Before I ever got pregnant there was no doubt in my mind that my baby would be breastfed. I knew all about the health benefits to mother and baby and as far as I was concerned formula milk was not a food for a human baby. As I progressed through my pregnancy I met an increasing amount of women keen to share their knowledge but also to share their experiences of breastfeeding. What came out was grim. The majority of women that I spoke to had either not tried breastfeeding at all or had breastfed for a few weeks or maybe a few months and then stopped. The reason that came up time and time again was "breastfeeding was difficult". The more I heard the more I worried and as I hit the third trimester of my pregnancy I suddenly developed a major fear…"what if I can't breastfeed"?!
The constant barrage of negativity surrounding breastfeeding was getting to me. Surely women all over the world breastfeed? Surely generations of women before me breastfed? Surely it couldn't be that difficult? Could it? To find out I spoke to as many women as I could who I knew did breastfeed and did so successfully and continuously for longer than a few months, I spoke to my midwife and asked questions at ante natal classes, I went to every breastfeeding group in my area and I bought a book. I found out two things 1) There are frighteningly few women who breastfeed and 2) breastfeeding is difficult. I really had not wanted to find out either of these things.
Then I had my baby…
…and breastfeeding is difficult but not impossible. It is not a wondrously instinctive behaviour which mother and child instantly take to it has to be learned and both mum and baby make mistakes.
I believe that it is difficult because we have, in this country anyway, lost a few generations to formula feeding or to the misguided timed approach to breastfeeding (where the baby is limited to the amount of time it can feed. No wonder they failed to thrive, the milk dried up and they were put on a bottle!). We don't see women breastfeeding anymore and it's not the social 'norm'. This is so incredibly sad as it is the most natural of things to do. We have also lost the support network due to not living in extended families and growing up surrounded by breastfeeders. The reason so many of the women I had spoken to had discontinued breastfeeding was because they expected it to be instinctive and easy and it wasn't so they stopped. The reason the successful feeders managed was because they had either grown up with it being commonplace, had a support network in their local community or knew that it was going to be difficult so persevered.
While the classes had vaguely prepared me for what was to come it was a lot like driving a car for the first time…so much to remember, so many checks to make! The key to my successful breastfeeding was 1) getting the help of every single midwife, nurse, nursing assistant or breastfeeding helper that I could while in hospital and not leaving until I understood what I was looking for when the baby latched on correctly and 2) staying calm even when baby was screaming and refusing to latch on and 3) leaving modesty by the door and allowing every midwife etc to grab my boobs and show me what to do with it to make baby stop screaming.
In the end it's been a roaring success and yes we have off days as her feeding patterns change and we both adjust but I am convinced we succeeded because I expected it to be difficult…and I quite enjoy getting my boobs out in public places.