My first failure as a parent.

As I commented on a post about being A Mum in Hiding – about how we mums try to hide the many things we do that would label us as a Bad Mummy – I was reminded of one of the first times I felt like a Bad Mummy, the first time I had failed my child and proven that I lacked the ability to be a perfect mum. I talk of the very emotive issue of breastfeeding.

Although I have put the whole issue of breastfeeding long behind me and no longer worry that I got it wrong and let my children down in the worst possible way I am aware that this remains a major debate for all mummies. You only need to visit a parenting website or view a forum that mentions the subject and up jump the different sides, ready to argue for their cause. 

Generally it comes down to benefits.

We have the side who will argue that breastfeeding is scientifically proven to be better for your child healthwise, that it prevents obesity as they grow older and those children who are breastfed are going to be smarter, fitter, stronger. Basically all round super children. We will call that side Boobs.

In opposition are those who argue that they were not breastfed and they are not couch potatoes wallowing in their own ignorance. They turned out ok. We call them Bottle.

“Look at the children walking down the street and see if you can tell which one was breastfed,” Bottle argues.

“But it is free,” says Boobs. “It is natural. Women were made to breastfeed. That’s why we have boobs.”

“We have evolved,” says Bottle. “My boobs are my own, I will choose who gets to suck on them.”

“It is so convenient. No carrying about of paraphernalia, no large bags and having to look for microwaves. My boob produces the perfect food, nutritionally balanced and full of flavour, pre-heated to the right temperature. It is there on demand, no waiting for the baby.” Boobs says.

Bottle laughs. “I don’t see carrying round a bottle and a bit of powder as hard work. It’s not difficult.  I don’t want to get my boobs out in public. I don’t face the embarrassment of strangers unsure where they are allowed to look.”

“You should try it at least. Every mother should try to breastfeed her baby.” said Boobs.

“But it hurts. You get mastitis. The baby chews the skin from your nipples. They are sore and it is painful.” worries Bottle.

Boobs smiles, “The more you do it the easier it becomes. Your nipples harden up. The soreness goes. You are rewarded for your pain by being incredibly close to your baby. As one. There is no deeper connection. If you do not breastfeed you are missing out.”

“I want my partner to be able to help too. He wants to feed his child and feel close to her too. He can do nothing but watch if I breastfeed,” argues Bottle.

“He can bring your towels. He can help in other ways. He can change nappies and connect with the baby that way.” says Boobs.

 

 

 

 

When I was pregnant with Kid 1 I met my own Boobs. A close friend and a very strong willed person who may not have realised how very forcefully she pushed the notion of breastfeeding at me.

“Thou shalt offer up thine boob, or know that thou hast failed thy child!”

Of course, there were others who were keen that I should breastfeed. The midwife made it clear that I should try. Everyone who had a child, thought of having a child or had ever seen a child seemed to have an opinion. But it was the pressure of Boobs, combined with her ‘I did it till mine were 9 months old’  commentary, that made me feel most obliged to do it. Maybe I am an easily influenced person but I did not want to fail where apparently everyone else had succeeded.

“I must do what is right for my child” was the mantra.

(Interestingly, my own mother was not pushy at all. The opposite in fact. She had not breastfed her children and she was not keen on the idea at all. But she stayed quiet and let me make up my own mind.)

When they handed my daughter to me for the first feed right after she was born, she latched on and sucked away. It was easy. It felt fine. I could do this. Of course, not taking into account that I had been awake for over 24 hours, she was barely 20 minutes old and not up to a full feed and the midwives were actually controlling her body and my boob, I didn’t realise that she and I had not really been in control of the feed, purely the apparatus the midwives used to complete their role.

The second time, a few hours later after we had both been asleep, was very different. She cried, I panicked, a different midwife came to see what was happening. And that is where it began to go wrong.

This midwife was very stern, not so warm and slightly condescending. I asked for help, after all I had never had a child attached to my nipple before and I had no idea what to do. They don’t come with instructions you know. By her very demeanour I could tell the midwife was thinking “Stupid woman. What is so hard? Stick the child on your boob.” I didn’t ask again.

I left the hospital with child and with only a vague idea of how I was meant to feed her. The first day at home was horrendous. In-laws popping in to prod my baby and the moment she whimpered I was told to feed her while they all watched expectantly. Was I being rude leaving the room to breastfeed her, as if implying they were all trying to see my breasts? At the same time I resented having to leave my nice warm sofa and have to plod up to the cold bedroom for privacy because the house was full of invaders.

