23 Jan 2014

Is breast always best?

When we first found out I was pregnant we attended a group meeting, before we even 'booked in' with the midwife. The purpose of the meeting it seems was to tell us to stop drinking, smoking and taking drugs (worrying they think people need to be told this?!) and to drum into us the mantra that "breast is best". Personally I felt it was a little early in the process to be lecturing us on the virtues of breastfeeding, at that stage all Mr M and I wanted to know was what would be happening from a care perspective over the next 9 months, not be guilt tripped into thinking I would be a bad mother if I didn't breastfeed.

From the beginning of my pregnancy I've heard about nothing but the benefits of breastfeeding and how it will give my baby the best possible start in life. Not only will it help with Baby's immunity but it will apparently make him smarter, make him a better eater when weaned and just generally make him a healthier person in the long run. To top it off they bombard you with info about how it will help protect me from cancer and osteoporosis etc but will also help me to bond with the baby and get slimmer quicker. If all this is true then clearly breast is best but I'm not entirely convinced that it is always the best option for everyone.

Since day 1 I've always known that I wanted to breastfeed if I could but I was also aware that it's not as easy as you'd think. I have many friends who've given it a go and struggled, deciding that they were better off in the long run formula feeding their little ones, so I went into this with a sensible attitude that I would give it a go but if it wasn't for me I wouldn't let the breastfeeding brigade make me feel guilty. Despite this I think I still had a slightly romantic view that it wouldn't be that difficult and was convinced I would be able to do it. Not only was I determined to give Baby I the best start possible I could but I also had selfish reasons for wanting to feed him myself such as the weight loss and just the general convenience of not needing to sterilise bottles and prepare formula. Breastfeeding should in theory make life easier for me right?!

As it turns out breastfeeding is not the easy option at all. Nobody really warns you about the pain of sore, cracked, bleeding nipples which is seems is inevitable for most. Learning to latch baby on properly is not easy and even once you think you've got the hang of it and it gets more comfortable, baby can often have different ideas and you end up in pain again. People definitely do not warn you of the pain you feel when your milk comes in and you end up engorged!

Perseverance is definitely key and it does get easier with practice but even 6 weeks in I do still struggle with feeding some days and have considered giving in many times! By the end of most days I don't feel I have enough milk for my baby and he can feed for hours and still be really hungry which has led to me giving in to formula and giving him a bottle a night. BUT despite my sensible attitude before baby arrived and the fact that I feel no guilt whatsoever giving Baby I a bottle of formula, I've found I feel guilty when I admit to people that I've chosen recently to combination feed, almost like it makes me a bad mother!  And this is the reason that I disagree with the mantra that 'breast is best', if I feel guilt when I'd prepared myself for not being able to feed my son, how must other people feel when they've had nothing but the guilt trip and not got the benefit of knowing other people who've not been able to feed their babies?! Personally I feel that the NHS need to rethink their approach, yes encourage people to breastfeed if they can but also give them the support they need if it's not the right option for them. Breastfeeding is not easy and it's not always possible, they need to start acknowledging that rather than pressuring new mothers into doing something that is not right for them or their babies. I will definitely keep feeding my little chunk myself for as long as I can, topping up with the odd bottle of formula because that is what works for us but that doesn't mean I believe that breast is best by any means!

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