Breastfeeding, Opinion

There’s No Such Thing as a Hungry Baby

Even as I write, I question the wisdom in penning this post. But it’s been a tough day (tough six months if we’re being honest), and I just can’t not any longer. I’ve kept it in for more than three years now and I finally need to let it out. So here it is: THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A HUNGRY BABY.

Or, there is – but only in the same way that there’s such a thing as a tired baby or a good baby, ie. it applies equally to them all. Allow me to explain…

Every breastfed baby will go through cycles of cluster feeding to regulate milk production; this is normal. To suggest otherwise does a disservice to the breastfeeding mother and undermines her efforts to nourish her baby.

Did you breastfeed, but then your baby started waking to see every single hour of the night? Me too. I still breastfeed.

Did you breastfeed, but then your baby started wanting to feed almost constantly for two hours? Me too. I still breastfeed.

I know it’s hard: it’s my life and I live it day in, day out, as do many other women. It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. But please do not undermine the mammoth undertaking we commit to by suggesting that our babies are less demanding than others, because in most cases that is simply not true.

There's no such thing as a hungry baby. Suggesting otherwise undermines the efforts of breastfeeding mothers.

I’m not looking for pats on the back or to have my hand held in order to continue feeding. I do it because I believe it’s best for my baby and I choose to. But I cannot help but want to scream every time that flippant comment is made to me, in relation to another woman’s choice to not breastfeed. It is her choice, and she’s free to do what works best for her and her family. But it’s really unheplful to suggest that any mother who perseveres with breastfeeding is only able to do so because she has an easier baby.

It’s demoralising and plain unsupportive.

Every mother who breastfeeds has days when she is fed up with it because it hurts, or because she has blocked ducts, or she’s on her knees with exhaustion, or she simply craves some autonomy. If she continues in spite of these things, it’s through sheer determination – and that deserves recognition. I recognise you ladies: you’re doing a brilliant job and this is for a short time only. Keep up the great work.

I accept that where I’ve heard this is largely from a generation who were not well-versed in breastfeeding, and it may be that there’s now a better understanding of the mechanics and concepts surrounding it. However, given the insinuation – which is far from sisterly – I have to wonder where the need to effectively put down a mum’s efforts stems from. I suspect defensiveness. And actually, I struggle to sympathise with that.

Call me harsh, but while my baby has me up Every. Single. Hour of the night, I just can’t find the energy to console them too.

15 Comments

  1. Lucy At Home

    Dec 1, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Yes! I am so glad somebody finally said this! I breastfed both my babies – the first one included 3 weeks of a hospital stay where I had to express every 3hours to keep my supply up, and the 2nd included a period where she fed every single hour, night & day. But we got through it and made it to 15mths with both. It often feels like you’re not allowed to say this because people who don’t breastfed take it personally, like we’re saying they didn’t try hard enough. It’s not that at all – it’s just an acknowledgment that actually we did well and kept going when most people would have given up. It’s not because the baby was easier or the circumstances were simpler – it’s because we gritted our teeth and pushed ourselves harder and further than we ever thought possible.

    1. Kate Tunstall

      Dec 5, 2017 at 6:32 am

      Exactly Lucy! Well done for overcoming your difficult circumstances – I’ll say it in case nobody else did! I was in hospital with Pixie for just a few days and know how tough that was, so can’t imagine three weeks.

      I don’t think this issue is going away unfortunately, but I don’t stop applauding breastfeeding mums.

  2. Elizabeth

    Dec 5, 2017 at 10:50 am

    My first was a lazy latcher which was even harder- at 9 months, he just wanted to go and no longer had time to nurse (he was walking by then and didn’t want to stop for bottles or food either…)

    Now I’m nursing my 8 month old second and he’s been a better latcher from day one. I am struggling with some ‘leftover’ feelings from my first stopping before I was ready but the good days have helped as well as the days where I’m too tired to pump or make a bottle!

    1. Kate Tunstall

      Dec 29, 2017 at 9:47 am

      Nothing worse than a lazy latcher! I got Elfin checked for tongue tie due to a poor latch but was assured she didn’t have one! Thankfully it’s improved over time.

      I hope you second baby feed until you’re both ready to stop, although a perfectly harmonious ending is difficult I think.

  3. KB

    Dec 10, 2017 at 2:01 am

    Amazing!! I wish more mommas would research breastfeeding and the woes that come with it. It’s never easy. I wish they would have more confidence and stick with it.

    1. Kate Tunstall

      Dec 29, 2017 at 9:49 am

      Yes! I do too, alas I fear we’ve a long way to go… Sadly society tends to become very defensive when we discuss the issue. It’s a shame.

  4. Joanne

    Dec 21, 2017 at 7:45 am

    Thank you for this!! I have a newborn and your article was just the thing I needed for encouragement. Again, thank you for this!

    1. Kate Tunstall

      Dec 29, 2017 at 9:55 am

      Thanks Joanne, you’re so welcome. Congratulations and keep going! It’s not easy but it’s so worth it!

  5. Mum OverRun. (@MumOverRun)

    Feb 6, 2018 at 10:00 am

    Honestly, I don’t know where people get off saying anything what so ever that is unhelpful or unkind to a mother with a new baby. Even if you don’t agree just shut up – be helpful – do the washing up or something and keep up your negative opinions to yourself!

