a relief - your skin starts to breathe, you can rub all the bits where the straps and elastic were digging in to you and you feel GREAT - when you're breastfeeding you can't do that because you need to keep SOMETHING on to hold the (three at a time thank you) breast pads in place to try to prevent the leaking getting all over your PJs and the bed (which doesn't work, ever, and you're always trying to get back to sleep in damp clothing and on a smelly wet sheet because it's too much bother to get up AGAIN and change AGAIN and do MORE laundry when in two hours you'll be in the same state.

I have a problem with over production. Some people, who suffer with under production, might think that makes me lucky - but what it means is that at every feed I can catch a good 4oz of milk from the 'other' boob or from over my baby's head as he pulls away choking on my vicious fast let down that can squirt 6 feet at least. If you've been in the room when I've breastfed you've had my milk on you. That's not nice. I can feed out of the house, and do, regularly, but I can't do it tidily and get through a couple of muslin cloths each feed trying to stop my baby's clothes and my own from getting soaked (and generally failing). It means that every outfit I select has to be dark and patterned to try and hide the tell tale patches all over me. It means that seeing or hearing any child, feeling any emotion or anything touching my breasts will make them start firing milk around the place like a pressure hose, which is very uncomfortable (my let down hurts, don't know about you - only a few seconds but yes, it hurts) and means I'm damp - again.
I also loathe dependency - knowing that every time he cries it has to be me feels suffocating - getting up every couple of hours in the night makes me furious because I'm bad at tired, jealous of my sleeping husband and once again firing milk all of myself so I will smell bad in the morning. If he cries for something other than milk I want someone else to help him, but always go because my body is reacting to the noise and I won't relax until I'm holding him, but even that winds me up because I could share the work but don't.

I am also one of those women who are very aware of the sexualisation of breasts so think feeding from them is kind of vulgar, a conflict I struggle with at every feed. They are meant, exist purely, for feeding my offsprinng, but society has made them - particularly large ones - symbollic of something else. When your body is filled with overwhelming hormones and bewildering feelings it's hard to balance those things in your addled mind.
I regularly get blocked ducts - that is very, very painful and a pain to sort out involving lots of awkward feeding positions, massaging the breast as you feed, hand expressing the milk into the bath, hot compresses, fistfulls of paracetamol. This occasionally leads to mastitis - the breastfeeding mother's worst enemy. You want to spend ALL your time in bed because you feel so ill - but you can't because you have to keep on being the Mummy. You want a tent built around your breasts so that NOTHING CAN TOUCH THEM because it hurts - but you have to keep your bra on - I've tried selotaping pads to my braless boobs, it doesn't work. You want to stop feeding the baby because it's like torture when he latches on to your infected breast - but that's the only way to clear the blockage and relieve the engorgement, so you do it, sobbing in agony as he feeds. Hateful.

Because I was aware of all of those things before I ever tried to breastfeed I spoke to my husband about it and we agreed that because there are just SO MANY benefits to breastfeeding (you don't need me to list them again, they're on every leaflet your doctor, midwife and health visitor has thrust at you to make you feel inadequate no matter what you choose) I would do it for the first six weeks of our child's life then see how I felt. With Roman I did that then said I'd do "One more week" at the end of which I'd re-assess. By five months I was doing three of his four feeds a day and he had one bottle of formula from his Daddy at bedtime whilst I had a bath - which was just perfect for us and a huge relief for me and I still did my 'good mummy' work with the other feeds so didn't feel TOO guilty (though I did, of course, don't we all?). By 9 months I was doing morning and bedtime and the rest was bottles. Then he bit me, hard, and pulled - I screamed, he screamed, my nipple bled and look like it had been pierced - badly. The next time I offered breast he cried and refused to feed. So that was that. My six weeks had hit nine months and he wanted to stop because I'd scared him screaming - and by then I was ready to stop too, so we stopped.

Remembering all the up and downs from the first time around I said the same this time - when Jasper was born I said I'd do six weeks and see how I felt. We get there tomorrow, and right now how I feel is that I'll just do one more week and see how I feel - I dislike it, but the balance is still in favour of carrying on - because it's better for him.
So my reasons for doing it, to balance all the reasons I've given for hating it? Well. I'm cheap. I'm cheap, I'm poor, formula is expensive, so are bottles, so is sterlising stuff, compared to the price of whipping my boob out for free. Free versus £15 a week? Free every time mate.
In the night when he wakes can I be faffed to go downstairs, put the lights on, wake up completely and boil the kettle, measure out the formula, make up a bottle and feed him and change him and settle him, making a process that can already take well over an hour take even longer and be even more of a bore? Well hell no - as it is he's in his moses basket right beside me, I sit up, lift him out, flollop out a boob, feed him, change him, feed him the rest of the boob and he falls asleep on me, dribbling yet more milk onto my top, I pop him down, lie back down, baboom, asleep. Get up and put the lights on? Screw that.
Lastly - but most importantly - I've read the figures, I've had the talkings to, I've been given the info - my milk is better, so no matter how much I hate it I'll choose, every day, to do it again for his sake because the thing about being the Mummy is that their needs come before your own and my hating it sometimes isn't good enough, to me, to stop when he gets so much benefit. It might be enough for other Mummies and if it is then good for you for saying so - but I can't live with that decision and the guilt it brings so this is the decision I make. His needs come before my wants.

