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.