Today is the last day of World Breastfeeding Week. Without doubt, breastfeeding has been the hardest part of becoming a parent for me. I’m not going to detail all the issues, because frankly I can’t be bothered, but in brief – tongue tie, nipple shields, expressing, top ups, hospital trips. But as I look down at my little one, snoozing on the boob and sleep smiling to herself, I don’t regret my decision. But it’s not always an easy decision to make.
First off – I’m pro breastfeeding, but I’m also pro-choice. Nothing I’m saying here is intended to criticise any individual for their decision. I’m a big fan of bodily autonomy, particularly in the creation and/or support of tiny humans. (You may have noticed). You don’t want to use your boobs to feed your baby? Grand so. My concerns are around systemic issues, not individual choices. Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe – but more important than breastfeeding rates is the availability of breastfeeding supports.
I’ve been incredibly lucky with the support I’ve had throughout my boobing journey. My partner, family, friends and the medical professionals have all encouraged me to keep nursing as long as I want to. My mum (who nursed myself and my siblings until at least six months) has twice gotten on a one way flight to be there for us. She understands the importance of snacks, cups of tea, comfy chairs and hugs. When we were told I’d need to start expressing if we wanted to keep her on breastmilk, my partner had rented a pump within minutes. My in-laws have kept us well stocked in food (CAKE!) and understanding. My friends have sent late night amusing GIFs, given advice where they can, and not batted an eyelid when I whip both boobs out and attach suction cups to each. My midwives, public health nurse, GP, lactation consultant and nurses have all asked what I want to do, listened, and then given me the best advice and support they can. I have been incredibly lucky and I’m ineffably grateful.
But I’m not just lucky – I’m privileged. I’m also sad and angry for women who wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t because they didn’t have the physical, social, financial and emotional support I did. You shouldn’t need privilege to feed your baby in the way you want to. Without support, I wouldn’t still be boobing. I’m tenacious and stubborn, but I couldn’t have done this alone – aside from the hormones, I just don’t have enough hands to feed myself while she’s permalatched. And many of the supports I had aren’t available to everyone. We had the money to hire a pump and a lactation consultant. My partner had a job that have decent paternity leave and flexible hours now that he’s back. We were both breastfed, so our mothers had experience and advice and supported me. I knew where to find online and offline support from the likes of Cuidiú. My midwives didn’t give my baby a bottle without my consent (it happens). My PHN has not once suggested formula (you might not believe how rare that is), or suggested that there’s no benefit to breastfeeding after the first six weeks. And I’m aware of the insidiousness formula companies, and how profit driven they are – often at the expense of babies’ health. Without even one of these supports, my boobing journey may have been thwarted.
And honestly – I love breastfeeding. The first real smile I got from my girl was when she was on the boob, and I was making up a song about bainne (Irish for milk). She stopped feeding, smiled at me with her whole face, eyes all lit up, then closed them and boobed away. I love that my morning starts with snuggly boob cuddles, and my day ends with us lying together as she feeds to sleep. I love that she’s been dozing on my boob for nearly two hours, milk dripping down her chin. I love the protective arm she throws across my boob, and the way she snuggles into me for comfort. I have proudly boobed over brunch, out for a coffee, on the Luas, in the pub and more. I am amazed that I can sustain a human just with my body.
But then, I can’t escape the feeling that I’ve lost some of my bodily autonomy. Don’t get me wrong – I chose to breastfeed, and I still choose it. But my body is not entirely my own anymore. During pregnancy I was (by choice) using my body to create and sustain a future human – but now that human is here, actualised and tiny and demanding. Babies are demanding no matter how you feed them – but by breastfeeding, it has to be me that feeds her. As she has discovered, my partner’s nipples are useless in this regard. So my schedule is subservient to her needs – as someone said to me yesterday, I’m working (at least) 14 hour days with no day off. I can’t just zip over to visit friends for a weekend and leave her with himself. I haven’t managed a night out yet. But then, I look down at her again. She’s still snoozing, 2 hours later, but started stirring and mooching. I scooted her towards the boob and she settled on. She wakes up slow, just like me. Yes, I have lost something. But I’ve gained something too. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.