Breastfeeding Jekyll and Hyde

Breastfeeding. The Jekyll and Hyde of motherhood. The topic that gets mums and the rest of the world – who really should mind their own business – riled up, the decision that mothers-to-be have to make not only when their baby is born, but continue to make over and over again as they grow up.

Before I really get into the swing of this blog, a disclaimer: this is not pro-breastfeeding, and it’s not pro-formula, it’s pro-choice. The way the “breast is best” phrase is used as a marketing slogan by anyone short-sighted enough to use it, really irritates me. It’s as if the offenders don’t realise that the person they are imparting this wisdom onto don’t know the scientific and nutritional benefits of breastfeeding, which I can assure you they probably do. And it neglects to consider that the person they are saying it to may not have had the choice, or maybe they did have the choice, they weighed up the pros and cons and decided against it. Either way, being slapped around the face with the “breast is best” propaganda is not conducive to anyone.

Rant over.

I never really made the active decision to breastfeed, I just never really even considered the alternative. Why? If I’m honest, it came down to two main reasons: Firstly, the nutritional benefits for the baby, and secondly, because I knew my mum would judge me if I didn’t. It’s amazing how at 30 I’m still sometimes hostage to what my mum would think. That’s a compliment to her really, that I respect her so much that I want her approval.

Despite having this decision ingrained in me, I had my concerns. As a mother, you’re already completely tied to your baby, but if you’re breastfeeding, that tie becomes physical and unbreakable. Everywhere your boobs go, your baby goes too. The realisation that 30 minutes in every three hours will be spent feeding really knocked me for six. This is daunting, especially for a person who values their independence so highly.

Then there’s the feeling that it’s all a bit, well, weird. Having a little person drinking from your boobs isn’t something that sounds like the most natural thing in the world, although of course I understand the irony in that statement.

And then comes the selfish part: the continued sacrifice of your body to somebody other than yourself or your husband/partner, the worry that once your body has been used quite so functionally, how will I – or he – ever be able to consider it in a sexual way ever again?

Wilbur, with a tummy full of milk, before his first swim

Wilbur, with a tummy full of milk, before his first swim

This is both a physical and emotional concern: whilst in full breastfeeding swing, your boobs are your baby’s. And how, after subjecting your breasts to be ‘tortured’ on a daily basis by an incredibly noisy and very indiscreet electric pump, will they ever be considered anything other than a feeding utensil? There’s nothing quite like a breast-pump to destroy a sex life.

And don’t forget that after nine months of being sober, you have to continue to monitor your alcohol intake whilst feeding. And if you give yourself a night off, you better get pumping for a week beforehand to generate enough expressed milk for that night off…

Finally, if you consider all of the above and still make the decision to breastfeed, you have one last – but often very high – hurdle to overcome. Your baby actually has to be able to latch on and feed. And yes, on paper it may be the most ‘natural’ thing in the world, but I know many mums who will tell you that it doesn’t always work out that way. So screw the paper that tells you that.

From the morning that Wilbur was born, it became apparent that he shared his dad’s penchant for food and boobs. He could have been the poster-child for breastfeeding. I wasn’t allowed to try and feed him for six hours after he was born due to my health, which I was growing increasingly worried about, but when they finally allowed me to try and feed him, he latched immediately and there was no going back. He has fed like a dream ever since.

That is until his first tooth appeared, on the day of his three-month birthday. My little man may be growing on the, erm, slow side, but when it comes to those pearly whites, he is way ahead of the game, sadly. The teething process has certainly caused him some discomfort, and a lot of dribble, but it has also really affected his feeding. Firstly, he started biting me, and it’s really, really painful. Feeding became akin to playing the electric shock game, where you just wait, anxiously, for that unpleasant shock. Secondly, he would start crying after only five minutes feeding, obviously finding it uncomfortable. He would, however, take a bottle of expressed milk without issue.

Suddenly, I was faced with the very real and likely possibility that I would need to wean Wilbur onto formula, and despite all of those negatives I’ve listed above about breastfeeding, I was absolutely devastated.

I can't help but feel jealous of Fats and Stel, being able to give a bottle in restaurants and cafes

I can’t help but feel jealous of Fats and Stel, being able to give a bottle in restaurants and cafes

Practicalities aside, there’s something so very magical about being able to feed your baby, to hold him in your arms, and be able to give him everything he needs. The female body is an incredible, miraculous thing. When I feed Wilbur, he looks up at me with his big, round eyes, and doesn’t look away, for the entire feed. Feeding him bonds us in a physical way, and I’m so very grateful for that.

Often when I’m out with Fats and Stel, or my NCT girls, I feel pure jealousy when they effortlessly whip out their bottles to do the feed. And there I am, trying not to expose my breasts to the entire restaurant, wrestling with Wilbur to get him into a position that’s even remotely comfortable, holding his hand to stop him waving my top around in his best effort to inflict maximum embarrassment. It’s not easy.

Ted and Wilbur, very best friends: Who says bottle-fed babies don't thrive?

Ted and Wilbur, very best friends: Who says bottle-fed babies don’t thrive?

Thankfully, four weeks on, and a second tooth later, the biting incidents have really subsided and whilst the crying in discomfort when feeding still happens, it’s not all the time. So I’m sticking with it. I guess it’s true what they say…sometimes you don’t realise how lucky you are until you’re faced with the possibility of losing something.

When Ted was born, despite Fats’ best efforts, he would not latch. I watched as Fats went above and beyond to persist with it, desperate to get him breastfeeding. It broke her heart that it just wasn’t for him – which was perhaps a result of his poorliness – and she truly exhausted absolutely every option before finally giving in and giving him formula.

She is the reason that I feel so strongly about those spreading and breeding this breastfeeding propaganda. Every mother makes that very personal decision for a reason, and whether or not you agree with it, it’s their decision and it’s right for them. And then there are those, like my Fats, who have that decision taken away from them. So keep your opinions and ‘advice’ to yourself. It’s not OK.

When I was pregnant, I always planned to give Wilbur his ‘last orders at the boob bar’ by Christmas. Six months was a really decent shift, I thought, and by then I’d be ready to reclaim my body. I’m still planning to stick with that timeline, although that will, of course, be dependent on the teething issues.

I literally can’t wait to be able to go to lunch without having to negotiate breastfeeding in public, and I can’t wait to be able to go out for a day or night without having to pump for days beforehand, and then endure the discomfort of not feeding for several hours, and I can’t wait to get in from an evening out and go to bed rather than sitting in the lounge on my own with the pump.  More than anything, I can’t wait to stop expressing milk – it’s the thing I hate the most.

Betsy loves her bottle so much, she feeds herself!

Betsy loves her bottle so much, she feeds herself!

But then I think about giving up those night feeds, as Wilbur and I lay together in bed in the dark, and those feeds in the comfort of my own home where I don’t have to worry about exposing myself and can instead look back into those big, round eyes and cuddle his little tiny body to me, and I feel desperately sad. He’s growing up too fast.

See, Jekyll and Hyde.

And while he may not be growing as tall or big as quickly as Dan would like, I’m proud of every little fat roll on his chubby little thighs, and proud of those squidgy pink cheeks, because I’ve done that. My body is solely responsible for every little ounce that he’s gained.

And Wilbur is thriving. As are Betsy and Ted, both bottle fed, both in excellent health, and growing at a rate which, on paper, is healthier than Wilbur’s. So screw that propaganda, and screw everyone who has an opinion on how you are feeding your baby.

Now excuse me while I go to play the electric shock game… it’s milky o’clock!

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