Thursday, October 17, 2013

Confessions Of A Failed Feeder - When 'Breast Is Best' Just Isn't

IMAGE : THE MOTHER LOAD | Confessions Of A Failed Feeder

According to various wise and experienced bloggers, a 'true blogger' is prepared at some point to reveal a very personal thing about themselves to their loyal, dedicated readers. I've read many tales from other writers who bare their soul and despite their fear of judgement, they feed their audience exactly what they've been waiting for like a pack of hungry lions. Audiences love a little personal exposure; it's why bloggers get followed because they are inviting and permitting a certain type of voyeurism. Readers love it because often they can relate; sometimes another person's tale can give them strength or perspective, or perhaps it simply gives them the sense of camaraderie or like-mindedness they've been searching for. And I guess that's why I write and why I share - I always hope to strike a chord with someone. When considering a subject, often I could get very personal about many different areas of my life but I'm always conscious of involving the stories of other players who haven't signed up to participate in my public oversharing. I could write about the ups and downs of my various family relationships as I'm sure many of us could, but in fairness it's me whose soul has (reluctantly) signed up to be laid bare, and no one else's.

So here's something a little personal. I'm sharing mainly because I would have given anything to read this story written by someone else at a certain time in my life.

As a parent, there are several things I'm really pretty bad at.  Firstly, I have no patience or ability for craft with my kids and if on the rare occasion I'm compelled to crack open the paint, glue and glitter I spend the entire time trying not to freak out about the spillage and the condition of the table underneath. Secondly, I'm pretty bad at sharing the cooking experience largely because it always ends in flour forming large dust clouds around two little enemies locked in battle over the wooden spoon. Thirdly, I'm crap at sitting in parks for hours on end while kids play. Granted I do all of these things to alleviate my mother guilt, but secretly it's often under duress and with a large sigh. Clearly, none of us are perfect and I'm far from it in the parenting stakes.

Another thing I'm finally comfortable admitting after ten years as a mum, is that I'm a total dud when it comes to breastfeeding.  In all seriousness, this is a pretty big admission for me as I spent so much time exhausting myself trying firstly to get it right, then frantically trying to cover up my failure to those around me. Now as I look back, I feel incredibly sad that this failure upset me so much and induced such unnecessary feelings of guilt. Let it be said that (in theory) I support the 'breast is best' argument and I wanted so badly to get this part of motherhood right. For a grand total of ten weeks for each child I attended professional assistance appointments religiously, I wore cold packs and cabbage leaves and I latched a baby onto nipples that bled so much I could have donated to the Red Cross en masse. Both times, I refused to give up until things got so bad that I had a multitude of hideous infections and had to go on antibiotics that were simply too powerful for a baby to induce. What a relief - my decision to stop was not made by me alone, but with the guidance of the medical profession who gave me the perfect 'excuse'. Truthfully I don't think I could have made that decision myself and who knows where we could have ended up.

We all know the early days of parenthood are basically like being forced to fly a B-52 bomber into a war zone without any training. Not only are you trying to navigate the perils of suddenly having to keep another often screaming human alive, but there are also many things going on with your body post-pregnancy and your mind post-birth which can't be addressed over the constant bloody commotion. Through these early weeks, my downfall was feeding. I don't deal well with failure generally, but simply add the cocktail of hormones, the post-birth infection and my inability to grasp sensible thinking or perspective, and I felt as though I was wearing parenting failure around my neck like a medal.

Also in the mix was the true fear of judgement which unfortunately is a reality; new mothers are the most judged group of people around, and often no one judges better than other mothers themselves. It's not a figment of a new mother's sleep deprived imagination and the judgement can sometimes come from those who are supposed to be professionally trained in appropriate, informed guidance. Many times through my feeding struggles, I came face to face with the card-carrying members of the 'Breast Is Best At Any Cost Army' and somehow I allowed them judge me as I'm sure many other ordinarily strong-willed women have too. It could be as subtle as an off-handed comment about my lack of perseverance or as full-blown as the lecture I once received on the negative bonding effects of formula feeding. Truth be told, my two girls climb me like a jungle gym at any opportunity for love and affection - there are NO bonding issues present in our house and we have a couple of iron-clad immune systems that Alexander Fleming (Mr Penicillin) would be proud of! Ten years later, I look back at these days and scoff not only at the ill-informed judgement but also at my reaction to it and I can think of many things I would have done differently in response with a clear, hormonally-balanced persona. The bottom line is that I was at my most vulnerable then and the overwhelming and unnecessary guilt beat me for a long time.

