It’s world breastfeeding week and it’s only fair I start at the beginning, because you’d be forgiven, if you were just walking in on my story now, for thinking breastfeeding “worked” for me.
But for the longest time, it didn’t. As a first-time mum I was the product of a system that encouraged me to breastfeed and then set me up to fail, from the breastfeeding education I received to the lack of support postnatally. My experience left me scarred, hurt, and with feelings of inadequacy and trauma that I still feel, on some level, today. It was that lack of help, honesty, and support that meant I stopped long before I was ready and switched to formula.
But my experience wasn’t unique, in fact, the more I understand feeding trauma the more I realise that I am not the minority, I’m the majority. The majority of women who, when have chosen to breastfeed, find themselves failed by a system that gives no real support in enabling them to continue. Of those who decide to breastfeed over 70% are forced to stop before they are ready leaving behind, in many cases, feelings of grief and trauma surrounding the experience.
The problem starts within breastfeeding education and is propelled through maternity services and into postnatal care. Instead of enabling women who want to breastfeed to do so, instead, we have a system whereby breastfeeding is held to the highest of standards antenatally but postnatally it’s given no real support, especially in cases with feeding difficulties. Without support, women are left with little option than to switch to formula. And it’s not that there is anything wrong with formula (I for one am incredibly grateful for its existence) it’s just that it’s a choice many of us were forced into before we were ready.
The fact that out of everyone who starts breastfeeding, over 70% stop before they are ready with many people being left with feelings of inadequacy, trauma and pain tells you everything you need to know. The problem is huge and it’s damaging.
We need to do better as a society to support and facilitate women in the way they want to feed their babies. We need an honest breastfeeding education that doesn’t just tell us how wonderful it can be but is honest about the hardships and how they can be solved, or how we can get help if needed. We need better breastfeeding help in hospital so we aren’t sent home already flailing in figuring it out. We need better postnatal help and support, to help us through those early days and beyond.
We need to be more open and kinder too. So many people have implied that I didn’t try hard enough to succeed and my story is worth far more than being boiled down to that. There were a lot of issues that prevented my success, all solvable with the right support.
Feeding trauma is real and for those experiencing it is deafening. Next time you speak to a new mum ask her how it’s going because she really might need a kind ear to share her feelings with. So many of us have been failed and keep it inside until it bursts out, leaving many with years and even decades of hurt and regret.
Our society needs to do better for our new mums.