Even though I was breastfeeding by choice, I felt I was constantly under the pressure and judgment of midwives and health advisors.

The advice from the World Health Organisation, NHS and many medical institutions is “Breast is the best”, meaning that a choice to breastfeed your baby is the best for your newborn

No one can argue about the benefits of mother’s milk for sure. Everything from absolute protection from so many diseases and your baby’s health, to feeding the baby wherever you are without having to  prepare the bottles, without having to worry about the milk’s temperature, or bottle sterilization, etc.

It is all there, and it’s great if it’s working for you. But what about all those women who don’t have the milk supply,  or can not breastfeed or they don’t want that option? What about many of my girlfriends and women around the globe who fed their babies only with formula and their babies end up just fine?

Is society sending the message to mothers who do not breastfeed that they don’t want the best for their children?

I personally wanted to breastfeed and wanted to do everything right. I attended antenatal classes with my husband, learned about all the breastfeeding benefits. I was a great student, wrote notes, practiced the positions with the dolly, watched the videos. I was ready. I got it all down. Until I got the baby.

I was doing everything by the book but my baby hadn’t. He would get upset in a second if he didn’t get the sucking motion straight away and he would cry so hard that I couldn’t easily calm him down to feed him. 

Instead of sleeping when my baby was sleeping I was spending hours to express my milk for the next feed. To produce enough milk, however, the mother needs to rest. It was a vicious cycle of repetitive actions that didn’t put me, nor my baby on an easy stress free path. Moreover, I  had no headspace to look after myself.

The excruciating pain of breastfeeding 

On the top of sleepless nights and days, constant feeds and crying there was an excruciating pain of breastfeeding that no one really tells you about.

They say if you get it right, if the baby is latching properly it should not be painful. Let me tell you. That is not true. Maybe after two, three months it’s true, but at the beginning, the sensitivity of the breast is so high that no matter how the baby is attached you feel it and it’s not pleasant. At least it wasn’t for me.

Looking back from this point now, I have no idea how I coped with all those demands and pressures especially as my husband was on the Brexit cycle all the time and had very little time with almost none to help around. If I had not had my mother by my side, it would have been impossible to cope with.

Statistically, around 90 percent of women in the UK express the wish to breastfeed but figures show that it reduces in the first week to 30 percent. I managed to go through the pain of the beginning and breastfed for five months. I am in that 30 percent of the UK women who breastfed.

However, I just wish that they warned me. I would appreciate it if I was prepared for what was about to happen.

Judgment from midwives and health advisors

Even though I was breastfeeding by choice, I felt I was constantly under the pressure and judgment from midwives and health advisors to continue.

If I would ask for advice what formula to give my baby or how much of it as I wanted to top him up, instead of an answer I would get the pressure to breastfeed only and judged like I was asking about some dirty secret.

It did not seem like a support system set up for new mothers but more like a judging panel on a mission to score your performance.

Even though I was doing great in their opinion, there was always an underlying pressure to convey the role of a perfect breastfeeding mother always with a smile on her face even when she wasn’t feeling like that at all. That false happiness that is put on us such as -the breastfeeding is the best feeling in the world that any mother can wish- is utterly fake.

The choice about breastfeeding is yours to make

If there is a choice, we should make that choice without judgment and fear. 

On that note, please do advise us, but stop pressuring us. Stop telling us how we have a choice and then judge us for making one. Stop with the false hype just because you didn’t have guts to speak the truth about your own experiences and don’t want to listen to what our experience is.

Stop with NHS propaganda such as “almost every mother can produce milk”, as the mother who can not will never feel good about herself when she reads that and It borderlines discrimination. It is hard enough to figure out the first months with your newborn, and we need support from the NHS, not a guilt trip and passive aggression. More compassion and understanding please.

We should introduce every mother to both options and allow them to choose what is the best option for them based on the circumstances. Every baby and every mother is different, there is no one size fits all approach especially where breastfeeding is concerned.

If the pressure of breastfeeding is putting a strain on a mother’s life and not contributing to her postnatal state of wellbeing, then the medical workers should recognize that, and offer support instead of robotic scripts they have been trained to give out.

Breastfed or formula fed, the most important is that the baby is healthy, happy and progressing.

With the knowledge and experience, I have now, I would choose to breastfeed again, but without guilt and pressure knowing that other options are available. To other mothers, I would say: try to breastfeed and try to go through the first wave of what is a challenge but if it is turning out badly for you and the little one, choose to do what’s the best for both of you. You are the mother. Full stop.

Nevena Bridgen
Nevena Bridgen

Founder

Nevena Bridgen is the Founder of The Wives of Westminster. She is an opera singer and a wife of MP Andrew Bridgen.

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