I wrote most of this a few months ago, and never got round to finishing it (I blame the baby!) but here it is:
I never noticed stories about breastfeeding in the media before I had a baby, but recently it seems there has been a lot in the press and on the internet about breastfeeding and women’s experience of being embarrassed to feed in public, of hating feeling they have to hide away while feeding their baby, and of some women not being made welcome to feed in public. Recently the poet and spoken word artist Holly McNish released a video of her performance of ‘Embarrassed‘. She covers so many of the issues that surround breastfeeding worldwide in such a succinct, clever, humorous and caring way. The performance is so powerful and brings tears to my eyes every time I listen to it.
I remember so clearly the first time I fed babi bach out in public. It was our first family trip out when he was just a few days old. We sat in a cafe and I tried to get my head around the logistics of undoing my bra cup, lifting and lowering clothes, getting him lined up and latched on well and holding him securely without the help of all the sofa cushions. All without flashing anyone! It seemed impossible! Something that seemed so hard to work out is now second nature. I remember feeling that I was juggling baby and boobs, but I don’t remember feeling embarrassed. I tried not to show the world everything, but when I did (and I must have!) I wasn’t embarrassed. I didn’t really think much about it, babi bach needed feeding so I fed him, it never crossed my mind that I should hide away.
But the embarrassment did come, and not in a way I was expecting. I’ve written before about how we supplement babi bach’s breast milk feeds with formula due to low milk supply. We were out for a meal for a friends birthday, there were a couple of close friends and some that I knew but hadn’t seen for ages, not since babi bach was born. I was about to start breastfeeding him so I got out the formula to mix it up so it would be ready, and I felt such a strong feeling of embarrassment. I didn’t want to have to feed my baby formula in front of these women who had all fully breast fed their babies, I didn’t want to have to show that I wasn’t good enough on my own to give all that my baby needed. I’ve felt similar at baby clubs and breastfeeding groups, a feeling that people must be wondering why I would be breastfeeding and bottle feeding, and a feeling that I need to explain it all to everyone. I know it’s ‘silly’ to feel embarrassed to bottle feed my son, I know in my head that most people won’t even notice and if they do wonder about it I shouldn’t care, but I can’t help it. Just in the same way some women can’t help feeling embarrassed to breast feed in public.
I know that women can be helped not to feel embarrassed to breast feed in public just like I don’t feel embarrassed to bottle feed babi bach any more. I think the key here is in support. All of my friends breast feed and I didn’t know anyone who formula fed their baby. So I had really good breast feeding ‘role models’ and supportive friends, but when it came to supplementing with formula I didn’t know anyone I could turn to. When I posted on a local breastfeeding friends group on Facebook about my low milk supply, I had a lot of supportive comments but the most helpful to me was a lovely kind lady who had had similar issues, who emailed me and even sent me a book she had found useful. Just hearing about someone else’s experience and knowing they had made it work gave me confidence in what I was doing. I also met Sally Tedstone, who is the coordinator for the national breastfeeding programme, in Wales. She was visiting local breastfeeding support groups during National breastfeeding week. I asked her a question about a little problem I was having with supplementing at the time and (although she couldn’t help with the problem) she said how great it was that I was continuing with breastfeeding although we’d had some problems. I thought well if the biggest thing in Welsh breastfeeding thinks I’m doing a good job, I must be!
To enable me to continue to breast feed, and to feel confident in feeding my baby, I had support from my husband, family, friends, breastfeeding peer supporters, online groups, and health professionals. I feel that they were all really important and should be encouraged and supported (financially and practically) by government and society. But we can’t wait for someone else to do it, we can all help mums to feel happy and confident to feed their baby, a friendly smile, chat, or more in depth support where appropriate can really help. There is currently a campaign going on in America – I support you – to help mothers feel supported by their peers, whether they breast feed or formula feed, or both. After all, we are all doing the best we can for our babies (the pics at the end of the ‘I support you’ article are fab). So let’s support other mums in feeding their babies, with breast milk, formula and love!