Monday, 25 January 2010

Get if off your chest

I have had my morning rant today on British Mummy Bloggers where CraftyCreative has started a conversation about breastfeeding in light of a Norwegian study which debunks the claims that breast is indisputably best for babies.

What a lot of links for a Monday morning.

Now I have a confession to make, and one that I kept for my own blog. Breastfeeding turns my stomach. It always has and it always will. Now I am not saying this means no one should be allowed to do it, this is a personal phobia and has no bearing on how other mums choose to feed their babies.

I remember as a child feeling physically sick when my mother told me she had breastfed me. Just the idea of suckling had my stomach turning in an ominous way. Even as I type the words now I feel a bit queasy. My mum always told me that when I had my own babies I would feel different. My maternal instinct would kick in and suckling my young would come naturally. Perhaps it might have worked better if son number one had been a natural breastfeeder, but he took one look at my poor engorged boob and turned his head away in disgust. Like mother like son it appeared.

I struggled on, brainwashed by the breast is best message. I latched him on to bleeding nipples, I clenched my teeth in agony as he listlessly sucked and dropped off time and again. I refused to let a sip of the poisonous formula pass his precious lips and weight fell off him. He screamed with hunger for most of the time and his skin turned an alarming shade of yellow as his dehydrated body couldn't wash the jaundice out of his system.

What made it worse was that I had had gestational diabetes while pregnant (and me a breastfed baby!) and so he had to be forced to feed frequently from the moment he was born to regulate his blood sugar. One particularly humiliating memory is of an Irish midwife, with very poor personal hygiene, grabbing my sore breasts and literally milking them into my screaming baby's mouth. Frowning and complaining all the time that I was too useless to get my own baby to feed.

This for a woman who was so freakishly afraid of being seen in the nude that I had always covered up, even when stepping from shower to bathmat if anyone were present. The pain and shame will be forever etched into my memories of those horrific post-natal days with my first newborn.

I had thought that as my mother had claimed, breastfeeding would come naturally. That I would pop a beatific baby onto my boob and hey presto he would suckle away, and then loll off in a drunken haze to sleep, satiated on his mother's milk. But far from this heavenly scenario, breastfeeding for me was like the inner circle of hell.

Every time my baby cried I would cringe away from him. I grew to almost hate him with his constant need for feeding. I despised everything about breastfeeding, from the blue veins that marbled my enormous breasts, the constant leakage, the aching pain of let down, the lumpy soreness when we failed to empty my breasts, the sore, cracked, bleeding nipples, the ugly bras stuffed with breastpads that constantly smelled like rancid cheese.

Ugh, just the memory of it makes me so glad I will never have to do it again.

But, and this is a big but, I know it's not the same for everyone. I started off with a disadvantage in the shape of my strange phobia and perhaps if I had begun with son number two who was happy to take food from any medium, things might have gone more smoothly.

I don't judge any woman for breastfeeding - yes it still turns my stomach, but that's my problem - and I can see the lovely, cosy relationship breastfeeding engenders. In fact sometimes I have envied the closeness that breastfeeding mothers have with their babies. My sons have generally been happy to go to anyone, which does make my life easy, but also sometimes made me feel less special to them than those babies who could only be comforted by mummy.

As I have said in a previous post I am a firm believer in each to her own when it comes to mummy tactics. However, I do feel that it's crucial that new mums aren't made to feel guilty, or failures, if they decide that breastfeeding isn't for them or their child. There is so much more to being a mother than how you choose to feed your child, that it seems a shame to feel as if you have let your baby down just because you can't breastfeed for whatever reason.

If we could just respect each other's choices the experience of becoming a mother would be so much less fraught. After all when you are dealing with sleepless nights, the shock of becoming a parent, the fear of keeping your baby safe from harm, the last thing you need shaken on top of that is the sour opprobrium of others mothers as they mutter darkly about your choices.


  1. Fab post.

    And, when you think about it, it is sort of gross. I only managed it by not really thinking about it too deeply.

  2. Brilliant rarely do we read this kind of insight! I had a horendous experience in hospital and feel so hostile about it that I will never, ever breastfeed if given the blessing of another child. Won't even consider it...but as you said, to each their own. My issue is the virtually non-existent support out there for mothers who choose not to or can't breastfeed. It's like, "Oh, you aren't breastfeeding...good luck with that then" and you're shoved out the door. I'm working on an educational website (for the near future) and would love to have mothers who are willing to share their Bottle Feeding stories and Breastfeeding horror stories. I'd love to learn more about your experiences. You can contact me through my site if you like... ;)
    Thanks for sharing your side of the story...well done you for doing it.

