I’ve now been breastfeeding Elizabeth for almost two years, and we have been so lucky that we have had a smooth time with it. She latched on like a dream, and other than the odd blocked duct and short-lived aversion when my periods came back, we have not had any issues. Alex was the same. I know we have been fortunate – so many other women experience issues and support is woeful when it comes to breastfeeding. So many stop their breastfeeding journey before they are ready to because of a lack of support, and that makes me really sad and angry. Many women face pressure to breastfeed but when they try, they are expected to just get on with it, and it is often not that easy.
Because of that, it is little wonder that when women face questioning and criticism from friends and family they become either defensive and accused of being ‘militant’ or begin to doubt themselves. I have been lucky in that the people around me have been mostly supportive, although there have been some comments now that she is older. I am confident enough in my choices to ignore them and carry on; but for a new mum who is already struggling, it can be the thing that makes them go out and grab the formula, even if they didn’t want to. Many of the questions and comments come from a good place – people thinking they are being helpful and supportive but still undermining breastfeeding. Others are down to a lack of education around the topic. Others are because they are knobs.
With that in mind, here are six things you should pretty much always avoid saying to a breastfeeding mum.
I can feed them if you make a bottle up
When I made the choice to breastfeed, I did so knowing that I would be the only person able to feed her, so clearly, I’m ok with that. You may think you are being helpful, but there are plenty of other things you could do to help – change a nappy, make a hot drink, hold the baby when they are asleep so I can grab a shower – feeding baby is the one thing you can’t do.
To give a bottle, I would either have to pump out the milk – which takes a long time (and something I have personally never been able to do successfully) and actually own a bottle. That’s then assuming the baby would even take a bottle – neither Alex nor Elizabeth did.
You don’t know how much milk they are getting, do you?
Nope. And it doesn’t matter.
I know that my baby is getting enough milk because they are gaining weight and are having plenty of wet and dirty nappies. That’s the best indicator that a baby is getting enough. Many people who are uninformed about breastfeeding see a baby cluster feeding and assume they are constantly feeding because they are not getting enough. This is completely the opposite – it is completely normal and not a sign that there isn’t enough milk.
Surely they don’t want feeding again?
Yes. They do need feeding again.
Babies, especially breastfed ones, feed a lot. They only have tiny tummies and as breastmilk contains exactly what they need, it is digested quickly rather than sitting on their tummies. Breastfed babies do not feed to a routine; they feed completely on demand and sometimes, that can be every hour in the early days. They also do not just feed because they are hungry. They feed to satiate their thirst and for comfort. When something is new to you and people say things like this, it creates a lot of self-doubt and you immediately wonder if you’re doing something wrong.
When are you going to put them onto bottles?
I was asked this so many times when I first started breastfeeding, and I couldn’t really understand why. Why, when breastfeeding was clearly going well for us, would I make life more difficult for us by switching to bottles? A lot of the time this is asked so someone else can have a turn at feeding and ‘bond’ with baby. If you’ve asked this so you can play at feeding the baby, stop. Breastfeeding is the choice the mum has made and it is unfair to put pressure on them to do otherwise.
Do you want to go into the other room/for me to leave the room/go to the toilet to feed?
While it may appear that you are being helpful by providing a mum with some privacy, what you are essentially saying is that breastfeeding should be done in private. It does not give the mother confidence to feed in public and simply keeps her out of sight. If a mum cannot feel at ease in her own home or in the presence of people she knows, how and why should she feel at ease in the presence of strangers?
When are you going to stop breastfeeding?
How long is a piece of string? While some mums have a particular time frame in mind – whether that is six weeks, six months or a year others are happy to go with the flow and let the child lead. This is the approach I am taking. I will stop when Elizabeth wants to stop. The typical weaning age can be anywhere between two and seven, so I could have a long time to go yet!
When asked this, many mums feel like they have to justify their decisions and explain the benefits of their choice. Really, it should be a case of ‘not your tits, not your business’.