You Aren't Trying Hard Enough To Breastfeed
Over a month ago, I asked women to tell me their stories on #breastfeeding. I asked the following questions:
Has someone told you that you aren't trying hard enough? Why did they think that? What were you doing when they said that to you? Have you felt guilty which then resulted in you 'forcefully' feeding your baby (not in a way to hurt baby, but to feed them and hurting yourself - mums will know what I mean)
Have you ever heard these words?
How has it made you feel? Like you aren't doing the best for your baby or babies?
STOP. RIGHT. THERE.
I have no idea who you are, or even why you are reading this but YOU TRIED.
You bore sores and had painful nipples for weeks, from trying to feed your baby because someone told you, "You aren't trying hard enough". YOU TRIED!
You were kept awake every hour during the night, and found yourself in a terrible position on whether to keep your sanity as a new mum, or to go in that downward spiral you have heard many mothers doing because someone told you, "You aren't trying hard enough" YOU TRIED!
You have researched and researched why your baby isn't latching, and got yourself into such a tizzy because someone told you, "You aren't trying hard enough" YOU TRIED!
I understand that some women might find this triggering; but that is not my intention.
I want to know your #breastfeedingjourney - from that struggle, to finding what works best FOR YOU. That #youtried. And show other mummies, locally and internationally, that it doesn't matter if they continued to breastfeeding after trial and tribulation, or tried an alternative that worked for them, that they tried.
Every woman's journey through motherhood is unique, special and should be celebrated no matter what. Sharing your stories with me will no doubt help, encourage and support other mummies and spread awareness, so that they feel like they aren't alone. And there is plenty of local support available - scroll to the bottom to read about what is available for you!
Here are a few things that were mentioned...
Breastfeeding and Family Members
Rosie, from the UK, said: "With my little boy it was a bank holiday so no breastfeeding support in the hospital. I really wanted to but the midwives pushed a top up formula feed as said he was a “sleepy baby” as he’d feed then fall asleep and they were worried he want getting enough. Unfortunately they said this when my in-laws were there and from then on they also pressured me to formula feed saying it’d be easier and nice for my partner to be able to feed our son. I continued to breastfeed but he did have a top up formula feed as I really just wanted to be let home (after 3 days in hospital). When we got home I continued to attempt to breastfeed but was in a lot of pain every time I fed, and also my baby was getting very upset at every feed all my midwife said was he has a good latch and to keep trying then top up with formula. After about 3 weeks of painfully continuing to combination feed, feeling pressure from in laws and being in pain I “gave up” and my son was eventually put on prescribed dairy free formula. I now understand that my diet can effect my milk and know how and where to access breastfeeding support so with baby no 2 I’m determined to breastfed and now feel stronger to ignore in-laws ‘support’ as I still feel guilty “giving up” feeding my son and feel we missed out on that special bonding experience."
NCT have suggested a few pointers for friends and family members, who want to support these mummies but not sure how, such as offering to help by making mummy a cup of tea or her lunch; offering to go on a walk with her or allowing her to have that time to learn what baby wants or needs; offering to go to a local breastfeeding-friendly cafe or restaurant (which thankfully a lot of cafes and restaurants have signposted that they promote breastfeeding).
Breastfeeding is a choice for mummies, and shouldn't be pushed nor should it go unsupported. There are various groups available that can help support you and your baby's needs, so never feel you are alone in this journey!
Breastfeeding to Formula
Ana, from the UK, said: "With my first, nothing ever came out and my son wasn't interested in feeding at all. They even tried to hand express from me which was incredibly painful and I didn't want to do it again so I caved and fed him formula. I never had to dry up and not even a single drop ever came from me. With my second, I don't know what happened but she made me bleed and it was so painful even after a week so I gave in a fed her formula too. I could've been successful with my third but due to financial difficulty had to return to work 5 weeks after she was born and couldn't bring myself to even try to express after the first time a nurse tried to so I gave in and formula fed her too!"
From Ana's account, she found that formula was best for her baby, and I'm sure there are a lot of mummies reading this thinking, "I fed my baby with formula milk because of this very reason." Mummies should be supported no matter what why they choose to feed their baby. And the BBC wrote an empowering article about how the Royal College of Midwives released a statement in 2018 stating that mummies need to be support, especially if they have been given the advice and support for breastfeeding and have chosen to bottle feed using formula milk. The article states that bottle feeding is a woman's right.
