Thinking Out Loud

Baps. World Breastfeeding Week 2018.

Baps, boobs, breasts. Whatever you call them, in case you missed the memo, it’s World Breastfeeding Week 1st – 7th August. First up, I’m not a card holding member of the Breastapo. I am not a lactivist. I’m pro breastfeeding but not in an anti-formula feeding way.

I breastfed my two sons. Feels an age ago now because it was an actual decade ago the first time and 2012 the next. I had two different experiences but more about that later.

Why did I chose to give it a go in the first place?

  • Less expensive! When you’re on Statutory Maternity Pay this matters. Big time. Boob milk is free.
  • Less washing up! We’ve never had a dishwasher (except for that table top one that never got plumbed in so was just a glorified cupboard) so I saved myself hours of hand washing bottles and teats.
  • Less faff! Getting out of the house with a baby is challenging enough. I’m a disorganised mess and the massive changing bag I lugged everywhere was already fit to burst, was there even any room left for bottles? And all that measuring and warming up and cooling down. Yeesh.

So basically, I’m lazy and poor so breastfeeding seemed like the way to go. I didn’t read all the baby rearing books in the world, I didn’t go to any birthing classes (“they’re how much?!”) and I was the first of any groups of friends to have a baby. I didn’t feel any pressure to do it and I’d done jack all research. I was clueless.

First time was bloody challenging. It hurt, I bled, I got mastitis that was thankfully caught and treated very early on, my baby wasn’t gaining weight at the rate the charts said he should. He was borderline failing to thrive and I was having nightmares about him fading away into nothing. The breastfeeding support at St David’s hospital was vital, the lady running it reminded me of my Grandma with her Yorkshire accent and no-nonsense approach. I talked through what my health visitor had suggested (a bottle of formula at every breast feed) and she helped me work out something that helped my first born to beef up but also built up my supply. I topped up him with a bottle of formula each day, breastfed every two hours and pumped after each feed. It was awkward, it was the worst of both worlds but it worked. My baby was finally growing at a rate the health visitor approved of; I was able to slowly decrease the formula and we got back to feeding on demand with just breast milk.

The bonus was that he would take a bottle so when I first left him overnight (at 6 months on a hen do with regular breast pumping breaks) he would take expressed milk but if needs be he would take formula. I’m grateful to the formula milk for helping to give my tiny baby a much needed boost and for helping me to carry on breastfeeding as long as we wanted to.

I had no pressure from my husband to breastfeed, the opposite in fact as he could see me struggling and in pain. My mum was brilliant. Practical, supportive and again, no pressure. She breastfed me because we lived overseas when I was born and her friend advised she try it because she’d not and her baby struggled with the brands of milk in the shops changing so often depending on what got delivered to the island.

Second time was a dream. He latched well, fed on demand, he grew, I was comfortable. Happy days.

I know it’s not always easy. I know it’s not always possible. I know all the focus on the otehr benefits of breastfeeding make it hugely emotive and stir up those toxic responses to the topic like guilt and defensiveness. I just wanted to focus on the practical side of it: less expensive, less washing up, less faff.

I’ve never been an official breastfeeding mentor but I’ve been there for support and advice if real life friends have needed it. I’ve breastfed in all sorts of public and private spaces and I hope anyone who saw me or sat with me felt even just a tiny bit more confident about doing it themselves.

 

pregnant woman
Thinking Out Loud

Nine Months In (my womb) Nine Months Out (to work)

Another vintage blog post, this one from March 2013, in which I bemoan returning to work before my youngest turns one.

Having never been one for the ‘live to work not work to live’ mantra it will come as no surprise to learn that I was hardly cockahoop about returning to work following maternity leave.

While I’m sure some women delight in the chance to spend ten hours of their day commuting and in paid employ with no chance of being asked to wipe any bottoms (let’s assume I’m talking about office work before I hear the cries of “well, I’ll have you know that I wipe bottoms for a living and I’m BLOODY GOOD AT IT”) there are also some women who balk at the suggestion that they should have to work at all. “But who will bring up my children?”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not sitting on the proverbial fence here. I would far rather be caring for my children. Physically, emotionally and practically AT THIS STAGE in their lives it would be the most sensible situation. My youngest is 10 months old. I have been and still am breastfeeding him. On the plus side, when I am not in his company, my breasts magically grow to impressive proportions. On the down side this means that I must pump my milk out in a random tiny room. I am not and never have been a militant member of the breastapo. It’s free. I’m not one for making bottle feeders feel rubbish or defensive about themselves. Let’s not dwell.

So, physically my breasts are still in the ‘we are the mammaries of a mammal with an infant so we will produce milk’ zone and when I am with my amazing baby I am in the ‘I want to feed my baby for free’ zone. But the world of work says “you have done your time woman, put down the baby and get back to your desk.”

On the emotional side of things I don’t think I sound like a crazy banshee saying “I love my children”. I carried both of them inside me. INSIDE MY BODY. (It is still weird. You were once INSIDE someone. Not a random person, granted. But I digress.) We created these little people to be involved in their ever changing lives, and when they’re less than a year old they change more quickly than they ever will again. I don’t want to miss that. Maybe I can miss a bit if it makes me feel sane and worthwhile but sometimes work makes me feel a bit bonkers and pointless.

I work in an industry where I enable other people to LIVE THEIR DREAM. I never said “when I grow up I want to be a Participation Officer”. I didn’t know what one of those was. Most people still don’t. Which is embarrassing, deflating and devaluing. Wait. I must shake the You Should Have Done Teaching imp from my shoulder. “You would’ve been on thirty grand a year by now, imagine that, it’s the same as you earn as a couple now”. Shut up and bugger off Teaching Imp.

Maybe if I LOVED my job I’d feel differently but, quite frankly, I don’t. It’s a means to an end and the end is money. And I don’t earn much. Let’s just say I’m not paying back my student loan yet. I would like to love my job. I need to win some bread, sing for my supper and provide a positive, productive role model for my children. Just not yet. At ten months old neither son asked why mummy was a lazy Jezza Vile watching housewife while daddy worked his arse of at the docks. I can readjust that patriarchal rubbish when they’re both in school.

On a practical level, working is a logistical nightmare/challenge. My four year old and 10 monther have different schedules and needs. Granted, they’re not very complex at the moment and I’m lucky to have grandparent help for two days, more than that and I feel that I’m taking the mickey. They’ve done their time.

The current government has paid lip service to the notion that women are entitled to a year off from work after giving birth. Well I’ve got news for you Dave, those last three months of unpaid maternity leave do not and cannot work for most families’ finances in the current economic mess. Better maternity packages come higher up the ladder and in better paid industries, widening the gap between the women at the top and those struggling at the bottom. Statutory Maternity Pay, while utterly amazing compared to the seventies and America, is, to be blunt, rubbish. Forward thinking companies and those who give a monkeys arse about retaining staff have varying maternity policies better than SMP. Not where I work.

Babies aren’t expensive. Your income dropping from £355 per week to more like £117 (rough figures for my salary in 2008 when I had my first son) is what hits you hard. The Camerons’ annual income is approximately one thousand times more than that of my household. ONE THOUSAND! Out of touch with the needs of most families with young children? Probably.