  3. Great post, very well put. I bf JJ until he was 6 months and the twins an awful lot less, Miss E was that baby you described screaming, losing weight and getting more and more yellow until she got some forumla and turned into a contened little poppet. Very much each to her own. A slogan I currently like is 'Mind your own business' said to yourself, rather than rudely to others! Mich x

  4. Very well said. I managed to breastfeed my two (although found it very hard at first) but I know too many women who have had terrible times being forced to breastfeed when it wasn't working for their baby. There are some great health visitors and breastfeeding counsellors that can help, but all too often the attitude you are given is that you just aren't trying hard enough.

  5. Brilliant post Ursula. I bf J for 5 weeks and every minute of it was hell. At the end of the 5th week I phoned my health visitor and told her enough was enough.

    As soon as I stopped struggling to try and feed J & I became much happier.

    Subsequently - even when I worked at Sure Start - I pushed for information on all the feeding options to be available.

    Well done. xx

  6. Good post I like it. I am a massive surporter of the 'each to their own' method of mothering as with everything else in life. Everyone doesn't have to have the same desire to breastfeed or bottle feed and whatever you decide, support is infinitely more useful than judgement (again as with so many things in life).

  7. If only all mums were as open minded, I think parenting would be a whole lot less stressful.

    Still we can wave the flag for the 'each to their own' movement at least.

  8. Stupid post. How wonderous that you can be gracious enough to allow that you shouldn't be thinking others shouldn't breastfeed simply because you have a twisted phobic perspective. How big and open minded of you.

    Anyone who knows anything about breastfeeding will tell you it "just didn't work" because you never wanted it to. Dumbshit. God you Brits never cease to amaze me.

  9. I breastfd all four of my children, although the first child was hard i had no clue what i was wasnt easy but keeped trying becouse it was best for my baby

  10. "If we could just respect each other's choices the experience of becoming a mother would be so much less fraught. After all when you are dealing with sleepless nights, the shock of becoming a parent, the fear of keeping your baby safe from harm, the last thing you need shaken on top of that is the sour opprobrium of others mothers as they mutter darkly about your choices."

    I think the last two commenters missed that bit!

    Good on you Ursula!


    Well done you for writing that blog.
    I wonder just how many other women feel the same as you but don't admit it, just grit their teeth and carry on.

    My first two were bottle fed and not only did I not receive one negative comment about it, I don't recall anyone ever pushing me to breast feed or maybe I was so happy with m y choice I didn't notice it...that was 15 and 9 years ago.

    When I had youngest 2 years ago, I felt under a lot more pressure so did B/F for 6 months, thankfully with very little problem.

    Keep up the good work..great blog...great post.

  12. GREAT POST. I'll tell you my story sometime over a glass of wine. It's not pretty.

  13. Brilliant post. Thanks so much!!

  14. It's a great shame that you didn't get the right help or support to help you position and attach your baby properly and enable them to get adequate milk from you ... however, with that mindset I doubt you even looked very far for such support.

  15. I had the other difficulty to most people who find it hard - I had too much milk. I could (and did!) fill a bottle from each side and still have enough to feed the Adorable Child. This made it hard, but I was able to keep going because I only had him, I had the great support network from a super midwife, mother and so on, and because I am too damn lazy to make bottles in the middle of the night after I learnt to feed lying down. (ssssh! Don't tell anyone the last bit! It ruins my Earth Mother image!)

    However, as an extended feeder (mainly due to a low tolerance of dairy) I was automatically lumped into the "You will hate me because I am a formula feeder and you are a bf-ing mother" brigade. If it works for you, it works for you. Breast milk is amazing stuff, and the way it changes to match need and weather and so on is incredible, but if there's no way of doing it, there's no way of doing it. I always told myself I could give up next Friday if I wanted to. I'd get to Friday and think, well, just over the weekend then. And then it would be a bad feed and I'd promise myself I'd give up next Friday, and so on.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. But if people can have a phobia about clowns, or spiders, why not breastfeeding?

  16. Sounds like an awful experience. We have enough to feel guilty about as new mothers without all this extra poured on top.

    Its funny, I can totally relate to the grossness aspect of breastfeeding, the stinky cheese pads, sheets soaked in milk, the pain and the huge veiney lumpy boobs, but in my case there was something else that overrode that, a deep pleasure that I got from the act of feeding, a hormonal high. Without it, I can totally see how it could be unbearable. Biology is weird. You got the lows without the highs, so thank goodness for formula.

    Brave post, thanks for sharing it.