This week (23rd-29th June) it’s been National Breastfeeding Awareness week. My twitter timeline has been populated by mums advocating the joys of breastfeeding. In amongst this celebration of what is purportedly the most beautiful and natural thing in the world, I’m going to say something mildly controversial.
Breastfeeding is boring.
At least, talking about it is.
One of my strongest memories of being a new mum is taking part in endless conversations about other people’s boobs.
Don’t get me wrong: in the early days, I was as guilty as anyone else. I had no idea how totally consuming the act of Breastfeeding would be. Nor how bloody difficult, and for weeks could literally think of nothing else to talk about.
I was always massively impressed by the NHS ante-natal care: I regularly saw the same midwife for appointments throughout my pregnancy and having 4 group ante-natal sessions seemed more than sufficient to prepare me for birth. It was only after I gave birth that it occurred to me that it was a little skewed to have 3 of those sessions preparing for the birth which will last – even if you’re really unlucky – only a day or two, but only one session on how the hell you look after the baby once it’s arrived.
Perhaps this is because I missed that session, sending my husband to learn about the intricacies of nipples and latching on while I had a long and much more exciting weekend in Paris with my mum.
Perhaps this is a contributing factor as to why my son and I didn’t get the hang of the whole breastfeeding thing and ended up in hospital a week after his birth when his weight plummeted. (Hopefully not)
Convinced by all the propaganda about how important breastfeeding was and stubborn to the core, I was not ready to give up. What followed was weeks of misery and drudgery as I attempted to wean my son off the formula top ups I was forced to give him with the help of a non-stop 24 hour moaning hotline to my mum, a supportive yet slightly bewildered husband, access to a stream of mum-based Internet forums and the help of the world’s most enthusiastic breastfeeding support worker. She was amazing, but slightly mad.
Not since Lolo Ferrari, the Eurotrash caricature come to life whose obsession with her own fun bags almost killed her, has a woman’s existence been so driven by boobs.
Victorious in my battle for breastfeeding, I popped in to see the boob lady and say thanks a few weeks later, happy to gain closure on an unexpectedly difficult and unhappy phase of parenthood.
But apparently I’m not allowed closure. I would run into her at the children’s centre where she would share my story with anyone willing to listen, shouting ‘Look at her baby. Totally breastfed!’
Even away from the professionals, the story was the same. In every group of mums I met, there were always a core ready to discuss the process of feeding baby with ‘juice squeezed from a human’ (to quote Friends). For those who were struggling and needed support, I thought fair enough. But in some camps it seemed the more you talked about it, the better a parent you were. Blind to the discomfort they might be causing mums who had been forced to formula feed, or to those for whom it just didn’t suit (we live in the modern world after all). Oblivious to how mind-numbingly boring endlessly having the same conversation about why you chose to breastfeed could be.
Out of politeness, I’d smile and nod, wonderingly silently how I could move the discussion onto politics, current affairs or the latest drama on Eastenders, stifling myself from screaming ‘You’ve told us all this before. I barely know you and only see you for one hour a week. Stop telling me about the size of your nipples!
So I am making a plea to the government to provide more breastfeeding support. Post-natal support is chaotic at best, but intensive and more focused feeding support in he first few days and on the post-natal wards could surely prevent thousands of mums going through what I went through; it could save the NHS a fortune on mums like me taking up private rooms when they have to be readmitted following feeding issues; it could help many struggling mums stick with breastfeeding for much longer than they otherwise would
Plus, if they could get it sorted in the next couple of years, maybe my next maternity leave could be dominated more by news than nipples, more by motherhood than mammaries.