As such a personal thing, all women have different aims for breastfeeding. The great thing is we can all decide for ourselves what we hope for and want. The bad side is unfortunately our journey through breastfeeding doesn’t always line up with the one we had planned for. The Scottish Maternal and Infant Nutrition Survey in 2017 found that three quarters of those who stopped breastfeeding would have liked to have continued for longer. With these outcomes, a lot of us can feel disappointed with how breastfeeding turns out. We’ve heard from a lot of women about this and some common themes have been feeling like a failure and feeling guilty for stopping.
“… the stress and worry I put myself under because I felt like I wasn’t enough for him, like I was failing him. I know now that that was silly to think but at the time it was all I could think about to the point where I wasn’t enjoying my baby because I was so busy worrying over not being able to breastfeed. Every midwife I spoke to pressured me to keep going and completely dismissing the idea of the bottle (one even made me cup feed him just in case "he got used to the bottle teat") they made me feel awful, even worse than I already did and my health visitor started to suggested I had postnatal depression. I finally made the decision to bottle feed, it took me a while to realise that as long as he is fed bottle or breast then that's all that matters.” Rosie
- Be kind to yourself and each other
The health benefits of breastfeeding seem to be well publicised. 75% of expectant mothers reported wanting to breastfeed and more than 4 in five said that they knew about the health benefits. But something seems to go wrong after this point. Perhaps some women don’t get enough of the right kind of help for breastfeeding. Also I think it’s true that breastfeeding is can be incredibly hard and isn’t going to always possible for every person, for example if you’ve been through a traumatic labour it can be much harder. It seems as though information about potential reasons why breast-feeding will not be possible is not shared readily for fear that people will be scared off before they even start. However, there are some situations where breastfeeding would put a huge strain on the mother and for the sake of the mental health of those women it would help to be better informed beforehand so they are not blindsided.
“One lovely midwife said to me, you’re a mammal. If you were in the wild and you’d gone through a labour like yours it would have resulted in your body trying to survive and producing milk isn’t helping you survive…Not everyone even gets the option. Be kind to each other and most of all yourself.” Bex
"Every baby and woman is different and what’s good for one might not work for the other so all we need to do is to support each other and not to judge how a mother chooses to feed her baby." Emma
"My advice to anyone who can't breastfeed, or is struggling to, is to be kind to yourself and reach out for support." Imy
- It's ok if something that's hard doesn't go to plan
Pregnant women may feel under a lot of pressure to make the healthiest choice and therefore feel judged if things don’t go to plan. It is true that breastfeeding has the advantage health wise but a message that it is easy and natural can fuel these feelings of guilt and failure. For some babies, say those who've been in high dependency units, or with severe tongue ties, feeding can quite simply be more difficult for mother and baby.
“I think its important to stress that whilst breastfeeding is fantastic and has the edge over bottle feeding....its not best if you’re crying in pain or if your baby isn't thriving on it and it's incredibly normal for breastfeeding to not go to plan…I think midwives put so much pressure with the breast is best campaign that if it doesn't work out you feel like a failure and you're not prepared because it's been made to sound like the most natural and beautiful thing in the world. Bottle feeding is a beautiful close time with your baby too...just as close...Make your choice, make your peace, your baby will thrive with your love whichever way they are fed" Lynne
“(It’s because) I was given the impression that breastfeeding is best and it’s easy that failing hit me really hard.” Lisa
"No I can’t feed him myself but I can still gaze into his beautiful brown eyes during bottle feeds and breathe in his amazing baby smell and know I’m doing best by him. Best by your baby is whatever works for them!" Em
- Finally some wise words from some other parents…
"Be kind to yourself... the journey is never a straight path and guilt is delivered with the placenta, so be kind, whatever way your feeding your baby they are being nourished and you’re doing great! " Katie
"Don’t feel guilty, it’s nobody’s fault as long as you are both smiling and enjoying time to together it’s fine, and don’t assume just because it’s not someone’s first baby that it will work, they still need the help and support but in the end fed and happy is best!" Mel
“It prepares you for the rest of parenthood...things rarely go to plan” Catriona
We also want to highlight that there is some amazing breastfeeding peer support available across the UK. Good support transforms many women's feeding experiences and certainly did mine. We recommend the Facebook based IBCLC Led Support Group. as an amazing starting point and of course your local midwife and health visitor.