I’ve sat on this blog post for a while now. One thing I don’t ever, ever, EVER want to do here is make anyone feel judged or shitty. We all have different experiences in parenting, and I know that sometimes when I’ve been exhausted and feeling overwhelmed I’ve read things online that have made me cry and feel like the shittiest mother ever. Sometimes I think it’s intentional – people post without caring about how it will hurt, or they post horrible things for clicks, or they’re like actually mean jerks. But often I think it’s unintentional, just badly worded, or the person hasn’t quite said what they meant to say – or maybe I didn’t get it because I read it with all of my hurt and sadness and feelings and experiences sitting on my heavy, tired shoulders. And that’s ok and not my fault or their fault or anyone’s fault. So I don’t know where I’m going with this – I guess I’m saying that after re-reading and editing and reading and editing I’ve decided to post this. I do not want to minimise anyone’s experiences – this is just my truth and I want to say it. I think the most important thing (the TL:DR version) is that we must feel supported in the choices we make about how we feed our children. It’s important. Really, truly important. Thank you for reading.
Breastfeeding Nazis. Nipple Nazis. Breastapo. Breast feeding police. Psychos. Smug earth mother bitches. Sanctimummys. Bullies. Anti-Formula fanatics. Did you hear the one about that mother whose baby died because she’d been BRAINWASHED by lactation consultants? They’re mum bashing do-gooders. They hate formula. They hate women. They should get rid of Le Leche League. They’re a bunch of dangerous hippies.
That’s just a sample of what people say about lactation consultants on your average article about breast feeding in New Zealand.
Well, here’s what I have to say about them – they listened to me. They heard me. When I felt desperately alone – they were there for me. They empowered me. They made me feel strong. They wiped away my tears. They made me feel like I’m a good mother and I should be proud of myself. They made me feel like I mattered too. That I could trust myself as a mother. They were there when I felt like nobody else was there.
I always thought breast feeding would be easy. I had always wanted to breast feed. I tried so very hard with my first born. But I was too scared to ask for help. I’d been told by absolutely everyone that lactation consultants would yell at me. They’re anti formula I was told. They’re judgemental. I didn’t ask for help because I was afraid of them.
While my oldest son was in hospital I tried to advocate for myself and for him. I wanted to keep breast feeding I told the doctors and nurses and registrars and well-meaning family. I kept being told my milk was the problem. In my head I felt that couldn’t be right. Why couldn’t I just give him expressed breast milk in a bottle? Why did it have to be formula? Alone and utterly exhausted and emotionally ruined I gave him formula at 3am in hospital. I weaned in agony in a children’s ward on my own. Every time a child near me cried my breasts did too. I was never able to comfort him at the breast again. I remember sobbing and asking a nurse “How do I stop the milk?” she just said “we can’t give you anything” and walked off. Another said “There’s nothing wrong with formula for goodness sake!” I’d never, ever suggested that there was anything wrong with formula. I got mastitis in both breasts while trying to look after my desperately ill child.
I’m not anti-formula. I formula fed my son. I am very grateful for formula. But I will never be thankful for the way I was railroaded into giving up on breast feeding. It really hurt me. And for a long time I swallowed that hurt because when I tried to voice it people jumped down my throat – don’t you think you’ve got bigger things to worry about? There’s nothing wrong with formula. Your son gained weight. Isn’t he the priority? Shouldn’t you put your son first? Actually formula is better than breast milk because you know what’s in formula. Who cares how you feed your baby. Get a grip. You should have really started him on formula earlier. All that matters is that your son is healthy. You’re being a bit dramatic aren’t you?
I felt silenced at every turn. I didn’t dare express how I felt. I knew how I should feel – I should know that what I wanted wasn’t important. That my instincts were wrong. That wanting to breast feed was selfish if I couldn’t do it immediately without any hassles. Sick children should be given formula. Breast milk is too unreliable. It was irresponsible, even dangerous, definitely self-absorbed and narcissistic, to want to breast feed if it was difficult or if my child had health problems. I was anti-formula and judgemental of mothers who used formula if I didn’t use it when I was told to. Breast feeding was just a way to feed your child – it had no other worth. As such it didn’t matter how you fed, just feed – but with formula.
Even now, two and a half years on, I find it so hard to trust my own feelings because of the gaslighting and stress of it all.
