Nearly two weeks ago, I wrote a very personal story for the Daily Mail about my horrendous breastfeeding journey. The following day, I was invited on the sofa on ITV This Morning with Eamon and Ruth Holmes debating the amount of pressure there was on new mums surrounding breastfeeding.
I desperately wanted to breastfeed but it made me very ill. Under the advice of 17 health professionals and breastfeeding advisors, I persevered for three months. When I asked if I should stop, I was encouraged to continue and even when I said I wanted to, my reasons were argued against. Eventually when I did stop, my recovery was almost instant and my baby – and I – were happy. Our trips out of the house weren’t confined to hospital visits while our days weren’t filled with tears, screaming, continuous feeding, expressing and setting round-the-clock alarms to take pain relief before it became too much. In fact the first time I gave my baby a full bottle of formula, she was content. Instead of crying, she lay in her pram and gurgled as we went for a stroll around the park. It was only that moment I realised how wrong things had been. If you haven’t read it, my full story is here.
I’m actually a rather private person. Talking about my boobs in a national newspaper or live on air would normally be something I’d never do but in this case, there was a greater purpose. I’m emotionally scarred from my experience. It was one that no mum should ever have to go through and I was compelled to speak out in the hope that I could stop another mum from becoming embroiled in such a negative and painful downward spiral.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the response so far. Dozens upon dozens of mums have spoken to me privately as well as via my blog, Facebook, Twitter and through This Morning and the Daily Mail. Breastfeeding is an emotive and controversial topic which people are incredibly vociferous about. I was prepared to be attacked – accused of putting people off from breastfeeding and generating bad publicity. And yes, there were people who were very nasty towards me. I tried not to engage with them – even though I had a valid answer for each one of their accusations.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the torrent of sadness. Mums who said my story made them cry because they understood the situation I was in only too well and empathised with my pain. Mums who felt they’d been forced to breastfeed under some shocking conditions. Mums who were consumed with guilt because they physically couldn’t breastfeed. It was almost an outpouring of grief from all the mums who were desperate to do the best for their baby, who wanted to breastfeed more than anything but were prevented from doing so for genuine reasons and instead of finding support, felt they were failures. I can only thank these mums for joining in the conversation and speaking out.
Reading these comments brought me to tears. I was moved at how many other mums have endured physical, emotional and mental torment along with what can only be described as an appalling level of pressure when they were at their most vulnerable. However it has also inspired me. I’m not content to rest at just getting exposure about breastfeeding pressure for a couple of days. I want to make a real difference. I want to reach out to any mum who is in a similar situation to help them understand that it’s okay if you can’t breastfeed and to take away the all-consuming guilt that eats you up as you look at your newborn baby who you only want the best for.
I want those people who label themselves breastfeeding “experts” to see people as individuals – to help them breastfeed through support not by force. And rather than be obsessed with the ‘breast is best’ mantra, to put the health and happiness of baby and mum first.
By telling my story, I’ve been criticised for not making my own decisions and not standing up for myself. Yes I take responsibility for my own choices but you have to bear in mind that as a new mum you are a physical wreck after labour and childbirth, you’re completely exhausted and you have a cocktail of hormones racing through your body. You naturally look for advice from the “experts” as you have no experience and worry that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing – surely they know best?
It’s only now that I’m strong enough to look back in anger at how I was allowed to become so ill for so long when I was begging for help. But this had made me all the more passionate about the issue and wanting to make a difference to help other mums.
Through my blog, I’d like to create a support community where mums can support each other through their breastfeeding journeys and I’ll be working on ideas for this over the next couple of months. If you want to be part of this, or if you know of any other opportunity where we can make a difference, please get in touch via the comments below or by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org