August 1, 2020 6:30:18 AM
World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7) is an opportunity to talk openly about breastfeeding and the stigmas around it; be it normalising breastfeeding in public – something that still manages to raise the occasional eyebrow – to embracing mothers who don’t breastfeed.
Although breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organisation as “one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival,” it’s not something all women can do, for various reasons.
“It’s interesting, in these times of greater acceptance, recognition of diversity and awareness of individual needs, that there is still stigma around breastfeeding,” reflects Kristen Hayward, therapist from Zoe Clews & Associates. “Opinion has swung from strong disapproval of a mother breastfeeding in public, to now [arguably an] equally strong disapproval of a mother who doesn’t breastfeed her baby.”
Breastfeeding is a hugely personal thing for any new mother, and has become a charged subject. Hayward notes a ‘breast is best’ mentality – which carries potential judgement of women who don’t or can’t breastfeed – is a relatively new phenomenon. “It wasn’t that long ago when breastfeeding was frowned on,” she says. “It was not something a ‘modern’ mother would do as she was busy working.”
Recent research has shown the benefits of breastfeeding, with Unicef saying it aids mother-child relationship building and “protects children from a vast range of illnesses, including infection, diabetes, asthma, heart disease and obesity, as well as cot death.”
While the benefits are rightly outlined, Hayward argues that often there is not always enough consideration given to the question of why some mothers don’t breastfeed, which can often result in “harsh judgement”.
Why some women don’t breastfeed
There are a range of reasons why women may not breastfeed, “whether for medical, cultural, low body image, a lack of support or for other reasons,” says Hayward.
“There may be a physical reason, such as tongue tie, why your baby can’t latch on,” she adds. “Perhaps the milk flow is reduced, which can be caused by many different reasons, from stress to diet to hormonal changes to fatigue. Perhaps you simply don’t feel comfortable.” She says if it’s a case of feeling uncomfortable, it’s possible to seek support, and “see if you can still give it a go with some help.”
Hayward encourages women to seek advice and try different options like hypnotherapy if they’re struggling to breastfeed, and “once you have all the information and support options, you can make the best choice for you and your baby.” She urges new mothers: “Don’t listen to judgements from others, they may have breastfed, but each baby and situation is different and they don’t know what’s best for you.”
You can still care for your baby without breastfeeding
There are plenty of other ways to bond with your baby after birth without breastfeeding, with skin to skin contact being particularly important.
In terms of looking after your child, Hayward puts it simply: “Your baby’s wellbeing is paramount, and as long as you know that you are doing your best for your baby, then that’s all that matters.”
What’s important is a new mum feeling “supported and fully confident in her choice,” says Hayward. This will likely help her feel “relaxed and happy”, and this “positive emotional impact will have the biggest impact on her baby.”
Why it’s important to recognise all mothers
“It’s wonderful that the benefits of breastfeeding are promoted in World Breastfeeding Week and that women are encouraged to feel confident breastfeeding their baby for as long as it feels right to them,” says Hayward, “however, it is also important to accept and respect that every mother and every baby are different.”
“Who are we to judge a mother’s choices or hidden circumstances?” adds Hayward. “The only thing that matters is that both mother and baby are well, healthy and happy, confident in their choice and able to receive expert support if needed.”