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.
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 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!)