So to anyone who has felt the same way as me through their parenting journey, and for those who are yet to encounter the challenges of breastfeeding, remember to go easy on yourself.  You are not 'failing', you're simply coming up against one of the many challenges that remind us that being a mother is truly the hardest job in existence. In sensible, well-balanced terms I absolutely subscribe to the 'breast is best' argument but I also believe that the alternatives are there for good reason and should not be frowned upon when they are required. Find some good breastfeeding support - if you take your time and look, there are some wonderful people out there who are NOT judgemental and can be a lifesavers in those early days and beyond.  Just DON'T waste time on guilt, as I did. It may feel overwhelmingly present when you're sitting around in your first mother's group session or in the feeding room at the local department store, but in reality it means nothing in the years to come.


  1. Bravo *Stands and applauds* Well said Soph, well said.

  2. So true Soph. I know every friend/family member of mine who is a mother struggled with breast-feeding. I think that the 'breast is best' brigade often overlook one important fact - it's not a bonding experience if a mother is filled with dread and wincing in pain and bleeding as she feeds her child. I'm sure babies are not able to fully relax if the mother is tense and teary. Grab a bottle, chuck the guilt, and hold your baby close. x

  3. So true Soph. I know every friend/family member of mine who is a mother struggled with breast-feeding. I think that the 'breast is best' brigade often overlook one important fact - it's not a bonding experience if a mother is filled with dread and wincing in pain and bleeding as she feeds her child. I'm sure babies are not able to fully relax if the mother is tense and teary. Grab a bottle, chuck the guilt, and hold your baby close. x

  4. Suzy, breastfeeding counsellor and mum of 3 girlsOctober 17, 2013 at 10:08 PM

    I'm glad that you no longer feel guilty Sophie - maybe now just some disappointment that you weren't able to breastfeed. There are many barriers to women 'successfully' breastfeeding - and that success can be defined by your own goals or the perceived judgement of others.

    To have breastfed for 10 weeks means that you not only set up your babies' immune systems with colostrum but continued for nearly 3 months and gave them a great start in life. That sounds like success to me!! To then admit that the difficulties you were facing with breastfeeding were insurmountable for you was also a step in your mothering journey, and allowed you to focus on your baby rather than on the (very painful sounding!) breastfeeding. You made the right choice at the right time. Perhaps if someone had suggested weaning to you earlier you may not have been ready to do so? You are not alone in needing 'permission' to wean either - I'm sure you felt a huge relief when this was suggested to you at the 10 week mark.

    To persevere as long as you did is a sign of your love and committment to your babies and breastfeeding was (at that time) important to you, as it is to many mums. It's not surprising there are no bonding issues between you and your children, which is wonderful.

    Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby and it is our society in main that disempowers women in breastfeeding (amongst other things!), hence why so many mums have difficulties. For those who do struggle with breastfeeding, we are lucky in Australia to have the support of medical knowledge and the availability of formula and clean water. We are also lucky to now have the 24 hour Breastfeeding Helpline 1800 686268 which may not have been around when you had your babies.

    1. Suzy - thank you so much for your beautiful, thoughtful comment. I had you in mind when I wrote this post, and I so hoped you'd swing by and offer some wisdom for the sake of others. You certainly have done that - thank you again. I would have loved to have had the support of someone like yourself way back when, I sure things would have been different. Keep up the great work xxx

  5. Working in a maternity hospital and having it as my job to remind Mums about our breastfeeding clinic I see every week new Mums who need more help to feed their babies. It is wonderful. It is wonderful to see them wanting to feed their babies and to be asking for help to be able to do so when things are hard. Every baby and every boob is different, and every body and brain behind those babies and boobs. We are lucky to be able to have so many options with expressing, mixed feeding, breastfeeding, bottlefeeding. But we all have to remember, that a healthy, happy, family is the best environment for every baby, however they are fed for the first six months.