It wasn’t until I fell pregnant that I truly appreciated the pressure placed on women to breastfeed. It’s all anyone would talk about. People I barely knew would casually ask, “so are you going to try breastfeeding?” I’m sorry, since when was it appropriate to drop such a personal question about my boobs into polite conversation? If a woman wants to talk about this then, by all means, discuss it! Otherwise, just mind your own business. It’s funny, the minute people discovered that I was pregnant they suddenly thought that it was okay to randomly grab my stomach, share horrific stories about how they were never the same ‘down there’ and ask really intimate personal questions.
I get it, breast is best. Enough already. It was written all over the filing cabinet of NHS propaganda I was given, it was emphasised by my midwife and healthcare visitor each time I met with them and it’s even on the side of Penny’s SMA Formula tin. A constant reminder that I’m not doing what’s ‘best’ for my baby, insinuating that I didn’t try hard enough.
So my breastfeeding story? It’s really pretty simple. Before the baby arrived I bought a breast pump and a nursing bra, I also bought a prep machine and milk powder. I wanted to cover all bases. I didn’t have a plan, I wanted to wait and see what was best for MY baby and MY body. Once Penelope arrived she wouldn’t latch on, I wasn’t too worried initially because I read that this could take time. Once she finally started to suckle it was agony. To be fair the midwife asked if it was sore but I lied and said I was fine. I think, in the back of my mind somewhere, I thought that because Penny was delivered by forceps I had already failed and I didn’t want to fail again.
Hours and hours passed and Penny wouldn’t stop crying. I had been up for 3 days now and I honestly think I was starting to hallucinate. Physically and mentally drained doesn’t begin to cover it. I was shown how to stimulate the milk flow, I was fondled and kneaded relentlessly; nothing was happening. At around 3am, all alone in a maternity ward, still in pain and, quite frankly, ready to lose my shit, I asked for someone to get me a bottle. I knew my baby was hungry and I wasn’t going to let my pride stand in the way. From that point onwards Penny was bottle fed. I did actually get my milk two weeks later but by that time we had a routine and Penny was healthy and happy, I was about to change any of that by letting my guilt get the best of me. So, I did decide not to breastfeed, maybe not at first but eventually, I made that decision, and I’m tired of being made to feeling guilty about it.
At the end of the day, there might be several reasons why a woman doesn’t breastfeed. Her milk might not have come in yet, she might have an infection, she might be on antibiotics or, most importantly, she may have chosen not to. And guess what, that’s okay and she doesn’t need to justify herself because it’s HER body and HER choice.