This photo. It makes me sad. It was 1971 and my mum, 36 years old (ancient for a first-time mum in the 70s) had given birth to me 6 weeks earlier.
She desperately wanted to breastfeed but in 1971, breastfeeding wasn’t fully supported. If you had any trouble breastfeeding, then doctors, mothercare nurses, friends, all persuaded you to give your baby the bottle with the consolation, “She’s too hungry. You don’t have enough breast milk”. And finally, after 6 weeks of perseverance, my mum folded. She did have one advocate – a nurse who visited her in the early days and tried to support her decision to breastfeed. But as my mum looked around, she didn’t see other mums breastfeeding and figured, quite contrary to her instincts, that putting me on the bottle couldn’t be that bad if everyone else was doing it.
And it’s not. This isn’t a breastfeeding debate. I strongly believe that women should make their own fully informed choices (if they even have the luxury of a choice – some women don’t). I breastfed both my kids until they were 13 months. Neither child was easy. Scout had an undiagnosed tongue-tie and breastfeeding her was excruciating agony for the first couple of months. I was determined. Stubborn. When Inky came along, the early experience was much the same, with me exhausted, in a flood of tears and pain trying to get her to feed. My husband, along with the paediatrician at the Mercy were the voices of reason – “You have to protect yourself. If it’s too hard, too painful, top her up with artificial milk”. I knew what they were saying and they were right to a degree - it’s better to have a child with a bottle than a mother with a prozac drip.
One day on the ward, the paed who was suggesting I supplement Inky’s 4.2kg appetite with artificial milk had a snarky exchange with a midwife who was chanting “Breast is best! She cannot have artificial milk. SHE CAN BREASTFEED” like an obsessed lactation-zombie. Truly, I wanted to tell them both to f*ck off with their own agendas, because they’re both right to some extent and it’s about balance, choice (if you have one). Breastmilk is clearly the better option for women who want to do it, who are able to do it, but this aint no ecstatic nirvana where everyone follows “best practice” (whatever that might be at the time) and all mums have amazing, nurturing breastfeeding experiences. Mercifully with Inky, the lactation consultant diagnosed a tongue-tie and once she had the snip, life was so much easier. But this isn’t the case for everyone.
I reckon if you can breastfeed, then you should breastfeed for at least 6 months. I know that may be polarising, but that’s my stance. Breastfeeding was the way to go for me. My choice. But I was lucky to have a choice and if it had become a question of my mental health, then you can bet your arse I would “top her up” with artificial milk (how they would be able to tell the difference in my mental health is anyone’s guess). There’s more to being a mum than your breastfeeding “To Do or Not To Do” choices.
I got through the craziness of those early months and ended up having a lovely breastfeeding experience with both my daughters for the most part (if you discount the bit about Inky pinching the f*ck out of my boobs out of boredom towards the end. Geez, sorry I didn’t top myself up with Milo). But I often thought about my own mum and her real (and stymied) desire to breastfeed in a generation where the cult of Nestle was mercilessly shoved down her throat.
I am grateful that I have support in my decision to breastfeed and all the information I need to make an informed choice (hey, thanks inter webs!). A husband who is my pragmatic compass when I’m in a state of dogmatic pigheadedness (note: it usually wins) and friends who would accept any choice I do make, whether they agree with it or not and sympathise with me if it is out of my control. I do feel that my mum lacked that quite a bit when she first embarked on her motherhood journey.
Linking up with Twinkle in the Eye for Wordless Wednesday (which quickly became Wordy Wednesday, please forgive me).