Mummies should not feel guilty for how they choose to feed their baby, and there is a lot to say on this topic but all in all, you are feeding your baby with formula milk for a reason; a reason that does not need explained to friends or family or anyone you come in contact with. This is your choice. And that should be respected.
Breastfeeding and Unnecessary Pressure
Katy, from the UK, said: "I had issues with this with my first. I was in hospital for a week and felt completely out of control with making choices on feeding. Breastfeeding was agony as the baby had a really strong latch and I was recovering from sepsis. No one offered help other than to say he was latched on and feeding well and to keep going. I wasn't listened to at all. Eventually I just ignored them all and gave him formula for a few days and it was heavenly, but I was scared I'd get told off every time a nurse/midwife came to check baby, and was trying to hide how I was feeding. It was much easier once I got home and my milk came in, and I was able to try again, but already had a negative relationship with breastfeeding and just didn't enjoy it. I had a great supply and found it easy but that first week just totally put me off and I gave up."
Again I want to emphasise that all mummies should be listened to, and be heard. A mummy shouldn't have to hide what she is doing. The Royal College of Midwives stated in their Position Statement for Infant Feeding that "As with other areas of maternity care, midwives and maternity support workers should promote informed choice." This has been previously mentioned, and when I have spoken with many mummies, and other birth workers, midwives and birth teams have been very supportive before and after the birth of baby, when it comes to breastfeeding. There are support groups available for those who have maybe had a negative breastfeeding experience like this, and additional postnatal support from Doulas as well as Lactation Consultants if you wish to try breastfeeding again with your next baby.
Breastfeeding and Painful Nipples
Emma, mum of two girls, said: "I was made to feel like this with my first whilst in hospital. I was told I needed to try harder to breastfeed, try harder to hand express into syringes or my baby wouldn't thrive or gain the weight he needed and would need to be topped up with formula. This was something that I was really anxious to avoid due to personal preference. I did feel guilty and was in a lot of pain with feeding. I had blisters, cut and bleeding cut nipples. It was horrible and I cried so much from pain and frustration that I couldn't do what I should be able to do so easily. Eventually, we worked things out and I fed him until 19 months when I was around 22 weeks pregnant. With my 6 week old daughter, things are now a lot better though they did start off with a lot of frustration, pain and crying again!"
Like Emma, many mummies are encouraged and supported to continue breastfeeding as much as they can. BUT it is important for mummy to have that additional support if she is wanting to breastfeed but physically can't because of the pain, so that mummy knows what her choices and options are. NCT, a valuable source that I love referring to, has shared the causes for painful nipples and that mummies can try and continue breastfeeding with additional support from consultants or counselling, and learning to breastfeed baby in the correct position and ensuring baby is latching on fully. Please remember that I have provided details of support available at the bottom of the page, so you are not alone if this is happening to you right now.
Breastfeeding in Northern Ireland, Your Second Home
Evita, mum of three girls, said, "Struggle is real for some mummies. I'm always a believer that mums should go with what's best for them and their child - not going with what feels right for them at that time. Breastfeeding isn't for everyone whatever the reason. I come from a country where breastfeeding is no problem in public; whereas here, I faced different challenges and felt looked down on when I was breastfeeding..like an alien..."
You might be a new mummy reading this quote from another mummy, who was born outside of the UK, and thinking, "I am getting the same reaction from the public." Breastfeeding has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is not a new 'cult' women have taken up. It is not a 'modern way of thinking'. Women should have the right to feed their baby, wherever they want, without being judged and without having others comment on her nationality. Unicef blogged a guest post from a breastfeeding counsellor Emma Pickett, who shared some amazing stories of how mummies have overcame their fear for breastfeeding in public, without feeling intimidated so that they can feed baby in comfort - it's worth reading!
Breastfeeding with Lots of Support
Linda, mum of four boys, said, "It's the opposite for me, amongst my friends and family I'm the only one who chose to breastfeed so I had a moan about being tired etc. I've always been encouraged to quit. With feeding past year, I'm constantly asked 'oh you're still feeding?' At the moment, my youngest is 14 months nearly and I am EXHAUSTED, as he feeds so much at night! I'm currently trying to cut those feeds out and honestly I've never been more supported, it's quite hilarious. I've never felt pressure into breastfeeding but definitely unsupported with my choice, especially with long term feeding..."
