Societies in which I’ve lived, which are located on the Western hemisphere, put various different pressures and unreal expectations on an individual. Today, I am going to talk about breastfeeding, as that has been the issue with which I’ve had to deal these past few years. Everyone – from hospital staff, parents, friends, relatives and even neighbours, seems to have very strong opinions when it comes to breastfeeding often shaming a mother, pointing out that she must be doing something wrong, if she is not using this method of feeding exclusively. However, not one of these can offer USEFUL advice on how to tackle this; how to get your milk flowing, how to get the baby to properly latch on, how to produce enough milk. A mother is usually left to her own devices, and I personally went to the hell and back with my first baby. I was told that he should only feed every 3 hours. When I asked what to do if he cries in between, asking to nurse, the answer I got was to not let him. NOT LET HIM?? Seriously? How the fuck do you NOT let a baby eat when he wants? Back then, I was convinced that it was me who was doing something wrong, that I clearly didn’t have enough milk if it couldn’t keep him satisfied for at least 2.5 hours, but now I understand that the approach itself was wrong. Of course, I never NOT LET my baby not eat. I don’t even know how one would do that? What sort of an idiotic, misinformed advice was that? I have to say that I was given advice by the people I trusted: the pediatrician, the retired pediatric nurse (that’s the person who takes care of newborns at the labour ward), and my cousin who was able to do this with her babies. I don’t blame my cousin. Our approaches to parenting are different in essence, as she is more of a militant type in that way. Also, what’s more important, her babies were different, not actually asking to nurse as often. This is a very good example of how one thing will not work for everyone.
I also have to stress that this sort of idea that baby should feed only every 3 hours can be found everywhere, especially in literature, including the famous The What To Expect books. Both, dedicated to Expecting and the Baby’s First Year, are utter crap books, which filled me with anxiety, rather than answer my doubts.
Additionally, while I was still pregnant, I attended the so called Maternity School at my local Health center. The classes were designed to prepare us for labour – and this part was excellent – but the nurses also talked about the post natal period, and taking care of the newborn. Very little was said on the subject of breastfeeding, except for the fact that the baby should be fed every 3 hours.
When my little one was finally born, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I’d let him nurse, then I’d express, as I was instructed (both to prevent a clog, and to make sure more milk was made), but then the baby would be hungry again like half an hour or 45 minutes later, and I didn’t have enough milk to give him (duh!). So I would heat up the expressed milk and give him that, but I would also give him formula from time to time, because I was convinced that I wasn’t producing enough milk. It was a terrible mess in the end, one that nearly made me lose my mind. All the while I berated myself for being a failure as a mother for giving into the baby’s urges to eat, for failing to prevent him from having them, and especially for giving him formula. Ridiculous, I know! That’s why before my second baby was born I decided to turn to friends and relatives whom I knew had taken a different approach to breastfeeding – feeding on demand, without expressing themselves (and without feeling guilty about doing this). I am immensely grateful to them. It’s because of their insight and advice that I am still able to breastfeed my five month old son. This time around I didn’t let anyone influence me with uninvited opinions, because I firmly believed that what I was doing was right. And that’s what it all comes down to – finding what parenting approach works for us individually, and for our babies. Being a mother of a small baby is hard enough without the whole wide world ganging up on you to point out all the things you are doing wrong. In the end, if the baby is happy, you aren’t really doing anything wrong.
I wish parenting schools talked more about this, because honestly, every friend I talked to has had a very similar experience to mine – not being prepared for the super important, immensely difficult task called breastfeeding. It’s possible to find some information on this on the web, but you have to know what you are looking for, which is a paradox in itself. For example, I hadn’t even heard of La Leche League movement (the milk league) until a friend told me about it. I personally suggest that all moms to be who want to breastfeed check out their website and find local support (I only discovered this too a couple of months ago), as their approach to feeding babies is much more up to date and realistic than anything else I had ever come across. Of course, it might not work for everyone, and that’s okay too.