Breastfeeding is something that the majority of mothers have a go at when they have a newborn. According to Unicef around 81% of mothers start out breastfeeding, with that figure dropping to 24% by the time the baby hits just 6 weeks old. Why the sudden drop? Well as you would expect, there’s no single reason for it. From a Guardian article that tried to raise a little bit of breastfeeding awareness surrounding why women might stop, it said the follow:
Surveying around 300 women who had stopped breastfeeding in the first six months, Brown found that around 80% cited pain and difficulty as contributing, while 40% referenced public attitudes, 60% lack of support from others and 20% blamed embarrassment.
The Main Purpose of Breastfeeding Awareness
To go along with the above statistics, you also have the fact that 8 out of 10 women stop breastfeeding before they want to. This statistic comes from Unicef, and I hate it. I don’t hate it because I think every mother should breastfeed, I hate it because they stopped before they WANTED to. They actively wanted to breastfeed but something stopped them from doing it.
Maybe they stopped due to one of the reasons mentioned above. Stopping due to pain or difficulty is a much harder thing to overcome; but public attitudes, lack of support and embarrassment are all things that shouldn’t hinder a mother and her breastfeeding journey. But they do.
Breastfeeding Weeks are About Normalising, Information, Support and Guidance
What breastfeeding awareness weeks should really be about is providing information, help and support to the mothers out there who want to breastfeed. Do bottle feeding mothers need feeding support to? Sure, but obviously not as much and not in the same way.
Breastfeeding awareness weeks should also help to normalise breastfeeding by simply showing mothers breastfeeding. Whether that’s doing it publicly or sat on the sofa in their own home. A misconception we had of breastfeeding before doing it was the amount of time it actually takes up. My wife would easily be sat on the sofa with Isabelle on/off feeding for a good few hours in the night. And I’m not sure everyone knows how perfectly normal that is before actually doing it.
In terms of help and support, if a mother wants to breastfeed then she has every right to all the help and support she can get. Whether that comes from seeing more mothers publicly doing it, hearing more about how other mothers struggled or even being able to attend peer support groups. If we can help and support more of these mothers, then maybe they’ll feel able to do it and keep going.
I’ve said it before that I think it’s a real shame when a mother feels that she has to stop breastfeeding before she wants to. I’ve seen what breastfeeding has been like for my wife and I think it’s a wonderful experience. Maybe it’s not always a wonderful experience, but the best moments far outweigh the rough ones.
Feeling Unable to Breastfeed Can Cause Mental Health Issues
Wanting to breastfeed but not feeling able to can cause women mental health issues. In fairness, breastfeeding itself and the stress that comes with it can do that too. But the guilt for not feeling able to breastfeed and the thoughts of not being a good enough mother can easily create larger issues and lead to things like postnatal depression. Recent research has even said that “Among the 890 who did formula feeding, 67% reported feeling guilty.” Those feelings really shouldn’t be there. But you can’t deny the fact that they sometimes are.
Perhaps these breastfeeding awareness weeks can play a part in reducing the number of mothers who stop before they want to. These weeks are for the mothers who might not have known about how their milk can change and create fussier feeds. How it’s perfectly normal for a baby to want to feed again despite having not long come off. That when a baby does feed more often they’re simply upping the supply. This week is for the mother who might feel that she’s alone in this journey, but she’s really not.
This Isn’t About Breast vs Bottle
I honestly do not care in the slightest about breast vs bottle. It’s a stupid argument and one I rarely engage in. The beauty about the world we live in is that everyone has a choice over how they want to feed their baby. It doesn’t matter to me how a mother chooses to feed their baby. Breastfeeding awareness is not about shaming the mothers who are not breastfeeding. It’s about trying to help the mothers who want to keep going. And also perhaps about the mothers questioning which option to pick.
I know some mothers don’t like hearing an awful lot about breastfeeding during these awareness weeks. To that I’d have to ask why? If they stopped for a reason like public opinion, embarrassment, or lack of support, then maybe these weeks will help to change that. If someone stopped because they felt like they couldn’t do it, or it was painful, or any other physical reason, then maybe reading about how other mothers had difficulties and how they overcame them would’ve be helpful when they were struggling. Surely if people believe in the ‘It’s my body, it’s my choice’ argument, then they’d want a woman who wants to choose breastfeeding to feel able to make that choice.
I understand if someone is feeling guilty about not breastfeeding then it isn’t nice to hear about other mothers doing it. But unfortunately these awareness weeks are still needed.
The Partners Role in a Breastfeeding Journey
When it comes to breastfeeding, dads are just as important in the journey as the mother who is actually doing it. OK, maybe I’m over selling us with that statement. But we really are so important in just being there and providing support. Are we always useful? Of course not. When the baby is being fed in bed at 2am there’s not a whole lot that we can do. And yes, in those moments, I did sometimes fall back asleep.
My main job was to help my wife in whatever way I could to support her choice to breastfeed. If she wanted to breastfeed, which she did, then it was my job to do everything that I could to help her be able to do it. If she then wanted to stop and bottle feed, I would try and support her to keep going – maybe she just needed more encouragement – or I would simply accept her choice and support her with bottle feeding.
I know some people cite not being able to have support with feeds from their partner as a reason to stop breastfeeding. I won’t lie and say breastfeeding doesn’t make the mothers life more difficult. But it doesn’t mean the partner can’t do other things to help out.
Breastfeeding Awareness Weeks are for the Mothers Who Want to Breastfeed
Look, I’m not going to lie. I love breastfeeding. I’ve loved watching Isabelle and Rachel throughout their journey so far. Seeing Isabelle’s face light up when Rachel pops a boob out has been a joy to watch. I don’t care if a mother wishes to bottle feed instead of breastfeed. What I care about is the mother who wants to keep going but felt like she had to stop due to some of the reasons outlined above. It’s those mothers who these weeks are for. Breastfeeding awareness is about trying to increase the breastfeeding rates in the mothers who want to do it. And that’s it. It’s as simple as that.
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