The Breastfeeding Debate

bottle feedingWatching the news again this morning I was greeted with the news that breast fed babies are likely to have a higher IQ. Thanks BBC, yet another morning where as a mother i’m made to feel a failure because despite my best efforts I couldn’t manage to breast feed my children for very long.

Every mother wants to do their very best for their babies and I must admit I’m getting really, really fed up with the pro breast feeding lobby, who seem to have great influence in government organisations and the news because they don’t present a balanced view. The pressure on new mothers to breastfeed is unbelievable, you are quite literally told you are a bad mother and have failed your child if you cant or don’t want to do it. Lets revisit my story.

Before I had my first baby I went along to an NCT breastfeeding session where I was told how to breastfeed using a soft toy. Completely unrealistic and unhelpful. I was also told to feed on demand, when I queried this as I know I need a modicum of sleep to function I was told that I should have thought about that before I got pregnant. This woman had no idea how difficult it was for us to fall pregnant and be-littled me in front of my peers. I was quite upset about this.

The birth of my first child was quite traumatic and I was nearly rushed into theatre for a blood transfusion. Being scared of hospitals and needles it was the worst possible thing which could have happened to me. I was then dumped in a ward with a load of other women and screaming babies, alone. I had no idea how to even change the babies nappy and when I finally managed to get a midwife to help me she was less than impressed.

The baby wanted to feed at virtually every moment of the day. I found it very painful and difficult and eventually I went to the doctors who sent the breastfeeding counsellor out to me. This period was quite honestly the longest most challeninging period of my life. After three weeks I could take no more and a sensible midwife told me to stop and give the baby a bottle. It turned out that he had undiagnosed silent acid reflux and looking back I think I have and am suffering from Post Traumatic Stress as a result of the birth, rather than post natal depression. Not a day  goes by without me having a flashback to the room in which he was born.

My second child’s birth was easier and she was an easier baby, being a bit more experienced I gave up feeding her after 2 weeks as it was simply too painful and I couldn’t manage to deal with the pain (and an increasing fear of the pain) and a small toddler.

By the time I reached my third child I had already thought to myself that I would not put myself through the trauma un-necessarily. But, I was keen to do the best for my baby and really did want to try to feed him. It was only at this stage that I came across a really good health visitor and breastfeeding counsellor who put two and two together and realised that my Reynaulds Syndrome was actually affecting my breastfeeding abilities. This is a little know phenomenon, so much so that my doctor hadn’t even heard that this can happen. I cant tell you how much better this made me feel. To have someone take me seriously and to actually have a medical reason rather than the psychological and run of the mill ones which all the other professionals had assumed. It was the professionals lack of education which had failed me and failed me big time.

By this time the damage had been done. I genuinely do still feel that I have failed my children and that I am not the best mother that they could have had because I didn’t manage to breast feed them. The constant bombardment of information which is taken out of context does not help. There really is a sort of league of ‘alpha’ mums who can breast feed and at least in my experience, although no-one ever says it directly if you are bottle feeding a young baby around them they do think a little bit less of you whatever your reasons. Its almost like a badge of honour or one upmanship.

Yes, in many ways I have done my children a disservice by not breastfeeding them. By feeling like a failure, because I was told from all directions that I was not doing my best for them my relationship was altered with them. This also affected my ability to interact with other mothers, a problem which I still have today as I keep a very tight circle of friends and find it exceptionally difficult to talk to other mothers. I think this really has influenced my children in lots of ways not least because I couldn’t deal with the NCT mums at all. All of whom were breast feeding, I felt like an interloper. There are plenty of breast feeding support groups, why not support groups for bottle feeding mums?

On the other hand, the sense of relief that I felt when I stopped putting myself through the trauma of breast feeding was also positive. I naturally bonded much better and my husband could take his turn in feeding which strengthened his bond with the children. I was much less stressed about stuff and I felt a sense of joy that I could have my body back for myself.

What many of these studies never report is the background of the children who are doing better as a result of breast feeding. Do they come from pushy, determined backgrounds, from higher socio-economic groups and so forth.

