Of home births and hero worship.

Recently, it’s really struck me how we all (or at least those of us who spend too much time googling shit and carry around an abundance of middle class guilt) aspire to a certain kind of birth. Pain-relief free, in a birthing-pool and, ideally, at home. The natural way.

(Incidentally, this line of thinking partly started because of the whole Helen-home-birth storyline on the Archers, which has since paled into insignificance).

Before I go any further I should say – if you did give birth at home, then props to you. I ain’t no hater.

But I do feel like women who manage to do it all ‘naturally’ receive a particular, celebrated status. They are sometimes talked about in a way that I rarely hear women who had assisted births being described. “Such a hero”, “amaaazing” etc.  And I don’t think that status serves anyone. Because, for one thing, it dictates how you should feel about your labour. At home with no pain-relief? You should feel good! In hospital with an epidural and some ‘assistance’. Bad. Obvs. Continue reading

‘I can’t cope’ she said, whilst coping.

coping

We’ve all been there. On the sofa, still in your nightie at 4pm, sobbing into a cold mug of tea, probably with one boob hanging out, wailing “I just can’t cope” to anyone who’ll listen.

Whether this scenario conjures up memories of parenting or just recovering from a the-world’s-gone-to-shit level hangover, I’m sure many of you will relate. Especially around the #JanuaryBlues post-Christmas, come down period.

But back to work blues aren’t just for those returning to the office – they effect those on maternity leave too. You go from having family around, an extra pair of hands, maybe even the odd nap, to being alone again. Well, not alone, there’s a tiny small human being to take care of. *panics at the thought*

At anytime of year, having a bit of a weep is par for the course for new mums, and dads too I reckon. But for some of us it goes a little bit further than that. Instead of having a ‘moment’ (albeit a daily/hourly ‘moment’) at some straw-breaking-back time of the day or night, we start to believe these three little words all of the time. I can’t cope. We fear being alone with our child for any length of time because we seriously doubt our ability to just get through. We start to believe we simple can’t do it.

That’s what happened with me any way. And around this time in January, when my husband was heading back to work after the Christmas holidays I pretty much lost my shit. No joke of a lie.

I mean, it wasn’t just that, there were lots of other crazy-making things that happened, like not getting enough milk to breastfeed, and having a particularly screamy baby. (I know all babies are screamy, but seriously. So. Screamy.) Anyhoo, I ended up in a post-natal mental unit for mums and babies, as many of you will already know.

Whilst there I learned many things that helped me return to reasonable levels of sanity. Among them was that I did, in fact, have some skill at this whole parenting lark. I knew my baby pretty well and, even though he didn’t go 4 hours between feeds (barely 2 sometimes) and ‘tummy time’ made him cry furiously and eat the floor, he was fine. And so was I. Shock horror.

The thing is, most of the time when we’re having a sob about not being able to cope we are actually coping, in that very moment.

Have I just blown your mind? You’re welcome.

While I was in floods of tears, thinking I could never cope without my mum/hubs around to help me, there was this healthy, vaguely clean and, frankly, alive child right in front of me. He wasn’t ‘the contented baby’ (a fictional character, in case you’re wondering) we all dream of, but he was okay. More than okay. I think I just thought I should be enjoying it all. And I wasn’t, which really, really worried me.

Let’s just getting something straight – looking after a tiny baby is tiring as all fuck. It is a barrage of newness and sleeplessness and epicly daunting responsibilities. And sometimes it just a bit shit. More than a bit. Sometimes you won’t enjoy it because it’s mostly dealing with bodily functions and crying. That’s okay too. It doesn’t mean anything about you, except that you’re a normal human being. It certainly does not mean that you’re a bad mother!!!!!! (there aren’t enough exclamation marks in the world to emphasise that point, so I thought 6 would do).

And because it’s all a bit crap at times, it’s also very natural to regard an entire morning with no company and no planned activity with a mixture dread and battle-readiness. That doesn’t make you weak or mad, and it certainly doesn’t mean you won’t be able to cope with a morning like that.