On day 3 another midwife stopped by. She very casually informed me that she wanted to see the baby feed to be sure it was all going ok, picked up my child and rammed her onto my boob. My daughter choked. Somehow we found ourselves hustling to the car with the midwife telling us that ‘she had stopped breathing for a second and we had to get her checked over’.  Cue panicked parents hurtling back to the children’s ward. Of course all was fine, but we were only told that after 24 hours of worry and beeping machinery monitoring her.

The next thing that happened, my milk came in. Oh my, the pain!

Water Balloon explosion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suddenly my boobs stuck out, swollen and solid and as big as the famous bra Madonna once wore. The pressure was incredible, it felt that at any moment they would explode. One touch and milk was gushing out.

From then on trying to feed my baby girl was a nightmare. I would try to get her to latch on. She would arch away from me screaming hysterically. My breasts were agony, a straining balloon that needed release. My baby would not perform her part of the bargain and take the pain away. If I could get her to latch on she chewed my nipples until they were raw and bleeding.

This was not fun. This was not bringing us closer. There was no mummy-baby contentment here. Every time I thought of her next feed I felt resentment, fear of the pain, tense about how much she would scream. I cried because it hurt so much, because she clearly hated me, because I was failing as a mother.

Finally my friend Boobs came to visit me a few days in. She took one look at my baby crying because she couldn’t feed, whilst I tried to make her and she said “Why don’t you try to express it into a bottle?”

What? I was allowed to do this? Why hadn’t this occurred to me? Why had no one told me of this option?

I got my breast pump attached and expressed a good 6 ounces within minutes. Oh my word! The relief. The pain was gone, the pressure released. My boobs were no longer straining, my child was feeding peacefully.

Boobs remarked, “You must have a lot of milk. It used to take me 2 hours to express just an ounce or two.” It was this comment that gave me the clue I needed, although I didn’t realise it until my son was due three years later.

In the meantime I carried on expressing and feeding my child breast milk via a bottle for a week or so, until I had such severe mastitis I couldn’t take anymore. I gave up, I went to formula.

When my son was due I took time to look into the mechanics of breastfeeding before hand. I learnt that if a woman produces a lot of milk the initial release  when the baby sucks can be too fast. In other words, when my daughter had tried to suck she had been instantly drowned in milk instead. A simple solution, the book said, was to just gently massage to get the milk flowing first and then latch baby on once the flood had slowed.

So simple. So much clearer. My son was born and after some help in learning how to latch on, he breastfed without issues. I had succeeded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The irony here was that, having discovered that I could breastfeed, having experienced calm feeds with contented baby, after a week or so I realised that I don’t actually like breastfeeding.

I don’t like the feeling of the child sucking the milk from me. I don’t like feeling like a cow. I find it a little gross.

If that offends you, well I won’t apologise for that. These are my feelings. I don’t object to breastfeeding in general. If you want to, that’s fine. If you enjoy it, great. If you want to carry on having your child sucking on your boob up to the age of 4 (or more) well I guess that is your choice.

I don’t like it.

So, both my children had breast milk for the first two weeks of their lives. Then they had formula. I chose to take my son off the boob and I do not regret that. It was right for us. I do not feel that I missed out on any connection with my child and Mr G enjoyed the time he got to spent in quiet contemplation feeding his children too.

My advice to anyone who is not sure if they want to breastfeed or doesn’t know where to start – go to your midwife and ask her for information on how to do it. Go to a breastfeeding group, they have them at most hospitals, and watch. Ask questions. Know what you are doing before the baby is born. Get all the facts and if unsure, well there is no harm in trying it out.

But don’t feel forced.

And above all, do what suits you, not everyone else.

About Piper George

Wife, mother, puppy chaser extraordinaire. Freelance copy-writer and blogger! Life is full of opportunities - it's having the time to grab them that's hard.

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Comments

My first failure as a parent. — 24 Comments

  1. This was beautiful, Piper! You helped me lift the residual guilt I felt for not nursing my son. In retrospect, I realize that I did what was best for me and my child. This decision went against the general consensus of my social circle. I was also made to feel LESS than for quitting and switching to formula. I am convinced that are many more BOOBS out there disrupting women’s self esteem. Ultimately, it is the mother’s exclusive decision on whether she wants to breast feed or not. Nobody should determine this for her. Very liberating post!

    • I am a firm believer in happy mum makes for a happy baby.
      If you feel forced to breastfeed, or want to breastfeed but feel you can’t for some reason, then feeding is always going to remind you of your discontent and babies pick up on feelings. And since you are feeding 5 or 6 times a day to start with, thats a lot of discontent when you should be loving every second of that baby.
      I’m glad if my post helped you You are no way less for making decisions that are best for you and your baby, that’s exactly what you should be doing as a mum.

