I couldn’t help but flinch with a familiar feeling when I recently read a piece on support for breastfeeding mothers on theconversation.com. The word ‘Support’ in itself feels like music to one’s ears – an anomaly in the world of breastfeeding mothers.
The title of the piece was what first caught my eye. “Breastfeeding is not easy – stop telling new mothers that it is”. It pours a refreshingly cool drink of sympathy and support on the troubles and judgement that new mothers face in this predicament. What I particularly liked in the article, being a new mom of a three month old myself, was the appeal to recognize that breastfeeding can be hard and not gloss over the realities of it by telling mothers that it is easy.
This often leads to depression when in reality she finds that it was much harder than she thought it would be and is laden with guilt and disappointment when breastfeeding does not work for her.
I too breastfed my baby for just a month and a half. After the initial stress and trying to dodge the constant inflow of advice, disapproving comments and the occasional raised eyebrow, I decided to put my foot down and be vocal about the fact that my baby is now a happily formula-fed healthy baby and I am a stress-free, happy mother too.
What was hard to not get shocked by was the blatant interrogation by those I may have only met just once on whether my baby gets my milk or formula. Societal pressures make many succumb to such stress though I had decided to turn this tide for myself and look them in the eye and inform them that my baby was formula fed and happily so.
But not all are able to hold the fort and buckle under pressure just as easily. Recently in India, a country that houses perhaps the most conservative and regressive outlooks on virtually anything to do with women, a shockingly progressive news headline offered some respite. The state of Kerala’s courts of law recently refused to identify the image of a breastfeeding Malayalam model on the cover of a magazine as “obscene” stating that “one man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric”. Dismissing a writ application against the magazine, the court declared that it did not see anything offensive in it for men.
When we skirt the issue, be it breastfeeding, periods or even sexual intercourse – all natural human phenomenon and create a taboo around the mention of any of these, we are closing the doors to healthy communication and dialogue on the subjects that can help in normalizing such conversation in an inclusive, supportive manner rather than shunning and discouraging its utterance that leads to polarized debates.
The UK celebrates Breastfeeding Celebration Week where the dialogue is increasingly shifting from being about encouraging breastfeeding to starting open and honest conversations about every different breastfeeding journey. The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding and is making efforts to move away from a persuasion-only approach and is instead shifting the focus on healthy discussions, changing cultures and supportive dialogues on what works and what doesn’t.
Marathon pumping sessions, acute depression and disappointment and anxiety disorders are just some of the ways new mothers tend to ruin their early post-partum days when they should be spending this time enjoying motherhood and their new bundle of joy. A piece in the Washington Post titled “It’s OK if you don’t Breastfeed” by Jennifer Kogan hits the nail on the head. Kogan rightly points out that breastfeeding has been hung out to become a kind of moral issue where women are grading other women on if and how often they breastfeed. As if someone who does not breastfeed is by default, a bad mother.
I am no expert on babies as yet given that this is my first one and he is all of three months. But my journey so far, devoid of breastfeeding barring the first couple of weeks has been stress-free and happy and allowed me to focus on both my baby and myself.
Ignore the bottle-shaming and let your happiness shame the naysayers!
Shaira Mohan is a freelance writer and fiction author. She writes for many news publications and has authored short stories such as Raghu and Wedding Woes.