The NHS tell us to breastfeed. The WHO say we should continue for two years. But society doesn’t want to see our breasts in public, because they are for sex – not babies. Here’s why Annie Ridout feels self-conscious about continuing to breastfeed her baby, aged eight months…
I remember when I was pregnant, sitting in a café and observing a mother with her child. She was breastfeeding him – he may have been eight or nine months old – and kept him latched on while she walked to the counter to order a coffee. My immediate thought? Show-off. Why couldn’t she put him down for a moment, make an order then get back to it?
And then I gave birth and had my own baby to feed. I decided to go with breastfeeding – I had a biological urge, and couldn’t be bothered with sterilising bottles. It started off brilliantly, then got tough (I had recurrent mastitis) and then my daughter and I settled into a nice routine. She continued breastfeeding until she was 15 months old.
Once I had my own baby to breastfeed, that woman from the café sprang to mind. I now understood why she’d cradled her baby with one hand and marched around the cafe. It was because unlatching him would be more of a rigmarole. They were having a nice calm moment together, feeding, why should she unlatch him?
Establishing a latch was unbearably painful – I had bleeding nipples, and winced every time he tried to draw milk
And I realised that my initial judgment had stemmed from society’s ideas about women’s bodies, breasts and about motherhood in general. We’re told that breastfeeding isn’t welcome in certain places (Claridges, the V&A). We’re stared at by men while trying to insert a nipple into our hungry baby’s mouth. Women judge too. Like me, that day in the café.
I felt particularly guilty for those feelings I had when my daughter went on to solids and people started suggesting that now I’d no longer need to breastfeed. I wanted to continue breastfeeding her. It was easy. It was a source of nourishment and comfort for her. It was one of the ways we bonded.
But I waited until she was 10 months and I was returning to work before introducing formula. I’d never got on with expressing – and frankly, couldn’t be bothered. I felt I’d done well to get that far. And so she had formula when I was working, two days a week – and if I went out for the night – and I continued breastfeeding her morning and night.
With my second baby, I’ve had a different experience with breastfeeding. Establishing a latch was unbearably painful – I had bleeding nipples, and winced every time he tried to draw milk – but once we were off, around three weeks, we were off. I’ve had mastitis but not nearly as much, and I’ve managed to deal with it better this time round.
He’s now eight and a half months old and I’ve been wondering when I might introduce formula. The WHO (World Health Organisation) recommend breastfeeding until your baby is two but for me, a year feels more realistic. And so I imagine I’ll keep going until at least 12 months. But again, I’m not in to expressing so formula is the only option if I want to start working more.
Only, I’m finding it hard to swap boob for bottle because he seems to so enjoy being breastfed. He uses it to get to sleep – not advised, I know, but it works for us – and is a really sucky, fiddly baby. He loves to play with my stomach fat while suckling. And again, it’s a lovely way to bond and have some down time.
But I’m starting to feel like people are judging me. A bit like how I judged that woman in the café. I feel like they think we’ve done it for long enough, and now’s the right time to stop. I feel like they are awkward when I get my breast out to feed him. I feel self-conscious about how often I offer him a feed. And I keep wondering why I feel so judged?
Ultimately, for me, it’s the general pressure on women to be hands-on, present mothers – to breastfeed, be with the baby and put them first – but also to have a career. I was turned away from a focus group when my baby was four months old, as I said I couldn’t come in without him (at that point, he fed every one to two hours). It felt like they were saying: new mums should be at home, not in the workplace. And yet, maternity pay for a self-employed mother covers just a fraction of living costs.
So I have to work. But I’m being told to breastfeed. And in fact, I want to breastfeed. But also to be able to have someone else give him the odd bottle when I have a meeting, or want to go out for the evening. So I think that’s why I feel self conscious about breastfeeding my eight-month-old baby…
Because there is pressure to do everything, as a mum.
To be at home all day.
To go out and work.
To work from home.
To be independent.
To be depended on.
To form good attachments with your children.
To give them enough independence.
Too much pressure. Which leads to too much guilt. And then I lose track of what I actually want, for myself and my babies. But right now, my baby has just woken up and will enjoy nothing more than a long breastfeed. So that’s what I’ll give him, in the privacy of my bedroom. With no one looking or judging. And maybe we’ll continue doing this for another year, but maybe we won’t.
Like that woman in the café, feeding her baby as she walked around, how and when I breastfeed is up to me and my baby. It’s no one else’s business. And that’s what I need to keep reminding myself.
Do you ever feel self conscious about breastfeeding?