Breast or bottle? Who gives a flying….
World Breastfeeding Week. Who would have thought it would create such a fuss! And this is just on my Facebook feed! I can’t imagine the controversy happening all over the world. The ol’ breastfeeding / formula debate always rears its ugly head – why the hell does it have to be a debate?! I’m bloody anxious about posting this. I think I might hide under a rock for the next week until the backlash has washed over! But after seeing some of the posts recently, I think it needs to be said.
Firstly, let me clarify: I firmly believe that it doesn’t matter how you feed your baby, as long as it’s done with love. I thought this was a universal consensus until I read some of the criticism associated with World Breastfeeding Week. I have tube fed, breast fed and bottle fed my bub, James. He is now exclusively breastfed – I was one of the lucky ones who was able to overcome the effed-up hurdles of ‘the most natural thing in the world’. Note my sarcasm! But at the end of the day, as long as James had the strength and energy to push through the barriers and overcome his tough start to life, I would have fed him any way possible. At one point, James was much happier and healthier on the bottle. Now he is much happier and healthier on the boob. It is just how it worked out in the end. There was no strategy. I have always done what was best for my baby at the time. I’m the Mum who rocks her baby to sleep and who uses a carrier. I’m the Mum whose baby has a dummy. I would literally do just about anything to gain an extra 5 minutes of uninterrupted Orphan Black viewing! I’m no hero. You won’t see any judgement from me.
I think I’m in good company when I say I always wanted to breastfeed and it was important to me, and I tried everything I possibly could to make it work. As expectant Mums, breastfeeding is something we believe in, something we hope for, and it is something we expect to be able to do. It is ingrained in us that breastfeeding creates a special bond between Mum and bub that no one else can substitute. So we strive to achieve it no matter what. Yes, there are Mums who actually breastfeed with ease and some who choose not to breastfeed at all, but most of the time it’s an emotional mess of anxiety, stress, fear and uncertainty, and we still put it before our own mental health. My inspiring friend Jenna put it perfectly: we blame ourselves for struggling to do something that women for hundreds of years have been able to do, to feed and nurture their babies.
Only Mums know this feeling – no one else can understand how bloody ruthless it is. So we should all have the utmost respect for each other no matter what the outcome, right? Wrong. World Breastfeeding Week unfortunately showed me that instead of banding together and supporting each other, women are tearing each other apart. We all claim to be non-judgemental, yet breastfeeding Mums are being slammed for celebrating it. If we are happy for babies to be fed by tube, syringe, boob or bottle, why are we shutting down any Mums at all? I know there is the odd bitch who is so pro-breastfeeding that they think their breasts have magical powers, but most of the time I think Mums are just proud! In fact, about 90% of the posts I saw during World Breastfeeding Week acknowledged the struggle of breastfeeding and expressed love and admiration to all Mums no matter how they fed their baby.
Despite this, I saw responses which were not only disrespectful, but downright mean. Mostly, negative reactions came from Mums who didn’t want to be reminded or have it shoved in their face that they couldn’t breastfeed. To be honest, I strongly believe that World Breastfeeding Week is encouraging quite the opposite – it aims to increase awareness so that next time we are better prepared, educated and supported to succeed. It rips me apart to think that some people don’t see it this way. Now I unfortunately feel like every time I talk about breastfeeding I’m being insensitive and run the risk of upsetting someone. Of course that’s not my intention, but breastfeeding is a big part of my everyday life which I can’t ignore. It’s not a competition. I don’t believe that I have ‘won’. When I talk about breastfeeding, I don’t intend to add salt to the wound. I’m not saying that myself or my baby are better for it and I’m definitely not saying that formula is poison. In fact, with the shit I eat, formula would probably be more nutritious than my breastmilk! What I am saying is that I’m fucking proud, and I’m going to celebrate that for a minute. I don’t want to start a debate! I’m simply feeding my baby, just like everybody else.
I’m not going into detail on all of the negative responses I stumbled across during World Breastfeeding Week, but I will say this: we all face our own struggles which are intensified by everyday events – this is standard. We’ve all had that moment where something has shaken us to our very core and made us crumble in a heap as soon as we walked through the front door. I used to feel sadness and guilt that my body needed help to conceive James and that I couldn’t carry him to term. And I admit that there was a point in time when I wanted to slap people silly for telling me they ‘accidentally’ fell pregnant. But this was my burden and it is most definitely not anyone else’s fault. We are our own worst critic and it’s only natural to beat ourselves up, but it doesn’t give us the right to beat each other up. Imagine if I displayed anger towards anyone who was able to carry their babies to term because I wasn’t able to…it’s just unreasonable.
Instead, why don’t we celebrate how tough we are for making it out the other side? If that means giving formula feeding Mums an opportunity to be loud and proud, I say hell yes! I even saw Mums using World Breastfeeding Week to honour their journey from breastfeeding to bottle feeding and it made me grin from ear to ear. My friend Suzie wrote an uplifting message about moving to formula: “Best decision I ever made! Haven’t looked back and definitely don’t feel guilty for it now. At the time I was very hard on myself over the decision, wish I could travel back a month and slap that Suzie for being so silly!!” She bloody owns it and hasn’t looked back! Another friend admitted she wasn’t looking forward to World Breastfeeding Week but was grateful to breastfeeding in other ways. “It’s taught me that it’s possible to work so hard at something and still not be able to make it happen. It’s taught me the importance of being flexible. That the goals you thought were the most important things may not be as important as you think. That mothering is not about how you feed your child…And thank goodness we live in a country with good formula and clean water.” She was honest about how heartbreaking it is when things don’t go the way you plan, but was also thankful for the lessons she learnt through breastfeeding and the support she was given.
It’s obviously not so easy for some Mums to move forward and accept, and this is ok too, but I do believe that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck. The biggest thing I’ve gained over the past 12 months (apart from my baby boy!) is perspective. We really need to try and find the opportunity in every difficulty. I know, I’m full of all the one-liners today, aren’t I!? But honestly, it really has changed the way I look at things. And at the end of the day, the little things really don’t matter. At some point in time we all get dealt a rough hand in life, but we have a choice in how we respond to these hardships. After initially feeling like the unluckiest person in the universe and having a dramatic ‘why me?’ meltdown, I eventually chose to be inspired – how blessed am I that we had to work harder for James, because I now have bloody thick skin and an amazing story to tell that is helping others. I would encourage everyone to use their struggles for good, which is also what Jenna did when she created a Facebook group called ‘Breast isn’t always best – The bottle feeders support group’…jump on it if you are wanting to talk to other supportive Mumma’s who couldn’t breastfeed. Remember, hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny…Ok that’s the last one, I promise!
World Breastfeeding Week made me feel cautious to discuss something which is not only part of life itself, but one of the most lonely and challenging things I have ever experienced. This concerns me to no end. Why are we constantly competing when we are all running our own race? It’s not about winning and losing. If you told me your baby self-settles and sleeps longer than 30 minutes during the day, I’d be (extremely jealous but) giving you a high five and pouring you a bloody wine. Because that’s a freaking achievement! We should be supporting each other through the crossfire, not cultivating a war. And we should be proud, no matter what society tells us we ‘should’ be doing. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a Mum, we’re all a hot mess trying desperately not to lose our shit…we need each other!