So, if everyone else going back at work whilst you languish in the nappy-laden land of maternity leave is striking fear into your very soul, I want to tell you this…

Thinking you can’t cope isn’t the same as not being able to cope.* Is your baby fed? Vaguely clean? Cuddled often? Well then, you’re doing fine. You are coping. You’re worry, and you’re tired and you’re probably a bit bored, but you’re definitely coping.  It’s a bloody slog though, isn’t it? Bleurgh.

You’re a good mum. You are. Really, I’m quite sure of it.

________________

* if you’re in a situation like I was and have PND then it is of course possible that you really can’t cope alone, and that’s okay too. I got to a point where I was afraid I would hurt myself and didn’t feel safe on my own. If that’s the case for you then please seek help and talk to someone. You can also go to A&E if you’re really scared.

 

 

Cave women: A perfect model of motherhood?

og og

As far as I can tell, ‘attachment parenting’ seems like a good thing to do. Though I’m not really into ‘parenting philosophies’ (the very term makes my skin crawl, tbh) I think keeping your baby close etc sounds pretty lovely and I know a lot of people that it really works for. I mean, some of it’s defo not for me. Your kids sleep in you bed? For as long as they like? Like, every night?? Er, thanking you kindly, but no. However, the whole emotional-bonding-closeness-communication stuff is fab. Obvs.

Like any ‘parenting philosophy’ though, about 5% of people who follow attachment parenting get a bit smug about it all. #understatement2015. Their way is no longer just ‘what works for me’, it becomes ‘the best way to do things’. Bleurgh. Not the stuff on the Attachment Parenting International website, that all seems very kind, thoughtful and inclusive to me.  No no, it’s all  the blogosphere-forum-comment-section chitter chatter that goes on about doing what comes ‘naturally’ and being in-tune with your baby’s needs. I mean, yeah, obvs, no one is purposefully being out of tube with their baby’s needs, are they? But does it not occur the writers of these comments that the very fact of describing what you’re doing for your baby as ‘natural’ is a pretty sure fire way of making another parent feel like they are doing something unnatural? And wrong.

One of the biggest and most vexing culprits of all this is references to what ‘cave women’ did.

Comments such as “I mean, cave women wouldn’t have (insert modern parenting practice here)” appear on blogs and forums regularly, usually in reference to attachment parenting. They are likely to have been inspired by articles such as the gem “Why Cavemen were Better Parents than we are Today.” (I know, Daily Mail, why do I even do it to myself?).

Somehow, we have come to associate the practices of our distant ancestors with the way of parenting that ‘nature intended’. More than this, that nature’s intentions are the ones we want to follow. You know: high mortality rate, fight-or-flight, survival of the fittest. Now, am I alone in not wanting to apply these principles to the care of my children? Didn’t think so.

So I’ve decided to outline a few reasons why you should not feel obliged to emulate cave people parenting. Commence ranting mode!

Continue reading

Less advice, more washing-up: 6 ways to support new parents

Friends, cousins, grandparents; lend me your ears!

Hurrah! Your daughter or son/brother or sister/cousin/friend has just become a parent. You are likely to be very excited, and so you should be! Frankly, if you weren’t I would judge you. However, in your excitement over the baby you may not be quite up on your new-parenting etiquette. You will no doubt have the best of intentions. You will want to swoop in and lend a hand, maybe give a few hints and tips if you yourself have had a baby, or, like, read about it online. This is all good stuff, but it may need a little moderating. Remember, these people you have known for years have suddenly been handed the biggest responsibility of their lives, whilst also being sleep-deprived. This is not a combination that serves sanity at all well.

But do not fear! I have coined 6 simple rules to avoid any baby-related faux pas. (you’re welcome).

 

1) Become a Yes Man.

People we are close to are often the ones we’re most honest with. You know, like if a colleague at work says something you disagree with you let it fly, but if your sister says it you have a 30 minute stand-up row with her. (How dare she say Kim and Kanye’s love isn’t for reals??) It’s hard to tell a stranger when you think they’re wrong, but much easier when it’s your best mate; the person who has held your seventeen-year-old hair back in the loos after misguided boozing. This honesty is a sign of your closeness in itself, right?