So there you go. I'm a peer supporter, but I'm one who, like a lot of the people who come to me for advice, hates the whole bloody process - but does it anyway, even when it's hard.

I do it because he needs it, because I'm cheap and because I'm lazy.

I'm sure I've offended plenty of people with this post - but that's ok because it's just the internet, and you don't know me, so what I think doesn't matter. I've been offended by people on both sides of the arguement many times, but they didn't influence my own choice. Don't think I'm trying to influence yours - because it's none of my damn business.

(all images thanks to google!)


  1. OMG! It was like I was reading my own thoughts! I couldn't agree with you more.

  2. It's good to hear people agree - the usual response to the things I say about breastfeeding is shock because I'm supposed to feel all earth mother and love it - but hey, I don't! Momma x

  3. Just finished breastfeeding my second baby! Working, traveling, and breast feeding are not an easy mix but I did it! Even went to Europe pumping and brought it all back. I hope my kids appreciate the commitment. Love your blog! Need to write one myself soon about breastfeeding!

  4. Brilliant post, I didnt BF my eldest - I was young(ish), naive and he went on Formula straight away. Tried and failed abysmally with 2nd (who at 6mo ended up basically failure to thrive before dr referred him to hospital and major lactose intolerance, cannot have soy had to have hypoallergenic stuff), tried again with 3rd, she loved it but at 2weeks old started same symptoms as 2nd re: lactose intolerance so off to docs, some tests and yep same, so onto soya milk, tried again with 4th, she absolutely loved it, no problems at all, (well apart from oversupply and wanting to sleep on me all day & night long) made it to 4/5 weeks with her when same symptoms as 2&3, also she was not putting on weight much and was still not at birth weight, so tried her on soya formula and she was instantly a happier baby (not as in she slept more as in she wasnt being sick/projectile from both ends).

    So yeah - do I wish I had succeeded for longer with all of mine, sure I do, do I feel like I failed them? Sure but on this and so many other points, I am only human though and have to do what I think is best at the time.

    2nd child is now 3 and still crap with lactose/dairy - drs said should grow out of it by school age but he has not, he is better than he was but still not great.

    3rd & 4th are a lot better with it, but we put that down to catching their intolerance a lot sooner than with 2nd, (he was a sicky baby anyway in and out of hospital a lot until just over 6mo).

    I suppose it shouldnt have come as a surprise to me as I am also crap with dairy/lactose so sorry kids! (yeah I have given you that like my feet and my eczema and all the other things you will be thanking me for when you are older!)

  5. A refreshing read! Thank you! I couldn't feed my boy, problem with milk, he was too tired and little blah blah blah, however I will try again but have all the same conflicting thoughts you've mentioned. A brilliant viewpoint! X ps I wish you had been around when I was attempting feeding!

  6. Bethany transporting pumped milk back from travelling shows some serious dedication!

    Mrs T how can you think you failed? You realised something was wrong and you got your children what they needed to make it better - that's tip top parenting, it can take YEARS to diagnose dairy issues in some cases, so well done catching it early!

    Averagemummy - if you have the same issues it doesn't matter, do not feel guilty, trying to BF despite massive problems and letting your baby go hungry because of some misguided principle is much worse than mixing up a bottle.

    Like I said - the reasons above are *MY* reasons and don't, and shouldn't, have anything to do with anyone else's reasons or decisions.

  7. I think that's the closest opinion to my own feelings on breastfeeding that I've ever heard. Thank you for sharing. I don't 'hate' it but I don't 'love' it like some do. I do it because, in my opinion, it's easier than formula, it's better for baby and it's better for my health too. People have commented after both of my children about how quickly I've lost my baby weight. And I've done nothing except breastfeeding to lose it! That's the winning argument for me!!

    And thanks for your helpful comments on twitter last week when I had my first experience of mastitis.

  8. I love it and can't wait to do it again.. Nope, it's not the easiest thing in the world but it's very convenient in more ways than one and I love it.. Cheap, great health benefits, and i lost my weight well because of it.. But i dont mind if mothers choose formula either, to each their own. Great post, thanks for sharing..

  9. I will read your article properly later but wondered how you became a breastfeeding peer supporter? I'd love to get involved with something like that.

  10. Great post! I could relate with a lot of that. Breastfed my daughter exclusively for the 11 weeks I was home with her. When I was back at work/school (I'm a grad student) there was no where for me to pump and my breastfeeding wasn't being supported by her caregivers (i.e., I would send milk and they wouldn't use it and let it go bad), so she was breastfed when I was home with her in the morning and evenings and on weekends, but formula fed other times. We did this until she was 8 months old, when I had had enough and switched her to formula full time. I still feel that I failed her, though she is a healthy 2 year old now. I want to try harder with the next one and maybe exclusively breastfed longer, be more committed to pumping, make it a whole year etc... It is HARD and I'm glad that other mamas struggle with it the same way I did. Well, not glad that they struggle, but you now what I mean....

