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Life with Lavendar in London town

Friday, 20 May 2011

Breast is Best? Give it a Rest.

Like any other human being, I have faced many challenges in my life. Death of loved ones, financial concerns, health glitches and the end of favourite television sitcoms. When I became pregnant, I thought giving birth would be one of these challenges.

How wrong was I.

Not that birth was a walk in the park. It hurt like hell. I once read that it felt like being set on fire, torn in half, then being cut up in bits and chucked into a pool of piranhas. I've not had any first hand experience of the above but it sounds fairly accurate.

No, my Waterloo moment came when I started to breastfeed. Before stitching my nether regions, the midwife clamped Dragon onto my nipple whereupon she unleashed her Hooverish industrial strength suck. Twenty minutes later, I asked:

Erm, is it supposed to hurt?

Yes at first. But it will get better in a few minutes , was the reply. 

One week later, I was still waiting for better to happen. I'd not slept since labour, cried constantly and dreaded feeding Dragon for it had come to equal agony for me. As a result I did not enjoy being with Dragon in that week as I 'd come to associate her with pain and trauma. It was horrible.

What's wrong with me?  I worried constantly. Why don't I feel good about my baby?  Why isn't it working? Is it supposed to hurt this much? Am I going to get post natal depression at this rate?

The parade of midwives that visited me post-natally all had different faces but the same message:

Persevere. Breast is best.

A few days later I hit the wall. It was either me or the baby. Husband and I took matters into our own hands and hired a lactation consultant. It was friggin expensive but when I called her, she was the first health professional who listened to me. Actually no. She was the first one who actually heard what I was saying.

I can hear you are desperate, she said over the phone, I'll come as soon as I can. 

That was the beginning of my climb out of breastfeeding hell although it has not been an easy time. I've had laser treatment on my nipples. Mastitis visited me three times. Dragon was diagnosed with posterior tongue tie. I got thrush in the nipple and Dragon got it on her tongue which we both still have. I developed a bacterial infection in my milk ducts.

One of the stated benefits of breastfeeding is that it is inexpensive but for me to try and get a hang of it has cost a fortune. Probably the cost of formula for a year. Just the lactation consultant alone was £70 an hour. But I had no choice as there was nothing else available to me on the NHS.

The roll call of medication I've taken because of breastfeeding complications has included antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anti-fungal oral and topical treatment and paracetamol. A far cry from my pregnancy where nary a panadol crossed my lips for the entire nine months. The irony of this doesn't seem to filter down to the Breast is Best brigade who say:

The medication doesn't hurt the baby or the breastmilk.

But what about the mother? What about the effect of all these pills on her?

What about the I'm in Pain, Get this Baby Off Me position?

Because of my experience, I have learned more about breastfeeding than I ever desired to. I have spoken to and been seen by lactation consultants, breastfeeding counsellers, breastfeeding coordinators, breastfeeding pharmacists, personnel from the Breastfeeding Network and trained volunteers from the La Leche and NCT breastfeeding helplines.  So many people have looked at my boobs, nipples and latch that I am now more comfortable half naked with strangers than not.  From all these conversations and sessions I have drawn my own conclusions.

And that is the Breast is not always Best. And by that I mean breastfeeding. I do not mean breast milk which can have excellent benefits for the little one. But even this is contextual. After all, if the mum is taking in toxic substances or boozing it up or whatever, that isn't best at all.

The bond of intimacy created by breastfeeding between mum and bub is also only best if it is a positive experience for all. When I dreaded the sight of my daughter in the early days of breastfeeding, there was no constructive bonding going on.

Further to this, when Dragon started on the bottle and was fed by my Husband and my Mum, it created a bond between her and them that was special from an early age. After getting over my own ego of wanting to be The One and Only in my daughter's eyes, I fully appreciated how valuable it was that she be cared for by and trusting of others.  Like the saying goes, it takes a village....

The pressure on new mothers to breastfeed in the UK is immense. Whether it be direct pressure from midwives or lactation consultants who ignore the agony etched upon a new mother's face and only have one answer to all her entreaties (Breast is Best, Breast is Best)  or subliminal pressure such as being told things like, Imagine the discomfort of a cold, plastic teat in your baby's mouth as opposed to a nice , warm breast; it all serves to instill guilt in a new mother if she is not breastfeeding. It all serves to fuck her up!

As if she didn't have enough to deal with already.One lactation consultant suggested I find a pharmacist who would be willing to make up an ointment for me that duplicated a type sold in America but was not legal here to treat my nipple thrush as I'd had it for over a month.

Lady, I wanted to say, I have a newborn kid. I don't even finish a cup of coffee in the morning. I don't have time to find someone who will help me break the law.

The bulldozer approach is never going to win which is why the UK has such low breastfeeding statistics. There is insufficient support for women who run into problems in the first few weeks and so they give up. Or get trapped into a vicious cycle of complications and give up. It's all very well for the government to push breastfeeding as a message.  But with low resources invested in helping women establish it as a practice, the stats are going to stay low as there is nowhere to turn to when you run into trouble.  With Breast is Best continually shoved in their faces, new mothers will continue to suffer and feel guilty if they are unable to breastfeed.

It all makes me very angry and it's not just the post pregnancy hormones. The stress and pressure of breastfeeding robbed me of those early weeks with Dragon. I'll never get those first moments back. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have let breastfeeding take over the way it did post birth.

As for Dragon and I, we've got it all going on. Breast, bottle, boobmilk and formula. We're still finding our way but it WILL be our way and that's what's best for us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...




hope the upside becomes visible soon.