At my last visit to the midwife, she waxed lyrical over my assertion that I plan to breastfeed Keiki as I did Humuhumu for the first six months, tapering off once I went back to work and switching to the bottle. I found myself getting deeply uncomfortable as she carried on talking and became more obviously comfortable extolling the benefits of breastfeeding over bottle-feeding. I distinctly felt as though she were trying to make me feel somehow superior to someone who replied, “No, I plan to bottle-feed from the start,” and I did not enjoy the experience.
It reminded me of the NCT* classes we took before Humuhumu was born two years ago. We have made some good local friends from the classes, so overall I was pleased with the outcome, but there was one portion of it that I loathed: the breastfeeding session. It was held on a Tuesday evening, and we sat for 2.5 hours listening to a woman bang on about the gloriousness of breastfeeding. When we asked if any information about bottle-feeding was to be presented, she reacted not quite with horror, but certainly with disapproval, and ultimately refusal.
Of the eight sets of parents in that NCT group, two of us ended up breastfeeding our babies. (One very determined mother couldn’t get her baby to latch, but she pumped milk for five and a half months, every four hours, and bottle-fed her little girl. I don’t like to imagine how exhausting that must have been.) All the rest ended up bottle-feeding, and found it their stress levels elevated because of the lack of information and encouragement given in our classes. In my opinion, everyone in our class should have been given a checklist of the size and number of bottles that would be needed, the type of teats to use, sterilisation techniques and a quick tutorial on measuring and mixing formula. Figuring all that out on the fly when the need became immediate was terrible for the new mums in my group, especially the ones who had difficult births and were very unwell in the early days.
I am not a big fan of using ignorance, scorn and guilt as tactics to force people into a certain course of action. I consider this to be pretty clear (albeit anecdotal) evidence of why that doesn’t work.
My own experience with breastfeeding was not all sunshine and roses. The first two weeks were a nightmare. Humuhumu didn’t know how to latch properly at first and the damage her little mouth did in the first few days took some time to heal. I was in excruciating pain. I very nearly gave up and switched to bottle-feeding until I discovered Lansinoh (lanolin cream). It became easier after I’d healed, but it is still no picnic being the one who has to wake up at least twice a night for weeks in order to feed the baby, with no help from your partner**. Nor is it fun working out how to breastfeed in public. It takes practise to do it discreetly, and even if you are nicely covered you still get people glaring at you. Because despite the pressure to breastfeed because of its benefits (most of which are both temporary and slight), no one actually wants to see a woman doing it, so we should all stay at home until our children are weaned. Slow-clap for society on that one.
I was also absurdly lucky in that Humuhumu began to sleep through the night at two months. (I tend to keep this fact to myself, as it often elicits disbelief and rage from other new parents.)
There are enough pressures on new parents to do exactly the right things for their children in order to raise them in the best and healthiest manner possible. I’m tired of seeing people judge one another for their choice of breast v bottle. Judgy person, you have no idea why a mother at the cafe is bottle-feeding her child instead of breastfeeding. Maybe that’s pumped breast milk because her nipples are really sore. Maybe her newborn was tongue-tied and couldn’t latch. Maybe she went three continuous weeks without more than an hour of sleep a night. Maybe she’s on medication that enters her bloodstream and could be harmful to the baby. Maybe she had to go back to work as soon as possible to support her new family. Maybe her boobs blew off in a typhoon. Maybe it’s none of your damned business.
* National Childbirth Trust, which offers classes for clueless middle-class career people in how to look after an infant after a couple of decades of selfishness. They don’t advertise that way but that’s effectively what they are.
** I hasten to point out that this is not necessarily because Partner is unwilling to help, but because it makes more sense for Partner to get some sleep and be able to take care of things like cooking and cleaning and holding down their job.