I seem to see the same comment all the time; I see it written in black and white almost-hourly on various groups and pages online: "I don't think I'll be able to breastfeed."
Every time I hear this, a warning bell starts ringing in my head...I want to climb through my computer screen to get to the woman voicing her concern...because it is always said in concern...I want to sit with her whilst my toddler nurses and chat over a biscuit and a cup of tea. I would love to show her, not just tell her, the normalcy of using your breast to feed your child, the joy of watching your little one chatter away, milk-mouthed and boobing, staring into your eyes. Yet this concern, this common worry, is so prevalent.
These women that doubt themselves and their bodies have usually done their research - they understand the benefits of breast milk versus formula, they know of the health advantages to both mother and child, of the bond it creates, the solidarity and connection. Yet they doubt themselves before their little one is even in their arms.
It makes me question; why?
Why are these capable, intelligent women doubting their bodies, their breasts? I wonder if they doubt their legs, their arms or backs? I wonder if they view driving as the safer alternative to walking 'just in case' their legs don't remember how to take their steps. Of course not, because legs are designed to walk. Breasts, by all accounts, are designed to entice, to sell, to seduce, to sell, to please (adult males), did I mention to sell??
We are bombarded with images of breasts on sale, we are totally saturated by the mantra that they are tools for adult purposes...not tools for feeding our children. So it is no wonder that a woman starts to question, to doubt herself, particularly when the airbrushed formula add crops up on TV, with it's soothingly gentle music and it's happy smiling baby. Particularly when our dolls are sold with bottles and our local baby facilities are signposted using nothing other than a plastic teat. I'd love to see a pair of boobs 'selling' that one...
The irony here is that these women, the same ones that are riddled with self-doubt, are usually pregnant. They are usually carrying and growing another human being in their womb. They will go onto deliver this child, whom they created and nurtured for 9 months, holding their newborn in their arms with utter wonder that their bodies could produce this amazing little being. Yet their breasts, hell no, there is no way that breasts could produce milk, right? And there's no way that breasts that do produce milk could ever produce ENOUGH milk, right? Not to mention that they are big/small/flat/lopsided with inverted/big/small/wide/flat nipples....*please delete as appropriate*...obviously these specific breasts just weren't built for this feeding thing....
I say again, I want to crawl through my screen to reach these women. I want them to consider what their breasts were designed for....I want them to think about how the human race has survived and I'm not just talking about the last century...
If we start out anything in life expecting to fail, we likely will. Particularly with breastfeeding. You see, it often feels like the odds are stacked against us. It is a skill to master and for many of us (as with all things that matter), it doesn't always come easily. It can start off painful and awkward and just when you think you have it mastered, a minuscule atmospheric change can knock it right off balance again. And then there's society; the pressure, the judgement, the expectation. Because we are expected to breastfeed...
- We are expected to breastfeed for 6 months. No more and no less.
- We are expected to breastfeed from both breasts in equal amounts.
- We are expected to breastfeed at home.
- We are expected to breastfeed during daylight hours only.
- We are expected to breastfeed only when it is convenient.
- We are expected to breastfeed when we have no visitors.
- We are expected to breastfeed without the need or use of supplemental nursing systems.
- We are expected to breastfeed no more than one child at any one time.
- We are expected to breastfeed infants without teeth.
- We are expected to breastfeed directly, with no requirement to pump.
- We are expected to breastfeed only with nipples that are naturally outward-facing.
- We are expected to breastfeed without ever needing to use nipple shields.
- We are expected to breastfeed if we have delivered one child. Multiple births are not covered by these expectations.
- We are expected to breastfeed no more frequently than every 4 hours.
- We are expected to breastfeed for no longer than 20 minutes per breast.
- We are expected to breastfeed only with the support of our (male) significant other.
- We are expected to breastfeed only if it is completely easy.
- We are expected to breastfeed only if we master the skill within 48 hours of giving birth.
- We are expected to breastfeed only if our infant is above the 50th centile for weight.
- We are expected to breastfeed only if all acquaintances that are knowledgeable of it are 100% comfortable with the thought of it.
- We are expected to breastfeed without needing the support of a certified Lactation Consultant.
To put it plainly, we are expected to breastfeed within pre-defined terms and conditions; ones which are near-impossible to meet.
So to the women who are doubting themselves before their baby is born, or who are having difficulties once baby arrives, I ask of you just one thing...what has your little one come into this world expecting?
Ah yes, the answer is that there are few real expectations that a breast cannot meet. Because the expectations of our children simply must outweigh any external expectations that are put upon us. In fact, there are few things that a breast cannot mend, soothe and calm.