Breast Is Best....But At What Cost?

I'm on a mission. Let me tell you why.

Regular readers of my blog will know I have written about my experience with Post Natal Depression and Anxiety. Initially, it was a difficult decision to write about but something I felt I had to do, for cathartic reasons and also to make other women (and men) aware that they are not on their own, mental illness is incredibly common and help is out there. I genuinely wasn't anticipating how things would take off for the original blog post I'd penned. I didn't expect for the Bristol Post newspaper to feature it, nor did I anticipate being asked by BBC Radio Bristol to come in for an interview. I had my doubts, don't get me wrong, but I felt I owed it to myself to continue what I had started with this, and I also felt I owed it to others, who were suffering in a similar way to me.

Mental illness is such a lonely condition, you can be in a room with tens of people but you feel like you're totally on your own, well, I say on your own but your ever-racing thoughts are there for company. Company you probably don't want.

I have been inundated by other women who have sought to get in touch with me since all this began.

I have heard some terribly sad stories, stories that stop me in my tracks and make me well up. Stories that resonate with me more than the writers could ever know and experiences that make my heart ache for them like my heart ached for myself.

One thing that many women picked up on in my blog post was my mention of my experience with my community Midwife a few days after my son was born. Here, I'd talked about how after trying to persevere with breastfeeding, I'd decided to abandon my endeavors and turn to formula on Day 6. I was nervous about telling her I was going to formula feed MY baby, I was grateful of her curt response when she told me "I won't give you a hard time as I know you've had a rough ride of it."

Nearly two years on, let's focus on those aforementioned words a minute here: "I won't give you a hard time."

What does this mean?

Say I'd had a vaginal birth, (I'm not using the word normal because C-section is a normal birth. I still gave birth to my son, I just chose not to do it vaginally. This was because I didn't want to run the risk of causing him unnecessary injury should we be on the receiving end of forceps) would she give me a hard time then?

If my birth had been what is perceived as an "easy delivery" whereby I was in and out of hospital within the day and back in my own bed by the time Coronation Street had started what would she have said? Would she have told me I was a terrible mum? That I must persevere with the breastfeeding, no matter how painful it was, no matter how much weight my new-born son had lost, no matter what it was doing to me emotionally and mentally? Because we must always remember breast is best.

What gives another the right to berate a woman on her choice of how she feeds her baby?

I have heard all sorts of stories over the last few weeks, stories which have seriously worried me. I've been told how women have been mishandled when being shown how to get their baby to latch on (to only be told they aren't trying hard enough), I've heard how women have been ridiculed for 'only' breastfeeding THEIR baby for 2 weeks after having an awful experience with it. I've heard from countless women telling me they felt nothing but an incredible amount of pressure when the subject of breastfeeding arose.

When you've had a baby, you often feel emotional, exhausted, anxious, low, you know where I'm going with this. The last thing you want, is an argument with a midwife or health visitor about breastfeeding your baby. If they're insisting you persevere, you might feel you don't have the energy to argue that you really don't want to. This is wrong. Nobody should be made to feel like they are inadequate if they are unable to breastfeed their baby, nor should they be put under pressure. It is YOUR body, YOUR baby and YOUR decision.

I've been told by mums, how they feel the insistence from their midwives to breastfeed their babies led to their mental health being affected. They feel their wellbeing had been compromised. I cannot tell you how much this worries me.

One statistic that has stuck in my mind since I read about it recently is that the greatest cause of maternal death is suicide. Not complications from birth or surgery, or illness, but suicide. When I read this I remembered the story of Charlotte Bevan, the mother from Bristol who had given birth to her baby girl almost a year to the day that I had in the very same hospital. Charlotte is someone who always remains in my thoughts, I didn't know her, but I read about her, a lot. I remember when the news broke about what had happened to her and her baby, how I'd wished that when she had walked out of the ward like I had attempted to exactly one year previous, a midwife had found her like a midwife had found me. The tragic circumstances broke my heart. She shouldn't have suffered like that, she was known to have mental health illness, why was she able to come off of her medication that she so heavily relied on, to try and breastfeed? Is breast best in that situation? If you ask me, then no it isn't.

When a woman gives birth, no matter the circumstance, no matter the delivery, they need support. They need impartial, honest advice, with absolutely no pressure. They should be told the decision is theirs to make. If they don't want to breastfeed (for whatever reason), that decision should be respected by all health professionals. They shouldn't be frightened to admit they don't want to pursue breastfeeding. Once that decision has been made, health professionals should provide mums with all the relevant information they need to formula feed their baby. Consistent and current information, across the board. It's something I feel needs to be addressed antenatally. I only had the offer of a breastfeeding class, which I attended, and there was no mention of formula feeding. Why is this OK? What is so horrendously wrong with formula that it becomes something of a dirty word that we can't mention or talk about?

I don't want readers of this post to think I'm being heavily and needlessly critical of Midwives & Health Visitors. There are some amazing health care professionals out there, Midwives who care deeply about their patients and care about their wellbeing and don't believe in pushing the 'breast is best' mantra. These Midwives and Health Visitors should be commended and used as an example. The stories I have been told by women are real, they are real experiences that have stayed with them and now they have stayed with me. We can learn from these experiences and I'm determined to ensure the much needed changes are made.

Formula is what I fed my son from 6 days old. It isn't wrong, he wasn't ill, he thrived. Am I ashamed? Am I 'eck.