Rather typically, just as I decide today to post something up about feeling like nothing more than a milk machine, E has so far not had nearly as much to eat/ drink from me as usual. Still, it’s a handy “in” to a post about breastfeeding.
The breast v bottle debate is alive and well in Britain, it seems. And it shows no sign of being a calm and reasonable dialogue. It also shows no sign of being at all attached to the real world where those of us with tiny babies are just attempting to get through each day.
It’s National Breastfeeding Week later this month. I’ve stumbled across a blog that is running a series of posts for the whole month of June. They mean this to be supportive, I think, but I’m not sure that’s how I see it. Instead, the daily emails and posts highlight the guilt I’ve already been feeling about not enjoying breastfeeding very much.
I know, I know, it’s only the third week. It’s supposed to be difficult and bewildering, I know that. Nevertheless…
In hospital, listening to other mums, I was struck how many of them were ready to give up breastfeeding in a couple of days – in essence, once they were out of sight of the eyes of the ward midwives. I still think this is the wrong attitude but don’t want to preach and this is the main problem with the breast v bottle debate – that so many people DO want to preach.
All the midwives say first off, when told I am breastfeeding, “Ah, it’s a demand-led system.” Well, yes. And it’s probably this that I’m having most trouble with. Most days E has been fairly regular, every three hours or so, but she’s also feeding very well and can take up to an hour at a time, including lulling me into thinking that she’s had enough and that she is ready to sleep before demanding more. Rather like the French, taking her time to digest courses. It’s not that I have anything else to do: I’ve been setting myself a task a day – going to the shop, the dressmaker, writing thank you cards, etc, nothing too strenuous – and I’ve been prepared for the time it takes, sitting down with a book or magazine and a drink before feeding her. But still… she asks for food and I have to be there. No amount of preparation and common sense thinking before the birth really prepares you for being tied to this person in this way. My mum was here at the weekend and babysat for us for an hour so we could go to the pub (breastfeeding advocates look away – I had half a pint of IPA and it was lovely, despite your advice that I shouldn’t really have any alcohol…) but we couldn’t fully relax in case she called saying “Come home, E wants feeding.
Would it be any better if she was bottle fed? I don’t see how since I’d need to prepare the bottles and washing and sterilising must take up time too. But in the middle of the night, when she’s asking for more food after draining both sides, I can’t help but long for a bottle. Preferably in S’s hands so I don’t feel obliged to get up.
I say all this as someone who isn’t having trouble breastfeeding. E is noticeably gaining weight and seems contented enough. S is helping as much as he can – changing nappies, pacifying and soothing her, dancing with her and generally being ace. So God knows how it must be for someone who is having trouble feeding, or who doesn’t have a supportive partner. And it is great to see that she is doing well and that I must be doing something right. And it’s also really funny to see how eagerly she takes to the nipple each time, the noises of appreciation and all that… But…
The demand-led basis of breastfeeding means that you also worry that she isn’t getting into a routine. Again, I know, only three weeks in, but the phrase “making a rod for your own back” has come up so much already (and I haven’t even been looking for that much advice, having hated it all so much during pregnancy) that you can’t help worry about that too. Should I wake her when I put her down so that she can settle herself, despite having fallen asleep during winding? Should I be reading her a bedtime story yet? (I have started bathing her in the evenings – it’s really fun! We have one of those little chairs to go in the bath and she pulls faces as she tries to get used to it. I mention this as bathing at night is recommended as part of a routine. I just thought it would be fun… )
This is normal, right? I’m clinging to the idea that somehow at six weeks the whole thing will make more sense and click into place. What happens after that if it doesn’t is anyone’s guess…