      • “I am a firm believer in happy mum makes for a happy baby.”

        Absolutely!

        I tried breast feeding, and it did not go so well. I went to La Leche, and though most of the women there were nice and helpful, one really jerky lady sticks out. When I was trying to breast feed, I was stressed and tired and couldn’t hold my kid because I had to pump. But when I stopped, he could nap on my lap after a bottle and I was more relaxed and less tired. I really think bottle feeding helped us bond.

    • it’s true – a friendly midwife in the hospital would have helped me stick at it instead of not being willing to ask for help. She may have just been having a bad morning, but her attitude made my feeding harder. Having said that – I wouldn’t be a nurse/midwife for anything in the world, always having to be cheerful! We don’t realise how much impact one comment can have on someone else.

  2. I think the biggest good thing about breast feeding is the fact that children who are breastfed tend to get less allergies. That being said; it doesn’t mean those who are will not get any allergies.

    • Ironically both of my children has milk protein intolerances, which would have been transmitted through the breast milk due to any milk products I ate, so by taking them off we identified the intolerance quicker and were able to put them on a hydrolysed formula which made them much more comfortable – a screaming baby with severe indigestion is not a good thing.

  3. Pingback: There are Resolutions and then there is Reality « Talk About Cheesecake

  4. Cheers to you from the other mom with a breastfeeding post in today’s Hump Day Hookup! Isn’t it crazy how much more complicated and agonizing the whole breastfeeding thing is than you would ever have thought? And I’m sorry the midwives/nurses weren’t more helpful. I had to deal with pushy, condescending lactation consultants when I had my babies too. You’d think someone whose whole job is to help mothers who had just given birth four seconds ago would be more kind and understanding.

    • Thanks for stopping by. Yep, we expect more from the nurses, but then I know some great nurses too. Who knows, maybe they were having a bad week. Still – breastfeeding is very difficult, I applaud anyone who can do it.

  5. “And above all, do what suits you, not everyone else.” Bingo. I wish all women felt empowered enough to do so. Whether you’re bottle or boob, you need to do what’s right for you. And everyone else can mind their own business. I got so much flack for breastfeeding my kids from my mother-in-law, I finally told her, “You did what was right for your kids. I’m doing what is right for my kids. Now shut the f*ck up.” Okay, I didn’t say that last part. But I really wanted to.

    • When you are pregnant and have just given birth, your hormones are so mental that it’s hard to be able to make sense of anything, which makes interference from other people so much harder to withstand. Well done for standing up to your MIL

  6. I really wish I could have read this after my daughter was born. My milk never really came in so we only breastfed for a very short time. I felt like such a failure…for years! The weirdest part is I didn’t really like it either, but I felt like I should have liked it. It really does get overcomplicated. My advice to new moms is to stay off the Internet. Sometimes you read so many contradictory things and are left feeling bad. It’s better to just do what works for you and your family and be happy. Stop listening to all of the people! Excellent advice.
    Lillian Connelly recently posted…My Brush With A Possible Serial KillerMy Profile

    • It’s crap isn’t it – the way all the people around you suddenly feel the need and right to inform you of what you should be doing with your baby and body. It seems that the moment your body gets pregnant you become public property. Maybe its some sort of human herd instinct, that way back when in caveman times would have made us all support and keep the family alive, and now is just overdeveloped into nosiness.

    • The nurses and the people around us have a massive influence on our first few days as parents. It’s amazing how much little comments can hurt, or stay with us, and dig in like splinters.

  7. I didn’t have any problems with my daughter but my son couldn’t tolerate my breast milk and I had to stop with him. I certainly remember those days when I thought my boobs would explode. It hurts right now thinking about it!
    Sandy Ramsey recently posted…Playing Catch UpMy Profile

  8. I’ve had both experiences. Daughter #1 breastfed easily and happily — until she was about eight months old, when she grew teeth and chomped on my boob one day. Ouch! Daughter #2 just couldn’t manage the breast. She gasped and choked and struggled. I switched her over to the bottle (she still gasped and choked and struggled — she just had a hard time eating in general). With my son, I remember sitting in the bedroom, crying, because my nipples were cracked and bleeding and it was so painful. Things eventually resolved — but he was my fourth kid (and I had breastfed all of them, at least for a time) — so that goes to show you that, even with experience, breastfeeding can be tough. I can’t imagine just being thrown into it with no knowledge or help.
    Jana recently posted…The Dating DilemmaMy Profile

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