It's the last day of World Breastfeeding Week today (as I post this it's literally the last few minutes!). I didn't know whether to comment on it at all as breastfeeding seems such a controversial subject these days. I'm not quite sure when something so ordinary and natural became such a delicate thing to talk about. It's certainly a hot topic for debate these days. But for all the constant discussion about it, have things really progressed and improved in the last 26 years since I first became a mum? I'm not sure they have.
All of my children have been breastfed for varying lengths of time from a few days (the twins) to 15 months (Milly). I am currently breastfeeding Luna and plan to continue for at least six months and probably beyond. Breastfeeding is not always easy, particularly in the early weeks and I certainly had several days this time around when I was stressed out and dreading every painful feed and just wanted to give up. Fortunately, past experience meant that I knew it would get easier and so I stuck with it. Not only is my breast milk tailor made for Luna it's also a whole lot more convenient than formula feeding! (Yes, part of the reason I prefer to breastfeed is actually because I'm too lazy to prepare bottles!)
Yesterday I was breastfeeding Luna in a not particularly family friendly restaurant and I felt a bit uncomfortable. In exactly the same way I felt a bit uncomfortable breastfeeding Jess in public when I was a 17 year old mum nearly 26 years ago. Of course I've never felt so uncomfortable that I stopped breastfeeding, I am a determined breastfeeder and babies need feeding whenever and wherever so I've always just got on with it. I think it's understandable to feel a little bit self conscious as for most of us it's not really the norm to flash your boobs when out in public. I've come to realise that it's not really the end of the world if someone gets a brief glimpse of nipple though, if it upsets them then it's more their problem than mine. Most of the time it's easy to be pretty discreet and people around me probably don't even realise I'm breastfeeding half of the time.
But these days I think there is a big difference. These days I feel equally uncomfortable (if not more so) if I give Luna a bottle of expressed milk when I am out. I feel like I want a big sign above my head saying 'it's ok, it's breast milk in this bottle'
How is it possible that I now feel uncomfortable albeit in different ways for both breast feeding and bottle feeding?
I really hate the controversy that now surrounds breastfeeding. That being pro-breastfeeding is somehow seen as judging mums who bottle feed. And that bottle feeding mums feel they have to be apologetic for giving their child formula. If I'm absolutely honest, I don't really get why some mums don't at least give breastfeeding a go, but if they don't want to and instead choose to formula feed then that's entirely up to them. Or if they choose to mix it up and do both, also fine. And if they try to breastfeed and it doesn't work out for various reasons then thank goodness for formula. It's not the poison the extreme pro-breastfeeders would have us believe and formula fed babies are healthy and thrive exactly the same as their breastfed counterparts.
Yes, we all know theoretically that breast is best but I also know kale is better for my kids than fish fingers but there's no chance of them eating kale so sometimes fish fingers it is. Honestly, fed is best. Let's not stress over it.
When I was a first time mum there was no extreme pressure to breastfeed. New mums were told breastfeeding was best of course, but their decision either way was respected. It felt like no-one judged. Mixed feeding was fine and in many cases was the middle ground that actually helped mums continue to breastfeed for longer (the 'nipple confusion' that everyone likes to frighten us with now wasn't mentioned, it was a total non-issue).
I am not sure that the recent headlines, the breastfeeding protests and the constant discussion has actually helped mums. Constantly talking about 'normalising breastfeeding' is all well and good, it is totally natural and normal after all (which – I feel the need to clarify – doesn't mean that formula feeding is unnatural or abnormal!) but in my experience the general attitudes to breastfeeding have always been pretty positive and I have never had any issues from others when breastfeeding in public (other than perhaps the odd disapproving glance that I don't worry about). The only difference is that now there is a backlash, an underlying message to formula feeding mums that they are somehow failing their babies and should feel guilty. As if our own mum guilt over numerous things isn't bad enough.
Do we really need the constant discussion? I have seen quite a few signs in cafes recently declaring themselves 'breastfeeding friendly' but surely mums shouldn't need this to feel able to feed their babies (although I do think these signs may be aimed at anyone inclined to disapprove as much as mums who need to feed their babies). The bottom line is, babies need feeding, end of. So let's just feed them. Breast, bottle or both. No judging, no drama.
I actually have very few photos of me breastfeeding but I got Mr T to take this snap earlier when I stopped to feed Luna while we waited for our River Mersey ferry!