I wrote this post before I became pregnant with Elfin. Of course I’m currently breastfeeding again, and I’ve also been dairy-free for nearly a year – meaning this post is now more relevant than ever.
Breastfeeding is a subject close to my heart. It’s something I’ve written about many times over the last couple of years because when a woman breastfeeds, it necessarily takes over her life. I don’t think that’s something any person can fully comprehend until/unless they experience it for themselves – because literally everything becomes about that.
Of course, a new baby takes over everything anyway – but breastfeeding is in a league of its own. It affects:
- Independence / autonomy
- Clothing choices
It also affects something else which I find too difficult to summarise in one word: a woman’s breasts not only become fuller and potentially leak, they also require ‘maintenance’. Because if a feed is missed for any reason (rare – we know the stakes and they are high), then we must find an alternative method to empty the persistent supply of milk before it causes us some mischief. Yep, that’s right – that very same sustenance which is magical to our babies becomes like poison to us if not expelled in a timely fashion. Oh, the irony.
So, by necessity, breastfeeding becomes a constant. You could, perhaps, compare it to relieving yourself in the bathroom – because it is as essential, and just as much a part of our lives. It may not be the topic of every conversation, but it’s always in the back of one’s mind: I need to deal with this situation within the next X minutes, or I will have a problem…
With all that in mind, it’s understandable that when a woman is breastfeeding she may become somewhat fixated on it; when your whole life revolves around something, that’s natural. And since breastfeeding is also natural, the entire subject should be a complete non-issue.
But it’s not, is it?
I’m so tired of the debate. If it’s not one side then it’s the other – and it’s so tedious. I have no desire to be involved in the argument – as far as I’m concerned there’s little to add that hasn’t been said a thousand times already. (I’ve chimed in myself on more than one occasion.)
And yet… When somebody prods me with a stick, I just Cannot. Help. Myself.
Recently, somebody (who knows very well that I exclusively breastfed my daughter for 6 months and then continued to feed her to around 21 months) – completely unprompted – turned to me and said words to this effect:
‘Whichever way you look at it, when you pitch breast versus bottle, bottle wins every time on every count’.
I was astonished. I’m very disturbed by the fact that apparently educated people can believe this. It transpired he was specifically referring to the matter of sleep. Of course I could have educated him about the fact that tiny babies are supposed to wake frequently, and that doing so helps keeps them safe (from SIDS). Or the fact that it’s been shown breastfeeding mothers actually get more sleep than their formula feeding counterparts.
Instead I did myself proud by remaining outwardly calm and simply telling him that if bottle was working for his family then that was best for them, but that this conversation was inappropriate and should not be taking place.
I was deeply offended. Was he suggesting that because I breastfed I’m a martyr? I’m not sure that was his intention, but either way it’s what I inferred from his comment.
I stand by my point that if bottle works for others then that’s their best option – but really it’s quite a subjective issue: nutritionally, there’s no argument. There’s not – it’s the reason formula is only permitted to be advertised as ‘follow-on’ milk – so it’s essential to look at the bigger picture. And I do try to, hence my generous response (generous because I had itchy fists).
This is not the first time I’ve encountered this attitude. Some time ago, a friend who I would consider an educated woman made a similarly demoralising suggestion.
We were discussing the differences in our children’s sleep patterns. My daughter has always been a nightmare (hence her nickname: the Devil Pixie). Even when she began sleeping through the night it was not to last: some of her worst nights have come since then. She is now two and still only sleeps through 50% of the time.
My friend suggested that if/when we have a second child I should not breastfeed, in order to ensure I am better rested.
I was astonished then too. When a person is severely sleep-deprived, it’s easy for reality to become distorted and for them to become impressionable. Their perception of the world becomes less rigid and they may be easily influenced.
Undermining the efforts of breastfeeding women during these vulnerable periods is a travesty.
During these times more than ever, they need validation; support; and a massive clap on the back in recognition of the tremendously difficult marvel they’re providing to and for their child. Not just every waking moment either – mummy sleeping does not stop the perpetual supply of milk, and neither does it stop baby’s hunger.
This post is written not to shame those who have their reasons for not breastfeeding (formula has its place) – but to applaud those women who give a lot of themselves up for their babies, as is the case with breastfeeding.
Why Breastfeeding Makes You a Martyr
For the purposes of this post, I checked the definition of the word martyr:
- Someone who tries to get sympathy from others when he or she has a problem or too much work, usually when that person caused the problem or chose to do the work himself or herself.
- One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle.
So here’s to the women who understand what it means to give up the rights to their bodies, my fellow martyrs: breastfeeding is the greatest form of altruism, and something to be proud of.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and could use a little support yourself, you may be interested in my book, The No Bullsh*t Breastfeeding Bible.