Well, yes, but for now, just give it a rest. It doesn’t matter what they say, your new-parent friends/family are RIGHT. If they think it’s time for the baby to eat, they’re right. If they think it’s too cold to go for a walk, they’re right. Basically, unless they suddenly announce that they’ve decided to feed their baby McDonalds’ strawberry milkshakes instead of breast milk/formula, then they are right.

When baby first arrives on the scene most of us are one massive ball of doubts. Should I put an extra layer on him? Oh, but maybe he’ll overheat. It’s only been an hour, but I think he’s hungry, should I feed him? Is this okay? Is that okay? Arg *minor brain implosion*

So, when we actually make a decision, the last thing we need is to be told we’re wrong. Smile and nod. Smile. And. Nod.Oh, and say how well we’re doing; everyone likes that! Got it?

 

2) Sometimes advice is ill-advised.

There is one, simple rule for giving advice to new parents, and it is this: wait to be asked. Just. Wait.

Have you any idea of the level of advice-saturation a new parents’ brain is under at any one time? They are likely to have been to birthing-classes, read books, talked endlessly about babies with the world and his wife. They will know a lot. And even if they don’t, within a month of socialising with other mums your daughter/sister/cousin/friend will be well aware that there are 50 different ways to do everything. And all of them are the right way.

So just be patient. You may be itching to tell your loved one that it’s easier to do it this way, or to try this little trick you learned from a friend. But if you can manage it, keep it to yourself. If the baby is safe and the parent is okay, then what’s the harm? You will see when they’re struggling; that’s the time to tentatively offer suggestions. Just suggestions, mind you. e.g. you could try this, rather than you should try this.

The problem with advice is that to a sleep-deprived, doubting, first-timer it can often sound a lot like judgement. However nicely you put it, your words of wisdom may only be heard as You’re doing that wrong, I know how to do it better.

 

3) Be negative – in a good way.

I remember when my Bubs was tiny small. There he’d be in his little chair, with his chubby cheeks and sceptical facial expressions, and all my visitors would be cooing over him. “Aw, he’s soooo cute.” They’d say. And he was, obvs. But some days I just couldn’t see it. I was tired and emotionally exhausted and I didn’t have much enthusiasm at all for the little bundle that had caused these states. Of course it was lovely to be surrounded by loving people; I wouldn’t have it any other way. But sometimes, what I could have done with, was a bit of negativity.

A signature quizzical look from early Bubs.

A signature quizzical look from early Bubs.

“What??” I hear you cry. “You just told us we weren’t allowed to disagree or make judgements, what do you want from us woman???”

Well, I want you to be positive about their parenting, but just a little bit negative about parenthood. Okay, I’ll explain…

It’s is vitally important to hear that ‘it gets better’ and ‘having a baby was the best thing I’ve ever done’ and all that crap. You do need that. But. There comes a point when you just need someone else to sit next to you and say “yeah, mate, it’s shit when sometimes, isn’t it?”

Proper, down to earth, honesty. Because if you say that he’s much cuter when he’s asleep, or bloody hell that cry is piercing; I’ll feel a smidgen less guilty for thinking those things.

 

4) Ask Questions.

It is quite easy to visit someone close to you, spend hours with them and their new baby and not really ask them a single question past the obligatory how are you? greeting, which no one actually answers anyway. You will, of course, ask how baby slept last night, you might ask how feeding is going, or who’s doing more nappy changes. These are all fine, nowt wrong with a bit of baby chat. But somewhere in there, throw in a few questions to the parents. Directly to the parents.

How are you finding it? Have you seen Strictly this week? Do you want to come for lunch next Thursday? What’s been the funniest thing that’s happened since baby was born?

You know, just normal stuff. I’m not telling you to grill them or anything. But it’s amazing how little attention you pay yourself as a new parent (more on that here). It’s all about baby, so sometimes you need a bit of help to actually notice yourself. And a reminder that you are still a human being in your own right is nice too!

 

5) Remember, it’s not about you.

Of course, no one actually, consciously thinks that visiting a new baby is and all-about-me event. However, you may have imagined it in a certain way. Perhaps you wanted lots of cuddles, or a good long chat with mum/dad. Maybe you were hoping for a walk. Well, if you can, just let go of all that.

