A few months ago I got called a Nazi, I can see the shocked expression on your face!
What had I done to trigger this name calling? Had I expressed that I wanted to suppress, hunt down, imprison, torture and murder someone?
No. What I did was give support to a mom that was struggling with breastfeeding on an online forum.
There’s an old saying that we teach our children, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’ to be honest this just isn’t true. Names can indeed hurt and they can cut very deep.
So why is it that names like ‘breastfeeding nazi’ and others hurt so deeply? Well apart from the fact we are comparing someone to a few individuals in history, that carried out the most terrible, unspeakable crimes, it is the fact that I give support to all women no matter what their feeding choice and I do so because I care. I care about them as mothers, I care about their beautiful little babies, and I care about society as a whole.
When I had my first daughter I was a young mother and I admit was very naive about many things to do with birth and babies. She was born six weeks premature and we both nearly died in the birth. In the chaos that then became my life the only thing that kept me sane was at first expressing and then breastfeeding my tiny infant. It was the only time I felt she was mine and in control of any part of her care. I fought pre-eclampsia, massive blood loss and lifesaving surgery, my baby having low temperatures, low blood sugars, severe jaundice, weight loss, a weak sucking reflex and then colic. I had an over supply from pumping when my baby was in NICU and my baby had a tongue tie and I ended up with sore nipples and mastitis. I fought all the health professionals who said I would fail and also fought those around me, as well as my own fear and anxieties to breastfeed my baby – all without any support.
Am I saying that this makes me better than anyone else? No! But what it did do was show me that breastfeeding is hard, VERY hard. Most women encounter some issues somewhere along their breastfeeding journey and what is so sad is there is very little support when they do.
I know what it is like to feel alone, abandoned and scared. I know what it is like to be so exhausted that I could barely hold the pump to my breast. To cry in desperation when your baby is desperately trying to latch but just can’t. When the pain is like a knife and you dread the next feed and to be worn down by the “be kind to yourself its ok to stop”, “you wont be able to breastfeed just accept it”, “your so tired let me just give her a bottle”. I know what it feels like to feel like my body is failing my baby and that the fight may not be worth it. Yes I know what it feels like to feel hopeless.
I never want anyone to feel the way I did, or have the issues and struggles I had and yet I see it everyday. I see women that are desperate to breastfeed having no support, inaccurate information and left to try and ‘figure it out’. Breastfeeding is a skill that requires support and information no one would expect to learn a new language with no help, support having no-one that speaks the language and finding much conflicting advice on how that language is to be spoken. Why do feel it’s ok to learn to breastfeed this way?
I am well aware that breastfeeding is not what everyone wants to do and that is ok. If as a mom you have had all the information and support and your choice is to not breastfeed then there is no need for guilt, because you have done whats best for you and your family. If you have had help, support and information and then choice to formula feed then great. However I know that there are so many women for whom that is not the case, they have wanted to breastfeed and desperately tried but been unable to. Why? The list is endless but it nearly always comes back to two main things – lack of support and lack of accurate information.
“Instead of attacking each other let us all join together!”
We are as women and mothers being failed by society. Breast is not best, it is simply what our bodies are designed to do. Years ago mothers helped daughters and sisters helped sisters and grandmothers helped them all. Today women often rely on health professionals for support as family often lack the knowledge to know how best to help. However in hospitals support is too often lacking and women are left to work it out for themselves, accurate information on what to expect in first few days and what is normal for breastfeeding babies is so often not given. Staff often have very little training or time to give support and often how a baby is fed, is low on the list of priorities, when there are so many other checks to be done. When new mothers are discharged home there is again little or no support. When scared and worried about there tiny new baby many feel reassured to see a baby drink a full bottle of formula. When issues arise, often instead of help to improve latching baby or plans put in place to support breastfeeding, formula is given as the magic answer not explaining the effects this can have on breastfeeding. As a result new mothers are undermined and the trust in themselves and their bodies to provide for their babies has been worn down. Yes new mothers haven’t failed at anything especially breastfeeding, what has happened is they have been failed by the very people and organisations put in place to help, support and protect them.
Often due to pain, upset, guilt, and mis-understandings we as mothers can all turn on each other. We may argue and name call and feel that each is judging the other. Yes sometimes that pain may even cause the name calling that I mentioned earlier. What instead can we do to support each other and more importantly facilitate change?
Instead of attacking each other let us all join together!
As women and mothers let us all join our voices and seek to be heard. If as a mom you struggled and received no help or support, voice this. Who can you voice it to? Write or email your local hospital and explain how lack of support affected you and your baby. You can also write or email local commissioners explaining how lack of support when you were discharged affected you and breastfeeding. Also writing to local health authorities and public health, as well as NHS England, in fact even the government and make yourself be heard. If you have had support then lift up your voice too and show the difference it has made to you, your baby and your family. Commend those be they doctors, midwives, health visitors or support workers that tried to help you on your journey, let them know their efforts were appreciated. If instead of attacking each other if we all work together raising awareness about the need for help, training and support we can make a difference. If your a mother that has chosen to formula feed then voice how having the correct information enabled you to make that choice and why that was so important to you and your family.
When I am fighting to get more support for new mothers I am not doing so for the ones that are breastfeeding and doing well. I am fighting for the women that wanted to breastfeed and had no support. For the mother that cried as she gave that first bottle, the mother that sat alone in hospital with her tiny new baby with no idea how to feed. For the mother whose baby has a tongue tie and can find no one to help and the mother whose nipples are cracked and sore, the pain too much to bear. For the mother whose premature baby needs everything her milk can supply and the exhausted mother in the middle of the night unsure why her baby is feeding so much. I fight for the mother that is asked to leave the cafe for trying to feed her hungry baby and yes I fight for the mother that calls me horrible names.
Never should any mother say she ‘had to give up’ breastfeeding, rather that she chose to, because it was right for her. There should and must be support for all mothers, to successfully breastfeed and to formula feed. As women we should all help and support each other whatever the choice we make.
We all love our babies this unites us, never should we let anything divide us, but work together to make sure we all have a voice, we all have choice and we are all stronger as a result.
For breastfeeding support call the National breastfeeding helpline: 0300 100 0212