Both of my children have been great feeders from the word go; my eldest naturally night weaned at 9 months and then lost interest completely at 14 months after a couple of months of drastically cutting down despite my best efforts to encourage her to keep going. And my youngest and I went through a little bit of nursing thrush in the early days but nothing particularly dramatic. No weight gain issues; no post-partum depression; no biting problems; no mastitis. Nothing. So, what don’t I like about it?
The honest answer is that there are many reasons. The main issue for me is that I am a very sensitive person. I feel pain more intensely than most and general sensations are more obvious in my body. So it’s easy for me to become touched out and to want my space. Beyond this, breastfeeding can be quite limiting at times. It’s a hugely bonding experience, one that is worth every single second of discomfort in fact. I would not trade the closeness I have with my babies, or their level of attachment for anything. But I am only human when I sometimes think I would like to go out for an evening with my friends, or to go on a date with my wonderful partner or to walk into town and back without having to break out the sling for a feed-a-thon. Granted, my little lady is quite the milk monster, but a quick search of Google shows that I’m not alone in having these thoughts. I’m also not alone in struggling with needing my space now and then. But, why do I feel so guilty?
I’ve talked a lot about parenting in isolation and the demise of the sisterhood and it’s something that I think has particularly interesting implications here. Once upon a time, before our lives revolved around working in menial jobs making rich people richer in order to simply survive; before a night out filling our bodies with poisons was the ultimate way to relax and socialise; before our families lived hundreds of miles away with only the odd text or weekly Skype conversation connected us… not only were we helping each other more and raising our children as a community, we were also breastfeeding them as a community.
Communal breastfeeding is something that divides opinion in the modern world. From concerns over diseases and hygiene to possessive feelings over our babies and worrying they’ll form attachments to other women, feeding each other’s babies is not something we see a lot of. The birth of the Human Milk 4 Human Babies community on facebook has, however, seen a sharp increase in the number of women seeking donor milk rather than turning to formula. Nevertheless, actually nursing another child’s baby is a rarely seen thing. So much so that, when we do hear about it, it is something of a circus show.
These sorts of reservations, whilst sadly normal in the modern context of breastfeeding, are likely a large part of what is harming breastfeeding rates so drastically.
I am quite proud to be able to push through my feelings when I find myself stressed or overwhelmed, but I’m no martyr. Some women just can’t do it and I’d be willing to bet it’s a big factor in why most women give up on it. Breastfeeding, even for those with a stronger constitution, is no walk in the park. If we take on the burden so completely, whilst also taking on the vast majority of the child-raising, is it really a surprise when women begin to sleepily fantasize about bottles of formula as they cast an eye over their peacefully sleeping husbands? Can we really condemn women who find themselves feeling isolated in a world that makes it so easy to take the easy way out?
I think we might be surprised to learn that even the most passionate breast feeders might just be harming their cause by not only failing to address their personal issues surrounding communal nursing, but also the kind of pressure that this could place onto the shoulders of those who really are struggling to find a way through.
What if not liking breastfeeding is normal now, simply because we weren’t meant to do it all by ourselves?