RECENTLY AUSTRALIAN TV ANCHOR MADDIE WRIGHT spoke about refusing to breastfeed; her post caused heated controversy – many accused the woman of selfishness. A nursing mother finds herself between two fires: on the one hand, she is asked to stay at home, because it is “indecent” to breastfeed on the street, in the subway, in a store, in a museum. On the other hand, to stop breastfeeding means admitting your own “failure” as a mother and your unwillingness to devote yourself to your child one hundred percent. This is not about the merits of breast milk or the fact that artificial feeding is better (it is not), but about the right to choose. After all, few people care about what the mother wants and how she feels.
Being a mom to a baby is not easy, and it’s not just sleepless nights. For someone in this mode, there is nothing to worry about; after all, quite a few people are used to staying up late and desperately having fun all weekend, arranging those same sleepless nights on purpose. But pressure from others, a desire to teach and give advice, passive aggression, reproaches – this is what annoys at best, and at worst makes you feel guilty. For some reason, when it comes to breastfeeding, even strangers on the street rush to convey their opinion to the mother.
From all sides, women are agitating to breastfeed, without explaining how to stop this feeding later. Theoretically, the baby’s need for milk should gradually decrease, up to complete rejection, but the key word here is “theoretically”. While the child’s body after a certain age does not really need breast milk, there are often cases of psychological attachment to the breast, when the child, having already learned to speak, consciously asks for it and is offended if he is refused. On many forums for moms, questions arise over and over again about how to wean a two-, three-, four-year-old baby.
On the other hand, many simply cannot afford to breastfeed for several years. Paid maternity leave around the world often lasts three to four months; in the USA, for example, it is not guaranteed by law at all and depends on the goodwill of a particular company. A huge number of women are forced to work soon after giving birth, because otherwise, at best, they will lose their jobs, at worst, the family will have nothing to eat.
If you make a list of the most important
things parents can do for their babies, breastfeeding will not even make
the top ten.
Those who are especially vocal in favor of breastfeeding and against artificial feeding call themselves lactivists. There is a public consensus in their favor, so it is not uncommon for a woman using formula to feel guilty for such a “vicious” choice. Courtney Jung, author of Lactivism (as you might guess about lactation activists), says that in reality, if you list the most important things parents can do for their babies, breastfeeding won’t even make the top ten. But lactivists stand their ground, explaining the importance of breastfeeding by its naturalness. They are not interested in the mother’s well-being, her state of health and, in fact, the ability to feed: even after learning that a woman has undergone a double mastectomy, they insist that they should “try”.
I breastfed my son for two months. I must admit that I was lucky, and there were no difficulties with feeding in public. I live in Barcelona, and here on the street you can find more interesting characters than a woman with a topless chest and a baby (where am I to a completely naked cyclist who has a tattoo in the form of panties on his butt). I had to breastfeed Christopher in the clinic, bank, hotel lobbies, bars and cafes, on the street and in the Russian Orthodox Church, and no one made comments. The problem was different – breastfeeding was terribly uncomfortable for me. I had to choose my clothes carefully – so that I could unbutton my coat, lift my sweater, pull back my T-shirt, unbutton my bra and not get confused in all this. I was constantly throwing a fever due to fluctuations in hormone levels; I didn’t get enough sleep, because sleeping on my side next to a sucking baby was scary, it seemed to me that I could injure him. My shoulder joints ached, because for feeding at night, lying in bed, I had to raise my hand unnaturally high, first one, then the other.
Worst of all, the child was not full. He could suckle for two hours and then cry from hunger. I read articles, asked nurses, went to consultations on lactation, and everyone said the same thing: “There is never enough milk.” They explained to me that the child will definitely stimulate the production of milk in the required amount, you just need to be patient, and they said that, probably, I was not properly applying it to the breast and it did not grasp the nipple well enough. I constantly felt guilty because I was actually being told that I was doing something wrong. Not full in an hour and a half – not patient enough, feed longer. Advocates for breastfeeding repeated the same formulas word for word: “wrong grip”, “baby will take its toll”, “there is really little milk in very rare cases.” It never occurred to anyone that such a “rare case” could happen to me, although in one population study one in eight women were unable to breastfeed for more than a month and a half.
Christopher cried constantly and stopped gaining weight. And then I was lucky: at the next examination, the pediatric nurse said that since the baby suckles for an hour and a half, it seems that there is really not enough milk, and she advised me to try giving him milk formula. There was no condemnation in her tone; she explained that, of course, breastfeeding is considered preferable, because breast milk contains valuable immunoglobulins and, in general, it is maximally compatible with the baby’s body. But after all, the main task of any food is to provide a person with energy and nutrients, and if they are not enough, then it is better to feed from a bottle than to get hung up on immunoglobulins (in addition, vaccination begins at two months, and the child becomes protected from dangerous infections).
When I realized that my son wasn’t eating my milk at all, I decided not to breastfeed at all. I consider it one of the most important for the well-being of my family, as all three of them have improved. Christopher began to gain weight, sleep well and cry less. His dad had enough opportunities to do it, because the child stopped “hanging on his chest” for hours. My hands were untied: I could go to the gym for a couple of hours or go for a manicure, and drink good wine, as much and when I wanted. I began to sleep for eight hours in a row, because at night my son was fed by my father.
Women began to write to me who fed their children with milk formula
while no one saw, and felt a huge sense of guilt
However, when I talked about it on social media, there was a real wave of discontent. Well-wishers actively offered me “to help establish GW,” the aggressors accused me of selfishness. There were also mothers who tried to shift the responsibility onto the child and explained that I was just lucky, and their children would not let them stop breastfeeding (which means “they would not,” no one explained). Women began to write to me who dreamed of giving up breastfeeding and did not do it solely because of the pressure of relatives and others; women who literally fed their babies with formula until no one saw it, and felt a huge sense of guilt because of this. Even in publications like “I don’t breastfeed and I don’t regret it,” the authors seem to justify themselves and try to explain that they really could not do it physically.
In one of his books, American author Jody Picoult describes a moment when a mother and her baby are visited by a maternity hospital employee for a month and a half to make sure everything is in order: “’If you give him a bottle … anything can happen.’ “I wonder what can happen?” – I thought, but didn’t say anything. In the worst case, Max could give up the breast. My milk would be gone, and I would finally shed twelve pounds, firmly at the waist and hips, allowing me to fit into my old clothes. I didn’t understand why there was so much noise. After all, from the moment I was born, I was only fed formula. In the sixties, everyone did that. And nothing, we grew up as normal people. “
Mother’s milk is often presented as a panacea for both the baby and the mother, who will protect against infections and the risk of diabetes or malignant tumors. Indeed, WHO and other guideline writers recommend breastfeeding for at least 6 months, as many studies have shown clear benefits of breast milk. However, studies are not always reproducible, and other sources suggest that breast milk is only marginally better than formula; when comparing siblings, one of whom received breast milk and the other received formula milk, the results were the same for 10 out of 11 measured parameters. Of course, breastfeeding can bring mother and child closer and be comfortable, and besides, it is free. But still, the decision must be made by the woman and her family, so that none of them ceases to be happy and contented with life. I would like the moment to come when women will not be condemned for refusing to breastfeed, and it will be explained by a simple “I don’t want to”.