  11. Great post. I'm a breastfeeder myself, but by no means do I look down on anyone who doesn't. I don't know how so many people can afford to use just formula to be honest, I know we wouldn't have been able to.

    I definitely don't love breastfeeding, but I don't hate it either. Each boy has given me reasons to like and dislike it, and both have had their struggles, Mason so much more so than Meatball, but we pushed through. I had a 6 month goal with Mason, we made it 8 months of exclusive nursing (I introduced formula when I got pg) and another 3 months after that with a combo of nursing and formula. Meatball has just passed the 7 month exclusive mark, with no interest in either bottles or solids (which is super fun for me), so he could easily go a year.

  12. Rachel I hope the mastitis cleared up quickly - it's SO horrible!

    Josmith - there are groups in most areas, if you ask your health visitors they should put you in touch with them, it's a brilliant service and you get proper training and a fancy NHS badge - I really hope the crapass cutbacks don't stop the training and groups.

    Lauren I think carrying on BF at the times you could when people weren't supportive is great - what a shame people didn't respect your decisions and feed her the expressed milk - I'd have been furious! Well done being able to pump too, I never could :-(

    Amber you're doing great!

  13. Christa Medinger30 March 2011 at 21:27

    Great post! You are right, you verbalized what most Mom's are just too guilt ridden to say out loud. Good for you!

    I breastfed Kendall until she was 2-1/2 and Quentin will be 2 in a couple of weeks -- he still nurses, but is down to just bed time.

    With working full time and traveling, believe me, it's been a pain in the arse. I've pumped and carried home more milk through airports than I care to calculate. But, I do it for all the benefits and because as you so eloquently stated -- their needs / benefits outway my wants!

    Hugs, Christa

  14. This post is fab Lizzie, I too had very mixed feelings about breastfeeding. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it but like you felt I owed it to my child to do a month or two for all the health benefits etc.

    I intended to mix feed both boob and bottles from 2 months but after having a few bottles early on come 3 months Bella decided she hated bottles and has turned her nose up ever since no matter what we tried. So out of the window went the mix feeding idea and here we are at 11 months and still on the boob.

    At times I have felt utterly trapped and alone as only I could feed her. But I have also had huge satisfaction and such special moments all cuddled up feeding together.

    Mixed feelings is still how I think of breastfeeding, love it and hate it all at the same time. I will definitely try and breastfeed my next child but will also be making sure I get bottle feeding established too.

    Thanks for the fab post, Lucy x

  15. "trying to BF despite massive problems and letting your baby go hungry because of some misguided principle is much worse than mixing up a bottle."

    *That* is the one quote that should be on all breastfeeding literature.

    You are right, you did offend me slightly in your post. I'm a dad, but I understand the pros of breast feeding over formula. My wife was unable to feed our daughter (she's 5 months old now). My wife developed gastritis after an emergency section and was unable to keep any food down. This was not diagnosed for 10 days, so after a few days of not being able to eat, her milk just didn't come in, she was too weak and had no energy. That in turn meant our baby went hungry. We know they can cope for 4-5 days on only colostrum dregs but anything longer is cruel. But all the health visitors kept telling us the vomiting and pain my wife was experiencing was normal and that we should just focus on breast feeding. They ignored our screaming, hungry baby and ignored my wife's screams of pain. All because of breast feeding. 2 hospital visits later they put her on so many drugs that were unsuitable for a breastfeeding mum that we had to go to formula. By the time she was better, the milk, which eventually came in, was gone.

    We felt appallingly guilty. We know we couldn't have done anything, but we still felt as though we were failing our new baby. Our NCT group had drummed it into us that it was the only choice.

    Our baby too was then diagnosed with lactose intolerance and put onto a non-soy based one and she is positively thriving.

    In fact so much so that out of all the babies from our antenatal group that we keep in touch with, ours has had the fewest bugs, fewest skin problems, fewest growth/weight issues and is exceptionally happy. Ours is also the only one not getting breastfed.

    So all of your comments are correct, I just wish the rest of the advice out there was bit more balanced.

  16. Thank you for commenting - and with an excellent comment too. I'm sorry that you and your wife and baby had so little support and that people weren't listening when you asked for help - I'm sorry that people are sometimes so blinded by being 'pro' that they miss the signs that they could use to really, truly help people make the choices they want to.

    I'm glad they caught the intolerance nice and early - I hope you're all doing well now and enjoying parenthood. The very fact that you think things through and care so much is proof that you are doing a great job; all we can do is the best we can do - and you're doing that.

  17. Breastfeeding SHOULD be the only choice UNLESS you have a genuine medical reason why you cannot breastfeed (like itsadadslife's experience which must have been horrid and why oh why did they not get the bottles out earlier???).

    in some places, formula is only available on prescription.

    I think this is a fantastic post; you're going to make (if you're not one already) a fab peer supporter!


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