A psychologist wades into the breast Vs bottle debate.
Belinda came to see me about 2 months ago. She was miserable. She couldn’t seem to get breastfeeding sorted out. It was taking her almost an hour to feed and then her baby seemed to want another feed an hour later. Her nipples were sore, she was permanently worried about whether her baby was getting enough milk, she was exhausted and she was over it. And she was starting to resent her baby.
But she felt she couldn’t switch to bottle feeding. She felt that would be just like giving her baby poison.
She was clinging to the idea that breastfeeding her baby was meant to be one of the best parts of being a mother.
She’d heard of those breastfeeding experiences that were successful for so many of her friends. You know, those times when you and your baby seem to agree on the body positions, consumption amounts and timing of the feed. But, hers seemed to be the variety where the wires were permanently crossed, and the whole experience went downhill quicker than a skier on Mt Everest.
And it wasn’t that she hadn’t tried to get advice. Like most of the mothers I know, she had already endured six different opinions from six different women – ranging from the lactation consultant in the hospital to the nanna at Erina Fair who ignored her “get lost” look and proceeded to tell her how easy breastfeeding was back in the 1940’s.
So this article isn’t about presenting all of the arguments for and against each way of feeding our baby – that would take an entire book! However, Belinda and other mothers I’ve worked with have found the following thoughts quite helpful so hopefully you will too:
- We live in a democracy ladies! Which means choice. Choice to breastfeed. Choice not to. If by any chance you think your choice is better, keep your opinions and smugness to yourself. Take a good look in the mirror and ask what your purpose is before you say a word to another mum about her choice. Do you really think a new mother with a gazillion struggles is going to benefit from your assumed superiority, or is she likely to feel worse, which will then negatively impact on her baby. Are you really wanting to possibly make a fellow struggling mum feel lower than she already does?
- Make no assumptions. Heard of the terms severe allergies, severe tongue-tie, chemotherapy, or severe illness? Mothers or babies with medical complications sufficient to make breastfeeding not an option are rare, but not unheard of. So, if you see a mother bottle feeding…..SMILE! If she or her baby is struggling with major medical issues, she needs your support not your disapproving glances. Why not assume that she is bottle feeding for reasons that are in the best interest of either her or her baby.
- Remember what’s important. The health benefits of breastmilk are undeniable, but so is your relationship with your baby. Any mother who is breastfeeding while stressed out of her brain because of constant mastitis, failure to thrive, anxiety about her baby’s consumption levels, constant thrush, or other factors needs support reassessing her priorities. By all means, seek help first, but know this: Your baby’s psychological health is less about where their milk has come from as whether they feel loved and connected with you while they are being fed.
- Seek support from those people who understand, regardless of which course you choose. For those who choose to breastfeed, there are many associations to support you, including the Breastfeeding Association (www.breastfeeding.asn.au). It is often harder to find support groups for those who have decided to formula feed, but one that seems to offer a sensible perspective is www.fearlessformulafeeder.com.
And perhaps it is mothers like Katie (mother of three children) who can help us understand that we all need to take every mother and every baby and be prepared to accept them as they are. But these mothers need to speak out and be heard to prevent the current cruel and unnecessary attacks on women who for many and varied reasons have either decided to or been forced by circumstances to bottle feed their child.
As Katie told me: “I couldn’t breastfeed my third child. We just couldn’t make it work, despite all my experience successfully doing it with my first two children! When I changed over to the bottle he stopped being so stressed out, his belly was full and he became the contented baby he was meant to be. Although I felt like a failure at times, deep down I knew I’d made the best decision for him. It also made me feel pretty rotten about how over the past 4 years I’d judged other mums who didn’t breastfeed.”
So. Embrace whatever choice it is that you have made. Accept others for the choices they have made. And let’s never forget that being a mother can be hard. To do the best job possible we need to support our fellow mothers, not just offer our criticism.
Can you relate to the above? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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