Like many new mothers, I struggled with breastfeeding. I even went to the local breastfeeding group six days after giving birth to see if I could pick up any tips. What I did pick up on was a lactation consultant anxious to feel up my baby’s mouth in pursuit of a tongue tie that didn’t exist. I also picked up on a bunch of uber-trendy sanctimommies judging the evils of formula in Valley Girl accents. But, the one thing I remember the most about that visit was the woman who sat there looking wrecked trying every gadget and trick in creation to get her child to feed. After four months of pumping and feeding non-stop, she was one pediatric appointment away from having her son declared “failure to thrive” for lack of weight gain. When she mumbled something about possibly using formula, the women next to her gagged. “You’re a hero,” they said, “a supermom! You’d never do that for your baby!” Idiots.
Another mother struggling with breastfeeding recently took to social media to share her experience with life-threatening mastitis.
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This is mastitis. After hitting the 1 year breastfeeding mark last Sunday I felt compelled to share my story. Breastfeeding did NOT come easy for me. My milk came in after 5 days. I wasn't aware that it could take that long, I didn't even necessarily know what "milk coming in" meant. (Nobody ever taught me.) I was the only mother breastfeeding on my ward. One women did try to breastfeed, but switched to formula after 12 hours because she "had no milk" (nobody taught her either.) While the other babies slept with full bellies, my son screamed and cried attached to my breast through the night. (What was cluster feeding? Nobody told me) When I got home, problems started to arise-my nipple literally cracked in half. I have never felt such pain, I dreaded every feed, but persisted with tears in my eyes until I was healed. (Nobody taught me that breastfeeding could be painful, nobody taught me what a good latch looked like) When feeding my son out in public I would either go to the bathroom or pump at home and feed him with a bottle. Because I felt embarrassed and as though I would make others uncomfortable. This resulted in clogged ducts and engorgement. (I feed freely in public now, and have done for a long time. Fuck this backwards society!) Then came mastitis. I remember waking up at 3am shivering, putting on my dressing gown and extra blankets and trying to feed my son. The pain. It was excruciating. I was shaking and sweating but freezing to my bones. At 5 am I woke up my boyfriend and told him I thought I needed to go to the hospital. We got my stepdad, a doctor, he took my temperature and said it was slightly high, but to take a paracetamol and try and sleep. 7am comes, I've had no sleep, and now I'm vomiting, he takes my temp again. 40 c. I had developed sepsis overnight. This was because I was not able to recognise the more subtle signs of mastitis (as I had seen no redness that day) I was rushed to resus, given morphine, anti sickness and the strongest antibiotics they could give, and separated from my baby for two nights. I was Heartbroken. Continued in comments…
She didn’t do it to be a “supermom.” She shared her story to draw attention to the complete lack of breastfeeding education and support. And she’s absolutely right. The majority of today’s women weren’t privileged to grow up watching their mothers breastfeed. Chances are if they do have siblings, they were all born close enough together to miss out on feeding memories altogether. It’s more likely that their mothers formula fed for the same reason most women do today: They needed to get back to work. And let’s face it, even though breast pumps have come a long way, how many women are really comfortable sitting at their desk with two pumps attached to their chest for up to 30 minutes every three hours?
It isn’t just work culture that doesn’t mix well with breastfeeding. There is a certain expectation applied to children in public. I’m not just talking about public breastfeeders being shamed. I’m talking about babies being expected to never cry, let alone make a scene in a public venue. Whether you’re on a plane, in a mall or attending a religious service, children are still supposed to be seen and not heard. How can women expect to be able to freely feed their baby in public when that child gets a slew of dirty looks for simply crying because he’s hungry?
We expect women to put newborns as young as eight weeks old into institutionalized daycare so they can get back to work. We prioritize money over family and then we get shocked when family-supporting biological functions aren’t supported and cheered on by the wider population. We politicize breastfeeding in terms of insurance coverage for pumps and workplace provisos for lactation time. We monetize counseling in the form of lactation consultants with billable hours. And in all of this we remove the one thing new mothers need the most: interpersonal connections and trusted emotional support. We talk about normalizing breastfeeding, but the conversation we really need to have is about normalizing family life and everything that goes along with it.