she has fallen and now she is awake

On the new National Breastfeeding Strategy

So, the government wants women to breastfeed. All well and good. Doubts have been raised and damn good ones. They just get lost in another terminable bloody round of boobnazis*, ‘formula is just as good‘, ‘what about my mental health’ and any number of unscientific and total bullshit lies.

There are some sad sad stories about breastfeeding out there – terrible support from health providers and family, outright harm to the breastfeeding relationship and ‘simple’ misinformation. Breastfeeding isn’t simple and easy for everyone, but that isn’t a reason to give up. BunBun is five an a half months old and I’m ahead of the trend, still exclusively feeding her, but it isn’t easy. She’s been sniffly and has hit the distracted hurdle so we’ve had a week of reverse cycling and having to lay down to feed. Yet I still do it. I could decide that it’s too hard, between the still sore nipples (flat and still having to be drawn out each feed) on occasion, the laying down, the crying and the sniffling. I could just jam a bottle in her mouth and not let her decide for herself how much she wants to eat. I could stuff her with artificial thickeners from unregulated products. I could do a number of things differently in the name of ease and peace. I’m not going to, because she is my daughter, not a burden to be minimised at all costs.

There are children who need formula, that is not the argument here. The argument is that the wall faced by mothers who begin breastfeeding is really fucking high. Too high in some cases. The solution isn’t to up the pressure (and seriously, information isn’t pressure, it’s information) but to lower the wall**. The problem is that we’ve got a lot of people invested in seeing all information about breastfeeding as adding to the pressure. Because ‘everyone’ knows breast is best, right? Except all the fucks on the news posts spouting shit about ‘no studies have proven that breast is best’ or ‘there’s no difference between breastmilk and formula’ or ‘stress makes the milk bad so if you’re stressed, stop breastfeeding’ or ‘if you’re on a diet you can’t breastfeed’ or any number of truly, stupendously ignorant comments. Comments designed to make one choice easier than the other. Designed to support the social norm of bottle feeding.

I’m lucky – my entire family is pro-breastfeeding. Wolfman is pro-breastfeeding. When I had serious issues at the start he helped me express, he fed our daughter that expressed milk while I cried, he brought me food and drink and rubbed my shoulders. He defends the choice we’ve made to breastfeed. He is vocal about how much of a benefit it is to our entire family. My mother has been a tremendous source of information and support, even though her own breastfeeding journey was much like her pregnancy (“I went off tomato a bit, and my nipples were a bit sore at the start until I started using Lansinoh” to my “I threw up my weetbix and my nipples look like mince). She listened, she commiserated and she told me I had the strength and the equipment to do it. She shared stories of spurting milk across the room, of us choking and sputtering with her fast flow overwhelming us. She told me about the nights spent shuttling from bedroom to shower as I puked in her hair. My grandmother supports me even though she was a victim of a far more dangerous bit of misinformation – if you have a blocked duct or mastitis you have to stop feeding. So the day I had a blocked duct she was terrified that I’d end up taking her path and end up with a breast abscess (which did end her breastfeeding relationships because of the damage done).

I’m lucky that my supply problems were corrected with the help of my lactation consultant and my paediatrician. I’m lucky that my Maternal and Child Health Nurse is up to date and doesn’t recommend outdated feeding practices. I’m lucky that I have been able to take close to 12 months maternity leave with three months of that paid AND Wolfman has a well-paying job that I could stay home full-time on.

With a mixture of support, luck and my own determination, I’ll make it to six months and probably beyond. I’m aiming for 2 years, but with a history of early-weaning in my family, I may not make it. That’s okay. But my wall wasn’t low to start with – it was lowered by brilliant support, timely and correct information, adequate leave and pay from my employer and my own determination to do the right thing, even if it’s the hard thing. I just wish that the wall could be as low for everyone.

*Not only is the word really fucking offensive, that survey article is a load of unscientific shit – a tiny percentage of women have received negative comments on feeding their children yet all the ones aimed at bottle feeding mums are from breastfeeding mums and the ones aimed at breastfeeding mums are trivial? Let me tell you about trivial – you’ve got a child attached to your breast, your baby, your precious child and someone says something negative and you realise you are totally and completely vulnerable. You cannot easily move away, you cannot easily defend yourself or put the child down. You are stuck and at the mercy of some dick making a really personal comment on feeding your child. There’s a big fucking difference between ‘formula is shit’ and ‘you’re exposing yourself’. One is a comment on an action, the other has an intimacy to it that is not easily shaken off.

** inspired by Lois McMaster Bujold “…(he) was up against the wall now, driven into this untenable retreat. Upping the pressure would just squash him. The trick was to lower the  wall.” Komarr


14 responses to “On the new National Breastfeeding Strategy

  1. Marcy November 24, 2009 at 04:13

    There were a few times in the first month or two of breastfeeding when I would look at my husband with tears in my eyes and say, “I don’t think I can keep doing this.” Yet thanks to his support, I did, and my son was breastfed till he was 14 months old.