I’m not anti breast feeding at all but I really think that its about time that the focus was changed from pro- breast feeding to pro what is best for the mother and the baby. At the moment mothers who cant breast feed for what ever reason are being made to feel guilty, like bad mothers and like second class citizens. A lack of knowledge about the reasons why people might not be able to breastfeed is forcing mothers (like me) to try to continue with something which is incredibly painful. Babies are also starving because of the pressure to breastfeed alone where the mother cannot physically produce either good enough quality milk or enough milk. This really should not be acceptable in this day and age and I’d like to see a campaign where mothers are told that actually, as long as they and their baby are happy its acceptable to make the right choice for you. That by not making your life un-neccessarily stressful and traumatic you are actually doing the best for your baby long term and that in actual fact its the whole picture of parenting and the child themselves which influences their futures, not whether or not you can breast-feed.

I’m trying the hardest to do my best for my children, by teaching them stuff, giving them experiences, responsibility, making sure that they feel loved, safe and are nurtured. I could really do without being told yet again that they have a higher chance in life of failure because I didn’t breast- feed them for long enough.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

4 Responses

  1. FizzieLou 18th March 2015 / 11:44 am

    You did your best, dear C and no one can do better than that. A friend could not breastfeed her children after a disastrous attempt caused her a breast abscess that needed draining. It was so traumatic that she did not try again but her three children are all bright academically and all went to good universities. Ignore the hype!

  2. Ruth (geekmummy) 18th March 2015 / 2:02 pm

    When I take my kids to the doctors, I am never asked whether they were breast or bottle fed.

    I am from a generation where many children were bottle fed. When I look around a room full of my friends, no-one can tell who was breast or bottle fed.

    I too failed to breast feed either of my kids, I too drove myself too hard trying with my first born. I too dispair with every pro-breastfeeding headline that hits. I genuinely believe it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference how we feed our babies as it seems so many of these studies incorrectly report correlation as causation.

    You are a great mother, who does what is best for her kids.

  3. Jo 18th March 2015 / 4:59 pm

    Am so pleased I came across this post hun. I’m currently pregnant with my first and not sure that I really want to breastfeed but am definitely feeling the pressure from midwives.
    I completely agree that everyone’s circumstances are different and both mum & baby being happy and healthy is much more important than what feeding method you do or don’t choose.
    There is no support, help or advice out there for mums that want to bottle feed at all because everybody thinks we shouldn’t be doing it which is so so unfair.
    It sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job with your children, breastfed or not! 🙂


  4. Isobel 20th March 2015 / 11:38 am

    Claire, I really enjoy reading your blog although I rarely comment (laziness above all else!).

    To me, the breast-feeding debate is a tricky one.

    There is a lot of very good, robust, scientific research that shows that breastfeeding has benefits for babies that bottle feeding does not have (note, I’m not saying medical research shows bottle feeding to be bad, but rather not quite as amazingly good). The Brazilian study that has sparked the latest round of media stories actually made a real point of showing how they had adjusted the research for things such as socio-economic status among the children they followed. They also put a lot of caveats and ‘this needs more research’ points, which (surprise surprise!) most media haven’t picked up on.

    BUT – and please read on, because I’m not trying to be snarky here:
    I think all mothers should see how they feed their child as one of MANY ways to be a good mother. Say, for argument’s sake, that there were ten specific things that one could try and do to be the perfect mother – breastfeeding, staying at home, cuddling them, talking to them, reading to them, what have you. Very, very, very few women are going to manage to do all ten, whether because of the way their baby is or medical conditions it might have, their own personal circumstances, the country they live in, how much money they have at their disposal, etc. etc. etc. The vast majority of mothers do their best for their babies in different ways and all these things add up to a good mother at the end.

    Yes, there are idiots out there who are obsessed with breastfeeding and are always looking for a way to have a go at people they see as different. But there are also lots of people who just want there to be support for mothers who want to and can breastfeed, while also wanting there to be support for mothers who are not breastfeeding. Not enough of those people, granted, but they are there.

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