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Sarah Norris – The Baby Detective

Breast Feeding Pressure and the Damage it Causes
May 29, 2015

Breast Feeding Pressure and the Damage it Causes

Breast Feeding Pressure.

The term ‘Bressure’ has been coined to describe the pressure that society, media, and health officials are placing on new mums to breast feed their babies and, as a result of this breast feeding pressure, the mums may end up feeling guilt, anger frustration, failure, self-recrimination, shame, depression, loneliness, isolation, grief…the list goes on.

I know that some critics of projects that deal with the subject of breast feeding pressure say that it is creating a divide between breastfeeding and bottle feeding mums, that it is making a mountain out of a mole hill and that there is no real problem.

Let me tell you… that divide already exists, the ‘molehill’ is mountainous, and there is a very real and serious problem.

After working with new mums 24hrs a day, 6 days a week, for 23 years I can honestly claim to be very experienced in helping new mums feed their babies and I can tell you that not one single mum I have ever met has made an easy, stress/guilt free decision about this.
They struggle with their own feelings and those of their partners, they research, they ask for advice and opinions. They deal with the un-asked for advice from family, friends, work colleagues, acquaintances, and even random strangers !

Sometimes the pressure comes from within, from the mum’s own expectations. She may be sure she wants to breastfeed and certain that she will be able to then have to deal with her perceived ‘failure’ when something goes wrong.

It is not just a matter of pressure relating to whether or not you breast feed, there is also massive pressure to ‘do it right’ There is the ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude that suggests all bottles are evil, even if they are used for expressed milk, that if you give even one bottle you will ruin everything, and that you must breastfeed for at least 6 months.

Scare stories abound about all the terrible things that will happen. Your milk will dry up ! Your baby will get nipple confusion ! Nipple shields cause addiction!….all of which are either total fabrication or easily avoided.

For those that say ‘it is not that big a problem’, I can assure you there are thousands upon thousands of parents who will tell you that it is !

Although women may seem to shrug off comments or criticism (spoken or implied) the pain is often being hidden in an attempt to protect themselves or to save face. We in Britain are particularly bad for doing this, ‘putting on a brave face’, and ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ and so on.

Most women only reveal how they are really feeling to their very closest partner, family or friends so it is unlikely most people ever see just how much hurt and damage is being done, but I am in something of a unique position through my work, and am often part of this close circle.

I go in to these women’s homes as a stranger but, because I am there all the time, night and day, I see everything. I try to be discrete and give women their privacy but, as part of my job, I am there to help them with breast feeding so I see them naked, I see them unwashed and exhausted, emotional and sobbing, irritable and angry, confused, inexperienced and bewildered. Because of this, and because they know I am there purely for them, with no agenda of my own the barriers come down and they confide in me and I see the real pain.

These wonderful new mums experience the whole range of emotions from mild annoyance and confusion, to serious stress and agonising guilt and pain as they try to figure out how to do the most important thing of all…..to feed their baby.

However they are feeding, they suffer fear in case they can’t do it, or get it wrong, and worry in case their baby is not thriving.

This is the most difficult time for new parents (and Dads or partners suffer as well) but what angers me the most is that it is totally unnecessary.

No one needs to ever suffer like this and never would :

• If Health officials and organisations stopped being judgemental and ramming breastfeeding down people’s throats and demonising bottles and formula or other options which can make breastfeeding easier and less painful, such as nipple shields, combination feeding and top up bottles.

• If there was a network of ‘Feeding Clinics’ available to all, that gave advice and support equally about breast, bottle and combination feeding and reduce breast feeding pressure. If there was more of a ‘have-a-go’ attitude rather than the current ‘all-or-nothing’ more women would try breastfeeding instead of being too scared to try.

• If other people would mind their own business and refrain from pushing their own views onto anyone else.

• If women were more honest about their feeding experiences to give a truer picture of what feeding is really like instead of pretending everything is wonderful and easy in order to save face or avoid condemnation or criticism, or avoid facing up to the fact that things aren’t actually going very well. (though I do understand how difficult this is)

• If Health visitors, midwives and everyone else stopped asking ‘are you breastfeeding?’ and instead asked ‘How is the feeding going? Can I help with anything?’ This would be a simple change but would instantly reduce pressure and allow women to be truthful about how feeding is going, what problems they are experiencing, and how they are feeling.

