Of course I want to do the best for my fragile tiny offspring, and after having been sufficiently brainwashed by media, midwives and NCT, I was convinced and fully motivated to breastfeed my newborn for at least six months.
It all sounds so lovely – my baby gets a perfect balance of nutrition in my milk, it’s free, it’s the right temperature, it’s always available and it protects the little one who lacks a fully developed immune system from disease. And, as the NHS website claims, breastfeeding “can give you a great sense of achievement.”
What all the breastfeeding advocates forget to mention (and I was blissfully unaware of) are the Disadvantages of breastfeeding. Even though they may not outweigh the benefits, I think it would be nice for mums-to-be to know what awaits them. Media and NCT should, instead of crucifying mothers who decide from the very beginning against breastfeeding, who can’t breastfeed or have/want to give it up, provide an unbiased picture.
Fortunately Jamie immediately knew how to latch onto my breast (eat was basically the first thing he did after leaving my warm and comfy uterus) and since then, all I have been doing is breastfeeding. I had no idea, I mean absolutely no conception, of how much time breastfeeding takes.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s practical (no need to sterilise bottles, mix formula etc) and finally there is some point to having breasts. It’s also nice for once in my life to have the curves of a glamour model. But let me do following calculation: for the first few weeks you should feed your hungry one at least every 3 hours (and feeds are counted from when you start feeding, not when you stop…) and a feed takes around 1 to 1.5 hours (I’m not sure if Jamie is particularly slow or if this is normal? Sometimes I suspect he is using me as an oversized pacifier).
This means (optimistically) 8 hours a day (or pessimistically 12 hours a day) are spent sitting somewhere in a rather uncomfortable position not being able to move with a baby attached to your breast. I have gone through 2 entire series of Grey’s Anatomy and am halfway through The Good Wife and Borgen (re Borgen – a political drama with subtitles needs at least some kind of concentration and can’t be done during night feeds) in little more than 2 weeks. I find it impossible to use the computer or read a book while breastfeeding as only one of my hands is free and if I fail to have remote control, mobile and a drink in immediate distance I have to go without until the baby is finally content. There is certainly a hole in the market there for a baby holding device while feeding, I’d pay a handsome sum for this.
(2) Lack of Sleep
When you bottle-feed, at least some feeds can be done by partner, grandmother or, depending on the degree of desperation, the cleaner or the delivery man. With breast milk you are stuck. With a constantly hungry baby, I have not been able to express more than half a feed during an entire day (and using a breast pump is a very degrading experience). A tired mum means reduced milk production which leads to…
(3) Baby is not getting enough milk
I have not felt much of the NHS advertised “sense of achievemnt” but I have experienced a lot of self doubt and sense of failure. Imagine baby attached to your breast for 3 hours (usually in the middle of the night), switching it from one breast to the other, and baby is still crying of hunger (and does this funny little thing when he searches for milk with gaping mouth in the air, your partner’s chest, your ear, his hand, the duvet etc). I have lived through this every evening since Jamie was born and I don’t know whether he is abnormally hungry at night or I produce less milk in the evenings After agonising sleepless nights and feeling like a horrible mother, I have started adding a bottle of formula at night. Now he sleeps better and I sleep better – Thank you Aptamil (and screw you, breast-milk-only lobby!)
(4) Breast Problems
Fortunately I was spared (thus far) cracked nipples, mastitis, blocked milk ducts etc – all painful and inconvenient possible side effects of breast feeding.
Still no more than half a glass of wine for the breastfeeding mother, and believe me, I could do with a nice little intoxication!
I am still breastfeeding even though my initial enthusiasm has been replaced by boredom and a deep sense of lack of achievement (unless you would count watching TV dramas for 12 hours a day as achievement). When Jamie is still going strong after 1.5 hours at 3:30 am, I glance yearningly at the formula, knowing that a formula feed would last pleasant 10 minutes and would result in a content and sleepy baby.
Jamie, I love you very much, but I’m slowly but surely losing the will to live here!
I should mention that I would have long given up without the excellent book “What to expect when you are breastfeeding and what if you can’t” – this is a must-read for every new mum!