You may find that your gregarious care-free friend/son/brother has turned into a protective, cautious father overnight. He may not want you to hold the baby at first. Conversely, maybe all mum wants to do is have a nap, leaving you alone with a sleeping baby for an hour. Deal with it. And, whatever it is, try not to take it personally. You’re not being rejected or ignored, your just being included in this peculiar, mundane process we call parenting.

 

6) Do the dishes, then leave.

Make your own tea; clean your own mug (and whatever else is piling up by the sink); bring a ready cooked meal; take a load of washing. Do these things are you’re instant god-parent material. Nuff said.

 

Team Granny!  I was lucky enough to have my own personal cleaning service.

Team Granny!
I was lucky enough to have my own personal cleaning service (thanks mums!)

 

So there you have it. All you need to be the perfect visitor. Oh, and a bottle of wine never goes amiss either…

What are your dos and don’ts for supporting parents? Do you wish someone had told your loved these rules before you had kids? Leave a comment below, visit my facebook page (like me, like me!) or tweet me @aafew

Mummy Mantras #3: We do what works!

we do what works

 

Dear Reader, this #mummymantra is perhaps the closest to my heart. This is probably because it works in two ways. First, it stops us judging/torturing ourselves. We can’t always do what the books, or the guidelines, or our in-laws say is ‘best’. You will be told that ‘every baby is different’ and that ‘you know your baby best’ until the cows come home, but you will also be told in a thousand subtle ways that what you’re doing is wrong. Not directly, not necessarily by an actual person, but by the acres of advice that piles down upon new parents these days. So it’s helpful to remember that most of us, in the end, just do what works for our family. For some the idea of controlled crying provokes a shudder of dread; for others it is a lifeline and the key to getting your evenings back. The former parents may end up feeling like they are ‘giving in’, whilst the latter could worry that they are being neglectful. Neither is true, of course. We just do what works.

But, unfortunately, it’s not just our inner-guilt factory that churns all these feelings up. There are a few real Judgey McJudgepants out there. Whether it’s an evangelical breast-feeder or a Gina Ford devotee, there are some parents (I’d say less than 1%) who really do think their way is best. But the problem isn’t these people, really, because they are a tiny minority and, frankly, they are a bunch of self-righteous knobs. So there. The real problem is that we often worry that we’re secretly being judged by way more people than just the narcissistic 1%. My big thing is using a dummy. I’ll do a whole post on it another time, but basically I use a dummy to get Bubs to sleep, and sometimes just to pacify him if we’re in church or the supermarket and nothing else is working. I often get worried that I am being judged for this. And that’s mostly because BC (before children) I was totally judgemental about dummies! But now I just do what works! And the thing is, no one actually cares whether or not I use a dummy. In fact, loads of mums I talk to are jealous that my baby will actually take a dummy! And others just know I’m doing what works. So, good. Jog on.

‘We do what works’, then, can become a great thing to say during parent gatherings. It is a blanket statement of non-judgement. It says “yes, I moved my baby to their own room at 10 weeks, but I think it’s great that you still co-sleep, it seems to be working well”. Or whatever; you get the picture. I’ve done loads of things you’re ‘not supposed to do’ and I know my friends don’t judge me for it. Because if you manage to get through the first year of your baby’s life and never diverge from the guidelines then, bloody hell, you deserve a medal, or admission to some kind of band of elite parenting ninjas. And if you don’t manage that then you’re just normal, and you can be my friend.

What’s your #mummymantra? tweet me @aafew, or leave a comment below, and the best mantras will be retweeted and featured on the blog later in the week.

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Lies, Damn Lies and Breast-feeding Workshops #2: The Converts.

image

 

Dear Reader, I would like to relate to you a conversation I had with another mother, last Sunday morning after Church.

She had an older child, probably around four years old, and a six week old baby, so of course I chatted with her a bit. She seemed very nice (I am sure she is very nice!). Then we got onto the subject of breast-feeding. She mentioned that the health visitors in her area were quite clueless about breast fed babies because almost all of the women in her area formula fed. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Me: Wow, I would’ve thought they’d absolutely adore you, if you’re one of the only breastfeeding women. I had the opposite experience, especially with midwives, I felt like I couldn’t put my son on formula, thought I’d be drugging him or something mad! He was under his birth weight at four weeks so I ended up having to.