• If other people would mind their own business. Yes, I know I have already said this but it is THE most crucial factor. Seriously….how someone chooses to feed their baby is no one else’s business !!! Leave them alone or offer support…nothing else is appropriate !

My advice to any prospective new parent is this :

  • Think about feeding options and prepare, but don’t set your heart on any one way. Be prepared for breast, bottle or combination feeding, then wait and see what happens when baby arrives. Try whatever feels right at the time and that way there is no failure…only choice.
  • Make sure you and your partner are ready to work as a team, and Dads/partners especially, be prepared to take on the role of protector for your new family. The new Mum will be exhausted, emotional and in pain in the first few days so is less likely to be able to stick up for herself when faced with pushy hospital staff or friends and family. Do not let her, or yourself, be bullied or pushed into doing something that feels wrong either for you or your baby.
  • Whether you want to breast feed or bottle feed, ask for whatever help you need, and keep asking until you get it. Hospital staff are very busy but it is still their job to help you. If a particular member of staff is being pushy or unhelpful don’t just put up with it, ask for help from someone else, and someone else, and someone else….until you find the right person.
  • Ignore your friends and family opinions if they are hurting you. Just remember, anyone who is not supporting you obviously cares more about their own opinions than they do about helping you and your baby, so they are not worth listening to.
  • Cut guilt right out of your life. It is a destructive emotion and serves no purpose at all in this instance.
  • Seek out support from other people going through the same thing. Try online and look for groups for whatever feeding method you are considering, but by the same token, leave any group that makes you feel unsupported or bad about your choices.
  • Have faith in yourself. You know yourself, your lifestyle and your baby and you will do the right thing, whatever that is. Trust yourself.

 

Those first few weeks are the most precious, and fly by so quickly. Don’t waste the experience worrying and being upset. Make the choice that is right for you and your baby, stick to your guns and then relax and enjoy parenthood.

The Author

I’m Sarah Norris, a Baby Care Consultant and Parenting Coach.

I have spent over twenty five years, often working 24 hours, 6 days a week, supporting hundreds of families with new or young babies aged from newborn to 12 months old, and often helping with their toddlers and older children.

I help parents discover what parenting style they want to use to care for their baby, and offer advice on different approaches that might suit them and their circumstances best.

61 Comments

  1. Emily

    There is a lot of pressure to breastfeed. When my twins were born 6 weeks early, over three years ago they were too small and weak to breastfeed. My consultant was pro-breastfeeding which is great, but she pressured me a lot. I expressed milk for over a month so they still had my milk for over a month, but because it was from a bottle rather than straight from me I knew she didn’t approve. Thanks for linking up to the #BinkyLinky
    Emily recently posted…Getting back into work after having children

    Reply
  2. Nige higgins

    Great post thanks for linking to the Binkylinky

    Reply
    • Babyfriend

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂 x

  3. Pen

    You are right, there is so much pressure on new mothers these days and about everything. You find that absolutely everyone has an opinion about how you should be bringing up your baby. From weaning, to breastfeeding to Gina Ford, to routine, to sleep training…there is advice on everything. And advice comes from everywhere: health visitors, midwives, NCT, parents, in law, friends, the woman in the supermarket, the bloke in the corner shop, apps, google, blogs. The advice is everywhere and the contradictions and confusions are rife. I wish people would just tell mothers to follow their intuition. They will make the best decision for their baby because that is what mothers are pre-tuned to do. Apologies, rant over.
    Pen recently posted…A Fairy Tale Life would be a Life Half Lived

    Reply
    • Babyfriend

      Amen to that Pen !!!
      Feel free to rant because you are absolutely justified. Parents are drowning in so called ‘helpful’advice.
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment,
      Sarah x

    • Babyfriend

      Thanks Jo 🙂 It is a subject I feel very strongly about so that is much appreciated x

