Always a sucker…

I know, I know, the world and his wife has blogged about breastfeeding. Even I have – a rather ranty affair about resisting the brainwash attitude about “breast is best”. For the record, I do believe that, in the majority of cases, it’s true. It is best. There are health benefits for mother and child, documented, factual health benefits. Accepted. And in fact I’m not trying to argue the point. But what I object to is the angle of breastfeeding being so supremely superior to the extent that mothers end up feeling intense guilt, even feelings of abject failure and depression, if they are not able to feed, an exclusively feed, in this manner. ThisI have blogged about before and I shall try not to repeat myself too often.

However, I am in a slightly odd position and it has made me think. My little girl is now very nearly 16 weeks. Just before she was born, new research seemed to recommend that, once b/f is established, combination feeding can in fact be superior to pure breastfeeding. Heard that one before? If not, don’t shoot me – I didn’t say it first.

But I decided before L was born that I wasn’t going to beat myself up about topping up with the occasional formula if I felt it necessary. I remember when J was little, the first time I gave him formula (because I was producing virtually nothing, he was having a growth spurt, had been feeding all day, I was exhausted, ill, and not doing him any good at all) I cried. A lot. I felt like a complete failure. I felt I had let him down, that I wasn’t a proper mother, that I would somehow ruin him. Needless to say that was ridiculous, he’s fine, and I still maintain that if a mother is exhausted and run down, or ill, it is better for the child to get their nutrition from formula – mother’s principles be damned, I’d rather cry about it than see my child go hungry. I know there are many mothers who physically can’t breastfeed too – I wish society could be a little more accepting of circumstances, and not so universally judgmental. But I have the ability, and therefore, it’s entirely my choice how to feed my children.

So with L I started off b/f all the way, then at around 4 or 5 weeks I offered a bottle early evening. She didn’t much like it at first, but soon got used to it. Last week, worried I wasn’t producing enough milk again, I gave her an extra bottle mid-afternoon. She took the whole thing with bright, happy eyes, and had the best night’s sleep of her little life. So that’s become a habit already, the whole 2 bottles a day thing. Her weight is back on its previous curve, which it was just starting to slip away from, and she is clearly happier and more comfortable. I am sure I am doing the right thing, the thing that is making her happier. I harbour vague hopes that this will make weaning easier later on too – not sure of the logic behind that part, but still, it’s a thought.

So why the hell am I still feeling guilty? Why do I still feel like I am letting her down, letting motherhood down, being lazy, not living up to my responsibilities as a mum? That I should be trying harder, expressing morning, noon and night to encourage more milk production (whilst simultaneously cursing people who suggest such things because how on earth are you supposed to have the time, never mind the energy, when you have more than one child?), eating more, drinking more (though I drink enormous amounts of water etc)…. the list goes on. Where does this immense guilt come from?

Feeding is of course the tip of the iceberg. Guilt and motherhood go together like toddlers and sticky fingers. From “I’m not spending enough time with either of my children” to “I can’t believe I blogged about not bonding instantly with my daughter, what if she reads it one day” to “hang on, surely I’m still an immature teenager, I shouldn’t be allowed to be responsible for anyone” – despite being 34 – and so on. I felt guilty for secretly hoping the baby was breech so I could have another c-section without having to make the choice myself. Guilty for having another child at all, dividing my attention from my amazing son….

Where does it all come from though? Motherhood is such a natural, biological thing, it amazes me how bound up it is in psychology, and a very self-effacing psychology at that. I don’t know any mothers who don’t beat themselves up on a daily basis about their failings. Perhaps we should all go a little easier on ourselves, and remember that if our children are happy, and well-fed, and safe, then we are pretty much their heroes, if not our own. Surely that is more important than living up to our own weirdly impossible standards.

I wish I could listen to my rational side once in a while, and actually believe it. But then again – when has rational thinking ever had anything to do with parenthood?

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~ by DelightingintheDetail on June 10, 2011.

2 Responses to “Always a sucker…”

  1. I can totally agree. Baby and I are nearing the end of our breastfeeding journey and I have a feeling that when I stop (planned for 12 months), I will feel guilty for not continuing for another month. But then it’s very easy to see how some people end up breastfeeding until their children start school.
    Maybe that’s something to blog about – last ever breastfeed. At least after stopping feeding my first child, I knew I’d have another and enjoy breastfeeding again. This time, then end os the end.

  2. I’m not really sure why you decided to give your baby a bottle but your body does provide enough milk. Your breasts do reduce, and I used to worry that because they were so much smaller, how could they be providing enough milk?

    You do have to remember those charts in the books are for bottle fed babies. Both my children were whoppers starting on the 95th and 91st centile, and dropped to the 50th and 25th. Ben, I introduced a bottle because first time mum I feared he wouldn’t take a bottle (WTF?). With Kieran I learnt better, and he was solely breast fed for 6 months – a bottle never passed his lips… and I continued to breast feed him until he was 12 months, although by then it was really one feed in the morning. He got given formula from about 8 months as I was returning to work weekends. (And admittedly it was hard going trying to give him that bottle, but he took it eventually). While breastfeeding, he did drop to the 25th centile, but as I pointed out to my midwife he WAS putting on weight… not to the drastic amount the chart wanted him to do. And he was contented. I had no worries about him. I went with MY instinct. I had to feed him more than Ben actually, he was like every two hours in the first months.

    I’m not sure how soon he slept through the night, it wasn’t something I really monitored. I also learnt that wasn’t a contest either. When the baby was ready, he’d sleep through. (Babies aren’t supposed to sleep through instantly!)

    With bottles, you can ‘see’ what you’re feeding your baby, but you can also push too much milk down… (and it is ‘heavier’) hence we have an increased problem with obesity amongst children.

    Oh and I never got to express for Kieran, it was just really hard work, because I usually had to deal with Ben, so had a lot less time to express (it’s best done in the morning). Hence Kieran never had a bottle be it expressed or formula till 8 months. Probably the best thing I did though. Okay, so it meant I usually could only leave him with Nanny for 2-3 hours… but I coped with that. It’s a very small window of time in the grand scale of things. Some mums seem too desperate for their ‘freedom’.

    The thing is, you’ve breast fed your child actually longer than some mothers even achieve, so don’t beat yourself up about anything… but I do think sometimes ‘society’ does not help the idea of breast feeding either. I had a lot of pressure at one stage to give Kieran a bottle because of his ‘weight’. But I stuck to my guns and he’s a very healthy boy now! I am made to feel guilty about feeling passionate about breast feeding.

    And don’t get me started on real nappies…. ;-P

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