Her: Yeah, well it’s what works for you isn’t it… *trails off*

Me: Well no, it was that I just didn’t have enough milk, there was an issue with my supply and it was actually the health visitor who told me to put him on it.

Her: Yeah, well, they say if you keep going it will eventually come in. But if it’s too much for you… *trails off again*

*awkward momentary silence*

(During the silence I wanted to say this: ‘Well, they say a lot things don’t they but they are bloody wrong! OK!? I tried really hard and, yes, it was too much for me because I had a hungry baby who I couldn’t feed and who screamed all the bloody time!’)

(What I did say) Me: hmm, yeah, well, I mean, I did give him some breast milk until he was 3 months but, you know… Well I’m going to get a cup of tea. Nice to meet you. *fake smile*

Grr!

Now, some of you less familiar with the subtle language of judgement may think I have overreacted to her comments. But, oooh, it was her tone. Her tone I tells ya! Just ever so slightly patronising and, even worse, sympathetic. Like ‘we can’t all do what’s best, but never mind.’

Most breast-feeding mothers I know have absolutely no judgement of us who bottle feed our babies. We do what works and most understand that sometimes breastfeeding just doesn’t work. However, there are some who think they know why women stop breast-feeding. They think it just got a bit too hard so they gave up. That’s partly because almost everyone who breast feeds finds it really tough at first so there’s an assumption that you either grit your teeth and stick with it or you give up. This assumption implies that all women find it equally hard. But we don’t.

At one of the breast-feeding workshops I’ve written/ranted about previously (here) the workshop leader began by telling us a bit about herself, naturally.

“I first gave birth in the 1970s.” She declared. “I was the only woman on a ward of 26 who breast fed” *pause for nods of approval* “and I found it easy, I mean, I wondered why more people weren’t doing it. So I became a breast-feeding coach.”

Well, I don’t know about you but I think that is one of the worst reasons I have ever heard for teaching something. I’m teaching this because it’s easy. But it does neatly encapsulate the whole ‘if I can do it I don’t see any reason why anyone else can’t’ attitude that those few evangelical breast-feeders put out there. And why wouldn’t they think that? They went to the workshops. They listened whilst the healthcare professionals made it very clear that everyone can breastfeed; you just need the right support and technique. Right? Wrong!

I know this mum just believed what she’d been told. Not only about breast milk but also all the implied bad stuff about formula. And I know she meant no harm because, as a successful breast-feeder, she doesn’t know the crippling middle-class guilt that comes with not being able to lactate sufficiently. She has no idea that there is still a small part of me, for all my brazen ranting, that feels like a failure. If there wasn’t her ever-so-slightly-condescending attitude wouldn’t have bother me quite so much. And perhaps I should have shared that with her. I wonder what would have happened if in that moment I hadn’t reacted by making evasive manoeuvres towards the tea and biscuits but instead offered an honest account of my feelings. Ooh, but that’s a bit scary.

Next time someone put my hackles up by making a casual anti-formula remark maybe I’ll respond differently. Instead of staring at my shoes and mumbling something apologetic; or making a swift exit; or giving a lengthy and impassioned speech on why I believe formula was the best choice for my baby, thank you very much; I might just talk about how it felt when I realised my son had been hungry for 4 weeks. I’ll just be honest and share how hard it is not to feel like a failure. I’ll be vulnerable.

Yeah, that’ll shut ’em up!

Supply and Demand: When the ‘let down’ is a let down.

Wowza, turns out A LOT of you have had similarly frustrating experiences with breast-feeding. Thanks so much for the response. So, time to get specific and talk about the issue that particularly effected me: supply.

When Bubs was a newborn he screamed. A lot. Yes, I know they all do that, but, phew, not quite like this. Honestly, nurses on a post-natal mental health ward were wide-eyed at his fits. When my Health Visitor heard him bawling directly after a feed she just turned to me and said. “Yes, that’s a hungry baby.” Up to that point I hadn’t really grasped the idea that there just might not be enough juice available to fill him up. The thing is that there was definitely some milk there. I didn’t know that it was supposed to be squirting out by now. I didn’t know that he cried more than most. He’s a baby. I just thought I wasn’t very good at coping with it all.

