Sunday, 21 August 2011

The breastfeeding battles


For a while I have wanted to post my own breastfeeding struggle but something has been holding me back, my own guilt perhaps. Today I read (with tears in my eyes) a great and brave post by Debbie at Mother Bloggin’ Guilt about her own story. If you read it or if you have had a similar experience yourself, you will know how I felt.


I found Debbie's story very similar to my own breastfeeding struggle, with quite a few common points, when I read it this morning she had already received a few comments from other people who had also struggled with breastfeeding. In fact ever since my own struggle and fight to increase my milk supply (one of very few battles that this feisty girl has lost), I have heard and read the stories of other women who went through it in the past or who had their own babies after mine was born and had a similar struggle. All of them women determined to breastfeed, all of them women who failed or struggled.


The whole thing got me wondering whether there are any organisations researching the causes of breastfeeding problems of this kind and, if there are, why haven't I heard of them, I would be keen to share my story point by point, starting with pregnancy, continuing with labour and our experience during the first weeks at home. Does anyone know if such a study has ever been carried out or is taking place right now? 


During my pregnancy I participated in the University of Cambridge's Pregnancy Outcome Prediction Study (POPS), which I enrolled in during my 12 week scan and which ended with them taking away my placenta after LittleT's birth. I do now wonder why they don't expand it to the first six months or first year of life.


If there really are no studies currently being carried out, perhaps it is time to start a global website where we all leave our experiences so that researchers can go through them and find common issues. We can even do it market research style so that we pass the data on to the relevant authorities. We could get together a group of women with breastfeeding problems, despite an initial determination to do so, design a questionnaire with a range closed and open questions that will give us the right insight, allow space for other remarks that each person thinks are relevant... I am willing to help with market research and translating experience but one person isn't enough, my market research skills aren't all encompassing and I can only translate certain languages so it would be necessary to have the support of a big organisation.


The current breast is best concept is leaving strong determined women distraught and feeling like failures, having to face not only a judgmental society but, most importantly, their own better judgment, it's impossible to think clearly in the midst of exhaustion and sleep deprivation. All of this must surely be costing the NHS a lot of money in PND treatment.


I know by writing this I risk the usual reaction that everyone can breastfeed with the right support, counselling and determination. Let me tell you, I am a feisty and determined person (the clue is in the name) and I had the best support I could ask for, a fantastic and caring main midwife who was the first one to say we needed to start giving LittleT formula while my milk supply didn't kick in and who a few days later confessed that she would have had to take my baby to hospital had I refused because LittleT had lost so much weight (she knew I was adamant I wanted to breastfeed), as well as other duty midwives visiting me whenever I or my husband called. However, I failed miserably because my body didn't co-operate, it just didn't listen to my pleas to produce more milk for my baby, instead it gave up and dried up entirely. My mother had a similar struggle, so did many other women and there are many other cases of other nature. Wouldn't it make sense to research the reasons behind this? What factors lead to this? How can we prevent them? Or, if they occur, what is the best way to put a stop to them and give the mother a better chance to breastfeed?


If they are so adamant that breast is best but there is quite a high percentage of women struggling, they shouldn't wait for us to feel like failures, they must find solutions to avoid it happening in the first place and put steps in place that can be taken the moment the start of a breastfeeding struggle is spotted. Educating the healthcare system to spot it and be ready for it and re-educating society as a whole. In fact, I often claimed when I was bottle feeding my baby in public that I was going to design a badge stating "My body refused to breastfeed", "I wasn't able to breastfeed, don't judge me", or something to that effect, to wear when feeding her. Perhaps there really is something in that idea.

I do wonder whether there should be support groups for and with girls who have had unsuccessful breastfeeding experiences to put other struggling girls at ease, rather than groups with all those who were successful from day one. You just need to read through the comments on Debbie's post that there a lot of other women ready to share their story. We may, in hindsight, be able to give them rather good advice: those little things that we wish we had done but that, caught in the moment, we weren’t ready to do, think or accept. In fact, as in Debbie's case, it was talking to another girl who had had a similar struggle that made me realise that it was ok to give up, that it was an option, that I had done everything possible and that I was risking bad health and PND and, one very important thing that really got to me, that I wasn't enjoying that baby that my husband and I had longed for. I finally had a family and I was forgetting to enjoy it. So my husband and I decided to do what was best for our newly-formed family, and breast wasn't it.

I am not suggesting a group to help others give up, quite the opposite, I am suggesting a group or support network (whether physical or online) to help others realise that other women have been there before them and they know exactly how they feel and to let them know that there are options, many routes to try and ultimately that giving up is indeed an option. Suggest things that they can do to get them through it, help put less pressure on their relationship and come out successful at the other side and to help each other come to terms with failure when it doesn't work. I clearly remember being the first one to judge myself when I took a bottle out of my changing bag and emptied a carton of formula into it to feed my (clearly under six months old) baby.*  

By the way, I now have a healthy 14 month old toddler who everyone calls "the smiler", she smiles because she is happy. But, given that my mother experienced with me the same problems as I did, I live in hope that my little one won't have to go through the same ordeal and research may be the answer. 

A big thank you and my admiration to Debbie for her story, I am now off to read it again and read through any more comments from other brave ladies that she may have received since this morning and to tell her about this post.

*These two paragraphs were removed from my original blog post for fear of what the reaction might be but I added them after going back to read her post and the comments it has received and finding just how lovely, brave and supportive other women have been.
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