Breastfeed? Bottle-feed? Happy baby…but is it a happy mum too?

This post is a stretch from doggies but I think this topic even now is still very controversial and has such mixed opinions that I was very keen to write a post on it. Myself and my sister talk about this a lot as I breastfeed and she bottle feeds. What we have realised is that each decision made by a mother around feeding her child is multi-faceted, unique, complex and ultimately – YOURS. This view has come from our own experience which is all we can write about but we of course know this is isn’t everyone’s experience.

An example of this complexity is my sister’s experience with birth; she had a traumatic and complicated PPH, with blood loss that occurs in less than 1% of birthing women. This resulted in low milk flow but more than this and I think the most important topic to tackle is the mental health implications. She felt pressured into breastfeeding whilst her baby was losing weight and at the same time, her anxiety, the trauma from the birth and the pressure piling up on her resulted in not being able to produce enough milk which can only make a mother feel guilty and upset – all while increasingly not helping the state of her mental health. The mind and the body are connected and my sister’s intuition was to stop and make sure her baby was fed. An issue we have is that some health professionals today listen to the guidelines and not to that individual experience. All it takes is one midwife for example to follow guidelines and not consider individuals needs at that time and their whole breastfeeding experience is ruined. Thank goodness for all the amazing health professionals that do listen to the women’s feedback and provide the support that’s actually required and not what guidelines dictate. In some cases, women have traumatic births and go on to breast feed maybe even at a later date with the right support and actually find it healing to do so – the key here is choice.

Regardless of the mother’s context though, it feels as if mothers are always shamed no matter what their choice. Women are often scrambling to defend their decision, even though it’s almost always made in the best interests of both mother and baby. In this modern, co-parenting, feminist , #metoo movement world let’s embrace both the baby’s and mother’s needs. Healthy mother, healthy baby. Indeed, sometimes women may make the choice to bottle feed because it suits the needs of their busy families. This is fine and every bit as justified as the women who choose to breastfeed to suit their own circumstances.

In this day and age women are being given more and more opportunity to choose and not be judged and in some cases it’s almost reversed itself. I sometimes found I was judged for not going back to work or not bottle-feeding but what my sister and I have realised is that whatever decision a mother makes that is the right decision for her experience and for her child. We both believe some changes in the language we see and what we are told by midwives/doctors/nurses/NCT teachers etc should be adapted and be made a lot less one-directional and become more about the individuals and the importance of mental health pre and post birth.

I asked a friend how she was getting on becoming a mum and she said “I am OK now but really struggling with breastfeeding, its not like the movies”. We are not taught real-life facts and the resulting expectations can only set us up for failure. We are not told how difficult breastfeeding can be and this can lead to postpartum depression, we need to know how it is before and then be open with how we feel after and most importantly feel OK to stop if it is not right for us.

There is a lot out there right now empowering women for breastfeeding which comes under the feminism umbrella and is ultimately helping equality for men and women – the point is feminism is about women having the same rights and choices as men, it is about balance – so we need to balance the choice to bottle-feed with the choice to breastfeed. Let’s change it so that we high-five women for making the choice which is right for them and their child and not the choice itself!

I have had comments from older men saying “are you breastfeeding” and although I say yes I am thinking “it’s none of your business what I am doing with 1. My body and breasts and 2. how I feed my child. I think about my sister and although I know my sister is not one to accept and not be strong in her response (lol) it makes me angry to think she would say she does not breastfeed and to be made to feel bad about her decision. What matters is that we are now (after the fact) both informed about the decisions we make regarding our bodies. This should be a fundamental right that all women can enjoy as they birth and nurture their babies.

To conclude, let’s debunk the myth that ‘fed is best’ – lets start saying ‘choice is best!’.

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