You may have experienced this… Speaking to fellow mothers when you are pregnant or just given birth and they come at you from all angles with advice – perhaps, in particular breastfeeding mothers.
It’s a conversation which can, at times, be misinterpreted as ‘breassure’ (hate that word with a passion) where there’s a lot of talk about why breastmilk is optimal for your baby and that you should ditch any supply of ‘just in case’ formula you’ve got stashed away. You’ll be told about cluster feeding, hydration, latch – all sorts. It’s a lot of information to take in before you’ve even started.
By why? Why do breastfeeding mothers take such a pro-active stance to helping other mothers breastfeed? I mean, why should they, with all the stuff they’ve got going on in their lives, bother to write paragraphs of advice just to help you breastfeed successfully?
When I was pregnant, my take on it was “If I can breastfeed, great! If not, I won’t beat myself up about it”, after all, there can’t be that much difference right? Wrong. Turns out I had a LOT to learn about. And I did. Mainly passively from reading posts and comments on breastfeeding support groups. I slowly built up a knowledge of why I should breastfeed my child for as long as I can and had all of my questions on nursing ‘hurdles’ (however small!) answered usually within minutes of asking.
Now, I, like many others, want to help other ladies on their breastfeeding journeys. Like it’s somehow hardwired into me. After seeing throngs of “I couldn’t breastfeed and now feel really guilty about it” posts, I see offering support as a means of trying to prevent a fellow mother feeling that way.
Many of these women go on to train as Breastfeeding Peer Supporters. These people volunteer their time and attend baby clinics – not for money, not to advance a career, just to be there to help you should you need it. So why take that precious time (we know we’re all short of!) and use it in that way? Why do they care about the breastfeeding relationship of another stranger?
I asked some established breastfeeding mothers why that feel the need to put the time into support mothers in real life and online. Here are some of the responses when asked: Why do you think breastfeeding women are so intent on helping other women breastfeed?
- Because we know how hard it can be, especially in the beginning. Plus we are all told that breastfeeding is best throughout pregnancy but the support isn’t always there to enable mothers to continue. Most health visitors and midwives are pretty clueless when it comes to breastfeeding in general and so most women who’ve breastfed feel the need to offer advice.
- I found it so hard and very nearly gave up in the early days. Something within me made me push my health visitor to get me more support (which ended up being not great) I don’t have any friends who BF. Without Facebook support groups such as this I’d have given up. We are nearly 11 months in now and will continue as long as my little boy wants to.
- For me it’s because I didn’t get the proper support first time round and ended up not being able to feed my daughter. I think this hugely contributed to my PND. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel the way I did so really want to help others succeed.
- Because we know that at any low point or struggle some moron is going to be there saying “You wouldn’t have any of these problems if you gave Formula / They’ll sleep through if you give Formula / You must not be making enough milk” etc.
- Because support is such an important aspect of successful breastfeeding.
Having someone say they’ve been where you are and made it through is crucial, in my opinion, and the lack of support is a big reason why lots of women stop. I’m a firm believer in supporting women who want to breastfeed, you should never have to stop if you don’t want to.
- Because we all know how hard it is in the beginning. I’m a midwife and know the importance of promoting but now from feeding two babies I can honestly say how hard/exhausting but absolutely rewarding it is! To know you grew this little miracle and are continually being their source of nutrition is amazing. If I can pass on my personal /professional knowledge to help someone have an amazing breastfeeding journey then I will anyway I can. I will not force my opinions/advice on anyone that doesn’t want them.
- I feel sad every time someone says they didn’t breastfeed for as long as they want to because of lack of support, or because they weren’t given the right information. There’s so much misinformation out there, and I hope I can help mums achieve their breastfeeding goal and give them the resources and facts to make informed choices. Women who don’t bf for as long as they like are more likely to suffer from PND than other women, so it’s really important that we help each other.
- Because we know the first weeks are hard and the formula can be shouting us loudly on a sleepless night. Because boobs don’t come with recommend doses on the side. And because in the middle of the night when your finding it hard it’s good to know your not alone and things get easier.
- I’m struggling to word it but for me it’s the whole “tribe” thing. The shared knowledge and support. Without it is isolation and unsuccessful and/or difficult breastfeeding journeys. If we don’t help other women then the formula companies will, and that never ends well for breastfeeding.
- Because they know how disappointing it can be if you’ve set your mind to breastfeeding and then start to struggle. I felt like a total failure at first with my first because it didn’t come easy. I even sent my hubby out for formula at 3am because I was so distraught that we both couldn’t get the hang of it and I kept getting mastitis and sore bleeding nipples. My breastfeeding peer support taught me a few tricks and we went on to feed for 13 months. I wouldn’t hesitate to pass on what I’ve learnt if it stops people feeling like I did in the beginning.
- Because if we can help a woman to breastfeed she will go on to help someone else. It’s a skill that we need to keep going. Breastfeeding women are role models and even seeing another woman breastfeeding in the early days made me think “I can do this”. I get so enraged at the stupid myths propagated by people who have never breastfed. “I don’t eat well enough to breastfeed”, “You can’t drink alcohol and breastfeed” and my favourite – I was helpfully informed by some nitwit that her personal trainer had told her you can’t BF after doing intensive exercise and she thought she would let me know…
- Because years ago bringing up babies was done by the whole family and new mums would’ve had so much support and knowledge around them. Now we live further away from each other and generations of bad advice and formula marketing has ruined that knowledge so we have I get support from somewhere else instead. I’m so glad I persevered and I love BF so I want everyone else to feel that too! I’m also really passionate about the benefits of it and feel that every baby should have them, it could make a difference to their life!
- I think because it’s a natural human impulse to want to help others, especially people who are ‘like me’. Because I wish there was a higher level of maternal wellbeing in general in our community. And because I want a higher level of wellbeing in the next generation. Because I am angry that those who are trusted professional advisors on nursing are so often woefully inadequate and don’t even realise how undermining the support they give is. Women have a right to be angry about that. Also, because it’s just a really interesting process and interesting to think and talk about.
- Because formula feeding became the accepted norm and to make the huge shift change to normalise breastfeeding; society and new mums need a team effort requiring knowledge, support and education. Mothers have also supported each other since the beginning of time passing on their knowledge to each other and the next generation… it’s the natural thing to do.
- Because it DOES matter – to babies and mums too. Because it’s one of the best things I’d ever done. Because if I hadn’t been both determined and informed I would probably not have managed. Because the mums and babies in difficult social and financial circumstances who stand to benefit most are the least likely to get the help they need. Because we should not have to pay through the nose for an inferior product when we can make perfect milk for free. Because when my son no longer wants to feed I will be heartbroken. Because when he feeds he and I are one being and I will never forget this time.
So there you have it. You can see the passion that exists in the hearts of these women for breastfeeding. So if you ever find yourself annoyed by that persistent mum who makes you put down the tub of formula and push on with (potentially painful) feeding of a baby going through a growth spurt and crying, in a way that makes you feel that what you have to offer won’t satisfy them the way that ‘desirable’ bottle of fortified powdered cow’s milk will, just remember where her heart is. She knows that if you make it through to the other side, however tough your present situation, you will thank her eternally.