By Vanessa Christie
Do we really need to keep talking about breastfeeding? It is understandably a subject fraught with emotion and there are plenty of people who are fed up with hearing about the whole darn thing.
But yes, sadly we do need to keep talking about it.
Latest figures show that although around 74% of women in the UK start breastfeeding at birth, we have one of the lowest overall breastfeeding rates in the entire world.
Around 85% of mothers who stop breastfeeding in the first few weeks, would have liked to have breastfed for longer. And it is these mothers who are being unacceptably let down and at an increased risk of post-natal depression (Borra et al, 2014; Brown et al, 2015).
They can often be left reeling with a deep sense of failure and guilt. But in truth, it is never their personal responsibility. It is the failure of a medical and cultural system, that has not enabled them to reach their goals, or at the very least, given them a knowledgeable and non-judgmental explanation as to what happened.
And this is why we need to do more talking. Only in a different way.
The current dialogue about breastfeeding in the media and across our society is more often than not focused on three things:
1. The “failure of breastfeeding”
2. The “pressure to breastfeed”
3. The notion of “fed is best”
So forgive me for challenging the narrative but let’s break this down:
The “failure of breastfeeding”
Not everybody can fully breastfeed (or breastfeed at all) and it would be lying to suggest that everybody can. However, in the vast majority of cases and crucially, with the right management of breastfeeding, it CAN and it WILL work out, if this is what the mother wants.
Highly questionable research, given kudos in the media, that make sweeping statements to the contrary (such as inflated numbers of women physiologically unable to make enough milk), are suitably flawed to warrant their results being destined for a bin. Unfortunately they simply fly around the internet instead.
Whether it’s milk supply issues, severe pain, babies having trouble latching, infections, babies falling asleep at the breast, babies crying and squirming at the breast, slow weight gain…. and countless other scenarios, women deserve to have the necessary support to figure out, WHAT is going on, WHY it’s happening and HOW to change things.
When breastfeeding is challenging, it isn’t usually breastfeeding per se that fails. It is the failure to work knowledgeably and effectively with the mother and child, to provide solutions for any problems they may encounter. At the end of the day, women deserve to know that most breastfeeding problems do have breastfeeding solutions.
I found this article to be true in ways I knew in my heart to be true but my mind wasn’t even aware of it consciously until I read this. Struggling to breast feed my baby who spent her first week in a NICU while I spent her first week hospitalized at a separate hospital is a huge struggle and it feels nice to know that someone else notices that people pressure you to formula feed and to give up trying to breast feed. I’ve had people laugh at me for lugging my breast pump places. I’ve had hospital staff tell me maybe I should just give up on it because I’m too sick. I’ve had people get annoyed with me because I can’t go places because I need to pump. Just reading this article tho made me realize at least I am not alone.