Breastfeeders Are Wonder Women Too (Obviously)

Last week, I wrote a blog about the BBC News report that breastfed babies are more intelligent than formula-fed babies. I really tried to make it clear throughout my blog post that my criticisms and anger were aimed at the media and not at breastfeeders. After reading and re-reading it, I was happy that my point was clear – breastfeeding is amazing and we would all do it if we could, but let’s not beat women who don’t do it (for whatever reason) over the head with more and more studies saying what we already know.

Largely, the response to this blog post was positive but one commenter did suggest that I still hadn’t given those who did manage to breastfeed the credit they deserved. While the tone and wording of her comment left a lot to be desired in terms of ‘constructive criticism’ I started to think that maybe, somewhere deep down below the anger, she did have a point.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at everything I write from my own perspective. It’s harder to consider how my words may make other people, with very different experiences feel. So, while my intention was certainly not to undermine the efforts of those women who did breastfeed, it’s possible that some felt that is exactly what I did.

So, in the spirit of this blog, I wanted to take a minute to say this to that those women who did breastfeed: you guys are awesome. While some of you may have taken to breastfeeding with little or no problems, the large majority of you probably struggled a good deal too. For those that continued to breastfeed through the blisters and the blood and the mastitis and the thrush infections and the tongue ties and all the other stuff that makes this way more difficult than it should be then let me be clear: I have nothing but unwavering respect for you and for what you achieved.

Like most mothers who didn’t breastfeed for very long, I wish I had been able to. When I think about having another baby, I hope beyond everything that I will be able to take what I learned the first time around and breastfeed for longer. I am for breastfeeding. I think breastfeeding is a wonderful thing. What I’m not for, is making women feel shitty about themselves if they can’t do it because, almost everyday, that’s what is happening.

I have a friend who breastfed both her babies and fought through unimaginable pain and problems to get there. In her own words, “I probably fed both my children 50% milk and 50% blood for at least two weeks.” Serious kudos to her and the myriad of other mothers who did a similar thing; this whole breastfeeding lark is easy for no one and if you have the strength, the pain-threshold, the resilience and the real desire to do it despite the obstacles thrown your way then you are, quite simply, awesome.

So, while my commenter very rightly said, “The successful mothers aren’t without their efforts either,” what she didn’t take into account is that ‘successful’ mothers aren’t made to feel like shit every day for being ‘less-than’ mums, or second-rate mums, or mums who have already let down their Smalls before they’ve even started.

However, on the flip side…she’s right that those of us who struggled with breastfeeding are perhaps so busy defending our status as great, honest, hard working mommas despite the formula, that perhaps we’re not quick enough to high-five those mommas that made it through. Perhaps this is part of what I’ve been talking about all along – the lack of sisterhood amongst mommas. While it’s wrong for mommas to berate other mommas, it’s also wrong that we’re not readily giving credit where credit is due.

So here it is: whether you breastfeed or not let’s look at the bigger picture here. We are all doing the very best that we can do. We’re not all the same so it makes perfect sense that we don’t all make the same decisions, or react to certain things in the same way. What was acceptable for my lovely, lovely friend (the 50% milk + 50% blood thing) was not something I could cope with. That doesn’t say anything at all about the kind of mothers we are…it just IS. And that’s ok.

So, I would ask only two things:

1. Let’s not polarise this issue into a ‘fail’ or ‘succeed’ dichotomy. Let’s not use language that by its very nature implies that some mothers are better than others. If all it takes is a rethink about semantics and how we discuss this to avoid making some women feel shitty then perhaps that’s something worth taking the time to do.

2. My blog is and always has been about being 100% honest and without exception, it’s been about accepting and respecting all parenting decisions. I approve all comments regardless of whether you agree or disagree with my posts (unless they are spam or full of porn links or other entirely inappropriate things) because it’s vital that this blog is an open forum where everyone can have their say. While I may not do things in the same way as you, know this: I will always respect your decision to raise your children in any way you feel is right.

All I ask, on behalf of myself and every other mother and father out there doing their best, that all commenters do the same thing too.

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