5 Mums on Stopping Breastfeeding Before They Were Ready: "No One Listened To Me"
Ireland has the lowest numbers of breastfeeding women in the world. By six months, only one per cent of Irish women are exclusively breastfeeding. Nikki Walsh talks to five mothers, who all ended their breastfeeding relationships before they wanted to, about what went wrong.
"I didn’t know much about breastfeeding; I just knew it was something I was supposed to do. But when the baby was born, he wouldn’t latch on. He just flailed around my breast screaming. I asked the nurses what I should do, and one of them managed to get him on, but I couldn’t do it. I hated constantly asking them to help me; they were so busy. So it was just me and my husband and this screaming baby. He screamed all of the first night and all of the next day. I did not know what to do – and I was getting worried – wasn’t he starving? On the second night in the hospital, I gave the baby to the nurse on duty to go to the bathroom – he was still screaming the place down – and when I came back, she looked at me, and said, "will I give him a bottle?" And that was it. I never breastfed."
"All my friends breastfed their babies, and they all told me how hard it had been, so I was prepared. But I really wanted to do it: I had also read a lot, gone to the breastfeeding workshops, and I knew it was the best thing for my baby. Then the baby was born. She sucked and sucked, but she kept coming off the breast screaming. I could not figure out what I was doing wrong. I knew I had to wait until the milk came in, but I was not prepared for how unsettled she would be in the meantime. My husband started to get worried. She’s starving, he kept saying. Then his mother arrived. "You need to get some food into that baby," she said. I looked on in defeat as they trooped off to get the baby some formula. My mother-in-law gave her the first bottle and afterwards she slept for four hours. We’ll get a few more of those bottles, my husband said, and when they discharged us just a few hours later, I saw him coming out of the hospital with a tray of them, and I knew my breastfeeding days were over."
"I was determined to breastfeed. All my friends had done it, and I had gone to the breastfeeding workshops and heard all about the benefits. When the baby was born, he latched on immediately, my milk came in, and he settled pretty quickly. I was amazed by how easy it was. Then I had my first weigh-in with the public health nurse. "He’s not gaining enough weight," she told me. I was amazed. He nursed all the time, I could hear him gulping, I could not believe there wasn’t enough milk. My husband started to worry. "What should he weigh?" he asked. I tried to tell him the charts were based on bottlefed babies, not breast-fed babies, but he wasn’t convinced. "There’s no way they’d have the wrong charts?" he said. And so it started, the weigh-ins, the dour expression on the face of the public health nurse, my husband flapping about the place. No one listened to me when I pointed out how alert and settled the baby was, or how slight both I and my husband were. I was told I had to supplement, and that was the beginning of the end, as I knew it would be. Now when other mothers ask me why I stopped breastfeeding, all I have to say is "the Public Health Nurse..." and they invariably roll their eyes. I wish there was more support for women trying to do this, and I wish public health nurses would use the right charts."
"My GP told me to give up breastfeeding. It was the fourth month, and I had been dogged by repeated bouts of thrush I could not shake. I was a wreck: my little boy fed constantly, and I could not get any sleep. "I think your body is trying to tell you something," she said to me, before suggesting gently that perhaps it was time to give my body a break. I knew she was right – I couldn’t go on like this – but I could not bring myself to admit it either. Other mothers got through those first few months, why couldn’t I? I limped on for another few weeks, but when the thrush came back for the fifth time, I threw in the towel. Now I think breastfeeding only works if the mother has some kind of support system – whether that be a husband with flexi hours or family near by to drop off food or take the baby out in the buggy for an hour. My parents are dead, and my husband’s family live away, and my husband did not get paternity leave, so I was on my own, and I really felt it. In other countries, the mother lies in bed breastfeeding while her family feed her and take care of her house. In some countries, the woman even lies flat for a month after the birth. But in western societies the badge of superwoman is being taken too far. When is someone going to realise we don’t have the resources for all that is being asked of us?"
"I’m a doctor. I breastfed my son for ten months, but gave up after that despite wanting to continue, because of pressure from both family and work. You would think doctors would be supportive of the breastfeeding relationship but it has been my experience that while everyone encourages you to do it in the beginning, continuing to do it is considered creepy and in some way needy on your part. Now I wish I had not bowed to the pressure, but the constant “are you still breastfeeding,” when I admitted how tired I was in work made me paranoid, and by the time my son was nine months old I was lying about feeds, and pumping in a friend’s house near the surgery. My mother wasn’t supportive either – it’s unnatural, she used to say, when I nursed him in the house. The World Health Organisation recommends that infants are breastfed exclusively until they are six months old, and then with complementary solids, for up to two years and beyond. I know very few women in my peer group that would not comment on a two-year-old nursing off their mother, yet if we lived in Africa no one would blink, because that’s what everyone does. We have a long way to go before attitudes to breastfeeding change in this country."
Nikki Walsh is a writer and editor with a passion for what makes us tick. She lives in Dublin with her husband, her son and a heap of books, mostly on psychology.