Before I started Bubs on formula I was pretty much breast-feeding all of the time. All. The. Time. I know this because of the hazy sleep-deprived memories of constant suckling, but also because in those early weeks I can find no photo of me with him where I’m not breastfeeding. Not one.

Here's a typical example.

Here’s a typical example.

And another. (note the mystery bruise)

Oh yeah, and this one.

Oh yeah, and this one.

Also this, in which my boy is giving the finger to all of the unhelpful advice.

Also this, in which my boy is giving the finger to all of the unhelpful advice.

Sometimes a girl has to multitask

Sometimes a girl has to multitask.

See, every bloody photo. I wasn't joking!

See, every bloody photo. I wasn’t joking!

Okay, I’ll admit, there are a few pics of us asleep too. But you see my point. I remember someone remarking sympathetically that I was doing a lot of breast-feeding. I also remember hurriedly snapping something back along the lines of “well it should be on demand do I just so it as much as he wants!” I got a bit defensive, mainly because I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t want anyone to realise that. A mother should be able to feed her baby, right?

I know that many women find that breast-feeding eventually becomes a close, warm, cuddly time of connection with their baby. I know that it’s hard for everyone and there is always a degree of ‘pushing through’. This was not my experience. No amount of resolve on my part could have made a difference. My baby rarely settled satisfied in my arms after a feed. He often just kept sucking until he tired himself out and fell asleep. Or resumed his regularly scheduled screamathon. Even now I feel a pang of guilt when I think that he was hungry all that time (you know, whilst I’m having a break from feeling guilty about formula feeding), though there was no reason I should have known that. He wouldn’t sleep alone because he wanted to be close to the source. He cried so much because he was trying to tell us something. Like “I’M F**KING STARVING OVER HERE WOMAN!”

Seriously, the very day I started to give Bubs formula a near-magical transformation occurred.  He cried about a fifth of the amount he usually did. I was so indoctrinated into the woes of bottle-feeding I actually worried I was drugging him or something. Drugging him. With food? Sigh.

Recently my sister-in-law has had a lovely little girl. Thankfully breastfeeding has generally gone well for them but, of course, the baby has the odd day when all she wants is to be nursed, you know those golden ‘upping mum’s production’ days? Fun. My wonderful sister-in-law says these are the days when she feels the most overwhelmed and on the edge. She realised that this must have been how my boy was behaving for the first month of his life. Putting it like that clarifies for me how hard I did try, and that helps to quieten the guilt a little. What’s more, I know I’m only one of thousands (millions?) of women who has had this experience.

So why no supply? I think for me it was a combination feeling traumatised by his birth (not awful in the scheme of things but, you know, forceps and operating theatres were involved, bleurgh) and the pain from an infection I got in my stitches. No one realised I had it for a while and by the time we did I was having to breathe through the pain (thank you Voltarol!), lie only on one side and go to the loo with a walking stick. Bleurgh again.

Let’s just take a minute here – I could only lie on one side and was in pain with every movement. But I still breast-fed. On both boobs. Oh the ridiculous contortions I made that young lad go through to get a few insufficient glugs of milk!! And I’m not saying this to show off – no no! This wasn’t a triumph of motherly love, it was a consequence of the fact that I thought giving your baby formula was basically like feeing them McDonalds! If I had a time machine I’d go back and tell myself to get some bloody Aptimil and go to sleep.

The fact is that the pain, trauma and antibiotics were giving my body and mind a lot to cope with when it should have been concentrating on getting that milk out. At a time when the best thing you can do is be relaxed (ha ha) my body was tensed against pain. So the ‘let down’ didn’t really happen how it should! It all seems pretty much like common sense now but in the haze of confused, tired, early-parenting the ‘breast is best’ mantra was heavily etched onto my psyche.