    1. Kate Tunstall

      Feb 22, 2018 at 10:09 am

      Hear hear! It’s crazy. And yes, the help instead would be very much appreciated…

  6. Rosy

    Mar 20, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Yeah..thanks for this article. I breastfed my son until he was 2 and it was not easy at all. I remember the stares and negative comments I received from family and friends. But I didn’t care, I knew that breast milk was the best for my son. I’m now breastfeeding my 16 months old daughter. Still getting the same negative comments and I don’t really care. Breastfeeding is a journey and this is about what works for me and my babies. Everyone else can go and drink milk with their negative comments:-). Way to go breastfeeding mums. You are doing great

  7. Pam

    Jul 15, 2018 at 5:56 am

    You are brave and admirable for writing this article! This is how I’ve felt for a long time. I’m now expecting baby 4, I bf all 3 of my kids but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My first was a preemie and I had flat nipples. He was in the nicu and I could only hold him for 30 min every 6 hours so if I wanted him to receive breastmilk, I had to pump. Many times I was threatened that if I didn’t pump 3oz, they’d give him formula even though he was 5.5 lbs and couldn’t eat the full 3oz every 3 hours anyways. From there it only got worse; he refused the breast after all those fast flow bottles, and when we did start bf, 3 months later, he had a shallow latch and my nipples cracked, I developed thrush, had plugged ducts many times, mastitis twice and even an abscess that I needed to have surgically drained. I bf him 18 months and enjoyed the last year of it and he weaned on his own when I was 35w pregnant with his little sister. She was smoother- full term babies are easier than preemie babies, and my nipples had corrected a bit from all that pumping and nursing. I bf her until she was 2y 4m which over lapped 6 months with my 3rd baby, a lovely little boy. He was a biter- or rather a slicer. Hed slice my nipples and they would pour blood down my body if he wasn’t latched. At around 14m i noticed that his poop was always black and took him to the dr. It tested positive for blood and my dr did blood tests to check my iron levels and his. Mine were a 2 (surprised I could even stand up without falling over, I was so anemic) and he was 326. Basically dr said I could actually give him iron poisoning. By that point I was more than ready to be done anyways although my goal was always 18-24m… 15 had to suffice in his case. My nipples had had enough and I needed to replenish my iron stores! I’m hoping that I will have a happy and uneventful bf journey with baby 4 but I know that is unlikely. This momma is ready for anything. While I will say I respect other moms decisions to quit bf and try not to judge, but when I hear things like “I wanted to get my body back so I stopped bfing”, or “I switched to formula at night cuz I wanted my baby to sleep thru the night, now he/she only want formula, so I stopped bf” or “I wasn’t able to bf”.. my heart hurts a little. I think most women who choose to quit haven’t had enough support. They say lack of support is the #1 reason why women stop bfing and I truly believe that. I definitely persevered through more than most, but I also had access to midwives, a doula, a free bf clinic, the internet, books, bfing sister, cousins, and friends, and a very supportive husband.

  8. Tania

    Jul 22, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    I have three children … one 21, another 18 and …. a 12 week old ! ( little surprise !!)
    All three I have breast fed – all three I have slept with ( and still do – the older ones – on days where things have been a little tough to take for them )
    Sleepless nights are due to the idea that your babies sleep away from you – and yet there isn’t a mammal on earth that sleeps away from their young – except us !
    Both my girls weened themsleves at 1 year – the little one now will feed for as long as he wishes ( well within reason – I think there comes a time ……!!) and all the people that said they seem to feed an awful lot – aren’t they hunger blah blah blah just don’t get it ! I trust my body and theirs to know better than our minds do and to all mums out there doing this – thank goodness …. it’s sooooooooooo so so wonderful and how to bring about true contentment even in the face of total exhaustion !!! Xx

  9. Amy

    Jul 23, 2018 at 2:44 am

    I appreciate you’re opinion and would never judge another mother. My son is 5 months and our journey has been a difficult one for both of us. He was born 3 weeks early and jaundice so getting him to latch was hard. I went to the lactation clinics and he just couldn’t do it. By the time I left the hospital I was pumping and giving him that. I exclusively pumped for 3 weeks. By than he was taking 4 oz a feeding and I couldn’t keep up so we added formula. I went back to breastfeeding with the help of LCs and thought we were doing well. I had 2 infections but kept going, only giving a formula bottle at night. Yes I felt proud I was finally doing it. Than, at his 4 month appointment he had hardly gained weight from 2 months. I felt devastated. I had asked people in groups for help and only got negative feedback that I shouldn’t be giving any bottles if I wanted to be better at breastfeeding. I struggle every day not being able to feed my baby. Now when I pump I only get .5 oz at a time. If I breastfeed him he is literally starving. I am disappointed we are in a time when you get such negative comments while looking for help. I will continue to give him the one bottle of pumped milk i can get and feel proud for that. I am doing my best and I think that’s all that matters.

    1. Kate Tunstall

      Jul 23, 2018 at 4:49 pm

      Can I start by congratulating you on your baby boy, and also for persevering so hard with breastfeeding.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve had a lot of difficulties with both my babies which you can read more about in other articles on the blog if you’re interested. With my eldest, she was early and tube feed initially, with my youngest she had an allergy which made my milk poisonous to her until I cut dairy out of my diet. Both of them struggled with latch and my youngest had silent reflux due to her allergy. It was hellish got a while in both cases. So I understand.

      It’s important that those who don’t know are made aware that what women are able to pump does not always (rarely) equate to what a baby can drain from the beast. It’s a complex process including hormones and a baby latching will therefore yield more than a piece of plastic can. In your case it definitely sounds like latch could be relevant; has he been checked for tongue tie?

      It’s equally critical that those who are not aware understand that breastfeeding works on supply and demand, and therefore introducing bottles can be counterproductive. I expect that’s what peers were trying to impart, but it’s unfortunate if they went about it in a way which upset you.

      Doing your best is what matters, of course. The purpose of my post is not to bash women like you! It’s actually not to bash anyone, it’s more in support of us nursing mums who persevere no matter what, and that includes you.

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