motherhood

On Not Censoring Breastfeeding

May 13, 2018
breastfeeding mothers n field with blonde child

I had no idea when I had my son that I’d carry on breastfeeding for 2.5 years. Sometimes, especially when I say it out loud, like that – two and a half years – I can’t believe we’ve lasted that long.

Like a lot of things related to motherhood, I was quite naive about the realities of breastfeeding. My sole knowledge about it, from some friends who had done it, was that it could be hard. Other than that, I didn’t really know much about it. You had your baby, plonked them on your boob, and they fed. Ta dah!

I had never heard of “latching on”. I didn’t know about positioning. I had no real idea that part of the difficulty in getting feeding established was that it could be painful; couldn’t have appreciated what impact it can have on your feelings of personal boundaries, or intimacy, or body image.

Despite my lack of understanding, I knew I wanted to give it a shot. When my son was born, he didn’t latch on – or feed at all – straight away. It turned out he had a tongue tie, so our breastfeeding journey began with a 10 weeks of (at times) excruciatingly painful (for me) feeding, until I took the decision to have his tongue tie cut.

This wasn’t an easy decision: he was gaining weight well and the tongue tie didn’t seem very serious, according to the healthcare professionals that saw him. He was windy and cried a lot but neither of those things are unusual for young babies. Having it done made a huge difference, though. Feeding was no longer painful and gradually it all seemed to get a lot easier, and now, somehow, it’s two and a half years later.

Photo: Siobhan Watts

In that time breastfeeding has been my saviour – soothing grizzly moods, bumps and fears; and my downfall – waking me multiple times a night, causing awkward top-grabs and whines for milk at slightly inappropriate (i.e. public, or busy) times. It’s formed the foundations of my bond with my son and helped me feel able to cope at times when everything else – anything else – has felt just that bit too difficult.

My relationship with my body has gone through as many changes as the physical appearance of my breasts have: sometimes I have felt full of love for what my body was doing, proud and at ease; at other times I’ve missed the autonomy of having a body that is just a body, not a snack-buffet open to prodding and pinching at any given moment.

Breastfeeding is such a personal choice. I’m not even going to begin to talk about why you should or shouldn’t do it – it’s none of my business what anyone chooses to do with their boobs, and their child, and there are myriad reasons someone might choose to breastfeed, or not.

But it does bother me that there’s so much about motherhood that feels censored, and breastfeeding is usually included in those things. I suppose parts of it are pretty irrelevant to anyone who isn’t a parent, but it shouldn’t be the case that we live in a society where these things are, for the most part, secret, until you have to experience them.

I shouldn’t feel “lucky” that I was never tutted at for feeding in a public place, or told to cover up. I know these are the realities for many women trying to carry out that most basic of task of feeding their child, and that this occurs in 2018, when so much about the health benefits of feeding are known and women are so apparently free to make their own choices, baffles me.

Days after my son was born, one of the ward nurses told me she had been discouraged from telling women that breastfeeding might hurt because it might put them off trying. I don’t think the reality would have put me off any more than thinking there was something really wrong with me because I was in so much pain.  And no, it shouldn’t hurt, if all is going well, but – to begin with especially – it can be really sore. And that’s normal.

Photo: Siobhan Watts

We need to talk about the realities of motherhood more, the mundane and the miraculous; the utter normal drudgery of it as well as the joy and the cute photo friendly monthly milestones. Giving women – and men – impartial information of what exactly is about to go down, pre-baby, can surely only be a good thing. (And by impartial I mean judgement free: conspiratorial eye rolls/sniggers/just-you-waits need not apply).

I don’t really have much of a point to this post, other than to say, if you’re breastfeeding, you’re a star. If you’re bottle feeding, you’re a star. There is no “right” way to do things, but whatever way you are doing them, don’t be afraid to talk about the reality of it.

Oh, and if anyone has any advice on how to stop breastfeeding a wilful toddler, that’d be great. Asking for a friend.

*Bottom two photos by the wonderfully talented Siobhan Watts.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Barbara Priestley July 6, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    This was a joy to read. My eldest is now 46. In those days, the baby was kept separate from the mom during the night in the hospital and fed glucose water. Whenever he was brought to me to nurse during the day, it was every four hours. My breasts became engorged and nursing was so difficult for both of us. When I got home with him, I stuck to the schedule of four hours, not knowing that breast milk curds are much smaller and more easily digested than cow’s milk and because of that, the baby needs to nurse more frequently. I hadn’t even bought bottles, I was that determined to nurse. I spent my days in tears. He seemed to be hungry all the time and I’d watch the clock waiting for the next four hours to come around. Thank goodness I had a visit from someone who suggested La Leche League. I phoned the number and within an hour, a young nursing mom showed up with a toddler and her own newborn. Her first words were, “Go and pick up your baby and put him to the breast.” She explained so much to me, filled me with such confidence and we never looked back. He nursed until he was 26 months old and stopped nursing on his own 3 weeks before the birth of my daughter. I think the colostrum had started coming in and it probably didn’t taste the same to him. One night as he was precariously perched on my lap with big pregnant belly, he looked at me and said, “No more,” and that was it. I nursed my daughter for 2 years and then 4 years later, I had a second daughter who nursed until she was 3. We lived in Toronto way back then. I nursed on the bus, in restaurants, in shopping areas, at friends’ homes, in the park, anywhere and everywhere. Not once in all those breastfeeding years did I ever receive anything but support and enthusiasm for nursing a baby, even from complete strangers. I read with dismay about some of the terrible experiences new nursing moms are encountering these days, to the point of being told off in public. It must be so demoralizing. I wonder about today’s society, the sexualization of breasts and the lack of education when it comes to breastfeeding. I applaud all of those women who keep calm and carry on regardless. Sorry, I didn’t mean to ramble on, but I hold this close to my chest! I honestly don’t know just how nursing the three-year old finally came to its end. By then, she nursed if she was hurt or right after our nightly story time and I think it just sort of fizzled out. The added bonus to all of this was that my two daughters went on to be nursing moms and as one of them said, “If we have any questions, we know who to turn to!” Continue to enjoy your precious moments with your son.

    • Reply admin July 18, 2018 at 2:45 pm

      Oh Barbara, what an amazing reply! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. My heart aches to think about how hard those first days must have been, but like you say thank goodness from LLL! So glad you went on to have a positive experience. Thank you! x

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