Breastfeeding – backlashes and anti-backlashes

From the vantage point of having a 28 month old, and having stopped breastfeeding when he was 9 months old, I guess I am probably a bit forgetful about the experience. I do know that I am very positive about breastfeeding, if it works for you. But I also saw many friends, committed mothers all, struggle with it. The anguish they suffered at not being able to do something they really, really wanted to was very moving. Much of what they felt was guilt. And it’s this guilt inducing aspect that puts me off much of the pro-breastfeeding messages I hear.

I completely appreciate that breastfeeding is good for babies. And can be cuddly, gorgeous and convenient (when working well) for mums too. I also know that so much of our cultural and societal pressures are against breastfeeding. It’s important that there is a positive pro-breastfeeding voice. But this does sometimes feel quite zealous and unbending and not very practical for the pressures mums face.

Would I breastfeed again should I have another little one? Almost definitely I intend to try. Would I breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue to do almost all other feeds, including all night feeds, for three months beyond that? Probably not. I found the first year with Bub delightful in many ways (including the joys of breastfeeding him.) But I also exhausted myself in a way I’d never have imagined beforehand. I found it almost impossible to ask for or accept help. And part (only part) of this was down to my zeal about exclusively breastfeeding him. I am not sure I can, or want, to put myself through that again. And this probably means being ok with a mixed feeding approach much earlier. And ok with myself for doing so.

This post was inspired by this article on breastfeeding by Zoe Williams in the Guardian. I used to love to read her tales of life with her baby whilst I was TTC. I find it refreshing to read something that tries to step above the ‘definitely, unbendingly pro’ or ‘definitely, unbendingly anti’ viewpoints.

A number of commentators have said that, in fact, the right to breastfeed was a victory for feminism, in wresting the care of their babies from a professional, medicalised elite. Others have conceded that the struggle for perfection and unanimity in any direction – towards breastfeeding or away from it – is necessarily bad for women, removing their personal agency.

This is the nub of the issue for me I think. It’s great that breastfeeding has been championed and is a real choice for many women. But the perfectionism that is present in some (only some) attachment parenting approaches can make already challenging situations impossible and lead to inevitable feelings of guilt.

In terms of the perceived benefits for the child I found it very interesting that Zoe Williams highlights meta studies on breastfeeding that show that:

“Breastfeeding cannot be distinguished from the decision to breastfeed, which could represent a more comprehensive commitment to healthy living.” It’s a self-selecting sample, a phrase that is a foreign language in the world of early-years intervention.

What do you think about the nature of the debate on breastfeeding? Do issues of guilt about our choices or perceived failings affect our ability to consider the issue? Or do we need a strong and unbendingly pro breastfeeding message to break through societal pressures against?

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One Response to “Breastfeeding – backlashes and anti-backlashes”

  1. Bye bye to the breast, hello to the bottle | Don't wake the baby! Says:

    […] In searching out my links on this page I found a post I wrote about eighteen months ago about the pressure women can feel to breastfeed and some of…. Perhaps worth a re-post in full […]

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