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Posted by on Feb 19, 2013 in Breastfeeding, Life | 19 comments

Undermining breastfeeding

Undermining breastfeeding


When you’re pregnant, many people ask you whether or not you’re planning to breastfeed. And if you say you are, the preparations for a switch to formula start. “Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work out.” “I tried it and it was awful – cracked nipples and mastitis.” “Don’t be afraid to give a bottle every now and again to give yourself a break from constant feeding.” All supportive comments on the face of it, but subtly – and maybe subconsciously – undermining your plans to breastfeed.

Imagine if the situation were reversed, and similar responses were given when someone says they plan to formula-feed. “Don’t be disappointed if baby doesn’t like the first formula you try.” “I tried it and it was awful – colic and reflux.” “Don’t be afraid to try relactating after a couple of weeks to give yourself a break from constantly washing, sterilising, and making up bottles.”

I’ve invented the formula “advice” above, because I’ve never heard any of those statements in real life. Advising people to choose a breastfeeding solution over a formula solution seems to be taboo – both to avoid being seen as some kind of “breastfeeding nazi” (a hateful and completely inappropriate term) or out of fear of making the mother feel guilty. But doing the opposite – advising formula solutions when someone asks for breastfeeding support, well that seems to be standard practice.

For some reason, there’s no fear about pushing formula, no fear of making the breastfeeding mother feel guilty. Because what are statements about making the father feel left out, or making that child too attached, or making sure we can see exactly how much that baby is eating, designed to do if not tug at the heart strings and undermine the mother’s decision to breastfeed?

As my due date for baby number two gets ever closer, it’s not labour I find myself dwelling on. No, it’s my breastfeeding experience from last time around and my fear that I’ll run into problems again this time around. Because last time I believed the advertising campaigns in the hospital and I was confident that if I ran into any problems they would help me to fix them. Last time I was sure that because breastfeeding was natural, it would come naturally to me.

This time around I have none of that naïveté. I’ve seen the hospitals for the busy places they are. I’ve experienced the reality of a medical system that pays lip service to the idea of breastfeeding support, but in reality is under-resourced to provide that support.

I’ve changed in other ways too. Last time, breastfeeding was something I was going to try, to see how it worked out. This time, it is the only way I want to feed my child. I have learned more and read more about feeding babies in the past three years than I ever realised there was to know.

So what can I do to ensure that my choice is a real one, and that I don’t end up having to feed this baby formula because I don’t know what else to do or it’s the only medical advice being offered to me when I encounter a problem like last time?

For a start, I’m reading what I can to prepare myself for feeding again. Books like The Womanly Guide to Breastfeeding from La Leche League and Dr Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding, and blogs from the world over written by women who’ve taken the time to share their experiences and offer their advice. I’m watching videos on YouTube about good latches and laid back breastfeeding and compressions and identifying when baby is swallowing milk rather than just sucking, and numerous other things I knew nothing about last time around.

And I’ve surrounded myself with different supports – real life friends I met through the breastfeeding group last time around, and virtual friends in various Facebook groups like the Irish Parenting Bloggers group, and a number of breastfeeding support groups.

And I guess that’s all I can do. That and cross my fingers that this baby takes to feeding easier than her brother did. Because I’ve made a choice about how I’d like to feed my baby, and I hope it truly is a choice.


  1. Good for you 🙂 Sorry things didn’t work out as you’d hoped last time but sounds like you are much more prepared this time. Hope everything goes to plan and good luck!

  2. Interesting piece, breastfeeding is such a contentious issue in Ireland. I was thinking about this just recently when I bumped into a colleague that had had a baby a few months back. Even though I had wanted to, as we had talked about it while she was pregnant, I didn’t ask her did she or was she currently breastfeeding. I felt that if I asked she may feel guilty if she wasn’t or that I had some kind of expectation or negative opinion of her as she knew I had breastfed my son long term. Why do we feel like this?? Another thing I have noticed is that I no longer feel comfortable breastfeeding my son in public, he has just turned one and I was a “get your boobs out when the baby needs feeding” kind of girl. As I have said before I feel that others think that I think I’m somehow better than them because I have chosen to breastfeeding my son.
    It will all work out for you Lisa, I didn’t have any problems initially with my fella but he did get colic and is still doesn’t sleep without waking for a feed during the night, moreoften when he is teething , I have found it tough going but I have a happy healthy boy, and aren’t we always saying we would do anything for our kids.

    • I’m the same Cara. Always afraid to ask somehow if they’re breastfeeding or not, even if we discussed it at length beforehand. It’s definitely a fear of making someone feel judged. I would hate for someone to think I was questioning what they’re doing with their baby. But then again – that’s not something that goes both ways. Otherwise you wouldn’t hear the “Are you still at that craic?” questions so often once the baby turns three months!

