Guest Post - Sarah Turner of The Informed Family: Why I care that women can breastfeed...and why I don’t judge you if you aren’t
By now, I hope you’ve all read the wonderful Ruth’s blog [Ruth edit: apologies for the self-aggrandising content!] on the misconceptions of what a doula is, does, will think and will act over on my blog. This post, the reciprocal, is the infant feeding edition if you will.
There is an epidemic in this country - in all western countries, so I understand it - of women having “not enough milk”. Every first time mum I meet at some point thinks, or is told, that maybe she just isn’t producing enough milk to sustain her baby(ies).
This crisis, on the whole, is one of our society’s invention.
And this is why I care about women being able to breastfeed.
Over 80% of women in the UK initiate breastfeeding after birth. It’s naive to say “that’s over 80% of women who actively wanted to breastfeed exclusively to at least 6 months!” but, you know, that many women fed their baby at least once. By 6 weeks, only 24% of babies in England are exclusively breastfed. By 6 months? 1%.
What the hell happens?
Breastfeeding is a societal skill. Mums need the support of those around them to understand how to do it.
I had never seen breastfeeding in the flesh when I was expected to do it day and night, for months on end, all by myself. My mother did not breastfeed me. My friends did not have babies of their own.
That’s what happens. Unless you find a way of informing yourself to the eyeballs, you are likely being set up for failure.
This is why I will offer all the support and information and (tough) love and care and cups of tea and tissues to women who want to breastfeed. It is hard (maybe the hardest thing you’ll do), and if you’re not surrounded by it before you need to do it, you need to have it normalised for you.
At the same time, if you don’t want to breastfeed, that is not my decision to make. Doesn’t mean I won’t offer you all the help and support you need, though.
What I want for you is to have the right parenting experience for you. And if the experience that feels right to you, once you’ve considered it thoroughly with unbiased evidence, is not to breastfeed, or to mixed feed, then I’m over the moon you’ve made a decision that works. I’ll be delighted to support you through that journey.
Right now, in this country, given cuts to local support groups, where my support adds its most value is in catching and assisting those families who wanted to breastfeed, but who are finding it overwhelmingly hard with no informed support, and so are on a course to give up. Or those parents who decide to mixed feed without being given decent information on how to achieve that without losing milk supply.
In those cases - where people end up giving up on breastfeeding before they wanted to - there is more at stake than how their baby is fed. In the UK, where we have regulations on food safety, clean water, the ability to boil a kettle and sterilise formula powder, formula is not the dangerous alternative that it might be in other places.
Aside from the numerous benefits associated with breastfeeding for both mum and baby (we all know them, I’m not going to spell them out again), a failed breastfeeding relationship can be disastrous for a mother’s perception of herself. It can lead to guilt or trauma on a personal level, and resentment and bitterness more generally. No-one deserves to go through this (or be on the receiving end of it, either).
So again, I say: if you actively decide to stop breastfeeding, or introduce some formula in a sustainable mix with breastfeeding, I will support you. If you find breastfeeding easy, I will support you. If you find breastfeeding hard, and want to persevere, I will absolutely support you, for as long as you need.
None of this is easy. But having some control over your decisions, rather than having them made for you, can make it feel a bit more manageable.