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ParentsFebruary 15, 2017

Don’t beat yourself up! A message for non-breastfeeding mothers – and those who sit in judgement

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Breastfeeding is the most simple and natural thing in the world, right? Not if your baby is a poor latch, or you’ve had breast surgery, or have low milk production – or a ton of other reasons – it’s not. Amanda May has a message for all mothers, however they feed their babies.

There is an ideal. We all know this. You’ve seen the pictures of mothers serenely breastfeeding baby. You’ve listened to the advice of professionals and friends. You’ve read all of the books and you’ve seen the DVD…you’re almost ready to buy the T shirt.

Of course you’re going to breastfeed. It’s the most natural thing isn’t it? There’s never any doubt in your mind. It’s what you want to do, so you’ll do it.

Eagerly, we await the anticipation of our bub’s arrival. We smile as we picture ourselves enjoying those precious moments of our bodies nourishing our babes. We’ve heard and we’ve read about colostrum, the let down reflex and our milk coming in. We’re mindful of the benefits and we rarely think twice about the what ifs? But, for more mothers than we may realise, breastfeeding is not so natural and it can arrive with discomfort and pain. It raises questions of inadequacies and the weight of guilt falls heavily on already tired shoulders.

Many mothers want to breastfeed.  They want to offer what is viewed as nature’s best. And they will try their absolute best. And sometimes, their best still isn’t enough.

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I’m a great proponent of breastfeeding and I was fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed both of my children (though not without some challenges). However, I’ve had friends and clients who, despite battling their hardest, despite their strong desires and efforts, are not able to breastfeed. For many of them, breastfeeding does not come naturally and it doesn’t always work out.

There are reasons why breastfeeding can’t, and doesn’t, come naturally: a poor latch, surgery (caesarean section or prior breast surgery), mastitis, low milk production, premature babies, medications contraindicated in feeding or pain that’s too unbearable. The list goes on…

My advice is this: Don’t beat yourself up. Please, don’t beat yourself up.

To those who’ve tried, who’ve exhausted themselves in trying to conquer their less than natural experience, who have kept on keeping on for fear of family, friends and social judgement, be proud of your efforts!

Whether you breastfed an hour, a day, a week, a fortnight or a few months – each feed you have given is a gift to your child.

Instead of beating ourselves up about formula feeding our babies we should ponder this: when infant formula gained popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, and there was a consequent decline in breastfeeding, did we witness a generation of lesser intelligence, sicklier or more allergy sensitive children?

Of course we didn’t.

“Formulas have become more nutritionally sound and complex over the years, they’re strictly tested and screened and provide a valuable alternative to those who do not have a choice” is Babycenter’s expert advice.

As internationally certified lactation consultant Jan Barger says “sometimes babies just don’t breastfeed and sometimes moms just can’t take another day struggling to try.”

When the struggle is just too hard, when the feeding wrestle leave us and our baby upset and dissatisfied, when our baby shows signs of not gaining sufficient weight, where our bonding opportunity can be so negatively impacted by our physical pain and emotional distress, how can we question those who need to call it a day?

Why would we do that to those parents?

It’s so important to remember that it’s not about good parenting.

Good parenting is more than breastfeeding! Imagine if breastfeeding was all it took?

To those who sit in judgement, who may frown as they watch a mother take a tin of formula off the shelf, who might feel the urge to “advise” the benefits of breastfeeding, just remember this: most mothers want to breastfeed and they will give it their best shot.

Rather than raise your eyebrow, just think for a moment: how you might feel if you didn’t have the choice?

If you can’t be kind, be quiet.

Amanda May is a mother of two with over 15 years experience as a Health Visitor and Public Health Nurse working with children, their mothers and families, she’s an advocate of “supporting the motherhood journey”. You can find her at My Baby and Toddler Life

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