Ahhh…breastfeeding. That beautiful, bonding experience. The beauty of gazing at your newborn as they take their sustenance from your body. Or the joy of being able to “cure” toddler tantrums and boo boos with a quick bit of booby milk. Being able to feed your baby or toddler while lying in bed. So wonderful. Right? Well….sometimes it’s not. A hard truth is this: Sometimes breastfeeding sucks. Sometimes it’s hard, tiring, painful and you are just sick of being touched by other people.
Then you’re chatting to a friend / sister / mother / random stranger about how HARD breastfeeding is. “OMG I’m so sick of having someone attached to me ALL THE BLOODY TIME!” and then comes the inevitable “well…just give the baby formula. I formula fed and my baby is fine. Happy mum = happy bub” (NOTE: The people who say that are often the same ones who say “all that matters is a healthy baby” in regards to birth choices…do you see the hypocrisy? But I digress…). And you’re left feeling…empty. You think about how much you WANT to breastfeed. You feel that it is really the best thing for your baby and your family. You’re just having a tough time at the moment and would like a sympathetic ear and a helping hand.
Formula is often suggested as a way to "fix" breastfeeding issues. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
But here’s a fact: If you complain that your breastfeeding journey is not all roses people are more likely to go to the shop and buy you a tin of formula than offer to come over and make you a cup of tea. All you want is someone to say “Hey, I know that breastfeeding is tough but you’ve got this.” Instead they send the very clear message that you don’t got this. You can’t do it. And you’re left feeling worse and worse. Now you not only have a few breastfeeding issues you also doubt that you can get through them. After all: if your best friend thinks you can’t do it why should you? And then if you suggest that you do actually want to breastfeed you’re told to either “stop whining and get on with it then” or “stop being so judgemental! There’s NOTHING wrong with formula!”
How did we get to this point? Is it simply that by portraying breastfeeding as “natural” we’ve convinced women that it must be easy? And therefore if it’s not easy it mustn’t be working. I just don’t get it. Natural doesn’t mean easy. It doesn’t even mean “worth it”. It means “occurring within nature” (Oxforddictionaries.com). Learning to walk is also natural but parents don’t suggest you spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair just because you fell and scraped your knees…for the 5 millionth time this week.
So you’re finding that breastfeeding sucks? Now we’re not talking about MAJOR issues here. If you have depression, mastitis or have concerns about your baby’s health you need consult your health care practitioner. But sometimes breasfeeding is just hard. You have that moment, as you attach the cluster feeding booby monster for the zillionth time this afternoon and there’s that thought – “I’d really rather not have someone attached to me right now”. Or you cringe as you attach aforementioned booby monster because you know it’s going to hurt because you are too tired to take the time to attach the baby properly. You’re touched out and convinced that you will be the first woman to ever die of an oxytocin overdose. You love the baby and you love breastfeeding. But it sucks.
First thing – ASK FOR HELP. Ask your partner to take the baby for a walk outside so you can have some space. Or ask him to watch the baby while YOU go and walk outside. Join a support group - there’s one to suit every breastfeeding mum. Call the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) and have a chat to one of their counsellors or check out their website. Contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or a lactation counsellor. There is plenty of help – but you may need to actively seek it.
What can you do if you have a friend who is finding that breastfeeding sucks? Offer to come over and make her a cup of tea. Bring lactation cookies. No breastfeeding woman has EVER turned down cookies! Offer to prepare dinner while she feeds bub. Offer to hold bub while SHE makes dinner. Offer to hold bub while mum has a shower or gets an hours sleep. Offer to watch bub while mum and dad get out for a walk together. Ask dad to watch bub while you take mum out for a coffee. Remind mum that she is doing a FABULOUS job of feeding and raising her baby. Remind her that sometimes it sucks but usually it will pass. Suggest to her that she call the ABA. Listen to her talk. The only time it’s okay to ever say formula to a breastfeeding mum is if she has mentioned it herself. And if she has – reassure her that she CAN breastfeed, ask her if that’s what she really wants, but also reassure her that you will support her choices. Because mum’s emotional health IS important and sometimes formula is what is needed for that.
Breastfeeding can be beautiful and it can be hard. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Breastfeeding: natural, normal, healthy, hard, tiring and sometimes it really sucks. But it’s generally totally do-able – you do need the right tools, the right information and LOTS of the right support. You got this.