August 1st, 2007
Most of us should know that breastfeeding is best for baby. There are situations where women can’t feed, or are unable to (for example if they’re HIV positive they may be advised to bottle feed with formula or donated breast milk from a mother who is not positive). But in general breast is considered best.
That is creating something of a problem for new mums though, since although the evidence tells us that breastmilk is the best start we can give our babies, there is not always support or education for new mums to help them. We live in a culture that continues to sexualise breasts, but frequently disapproves of public breastfeeding or even women showing images of nursing babies online.
Breastfeeding information frequently glosses over the fact that breastfeeding doesn’t often come naturally to mum or baby. You’re told that if you simply position your baby in the right place they’ll latch on, feed and it won’t be uncomfortable. Whereas the reality is even if you’ve a baby who latches on and you position right it may well be very painful indeed.
What mums need is not just being told they should breastfeed, but far more support on how to do it. That means being shown how to position a baby for feeding, how to manage sore boobs and nipples (for example ice packs and cold cabbage leaves are good for the former, lansinoh cream works well for the latter). Letting women know that they’ll get used to feeding, but it takes practice is something that’s often missed out – as is how to cope with leaky boobs, and where to find a good nursing bra or stylish nursing tops.
Mums can get access to education to help them prepare with their birth, but most mums complain the one thing they wish they’d been told more about is the realities of breastfeeding.
There’s never any real discussion with mothers that a lot of breastfeeding is down to the luck of the draw. You may get a baby who’s okay with feeding, but you may get a baby who struggles and causes you a lot of stress, guilt and fear. In the latter case it seems many mums are being made to feel like failures since they’re not coping with breastfeeding. Many health visitors and midwives add to this by stressing the importance of breastfeeding and avoiding bottle feeding – so where mums do go for bottle feeding with formula they feel like an uncaring parent.
Of course we should stress the importance of breastfeeding, but we need much more support to ensure this happens, and where it isn’t happening to help women who may be able to express milk and feed that to a baby via a bottle. And where women are opting for formula we need to support them so they do not feel like evil second class citizens which currently seems to be the case.
Let’s celebrate world breastfeeding week, but use it as a time to call upon increased support and services for new mums and babies, and an acceptance that it’s not something all women can do.
The NCTs booby prize – nominate a store, workplace or organisation that discriminates against breastfeeding mums
Three clips from YouTube about breastfeeding (if you want to see how screwed up our views are for using boobs to feed your baby take a look at some of the comments people have written about each of these clips).
Benefits of breastfeeding – explains the reasons to feed
Dealing with problems – outlines some of the common breastfeeding difficulties
Positions for feeding – shows you some of the different ways to feed your baby