My apologies for another breastfeeding post but it’s National Breastfeeding Week and I wanted to post something up to mark it. National BF Week, as you may be aware, is used to promote breastfeeding among mothers and the wider public, including making it seem easier to BF in public. The thing is, I find (and I know I’m not alone in this) official breastfeeding advice to be, how shall we put this? a little too fervent, almost religious in attitude to be completely useful. While many advocates of breastfeeding genuinely want to help and support mothers, their advice can nevertheless put a lot of pressure on you and make you feel inadequate. I’m sure this isn’t what they intended.
In preparation for this post I looked through the guidance I was given about feeding. Most of it is based around the technicalities of breastfeeding. Most, if not all, of it seems to be designed to make you feel insecure and helpless. And quite a lot of it, especially the stuff from the NHS, is accompanied by pictures that look like they are from the 1970s. (An examination of the clothes establishes that they weren’t taken then, there must be a special filter on the camera or something. Instagram’s retro beige look…
What I think is also needed (apart from better pictures) is some idea of the wider aspects of breastfeeding, not just the how tos. Here’s what I’d like to have known in advance so it wasn’t such a shock:
- Sometimes it hurts. BF fans will tell you that it only hurts if you’re not doing it right, if the baby isn’t latching on correctly and so on. E latches on fine, I do not have sore or cracked nipples yet it still hurts. It hurts if the nipples get hard or cold. It hurts when they’re quite full. And my God, the backache! Like you wouldn’t believe. So if there’s pain you’re not necessarily doing something wrong, that’s just the way it is.
- Don’t panic if you get a blockage. And be aware that this REALLY hurts. It’s the kind of pain where you just want to sit down and cry like a 4-year old. To avoid full-on mastitis it’s best to try and get rid of the inflammation as soon as you can. Hot compresses help to ease the pain and massaging the lump helps too, even though it terrifies you to start with, and makes you grimace with pain as you do so. You just have to carry on and the blockage will unclog itself.
- Even if you like breastfeeding, you can’t possibly enjoy expressing. I decided I wanted to express, to get some relief from the demands on my body at all times and to have S help with feeds. A manual breast pump on offer in Mothercare decided me and so the other morning, with E still asleep and my boobs aching a little, I came down to use it. It looks like an old fashioned car horn, you attach it to the breast and pump the lever up and down. Now, I know we’re all mammals. Breastfeeding is a big reminder that we are. Some women glory in this – it’s a natural process to be able to feed your child like this, I understand that, but it makes me feel a bit weird. Expressing is even worse. As the first squirts of milk hit the sides of the pump, images of milking machines and cattle spring to mind. Perhaps I should just accept it but I can’t. It feels demeaning; 22 years education and I’m reduced to being a milk machine.
- Apparently you ooze the “love hormone” Oxytocin while breastfeeding. Is this supposed to feel a certain way? I’m not sure. My main feelings when breastfeeding are either boredom, irritation (with occasional despair) or freaked out at the weirdness of sustaining her in this way. And it’s pretty difficult to feel loved up at 3.30am. Perhaps my Oxytocin isn’t working very well.
- This is also the hormone that apparently makes breastfeeding feel erotic. Again, perhaps mine isn’t working. Or perhaps those generalisations are nonsense.
- The demand-led aspect of BF is the hardest part. I’ve blogged about this before – this feeling that you cannot do anything or go anywhere because the baby will need you and will need you when it wants – but it’s worth revisiting. Your body is not your own. I thought this feeling would go once pregnancy was over and the baby was here but, despite it being obvious when you think about it, you are still just here as a vessel and the baby is completely dependent on you. One reason I’m trying expressing is because I’m struggling with the demand-led nature of breastfeeding. Especially when E feeds well from both sides for an hour and half an hour later wants some more. Because your nipples hurt and need a rest, because you haven’t gone to the toilet, because you finished the glass of water, because your book and your phone are both JUST out of reach, because you just need a few minutes away from the constant demands. And I’m relatively lucky in having good maternity leave, a husband working part time who is around to help and no other children. How do other people who don’t and do have these things cope?
- Breastfeeding can be the loneliest thing in the world. Though I’m struggling to work out if it’s lonelier at 2am with just you and the baby awake, or during the daytime when you are all alone (S at work, family live miles away) and she refuses to settle, demanding instead another feed though it seems like you’ve been feeding her for hours. It seems like it ought to be worse at night but somehow it isn’t. Instead it’s acceptable to sit and veg out for a while whereas during the day I get very frustrated. At night S sometimes wakes and reads (and changes the nappy) until feeding is done, sometimes he doesn’t wake and I don’t have the heart to wake him, sometimes he sleeps and I wake him for moral support. Nevertheless, there isn’t a lot your partner can do and it makes no sense for both of you to be tired. (Remember, if you wake your partner and their response is “But I’m working tomorrow!” you must reply that you know that, but you’re working tomorrow too – you have to look after a baby and, unlike them, you don’t get the luxury of a lunch break.)
- Breastfeeding in public is worse in your head than in real life. In my admittedly limited experience. But so far I’ve fed E in three licensed eateries, two motorway service stations, a shopping centre, a nail bar and a country park and had no trouble. I use a huge Ikea muslin tucked into my bra strap to cover E’s head and any flesh that passers-by may encounter (is this cheating? Should I bear all?) Each time I’ve been trepidatious about taking her out but, when it comes down to it, your child is hungry and you need to deal with that. I am already past caring what people think.
So all in all, pretty mixed feelings. On the plus side, E s feeding well, sleeps to a general routine at night and not only did not lose any birth weight, but has gained a lot of weight. So I must be doing something right. Now if only I can sort my head out…