  3. Great piece Lisa. It’s frustrating. I don’t particularly care how anyone chooses to feed their baby (as long as they genuinely chose!) but I hate that positive comments about BFing are somehow guilt inducing. The live that dare not speak its name…
    Jill recently posted..Liked, and sharedMy Profile

    • I feel the same way Jill. If you want to FF and it all goes to plan for you that’s great. And if you want to BF and it all goes to plan, also great. But if you want to BF and you end up FF because you were denied the help and support you needed, that’s something I have a problem with. Especially when the media narrative implies that that’s something you feel guilt over. I don’t think guilt is the appropriate response to that situation – annoyance and frustration are top of my list.

  4. The first time I tried I was unsuccessful past 7 weeks. I just couldn’t continue. The second time, well, I’m still breastfeeding and he’s nearly 16 months!

    I think for me anyway was going in with the knowledge that if I could get through each day I’d be okay. Rather than looking ahead to the weeks and months ahead. Take each feed in isolation and if I’m having a dreadful time then acknowledge that and that it will pass.

    There are loads of us here to support you, no matter what your choices are. x
    Caítríona recently posted..Housewife’s Monday LunchMy Profile

    • The mantra “this too shall pass” got me through a lot last time Caitriona. I expect to repeat it a lot in the coming months.

      Thanks for the offer of support. You know our little blogging group will likely be my first port of call!

  5. I think what you are doing is the best thing. Be as informed as you can it helps and know where to go for support. Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your child but also one of the hardest. My son self-weaned at 9 months which I was sad about but it made it easier than me deciding I had to stop. I think making the decision and reading as much as you can definitely helps but also be prepared that sometimes things don’t work out and the guilt that comes with that (I imagine) can be huge. So many times I thought about giving up, during growth spurts etc as I was so run down and exhausted but the guilt wouldn’t let me so I continued on and I’m glad I did now. I imagine things will go easier this time around but for any reason it doesn’t just go easy on yourself.

    • I think it will help a lot that I’ll be more aware of what questions to ask and WHO to ask this time around if I run into problems. Hopefully… 🙂

  6. I can only relate our NCT story (from the south of England). The breast feeding “councillor” was a self satisfied smug woman of middle years. She painted a picture of breast feeding on demand every hour or so and when my wife had the temerity to ask, “When are we supposed to sleep?” her reply was “You should have thought about that before you decided to have children.”. it sort of set the tone for how the “support” networks pushed breast feeding through guilt locally.

    I don’t think pro-breast feeding campaigners are afraid to speak out at all, and my wife was made to feel a failure as a mother by the midwives, health visitors and councillors before her GP (a lovely french lady with 3 children of her own) told her that she should stop for her health and the health of our baby. Two more kids later, they’ve all had as much breast as my wife could manage but not to her or the babes detriment.

    It sounds like you have the complete opposite, which is fascinating in itself!
    Alex recently posted..Chilling out at the cafeMy Profile

    • Sounds like things have gone too far in the other direction where you are in that case! I wouldn’t be happy with that type of guilt-pushing either. I don’t think it does anyone any good.
      Lisa | recently posted..Pregnancy: Week 32My Profile

  7. Oh Lisa, that is just such a true situation in this country; I hope your Breastfeeding journey goes brilliantly: you will have a far more real grasp of it all this time. My only advice is to either insist that those close to you either refrain entirely from well meaning “advice” or that you switch off!!!

  8. Really interesting post. As someone who really struggled to feed my first daughter, but got there in the end after weeks of hell and ended up feeding her for 11 months, I am now experiencing the same problems (but not quite so bad) with my new daughter. However I have hindsight. I have seen from my own personal breastfeeding problems that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I have seen from sitting in countless baby groups that all women seem to have issues, it isn’t as natural and as plain sailing as all the groups, adverts etc like you to believe. This time I armed with the knowledge that it does get better and that I can do it, which is getting me through these tough first weeks.
    Good luck and I hope you get the experience you want.
    Katie @mummydaddyme recently posted..When Big Sister Met Little Sister…My Profile

    • Thanks Katie! I’ve been following your blog closely to see how you get on! I hope you are right, and the benefit of hindsight will help a lot. I’ll know soon enough!
      Lisa | recently posted..Pregnancy: Week 32My Profile

  9. Remember Lisa you are a great mother and have confidence in your own ability and you will be fine. Stop worrying about what other people think and say. How they feel is their problem not yours.

    • Thanks Adele. I’ve actually been re-reading some of your early posts for inspiration and to refresh my memory as to how you got through the difficulties you encountered. Such a great resource!

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