I gave birth to my first child when I was 27. Not young, but I was definitely uneducated about birth.
I had my convictions. I knew I wanted to breastfeed and birth naturally – but these statements were always followed with “If I can…”
Why did I, and do countless other women today feel the need to caveat those statements? Is it to safeguard ourselves against failure?
Why do we even think that we may fail?
We have NO reason to think that we can’t do these things, yet we are surrounded by media, environments and “role” models which tell us otherwise.
These things, on some level, all prepare us for failure. This is why baby formula companies aren’t allowed to advertise, have you noticed that? It’s always ‘toddler’ formula which you see advertised, because they’re not allowed to advertise for infant formula.
I birthed my first child in hospital, she latched immediately after birth and fed for a few hours. No one was concerned, I was doing it.
That night, I was placed into a shared ward, as I entered the room with my crying baby I heard the only other woman in the room say into her phone “oh great, well I was alone but not anymore” – her baby was in the NICU. I felt for her, but her presence and her comment made me nervous.
Soon after arriving, my husband and my mum had to leave. I was left alone, with a baby and a woman I didn’t know. I’d never held a baby before in my life. It was definitely uncharted waters for me.
Later that night, Wren was fussing and I couldn’t get her to feed. She was mucousy, I was in pain and exhausted and we were alone. It was shit.
After a few hours of fighting sleep in the chair with Wren in my arms, I called the nurses. I needed help. I needed a break. They tried to help me express colostrum, they tried to get Wren to feed but she wouldn’t.
That. Is. Normal.
If only someone had told me that that night. Instead, I was offered baby formula to “help her sleep” and give me some rest. The midwife left, with my baby, and came back an hour or so later with a sleeping baby after I’d had some rest.
She’d given her some baby formula and then mentioned that I should go to the breastfeeding class at 8am the next morning.
Okay, now I was confused.
What if, instead of immediately offering formula as a magical potion to “help her sleep” and allow a new mother to get some rest, what if I was offered advice, support and real information to support me on my breastfeeding journey?
If one of the midwives had of told me that Wren’s crying was normal, I would have dealt with it and that would have been it.
For me, giving Wren formula that night didn’t discourage me from breastfeeding, but the seed had definitely been planted.
I can see how this same story, for another woman, might have solidified to her that formula would help her baby sleep and allow her to get some rest. I can see how a woman, surviving on little sleep and receiving little support, would grasp onto this with both hands.
I can see that. I get that.
But the same woman may just thrive with a bit of support and education.
Encounters like this fuel the doubts we have in our minds that appear seemingly out of nowhere. Encounters like this plant a seed in our minds. A seed that grows into doubt of our own bodies, before we have even walked the road to know or find out for ourselves.
Before even birthing or breastfeeding a baby myself I had doubts that I could do it. Because I had heard of women “needing” c sections and “needing” to feed their babies formula because they couldn’t feed them themselves.
We need to spread stories of success and provide support to new mothers to help them on the paths they choose.
Our hospitals are meant to promote and advocate for breastfeeding – but they offer formula to babies within 12 hours of birth.
Do not underestimate the power of support. Studies have shown that women with a support network with positive attitudes towards breastfeeding have much more success in their breastfeeding journeys than women with little to no support.
This support can start in our hospitals.
I was lucky. I had supportive family who had breastfed their own babies, a husband who knew it meant something to me and helped me through the tough nights and an online support network who I could lean on and ask questions of when I was really going through a dark time.
And there are dark times, breastfeeding is hard. I hate reading that breastfeeding isn’t meant to hurt, because it hurt for me for 12 long weeks and every day I doubted whether I was doing it right. Even though my baby was showing all signs of thriving and I had no other reason to doubt myself.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a hard time in their breastfeeding journey, or even if you know someone who is pregnant and wanting to breastfeed, send them to the Australian Breastfeeding Association for some great resources and support circles to help them on their way. Find a reputable lactation consultant, ask around.
This message is not an attack on formula feeding mothers. I hate that I have to put a disclaimer on breastfeeding talk. I love breastfeeding, I am a breastfeeding advocate and subscribe to the view that it is better for you and for your baby than formula. But, that is based in fact and science, not personal opinion. That is not intended to shame mothers who choose to formula feed their babies, I too have fed my babies formula when I needed to. I am not opposed to it, but I know that breastfeeding is better for us both.