Colette Fitzpatrick: We need to be honest - breast isn't always best

Image: Getty

Colette Fitzpatrick. Photo: Mark Condren

thumbnail: Image: Getty
thumbnail: Colette Fitzpatrick. Photo: Mark Condren
Colette Fitzpatrick

Most women I know who didn't breastfeed their babies told more or less everyone that they tried - that they gave it their best shot but weren't physically capable, or were advised by a concerned doctor or midwife that they weren't helping their baby because they were getting so stressed.

They were so afraid of the backlash, finger-pointing and shaming from other women and society for not breastfeeding that they felt compelled to lie.

Only one woman I know said straight out: "No, I'm not breastfeeding. It's far too much hassle. You'd be mad to consider it."

She was a contented and, dare I say, militant bottle-feeder whose two children settled into a routine pretty quickly and mum was back to her old self as quickly as you can be after having a baby.

Colette Fitzpatrick. Photo: Mark Condren

Another friend is bitter about her breastfeeding experience.

She was determined to breastfeed her daughter to give her the best start in life, but not a single midwife, nurse or lactation consultant she dealt with levelled with her.

They didn't say breastfeeding could potentially be extremely sore and could give you mastitis, that it could be extremely stressful and that your baby might not get enough food and lose weight.

Instead, she got sort of chirpy tips about what to do. It was almost like breastfeeders didn't want to give her the full 12-inch remix version with all the extras - that if they did, she wouldn't try it. They were wrong.

She's raging that she didn't get more honesty because she ended up quitting a couple of weeks in. She thought what was happening to her was unique and she just wasn't able.

Ironically, had those who wanted her to breastfeed been straight with her, she'd have persevered. Instead, she gave up because she thought the pain and the difficulty were unusual and couldn't be overcome.

What a pity - a mother keen to breastfeed who ended up jacking it in simply because of a lack of honesty.

I know several breastfeeders who had no trouble at all, bar the lack of sleep and not being able to go anywhere on their own in the initial months.

This is World Breastfeeding Week, and there are thousands of news items and features about breastfeeding, a lot of them talking about support.

For "support", many see and feel "pressure".

There's an alternative view. Feminist Elisabeth Badinter argues that breastfeeding, natural labour, co-sleeping and giving up work amount to an ideal of motherhood that effectively subjugates a woman's professional, sexual, spousal, adult identity.

Journalist Hanna Rosin (a breastfeeder herself) has questioned whether it's this generation's vacuum cleaner - an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down.

There's nothing quite like breastfeeding to engender polarisation and mums looking down their nose at others.

How about a little less shaming and more debate about other key issues like how we care for our kids?