With all the “everyone can breast feed” chatter it’s hard not to feel that if it doesn’t work for you it’s because you didn’t ‘stick with it’ or that you’ve done something wrong. But this stuff happens a lot and it’s not anything you’ve done or haven’t done. One particular midwife kept telling me to eat more. “We’ve got to look after mum.” She’d repeat. The thing is that she never actually asked me how much I was eating. The answer was loads. Nobody has to tell me to eat 2,500+ calories a day twice; I am fine with that! Oh, butter and whole milk you say? Ok, well, if I must (nom nom). Oh and people kept lecturing me about how to breastfeed properly, how to get a good latch etc. This was usually before they’d actually observed me feeding, at which point they’d say something like “oh yes, that’s very good”. One midwife who observed my side-lying contorted breast-feeding described my technique as ‘expert’. So, I knew that the mechanics were not the issue; it was the fuel supply that was out. Grr, arg.

So do bare it in mind if you’re expecting or know someone who is. Sometimes you just ain’t got the juice. And that’s fine. No harm will come to your baby. (true story, a Health Visitor told me so!)

What’s your story? Share in the comments below, give a tweet @aafew or…

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Lies, Damn Lies and Breastfeeding Workshops.

Arg. We hate 'SHOULD'.

There’s that ‘should’ again.

Are you pregnant? Have you been to any breast-feeding workshops yet? Well, you’re in for a treat! Let me give you a little preview.

I went to two breast-feeding workshops when I was pregnant. One was run by the NHS at the hospital I gave birth in, the other was part of the (otherwise excellent) NCT antenatal course my husband and I had booked onto. They were very similar. Well, one was more awkward and strange than the other, but that’s another post entirely. The information they gave was almost exactly the same and was arranged into two distinct halves. First half: why breast is best (and, implicitly, formula is bad). Second half: why breast-feeding is basically a lovely, easy thing that is natural and instinctive and great.

Hmm, you may well know where I’m going with this.

At the time these workshops seemed pretty helpful (though one was totally odd, will have to post about it now I’ve mentioned it twice). The workshop leaders demonstrated how to get a good latch and all that so I felt pretty good about it. You know, before I actually had a baby.

Before I go any further, and before I am bombarded by ardent breast-feeders, nothing I am about to say should discourage a woman from trying to breastfeed. It is obviously a good thing to do, for all kinds of reasons. So if you are doing it then hurrah! That’s not what this is about.

So, breast is best. Well, yes, that is the research based conclusion that has been drawn over some decades. I think the idea that the milk produced by the human body, tailor-made by nature, is superior to anything even the cleverest of us can manufacture seems pretty reasonable. My problem is that everyone at the breastfeeding workshops was already at a breastfeeding workshop. They had chosen to sit in an uncomfortable chair, for two hours, in the evening, whilst heavily pregnant. This may be a clue that they are already intending to at least give breastfeeding a good go.

But no, half of the workshop (over an hour in both cases) was devoted to listing the benefits of breastfeeding. We had to take it in turns to give a reason why breast-feeding is important. You know, like school.

“Yes, Mary, that’s right, your child is less likely to become obese.” “That’s right, Brian, children who are breastfed are less likely to get ear infections.”

Irrefutable fact???

I feel this may be slightly exaggerated.

Good, well, thanks for that.

We then had to share reasons why you wouldn’t breast-feed. At one of the workshops (the weird one) I said “Well, some people might want to drink and smoke.” This was not well-received. Not at all. The breastfeeding coach turned to me wide-eyed and said “Breast milk with alcohol and nicotine is still better than formula.”* I muttered something about this is not being a personal reason, just an example. Then I stared at the floor for about five minutes.

In fact, the whole ‘reasons why not’ section was definitely just an exercise in refuting any statement we made. At one point during the NHS workshop the midwife leading it had a five-minute exchange with a woman about how it was possible to find comfortable nursing bras for every size.** The woman had already been all over trying to get a fitting that didn’t give her back ache, but that’s no excuse.

Any way, you would leave those rooms with no doubt in your mind that breast-feeding was the far far far far far superior option for the health of your child and your bonding relationship.

The second section, basically a ‘how to’ could have done with borrowing some time from the pro-breast feeding drilling because it lacked detail and, frankly, any relation to reality. But here’s a quick round-up:

1) The main reason women give up breast-feeding is lack of support (so we did a bit about how our partners could support us, fair enough).

