A word on breastfeeding


“Breast is best”. From the minute you realise you are pregnant, these words are programmed into your brain and after people ask whether you are giving vaginal birth, or having a c-section, they ask if you plan to breastfeed. After the baby is born, it’s the second question people ask. (After asking how you brought your baby into the world!)

Many mothers choose not to breastfeed for their own good reasons. Many women try to breastfeed and for whatever reason are not successful. For some people it’s really easy and “just happens” like the natural process it is meant to be. Others have more trouble and need a little help. More often than not, those that are meant to help and support, cause even more mothers who would have successfully breastfed their babies to stop trying.

The experience of having your breast grabbed and squeezed and pushed and pulled, while at the same time you are watching someone grab hold of your little baby’s head and forcing it toward a breast and trying to compel the two to make contact, does not to my mind encourage anything but anxiety. In the time my baby was in hospital, I experienced this over and over: the minute they stopped trying to help, I could relax, the baby would latch and and feed fine.

Nurses and breastfeeding consultants are supposed to be there to help you with this process, but more often than not, their “I-know-how-to-do-this-because-I-work-with-this-every-day-and-you-are-a-first-time-mother-and-therefor-you-know-nothing-attitude” ends in tears – both baby’s and mother’s. And it’s as if these nurses don’t care – they just walk away and make you as the mother feel inadequate, or somehow less of a mother, or less of a woman. And then, just as you feel you are getting it right, the shift changes and the next nurse arrives to tell you that you are doing it all wrong and shows you a different way to fail.

Every mother I have spoken to shares this sentiment – they succeeded in breastfeeding, not because of the help they received, but despite it! It seems the more breastfeeding is advocated for, the more healthcare personnel force the issue and more mothers go home feeling like they have failed at the first basic task that they were assigned as a mother.

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5 Responses to A word on breastfeeding

  1. siygrah says:

    Having gone through this myself recently, I’d like to offer my two cents…

    Something that really makes it difficult for a woman to keep breastfeeding (if she’s having serious trouble) is the fact that very few people offer the support you actually need. I feel a bit cheated at this stage. I stopped breastfeeding when I got mastitis, post natal depression and my nipples were hurting like they were being beaten with a hammer.

    No one ever told me that breastfeeding, while perfectly natural (and many mothers don’t struggle at all), hurts like hellfire if you are cursed with flat, fairly light-coloured nipples. Not that anyone ever told me what a flat nipple looks like in the first place. I had no idea that other women have pointier nipples.

    When I started asking people when breastfeeding stops hurting, they gave me funny looks. And the most would say maybe a week or two. Eventually, I spoke to a breastfeeding specialist who told me that the longest she’s heard of was four weeks (and later a friend of a friend told me it never stopped hurting for her). At this stage I was finishing off week 2. You can imagine how this was not good news to me.

    I was slowly starting to feel emotionally removed from my daughter and I would avoid looking at her. Just the sight of her would remind me that I would be spitting curses and crying when the next feed came around. I was starting to freak out really badly. What kind of mother am I if I don’t want to look at my child? What kind of monster am I?

    Throughout all of this, my poor husband was trying his best to support me and to give me pep talks, but he simply didn’t understand what I was going through. I kept thinking: I just need someone who’s gone through the same thing to cheer me on and help me. But trying to guess who that would be while you’re on the verge of a breakdown isn’t always easy.

    One fateful Sunday morning, I was crying uncontrollably because I didn’t want to look at my baby. My breasts hurt so bad I couldn’t even think of using the expressing kit (which hurt a lot less than baby-to-nipple breastfeeding). I was woozy from the fever (mastitis). My nipples were so sore, even the super soft nipple pads felt like sanding paper. I wanted to want to pick up my baby. I wanted to be able to hug her without wanting to scream from the pain.

    I phoned my gynae and she confirmed that I had mastitis. She asked me whether I intended to continue breastfeeding and I almost broke down. I wanted to give my child the advantage of breastmilk, but I knew that my mental state was deteriorating fast and it would take years to repair the emotional damage (to me and my child). I think she could hear how upset I was, because she told me: “If you decide to stop breastfeeding, then that’s that. You must not beat yourself up about this decision.”

    My sanity was teetering on the edge and I made the decision to be there for my child emotionally. Something I never got as a child. I knew I made the right choice. I had to stop breastfeeding.

    If I had the right kind of support. I could have made it through. But no one in my life understood what I was going through. None of them understood in how much pain I was. It was like talking to a brick wall. And the few people who could have helped were never around.

    With my second child I will know more and will be better prepared. I do believe “breast is best” and I will do my very best to breastfeed for much, much longer. In the end, I would like to offer this: If a friend or family member tells you that they’re struggling with breastfeeding, don’t just leave them to figure it out on their own. Offer to listen to them and to cheer them on. We live in an age of convenience – pushing through a difficult, uncomfortable experience does not come naturally to us. We need to be there for each other.

  2. Annari says:

    I really enjoyed reading this… I love the way you say it as it is. Please keep updating your blog. Am already looking forward to the next entry.

  3. Ciska says:

    Interesting article, my experience with especially Breastfeeding Consultants were completely the opposite of yours in both instances after child birth. I think it even possible that I might not have persevered if it was not for their support, empathy and encouragement (more so after the first born). I do however agree that some Sisters could learn to be a bit more tolerant and sympathetic!

  4. mommybeing says:

    So great to have input from other mothers as well! Thanks for reading and sharing!

  5. Pingback: Parental Inadequacies | Me, my life and I

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