We reach the end of another ‘National Breastfeeding Week’ in the UK. I’m floating the idea of a new week… ‘National I Can’t Breastfeed Week’.
Breast is best. We know that. With all the campaigns, adverts and leaflets, it’s difficult not to know the benefit of breast milk. It’s been rammed down pregnant women’s throats from the very second a sperm found their egg.
I’ve got to the stage where I’ve finally had it with the huge pressure put upon mothers to breastfeed. And I want to write about it. I don’t want other women to feel as shit as I did when it comes to the simple process of feeding their own baby and if I help lessen the hell of bottle feeding guilt for just one mum, it’ll be worth divulging my most sensitive and personal secret to you all. So here goes…
Has it actually occurred to anyone within the pro-breast campaign that some ladies may not be physically able to breastfeed their child? It certainly didn’t seem like it when I was sitting in my prenatal class and the midwife called everyone forward to enrol in the next mandatory breastfeeding session. Now I realise this applies to the minority of women, but I actually fall into the category of physically not being able to breastfeed. So this mandatory course would be a complete waste of time for me, not to mention a massive kick in the teeth. “So why can’t you breastfeed?” is usually the invasive, blunt and quite frankly, rude question that follows my admission… Well, midwife/nosy fellow mums-to-be I’ve just met at my prenatal group, I have a condition called Poland Syndrome.
Never heard of Poland Syndrome? You’re not alone. However if I said the phrase ‘Beadle Hand’, many UK ladies would have an idea of what I’m talking about. Back in the 80’s/90’s there was this irritating TV presenter called Jeremy Beadle and he had a very small right hand. He was massively ripped for it and even now, people shrink their hands into their sleeve and wet themselves with laughter at mimicking him and creating the image of having disproportionate hands. Er, funny. Anyway, the official condition poor Beadle had was Poland Syndrome; a rare birth defect characterised by underdevelopment or absence of the chest muscle on one side of the body, and/or small and webbed fingers of the hand on one side of the body. Beadle had the hand version, but to my joy, I have the chest version. My right breast developed but not in a ‘regular’ shape; my left breast didn’t develop at all. It was quite simply a nipple and that was it. You can imagine how amazing I felt as a self-conscious teenager. My mum literally saved my life by padding out my left bra cup for my developing years. When we realised nothing was going to change, my parents amazingly stepped up and paid for me to have surgery. I ended up having an implant in the left breast, reshaping of the right, and both breasts had the nipples removed and sewn back into a new position. Obviously they tried to reconnect everything that should be connected to a female nipple, but there was no guarantee.
This brings me back to breastfeeding. Throughout my pregnancy, my breasts didn’t change. They didn’t increase in size and it certainly didn’t seem like they were producing milk. I therefore had to make peace with the fact that I had to bottle feed my baby from the start. This should of been a guilt-free moment for me but I cannot express how terrible I felt at the prospect of not being able to give my baby ‘the best start in life’. The judgmental looks I received when I told people I couldn’t breastfeed made me blurt out the aforementioned at any opportunity and that’s so wrong. Why should I have to justify the way I choose to feed my baby to others? Formula has been specifically designed by scientists to provide all the essential nutrients babies need to develop and thrive into healthy, happy little people. Formula wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t a safe option, so it is beyond annoying that we are interrogated for choosing this over breast.
The combination of yet another celebrity mum endorsing boob products that keep her ‘doing the best for her child’, in addition to a week of yet more breast milk worship led by health organisations, healthcare professionals and the perfect parent police, and I snapped. So let’s just take a moment to highlight just some reasons I can think of which may prevent a Mum from breastfeeding:
- She may have undergone breast surgery
- She may need to receive radiation therapy or chemotherapy
- Her baby could have a rare metabolic condition known as Galactosemia (my brother in law has this)
- She may suffer from a chronic illnesses and her health may suffer as a result
- She may have an infection requiring antibiotics which are harmful to the baby. Let’s not forget women who may have a more serious, existing infection (HIV, human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II or untreated, active tuberculosis)
- She may end up suffering from post-birth complications
And then we have the mothers that try to breastfeed. Really, heartbreakingly try. It brings tears to my eyes when I think about the amount of wonderful mums who have had breakdowns over the struggles with breastfeeding.
- Lactation issues; sore nipples, engorged breasts, mastitis, leaking milk, pain, and failure of the baby latching on.
- Insufficient milk supply
- Post natal depression
- Working mums and the practically of breastfeeding
- And let’s not forget, some women just hate the feeling of it.
I’m sure I’ve missed a million other reasons too.
Ladies, it’s hard enough that we’ve just spent 9 months developing a human being inside us and then we push our body to the limit by birthing them, naturally or by c-section. We’re exhausted. We’re in pain. We’ve just discovered a whole new hormone surge we never knew existed.
So please, Breast Brigade, can you just cut us some slack?
We know that in an ideal world, breastfeeding our baby is the best way forward.
Stop with the judgement and pressure when it can’t or doesn’t happen.