“Breastfeeding a two year old is weird”.
Yep, that’s a comment I received quite recently, along with some other rather rude comments. While it doesn’t bother me that someone holds this rather odd view – that feeding a child the milk that they are designed to have at an age they are meant to have it at is weird – it shows just how fucked up people are when it comes to breastfeeding, and why things need to change.
Breastfeeding rates are incredibly poor. At six months old, it is thought that only 1% of babies in the UK are still exclusively breastfed. That’s really quite sad because if more women were offered support when it comes to breastfeeding, and the world didn’t have such a warped view of it, the chances are that figure would be a lot, lot higher.
But why do we have such a weird attitude towards it?
Very little support or role models
Despite it being one of the most natural things in the world, breastfeeding does not always come naturally. In fact, those first days and weeks are fucking hard. You can read all the books in the world and watch all the videos, but sometimes, it doesn’t quite happen how you would like it to. I thought when Harrison was born I would just hold him to my nipple and he would feed. Nope. I needed lots of support to help me position him properly and get him to latch. Did I get that support? Also no. The midwives basically gave me a bottle of formula as an answer, telling me to try again when I wasn’t tired. That was the beginning and the end of our breastfeeding journey. How many mums has that happened to, who would have loved to have breastfed, but they just haven’t had the support?
Not only that, but we also learn a lot from watching and being around people who do it. I had never seen or spent time with anyone breastfeeding a baby. Women who breastfeed are encouraged to do some at home, in a feeding room, or in toilets, to stop other people from getting offended. This means that no one is seeing breastfeeding as a part of normal life, and the vicious circle carries on.
We don’t have a village
Women need the company of other women or at least lots of support from others. When life was simpler, breastfeeding was also simpler! We didn’t have to do a million and one things all by ourselves. We had sisters, cousins, aunties, and grandmothers to help us cook, clean, care for other children, and so on. We could sleep while a family member cared for the baby. We now live in relative isolation from our family and friends. We are expected to keep our heads held high and to be able to do it all – feeding a child, looking after others, cooking cleaning, holding down jobs, and more.
Breastfeeding a newborn can be exhausting, stressful, and frustrating. Breastfeeding is often the first thing to go for mums trying to keep their heads above water when they have little or no support.
Baby books and guides
While there probably is the odd baby book that is helpful, the majority of them are a load of shit. Babies don’t follow rules or read books! Any book that requires you and your baby to adhere to a strict feeding schedule is bound to cause you problems. Any book that claims your baby is attempting to manipulate you should be discarded. A certain book that makes you believe you don’t know what’s best for your baby is a waste of time.
Sadly, so many of the healthcare professionals that look after new mums and babies are unqualified and inexperienced when it comes to breastfeeding, and either give poor advice, which can damage a breastfeeding journey or nothing altogether.
Sexualisation of bodies
Breasts are seen as sexual body parts, and this is a massive part of why women don’t breastfeed. No one blinks an eyelid at someone walking around in a bikini on the beach or a low-cut top with lots of cleavage on show, yet they go nuts when a baby is breastfed. This is because many people cannot distinguish between breasts being used for sex and them being used for their main purpose – feeding a baby.