Exhaustion is one of the many reasons why mummies give up on breastfeeding, and they shouldn't feel guilty for stopping. The Guardian interviewed five mummies and shared their view on the "unrealistic pressure" they received from breastfeeding. That expectation to keep going, even though it resulted in a 'haunting experience' for one mummy. But one mummy stressed the importance of her husband's support and peer support, and how it encouraged her to seek treatment for her baby's health issues. One mummy said, "Breastfeeding advice should be considerate and in support of the mother so that family can help her and she doesn’t give up through sheer exhaustion, which a few of my friends have done."
Breastfeeding and Mum's Mental Health
Ashley, mum of five girls, said, "I probably kept going for so long and through so much because I was afraid of what people would say 'oh she quit already, she did not try'... instead I got a lot of 'you're still feeding?!' after a year... But I fed through gall stones, surgery, pregnancy, depression, anxiety and twins... I wanted to quit so many times and just have a break. But, [being] under a lot of [pressure], I was afraid of letting my baby down and the disappointment of my health professionals."
Not only do mummies get asked why they 'give' up so early, there is the scenario that may arise when women will be asked, "Why are you still breastfeeding?" Breastfeeding for longer has many benefits for babies including providing immunity from some illnesses, and also providing various nutrients and vitamins. Breastfeeding for longer also gives you a boost of oxytocin and prolactin (two amazing and feel-good hormones), helping you feel more comfortable and calm when nursing your baby, whether it be at home or out in public. So even if you decide to continue breastfeeding, especially after several hurdles like Ashley, there are plenty of support groups available, so that you can carry on feeding your baby without feeling like they are getting too old; there will be support there for when you and your baby feel it's time to wean off the boob; and, there will be support for when breastfeeding completely stops, whenever that this!
I hope this long, but interesting article has been helpful to some of you, and it only covers a tiny fraction of the issues women face daily with breastfeeding. Here are a list of Northern Ireland's support networks available to mums breastfeeding!
NCT Breastfeeding Support NI / @NCTBFNI
NCT Breastfeeding Counsellors based in Northern Ireland. Contact us for one to one support through this page.
Breastfeeding Support Groups - SHSCT Area
Locations include Portadown, Banbridge, Markethill, Coalisland, Newry Sure Start, South Armagh Sure Start, Lurgan, Dungannon, Clogher, Kilkeel
Breastfed Babies - Breastfeeding Support Groups
Find locations that welcome breastfeeding, and also have support groups
La Leche League NI / @LLLNI
LLL groups in N.I. (Part of LLL Ireland) Helping mothers to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education.
Mammae Online Breastfeeding Program
Fully comprehensive tool to prepare you for breastfeeding and to help you through the early days and weeks.
Rebecca Scott-Pillai, IBCLC
Rebecca is a qualified IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), which is considered as the “gold standard” in breastfeeding support, allowing her to explore more complex breastfeeding problems and offer tailor-made solutions which perhaps other health care professionals, doulas, and breastfeeding counsellors, aren’t aware of.
Breast Friends N.I. I.C.I
A CIC set up by Oonagh Kelly to support mothers who wish to breastfeed their babies, alongside educational workshops, 1-2-1 Support, Group Support & Postnatal Doula’s available.
Breastfeeding in Northern Ireland - Public Page / @BreastfeedinginNI
A page and group to celebrate breastfeeding life in Northern Ireland
Mid Ulster MUMS Breastfeeding Support
Mid Ulster Breastfeeding Peer Support Volunteers are a group of mothers who have all breastfed at least one baby and completed an extensive breastfeeding training course. All our volunteers are enthusiastic about breastfeeding but understand the challenges that breastfeeding can bring about.
Mid Ulster MUMS are all registered volunteers with GOLD Community Partnership Surestart and undergo intensive training to support mothers on their breastfeeding journey. We provide a phone service, offering friendly empathic support to mothers on their journey as well as providing peer support in the local breastfeeding groups. Why not check out our website for further details of who we are.