Breastfeeding: Society’s Expectation Vs. Your Own Sanity

It starts with a feeling, a rising from the pit of my stomach. I don’t like it. It tastes wrong. It’s a guilty secret, the kind I could never ever share. Yet the more I think it, the more unruly it becomes…

I don’t like breastfeeding.

It’s 3am. Emily is six weeks old. I’m sitting up in bed with one of those farcical nursing pillows draped across my lap. It feels like a concrete pillar, pinning me against the headboard. I’m shattered. My back aches. I’ve been stuck in this position for most of the night.

Emily’s dozing. She’s fallen off my breast again and I don’t have the energy to wake her. But I must. My Health Visitor told me to. Emily’s not following her centile line again. She’s not feeding properly and it’s all my fault. I’m to wake her every three hours for a feed. But by the time I’ve fed, winded and changed her there’s no time left for me. The vicious cycle of sleep deprivation starts all over again.

I’m sore. Every feed feels like a thousand knives shooting through my chest. The oral thrush will be spotted soon enough but right now it’s undiagnosed. I’ve yet to discover the wonders of Lansinoh. The darkness is stifling me. My mind is racing.

I can’t do this anymore.

I push the thought away. It feels dirty. It’s not what nice mother’s think. It certainly isn’t something my NCT teacher would approve of. I’m being selfish. I need to do what’s best for my baby, and only my body can provide it. I’ve been force-fed the horror stories like everyone else. Formula causes reflux and constipation. I won’t be able to comfort her in the night. Not like this.

But who’s comforting me?

Certainly not my Health Visitor. She’s firmly in the Breastfeeding Camp. Besides, it would mean publically acknowledging my failing. I tried a Breastfeeding Group but I spent most of my time rocking a crying baby to sleep. Everyone knew each other. They all seemed to find breastfeeding easy. I felt intimidated. I made myself an outsider by my own feelings of inadequacy.

My husband wants to help but exhaustion has twisted everything again. I don’t remember him gently suggesting a bottle of formula yesterday. Mother’s Guilt has erased his words from my mind. I’m the mother. The weight of society’s expectation is my burden. In the darkness I feel like a solo parent, even though this couldn’t be further from the truth.

 Panic. All I feel is panic.

Mother’s Guilt has a way of bringing out the stubborn streak in people. I’ll continue to breastfeed for another four months despite latch problems, oral thrush and PND. And why? Because by some half-cocked, bird-brained reasoning I want to prove to others and myself that I’m a ‘proper mother’.

Looking back, I want to shake myself awake. By refusing to accept formula, I chose to accept society’s ideals over my own sanity. And what happened when I eventually caved?

Emily flourished of course. And so did I.

xx

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15 Comments

  1. May 8, 2017 / 11:28 am

    Breast milk may be ‘best for baby’ but breastfeeding it isn’t always best for mum and that’s why this culture of shaming mums has to stop. x

    • May 8, 2017 / 11:30 am

      Totally agree. The pressure is far too much. Thanks for commenting! xx

  2. Something About Baby
    May 8, 2017 / 12:18 pm

    I find it so incredible that there is still such a lack of support for mums. You need support with whatever decision you make, not a professional pressuring you into doing something you are struggling with. It makes me sad that you didn’t get the support you needed, when you needed it. Please don’t think you “caved” by using formula. You didn’t – you did what was best for you and your baby.

    • May 8, 2017 / 8:15 pm

      Terrible, isn’t it? The pressure that I, and countless others, felt was crippling. The whole system needs to change xx

  3. May 8, 2017 / 12:57 pm

    What Fran said. I breastfed all of mine for months and months, but my own sanity and having a functioning mother would always have been more important – to me and my baby x

    • May 8, 2017 / 8:14 pm

      I agree. Yours sounds like a very similar situation to mine xx

  4. May 8, 2017 / 1:31 pm

    I think we’re all a bit guilty of putting pressure on ourselves too, of feeling that we “must” do certain things in order to be a “real” mother. I’m breastfeeding my 2nd child as I type this. She’s 13 months old now. I’ve hated feeding her since day 1 but because I fed her brother for 18 months, I’m putting myself under pressure to reach at least the same for her.

    And what for? I don’t know. Because I feel I should. I wish I had the confidence to stop.

    • May 8, 2017 / 8:12 pm

      Oh I really feel for you. I felt the same with both of mine. I so wish i’d had the confidence to stop sooner and realise that formula wasn’t going to poison them! xx

  5. The Geekfather
    May 8, 2017 / 1:33 pm

    Great post, thanks so much for sharing. I think one of the unfortunate consequences of the ‘breast is best’ message that is drilled so much into new parents – particularly new mums – there’s this expectation that every new mum will find it both easy to do and enjoyable – definitely not always the case, if the experience of my wife and friends of ours is anything to go by.

    • May 8, 2017 / 8:11 pm

      Agree completely. The whole attitude and approach needs to change. Thanks so much for commenting! xx

  6. May 9, 2017 / 5:59 pm

    Glad I don’t have to deal with the guilt any more, luckily I had a good health visitor who supported my decision. As long as the child and parent are happy they should choice X #dreamteam

    • May 9, 2017 / 10:27 pm

      That’s so true. Remove the guilt and there’s a happy mum underneath! x

  7. May 13, 2017 / 7:48 pm

    What an important post. It is so difficult to make the decision not to breastfeed. I chose to stop after 6 weeks with my first and felt the guilt but he also did so well once on formula. This time I’m still BFing at 9 months and that’s fine too. Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays. Kaye xo

    • May 14, 2017 / 5:21 pm

      I agree, I struggled with that decision for far too long… xx

  8. May 14, 2017 / 7:50 pm

    I was nodding along to this! I think the overwhelming pressure to be perfect is awful, and certainly not in the best interest of mum and baby. Fed is best. It has to be. Thank you for sharing with the #DreamTeam – such an important message. x

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