Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Triumphant Tuesday: Breastfeeding in a Hostile Community

Studies suggest that the support a woman receives from her partner can make or break her breastfeeding success (Arora et al 2000; Tohotoa et al 2009; U.S. Department of Health 2011). The same is equally true of the impact Grandma has on breastfeeding success (Bentley et al 2003; Susin et al 2005; Grassley and Eschiti 2008; Agunbiade and Ogunleye 2012). Consider also that mothers from low socioeconomic backgrounds breastfeed for shorter durations (Heck et al
2006; Flacking et al 2007; Amir and Donath 2008) and teen moms seldom breastfeed at all! (NHS 2004; Unicef 2010; Tucker et al 2011). Evidently the odds were stacked against this week’s Triumphant mom. She was a teenage mother, living in a deprived area with an unsupportive partner, interfering mother, and sabotaging social community to boot! This is her story.

“I was 17 when I fell pregnant and living with my parents in an area of high deprivation. I was determined to breastfeed. I had fed and nourished my baby for 9 months, and saw breastfeeding as an extension of that.  It is free, it is time saving, it is better for me as well as being the best option for my baby. Yet people in my community rarely breastfed, and teenage mothers certainly did not!  

Grandma Undermining

It was an uncomfortable situation at the best of times, with my wonderful (if slightly deranged) mother not supportive of my parenting choices. The first thing my mother put on the list of 'things the baby needs' was a sterilizer and bottles. I added a breast pump.

Pessimistic Midwives

When my son was born, the midwives told me he had tongue-tie before they even put him in my arms!  They said very matter-of-factly that he would not be able to breastfeed.  When I was struggling with trying to get him to latch on, the hospital staff came in and plonked him on my boob in a very undignified manner then walked off.  No advice whatsoever was given, except to make sure that I closed the curtain around the bed so no-one could see me nursing! 

Not-so-Subtle Formula Pushing

When my son was not sleeping (at 4 weeks old... when most babies aren't sleeping) mom would come into my bedroom in the middle of the night with a bottle of formula and sit it on my bedside table to "make things easier".  I think, before she got the message, she went through two tubs of formula and my chubby little monster never touched a drop.

Cracked Nipples and Mastitis 

When my nipples cracked and I carried on feeding, she and my partner would roll their eyes. When I got mastitis and insisted he just needed to be placed at the breast more, they were convinced I was doing more harm than good. Mastitis was horrible.  I felt constantly ill, exhausted all the time and I was pretty certain that my breasts were about to explode.  My health visitor had no advice whatsoever. My local breastfeeding support group were very sympathetic, but again no advice, so I tried to educate myself as much as possible. 


Moving in with my partner didn't make it much easier. He had a tantrum, one which would be expected of a toddler who wasn't allowed sweeties. He argued that our son was "spoilt" because I was still nursing him regularly throughout the day. Personally I think it was my partner who was behaving like the spoilt one. He thought he should have priority over our son as though my breasts belonged to him.  Unsurprisingly he didn't remain my partner for much longer.

Mixing Employment with Breastfeeding

When my son was 5 months old, I started working in a local pub and used to request time out so I could pump.  The boss was fine with this arrangement but the comments from some of the locals were often petty and unwanted. Similar comments came from my Grandmother that I should stop feeding instantly or he “would be feeding into adolescence”.  People are bizarre.  Even my local breastfeeding group, which I ended up running, was difficult at times.  There was no support from the staff in the clinic; the health visitors were nowhere to be seen when needed, and very few of the mothers fed past 6 months; it was quite isolating towards the end.

In the end I nursed my son for 30 months. Now I have a 5 (nearly 6 year old), he has a cognitive and developmental disorder.  He struggles to recognize faces, has no concept of time, strong autistic traits, dyspraxia and hyper-mobile joints.  But that's ok, I know the choice to EBF was the best one, he is secure and happy regardless of his difficulties and, knowing that my parenting is not what has caused his difficulties, I take comfort in the fact that he could have been struggling so much more had he not been given the best start.

There is no logic behind formula feeding an infant when you can feed naturally. The idea that formula feeding is 'normal' I find exasperating!  Breastfeeding is normal, it is  natural, it is perfect.  Formula is the thing you should use only if you physically cannot feed.”

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