    I was also extremely lucky in that I was living in Europe the first 7 months after my son was born. I had excellent help from midwives and lactation consultants at the hospital, and despite being in stuffy, conservative Switzerland, the only looks I ever received (or at least, ever noticed) while breastfeeding in public were warm ones and smiles. That did absolute wonders for my confidence to breastfeed in public.

    It is still shocking to me that so few babies in the US are breastfed at all, and a small minority past 3 months. I know there are women who for whatever reasons cannot breastfeed, but good god that can’t be 70%+ of all mothers. =(

    • geekanachronism November 24, 2009 at 15:36

      That’s the bit that gets me – almost every woman you talk to who formula fed/feeds has ‘low supply’. And it’s almost always diagnosed by the baby crying, the baby’s sleeping habits, pumping output or not gaining enough over the last week.

      And the smiles are always welcome – I live in a very multicultural area, mostly Chinese immigrants and between the little old men grinning at me, coworkers enquiring (loudly) if I’m still breastfeeding and congratulating me and telling me their stories and little old women coming up and congratulating me, it really makes a difference. Even when people are awful, I just try and think about all the support I’ve gotten from strangers.

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  3. Annie @ PhD in Parenting November 24, 2009 at 04:16

    Great post! Thank you for writing this.

  4. sarah a mum November 24, 2009 at 05:12

    Thankyou also. i just received response to a complaint I made to the local NHS hospital, and one thing they STILL harp on about is the ‘mothers are entitled to make choices’ and go on about their policy blah de blah. they think a few pictures of breasts and babies on the wall will make a difference. If the PROFESSIONALS so called still believe very frequent feeding in a newborn to be the mother is at FAULT (this is what they told me despite having no latch/position issues) then what hope do we have!

    • geekanachronism November 24, 2009 at 07:19

      Frequent feeding is a fault? I really don’t get that, I really don’t. It’s like ‘oh she’s just manipulating you’ – she’s a BABY. She is tiny, her stomach is tiny, why wouldn’t she feed frequently? It’s just so weird to me.

      I was lucky in hospital as well – BunBun did get formula at the start because her blood sugar levels were way too low, and a small top up during the treatment for jaundice. Apart from that the hospital made sure that breastfeeding was working before they sent us home – there’s a IBCLC on staff who runs sessions for all the new mums and one-on-one sessions and you can go back to see her if you’ve got issues. When BunBun had to go back in under lights her paediatrician organised for me to room in at the hospital so I could continue feeding her and expressing using the hospital pumps. I was really lucky, but that shouldn’t be down to luck. I’m hoping the National Breastfeeding Strategy concentrates on some real education for hospital staff and doctors in the community.

  5. Accidental Pharmacist November 24, 2009 at 05:33

    Very true. Given the subtle cultural aversion to breastfeeding, it is hard to emphasize that pro-bf is not only about women who bottlefeed. It’s that almost all those women could’ve been breastfeeders meaning that they are of the same group, that many lost their bf opportunity to misinformation and that pro-breast advocacy is needed to counter messages oozing from that subtle aversion. Cool rant.

    • geekanachronism November 24, 2009 at 07:22

      Thank you! I tried emphasising that in one of the discussion I was having – that the strategy should hopefully increase the support available to women who do struggle with breastfeeding, but it gets bogged down in these painful discussions about who feels bad or worse or unhappy. It’s about the information and the support, not making mothers feel bad.

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  7. Missy @ The Marketing Mama November 25, 2009 at 02:30

    Thank you for posting this and sharing your story. Is there a link to the new gov’t strategy? I haven’t heard about this and I’d like to learn more.

    I agree that the wall is high, that it’s tough to breastfeed exclusively, but that it CAN be done! I’ve bf both my babes – the first until 14 months and my second is still nursing at 23 months and shows no signs of stopping, although truly my milk supply is almost gone and I’m taking supplements to try to give her something….

    I just posted on my blog yesterday about how I hate this sign for the nursing room at my shopping mall that has a pic of a bottle on it. I think it is a contradictory message! Some bf advocates agree with me, but I’ve also been flamed by people telling me that I need to find something else to worry about and that I’m just making myself look bad by caring about and trying to change this issue.

    Thanks again,

    • geekanachronism November 25, 2009 at 06:50

      Thanks, and here you go!

      It is tough, there’s no doubt about that. Stuff like that sign (WTF??) and the response to you hating it are part and parcel of the wall we’ve got to change regarding breastfeeding. Yes it’s hard, but bottle feeding isn’t normal. Yes it’s hard, but it gets easier and here’s some support.

  8. Crystal Gold December 3, 2009 at 13:38

    I love your comment about how vulnerable women are while nursing and it is so true. It is a totally unfair time to attack someone. People need to get it in their heads that this is the natural way to raise a child.

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