  4. Helena Clarke

    I totally agree that the issues are already there, rather than being created by the media. When I had my first child nearly 10 years ago, I certainly found myself at the wrong end of the breast feeding debate. Throughout my pregnancy I intended to breastfeed but I was still very surprised by the breastfeeding propaganda when I went to antenatal classes with posters leaving the reader in no doubt that you were only a good mum if you breastfed. Given this context I was even more surprised when I had my baby (by planned c-section as she was breech) and she struggled to latch. Immediately I found myself being pressured to bottle feed and the support to help me get breastfeeding established was minimal; not because people were unwilling, but because nobody had the time to sit down with me in the rush of a post-natal ward.
    After a week in hospital, an attempt to use nipple shields (that on reflection probably made matters worse) and then 3 weeks of expressing and cup feeding, I finally gave up and decided to bottle feed my baby.
    Our collective relief was immense, but my feeling of failure was significant: having failed to give birth naturally and then failed to breastfeed I felt like my perceived notion of how my first weeks of parenthood would go had been blown out of the water.
    Anyway, suffice to say, I agree that there is a stigma to bottlefeeding that is impossible to avoid. Thanks for raising it. 🙂

    Reply
    • Babyfriend

      Oh Helena,
      I am so sorry that you had to go through all that, I really am, but in my experience is so common as to be almost normal (horrendous situation, I know).
      The media led notion of the ‘perfect’ birth causes so many problems, simply because this is nature we are dealing with, and there is no such thing as ‘perfect’ in the natural world. Everything in nature is about change and adaptation which is exactly what you did in coping with a breach birth, a difficult latch, no support and a hungry baby.
      You did the best you could in difficult circumstances, which sums up just about 90 % of parenting !
      The ONLY failure was by the professionals that didn’t help you.
      One of my long term plans is to set up a network of non judgemental parenting classes that cover all these sorts of problems, and supports every parent with every choice they make. More Lottery tickets needed I think 🙂
      Thank you for sharing your story,
      Sarah x

  5. Mamavsteacher

    I absolutely believe in doing what is right for you… I would have broken if I had tried to exclusively breastfeed… we ended up with a combination of bottle and boob!
    Mamavsteacher recently posted…We are on a food lockdown

    Reply
    • Babyfriend

      Thank you Mamavsteacher, I am so glad you had the strength of mind and insight to recognise what was right for you, and to go ahead and do it.
      Combination feeding is a brilliant solution and I think if health officials explained it properly, as a ‘non-failure’ option then maybe more women would feel able to carry on instead of stopping breast feeding,
      Sarah x

  6. Adventures of a Novice Mum

    Difficult one, bressure. Indeed, one person’s bressure is another’s support. It’s important to be as informed as possible; this way new mums can make an informed choice about how they want to feed their baby. I struggled but couldn’t accept not being to breastfeed. I wasn’t pleased with health professionals that tried to make me feel okay about it either; I wasn’t okay until I found a way to make it work for my child and I. Each mum must find their way with how to nurture their child 🙂 #TheBloggingMumsClub
    Adventures of a Novice Mum recently posted…Breastfeeding After Maternity Leave: My Story (1)

    Reply
    • Babyfriend

      hi, I get your point, but when I was writing this I was viewing pressure as a negative force. Support is something completely different and is a positive force.
      I think most women who have ever been pressured, and made to feel bad for even considering giving up breastfeeding, would think the health professionals trying to make you feel ok were doing a kind thing by giving you options.
      I am so glad you found a way to make it work for you and agree that every mum must find her way…..I just wish that parents choices could be guilt free x

  7. A Cornish Mum

    So true about making the most of the first few weeks instead of stressing, and in the end it’s whatever works for Mum and baby and nothing to do with anyone else. Thanks for linking up to #PicknMix

    Stevie x
    A Cornish Mum recently posted…Flambards in Helston Cornwall

    Reply
    • Babyfriend

      Thanks Stevie,
      Those first few weeks are indeed precious and I stress this with parents repeatedly. It won’t be long before they are looking back wondering where their tiny baby has gone so I encourage them to spend as much time snuggling and cuddling as is humanly possible 🙂
      I wish I could wave a magic wand and remove every negative pressure so that new parents could relax and enjoy their first taste of parenthood x

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