2) Breast-feeding is natural and the baby knows what to do. Cue video of a newborn baby pretty much latching themselves on to their mother. Lots of cuddly moments and mums saying how happy they were that they breastfed.

3) A little demo of different breast-feeding positions, with photos and a very light doll that bears little to no resemblance to the weight and shape of a newborn baby.

4) Constant reminders that it shouldn’t hurt if you get it right. It’s all about the latch ladies. And you do not need nipple cream. No no no.

I shall stop here to briefly mention that in an unscientific survey carried out by myself it was found around 97% of women, those who continue and those who don’t, find breastfeeding pretty darn painful for a good few weeks, even months.

This is omitted from the information given, as is any mention of the serious issues that can arise from breastfeeding.  I heard nothing about mastitis or any painful infections that could occur. Nothing about blockages in milk ducts. Nothing about the sheer exhaustion of being the only person who can feed your baby. Nothing about other ways to soothe your baby so that you don’t feel like they are constantly stuck to your boobs. Nothing about how a traumatic and/or physically taxing birth and recovery can effect your milk supply. Nothing about the fact that for this reason and others some women’s milk doesn’t come in at all, or not sufficiently for your baby to be satisfied; that was my problem and I had no idea it was even a thing until 4 weeks in.

So, generally sort of informative but not particularly helpful. The main reason I say this is that if you have any of the issues I’ve listed above, or one of a thousand other reasons means you can’t/decide not to breastfeed then you feel like utter crap. I suppose they want to keep it positive in order to encourage us all to try. But if you encounter any problems (and most do) the memory of these workshops becomes utterly discouraging.

Here are the messages you have been given: Your baby is less likely to develop all kinds of health issues if you breastfeed AND almost everyone can breastfeed if they give it a good try and have support. This, my friends, is the combined moral of sections one and two.

Now, let’s flip that around: Your is baby is more likely to develop all kinds of health issues if you don’t breastfeed. If you’re finding it difficult you’re probably not trying hard enough or you just need more support.

Oh, hello guilt attack of the highest calibre, what an depressing surprise!

When my son was 4 weeks old he was still below his birth weight. I just didn’t have enough milk. And I felt like a failure. I couldn’t feed my child. Except that I could, I just had to do it with a bottle and some powder. And you know what? It was the Health Visitor who actually advised me to make the switch. After months of midwives insisting it was the last resort, another healthcare professional actually recommended formula feeding. In 2 days by son put on 300g and had exceeded his birth weight. After this she said to me that I could decide what I did from here on in: breast, formula or combination. Mostly importantly she added “Whatever you decide, no harm will come to your baby.” The magic words.

“No harm will come to your baby.” And it hasn’t, he is such a happy healthy bundle of fun and light. He is the proof that formula is fine.

So, you know, if you don't give your baby breast milk, it's probably because you don't think they deserve the best start. Yeah, that'll be it.

So, you know, if you don’t give your baby breast milk, it’s probably because you don’t think they deserve the best start. Yeah, that’ll be it.

By all means promote breast-feeding. Educate those who don’t feel confident. Involve partners and provide support. This is all great stuff. But maybe, somewhere in all of this, remember that some women decide that breast is not best. Not in their circumstances. They don’t decide this out of ignorance or neglect. They aren’t lazy or uninformed. They still desire, and will maintain, a close bond with their child. So maybe somewhere amongst all the unnecessarily pushy advice there could be one small disclaimer: whatever you decide, no harm will come to your baby. 

Or how about this: Breast is best, but formula is fine! That is surely a research based slogan? Not sure the NHS will be adopting it any time soon though.

The way in which advice is delivered can have major psychological effects on mothers. Surely if I’ve noticed this then so has someone who can influence the way we provide parent education? The best gift you have give a baby is a happy mother; not one stripped of all confidence, feeling guilty and doubting herself. So maybe it’s time for a change. Who’s with me?

What was your experience of breast-feeding support? Wonderful? Terrible? Leave a comment below, go to my facebook page, or tweet me @aafew 

* I reckon this is probably not true.

** This is more likely to be true but, again, probably not.

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And then the fun began...