When my second son was born I was absolutely determined that I would make the choice as to whether I breast fed or not. I wouldn’t let anyone else take that choice from me.
The first people to listen to me were my midwives. One of my midwives is training to be a lactation consultant. In tears I told her about my weaning the first time. She listened. She never called me dramatic or told me off for the feelings I had. She held my hand.
I left the hospital a few hours after my second was born and she came over to help me with my latch. She then came over again a few days later. She kept texting me and sending me online messages to trouble shoot the problems I was having. She did all of this voluntarily.
Being a midwife is an exhausting job – long hours and emotionally it requires huge resilience. I am astounded still that on her days off she took the time to visit me to help me feed.
I messaged her at 2am when my son was recently in hospital and I was again in a vulnerable position with formula being offered at every possible opportunity. She immediately responded. She sent me love and encouragement and said she would come to the hospital to help me.
What a Nazi.
When my son was two months old I went to the Newtown Breastfeeding Support Clinic. I walked in and immediately started sobbing. The volunteer there gave me a glass of water and a hug – she listened to me. Another volunteer entertained my toddler while they helped me with the pain I was having in one of my breasts. I felt completely safe in that hall. Surrounded by other mums struggling through like I was.
Every single week these women gather and sit in a hall and help mums breast feed. Voluntarily. They give up those hours with their children to help us with our children.
Those lactation consultants kept emailing me to make sure I was ok – physically and emotionally. Not once did they pressure me to breast feed or bottle feed. I was given help with the pain and told they could give me help with weaning if I chose to do that. They discussed what could be the reason I was having pain and kept in close contact with me.
Smug right? Anti-formula fanatics. Totally.
But Le Leche League are the worst aren’t they?
In agony one afternoon I called a number on the Le Leche League website. A woman answered. I could hear her children in the background. I was completely hysterical. I could barely get words out. She told me to take deep breaths and she calmed me down enough to get details from me. This volunteer, a stranger, offered to come to me if I needed immediate help. She encouraged me to contact my husband and get him to come home and take me to my GP. This might all sound melodramatic to you but if you’re surviving on no sleep, and you’re in extreme pain, and you’re overwhelmed – it’s impossible to think straight.
This woman voluntarily takes calls from sobbing mothers day in and day out and talks them off ledges.
I ended up in A&E where a doctor gave me tramadol. I was a mess on it. I was told by almost everyone to just stop breast feeding. I know why. I know it is well-meaning. I know I am stubborn. But it was so hard to hear that.
I was never told to stop or keep going by lactation consultants. I was never dismissively told “happy mum happy baby!” as if wanting to breast feed was a terrible thing to do to my child. I was never told ‘you don’t have to breast feed you know’ or ‘I don’t know why you’re bothering’ or ‘it’s not compulsory’ as if I was a complete moron who doesn’t know her own mind.
I wasn’t ever pressured by anyone to breast feed.
I wanted to.
The only time I was ever given permission to feel this way was when I was around lactation consultants.
This post is mainly just a post about my appreciation for them. I managed to get through my son’s hospital stay without stopping breast feeding. I am proud of myself for that. I trusted my gut and he gained weight on breast milk. I knew he would. I know my milk is working well for him. But it has taken me a long time to trust myself. And I trust myself because of them.
Now, I feed on one side as the other boob is some weird cosmic mess that is super painful. But I feed! I did it! I am immensely proud of myself. I feel like it’s a big achievement. Because it was so painful. So difficult. And I kept going. And I did what I thought was best for me and my son. And it worked!
I now breast feed without pain. My son is pink and fat like a delicious Christmas ham.
I could not have done it without lactation consultants. They protected me. Supported me. Comforted me.
More than anything they listened to me. And here I am – finally, four months on, feeding my baby easily.
I got to heal myself and that matters.
So I guess this is one of those posts that doesn’t really have a message – except maybe this: I’m not going to buy into the narrative that lactation consultants are monsters. If you need help with breast feeding then go to them! Your feelings matter. A lot of women can’t breast feed. But a lot can if they’re given support and help and they’re listened to. And they should be listened to.
And somebody will listen. I’m so incredibly grateful that so many women block out the horrific abuse they get on every article about their profession, every thread online, in mum groups, on Twitter, on Facebook, at coffee groups – everywhere – to voluntarily listen every day to women like me who need help.