Should Breastfeeding be Traumatic?
Breastfeeding, chest feeding, nursing — a few terms used to describe the provision of milk to a baby following birth. However, these words carry so much more than just their surface-level meaning. Feeding a baby is a part of motherhood that, for many, can be a hugely significant contribution to maternal identity. It’s not only a means of provision but a part of a mother’s identity, and often an area in which societal expectations are high and judgemental. For others, breastfeeding isn’t something they choose to do, and opting for the bottle is preferred. Whatever the choice, it’s important to know that both options are okay.
Following birth, however, some women find they are stripped of the choice to nurse their baby. This could be a result of many uncontrollable reasons — such as a traumatic delivery or post-natal experience, or inconsistencies in advice received from healthcare professionals — and for women going through this it can be nothing short of devastating, evoking feelings of failure and a sense of incompleteness. Throughout this, it’s important to remember that, when experiencing these challenges, there’s no right or wrong way to feel. Every emotion is valid. And, most importantly, breastfeeding does not define you as a mother, nor does it make you any less of one.
Unfortunately, criticism towards those who don’t breastfeed has arisen as a result of society’s problematic depiction of an idealised ‘motherhood’, meaning that we often criticise ourselves when we fall short of this standard. Yet this unrealistic expectation fails to consider how the ‘natural’ act of breastfeeding does not always come ‘naturally’ and often requires professional support. UK breastfeeding statistics show that the rate of women who initiate breastfeeding following childbirth is 81%. However, this drops significantly to below 50% after two months, 34% after six months, and 0.5% at one year. Further research, conducted by Birth Trauma Resolution Brighton, found that 67% of women didn’t receive enough support with breastfeeding their baby. These results speak volumes, suggesting that the lack of support available is a factor contributing to the sharp decline in breastfeeding rates following childbirth. To put it simply, failed attempts to breastfeed can be traumatic and this perinatal trauma can have a knock on effect, with research suggesting that women who have undergone birth and breastfeeding trauma would benefit from one-to-one breastfeeding support.
These traumatic effects are a reality for many people, but it is important to know that we have the choice to do something about them, and that we don’t have to accept them as a part of our future. Support from trained skilled professionals is available to access, where you can receive guidance with positioning and attachment, as well as advice surrounding all areas of breastfeeding and perinatal recovery.
So, whether you’ve undergone trauma in your pregnancy, during or following labour, resulting in unsuccessful breast feeding attempts, or whether you’ve experienced unexpected challenges to breastfeed, you are not alone in this. Your experience is real and valid. You have every right to express the emotions you feel — disappointment, anger, fear, loss, exhaustion, frustration — but know that you have not failed and there is help available. Reach out, talk to others, access help, and know that breastfeeding does not define you as a mother. Please get in touch with me, or see the helplines and websites listed below for additional support services available.
Birth Trauma Resolution Brighton
National Breastfeeding Helpline 0300 100 0212 (open 9:30am to 9:30pm daily)
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers 0300 330 5453
La Leche League 0345 120 2918
National Childbirth Trust (NCT) 0300 330 0700
The Breastfeeding Network supporter line in Bengali and Sylheti: 0300 456 2421
Baby Café is a network of breastfeeding drop-in centres. Find your nearest drop-in by entering your postcode.
The Breastfeeding Network provides breastfeeding support and information.
La Leche League offers mother-to-mother support with breastfeeding.
Lactation Consultants of Great Britain can help you find a lactation consultant near you.
Twins and Multiple Births Association (TAMBA) has information about feeding twins and triplets.
National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is a charity that provides information and support on all aspects of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood, including breastfeeding.
UK Association for Milk Banking has information about using donated breast milk if your baby is premature or ill, and how to donate breast milk.
Image and blog by Jessica Law - https://www.throughmyeyescreative.com/